I can be riding along the W&OD Trail on a weekday and not see anybody at all for two miles.  I can do a whole ride–as I frequently do–when I pass few other cyclists and no cyclist passes me.  And yet, often when I do overtake the slow cyclist, the walker, the dog walker with a chihuahua, the in-line skater novice learner (deadliest of all slow traffic, subject to sudden and uncontrolled lurches), as I am just about to pass them a traveller comes from the other direction.  That traveller is moving just fast or slow enough, be it a cyclist or a mom/nanny with carriage, to require me to brake, often to a crawl, to let them pass before I can scoot around the low-speed obstacle in front of me.

This frustrating coincidence of being slowed down by a coordinated confluence of obstacles from each direction after miles of empty trail I call “convergence.”  To my way of thinking this happens far more often than it should, statistically.  After all, there’s almost nobody on the trail on weekday mornings, and yet so often when they do appear they appear in this convergence configuration, slowing me down.

So I would like to check it, but i have inadequate math skills to construct a formula.  If we call N the number per hour of travelers that I pass going in my direction, and N’ the number per hour of travelers that I pass going the other way, and if R is the average speed of the N travelers, and R’ the speed of the N’ travelers, and at my rate of speed (about 15.5 mph) I need 40′ of clearance beyond the N travelers to pass them, how many “convergences” per hour should I expect?  I could find or estimate the  quantities for all those variables, but I cannot construct an equation that would give me the right answer.

Any help out there?  It just feels in the “seat of my (specially padded spandex) pants” as though it shouldn’t happen as often as it does.  I think, given the sparse population of the weekday trail, that it should almost never happen.  But then I cannot deny a tendency to become easily frustrated.

©Arnold Bradford, 2010.



Summer solstice is the beginning of the end.  The end of heat, the end of light, the end of summer.  Yeah, I know it’s the middle of “astronomical summer,” and near the beginning of “meteorological summer.”  Around here the average high

Summer Solstice, through Sweet Gum leaves

temperature for the date reaches its apex on a rather smooth sine curve just about five weeks after the equinox, on July 27.  So we still have plenty of heat and humidity and code orange air to go.  In fact, all that “mugginess” is just starting to gather steam (no pun intended).

But you don have to suffer from the syndrome lamely named “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (Get it?  The acronym SAD? How clever!) to lament the waning of daylight hours.  Seems like the fireflies just started up around here (actually it was three weeks ago, around June 1).  They’ve scarcely had time to do their dating and mating.  One of my favorite Japanese Haiku is Taigi’s:

“Look, look, fireflies!”
I would say,
But I am alone.

Nobody should be alone on these long, warm, voluptuous summer evenings, so if we make it through the day’s heat that elongated, drowsy sunset can make it all worthwhile for us as well as the lightning bugs.  And that’s all fine for a while.  But after the equinox the dark is less pleasing.  We once asked our B&B hostess in Inverness, Scotland, how she handled it when he kids went to school in the dark at 8 am and came home in the dark at 4 pm.  She said the worst time only lasted six weeks, and  Christmas was right in the middle of that, with its activities and social “brightness.”  Basically, that’s what keeps us all going, that ancient Germanic festival that announces that in spite of the ice and darkness the days are getting longer again, and sooner or later it must get warm.

Winter Solstice sun, icy street, 2010.

So if this solstice promises that heat, romance, and then cold darkness lie ahead, we can already know with confidence that the antithetical promises will be made six months hence.  How strange that we alternatively yearn for each set of promises.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


Some days riding seems extra easy.  These are the days when you have “good legs.”  Not in the sense that my wife does, but in the sense of seemingly endless supplies of power and no feelings of strain or pain whatsoever.  There must be untold factors involved in creating this situation, including rest, nutrition, motivation, weather, route, and (of course) luck.  But all these factors add up to consistent preparation and good discipline.  You’re ready to ride, and you ride consistently and within yourself.  Riders who think about these elements can bring about the confluence of all the positive forces more frequently than those who leave them to chance.

