Two days ago I thought, for the first time this season, about riding early before it got too hot. Last year that was not a concern until sometime in June, when a mild winter was followed by a cool, wet spring. Today again the watchword was to go early; the overnight low was in the upper 60°s, and it was above 70° by 8:30. I’d forgotten what fun it is to be out and about just after 9:00. The commuter traffic largely dies off; this means both road and trail these days, as there are a discernible number of bike commuters, quite a few of whom ply the jammed Tyson’s Corner roadways in heat or cold, wet, icy, slick, whatever. They’re more reliable than today’s US Postal Service, whose demise is auspiciously concurrent with their decision to discontinue sponsorship of professional cycling.
Trail traffic by 9:15 devolves into the occasional late dog walker and many moms and nannies with various forms of baby strollers, including the kind made for joggers, who can get active exercise while giving the baby some fresh air. Scarcely a cyclist to be seen, since the casual tourists don’t start that early and most of the serious riders are young adults and therefore at a desk somewhere until 3:30 at least. There are a few joggers, mostly with heart monitors and a serious demeanor, and the occasional couple whom one suspects may be playing some form of hooky.
Often the daily wind pattern has not set up in the morning. The air can be very still until a couple of hours after sunrise, and then slowly pick up until the forecast velocity and direction are in place. There’s a bit of chance in this process, of course, because the correlation between forecast and reality is notoriously unreliable. But part of the fun in riding early is seeing how the day sets itself up and works into its potential. A little like the cyclist himself. I find, at least, that the experience of the ride, though always satisfying in one way or another, is hard to gauge in advance. How humid will it be, and how much will that bother me? Can I really count on a nice tailwind on the way home? What undreamed of construction zones will I encounter (a bloody lot for the last year or two)? Will I sustain my energy level over the whole ride?
These days the heat is a factor. I decided to skip my ride yesterday because I had a couple of bike repairs to do first, and by the time I was ready to go the temperature, late in the morning, was already approaching 90°. Even with the low humidity this time of year, that’s not worth the risk. Warm air holds more water than cool air, so when there’s abnormal heat there can still be a lot of water vapor to inhale and impede breathing. And in these conditions pollen can blow out of the trees in visible pale yellow clouds, like tropical gnats. The challenges of hydration and respiration can become overwhelming. A Park Ranger acquaintance on bike patrol died of heat prostration a few years back on a 90° June day. So I’m always aware of my parameters.
Inbound toward North Arlington and Key Bridge, my tires picked up heavy chrome yellow and yellow-green pollen today. In Falls Church and Vienna it was yellow-brown, and less dense. If I could identify tree species by pollen colors, I could go further with my conclusions.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.