I had such a ride a few days ago.  The experience itself and the metrics afterwards validated one another.  If felt absolutely as if my legs were steel rods, pumping away at the pedals.  I could up the pace when I wanted to, slide right back into the steady groove, do whatever my mind conceived as appropriate.  About two-thirds of the way out to my turn-around point I passed a cyclist in a somewhat faded USPS jersey on a black Trek.  Within a mile or two he repassed me (the only one of the day to do so).  I wasn’t sure why; he may have been a tad better on the upgrades or something.  But I found I could easily stay on his wheel.  So I thought “fine; you want to be ahead of me for some reason, so I’ll just draft you.”  Usually I don’t draft, because I’m out there for exercise.  But since I’d hardly ever done it, I thought it would be fun.

Drafting requires that the trailing rider be right on the wheel of the front rider.  And though I’m sure I did not meet professional standards in this regard, I was within 4″ to 6″ of his rear wheel most of the time.  I was really surprised how much effort I could save; the claims of 33% less effort don’t seem exaggerated.  That’s how Lance Armstrong got in position to make his great winning bursts of speed at key points in the Tour de France; his teammates “towed” him along in their draft.  So I let this guy tow me 7 or 8 miles out to Sterling, where the bike trail crosses Rte. 28 near Dulles Airport.  He apparently was going on farther.  So I stopped, rested, and then took full advantage of the tailwind coming home.

This same thing happened again a couple of days ago.  Maybe I am on to something.  But it’s the kind of advantage you can gain only if you have the legs to stay with the other rider in the first place, and the control to keep your bike where it’s supposed to be.  When people draft me I find it annoying on one level, though since I want the workout I don’t really care if they use my slipstream.  But I figure that if these riders want to assert themselves by repassing after I pass them, they are inviting it.  It’s good training in bike handling, too.  And it helps those good legs stay that way for longer.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Under the Weather

The internet is an interesting resource.  When I look up the origin of the phrase “under the weather” on Google I get 22,000 hits.  As best I can tell almost all of them are based on the same two print sources.  it’s great, I guess, that all these thousands of on-line inquiries have the effect of promulgating a simple, apparently non-controversial bit of information.  But I come away overwhelmed by the redundancy of it all.  I see a vast field full of benighted folk, intellectual peasants comparable to the socioeconomic peasants envisioned by Langland’s Piers Ploughman, all nattering and dithering about the meaning of this phrase.  Some of them, the bloggers, proudly hold up the same nugget of wisdom that they have found through their own Google search as if they had discovered El Dorado.  In fact, they all could have found the answer through a quick internet check without posting their own repetitive quest narratives and definitions.  This kind of research is not rocket science. (1)

I had been under the weather for about ten days.  It was a very minor bronchial ailment, I guess falling into the “Summer Cold” category.  Every morning my throat was a bit clogged; a few times when I went out to ride I felt a little “fever chill” kind of frisson at some point.  But the impact on my usual life was minimal.  No shortness of breath, no lack of energy, only a slightly less than usual vocal proficiency at choir practice.

Except for my bike rides.

The more intense breathing and need for oxygen on the ride challenged my lungs.  Going up hills I’d cough a bit, my body involuntarily wanting to clear out the last bits of congestion.  I could feel a lower energy level; my usual speeds and climbing rates felt more difficult to achieve.  My legs consistently felt strong, but my cardiovascular system was unable to supply the necessary energy to move the bike in the usual way.  And the metrics confirmed the physical intuitions.  I was slower, less efficient, “off my game,” by measurable amounts.  Ever effort felt like it was happening in a stiff headwind.

In recent days I’d been progressively coughing less and coughing up less in the morning.  And yesterday my ride felt good, back in the comfort and achievement zones I expect.  Under the weather no more!


1.  The term is nautical, referring to seasickness victims.  They were sent below decks, where they were out of the weather and in a place where the rocking was not so extreme.  Thus they were under, and out of, the weather because they  were feeling queasy.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.