A couple of cycling’s little ironies:

1)  I commented before about the “convergence” factor, in which I approach a slow object on the trail going my way, be it a slow cyclist, a rollerblader, a jogger, or an elderly couple ambling along.  Just as I get ready to pass–even if I haven’t seen another bike for 15 minutes–sure enough one emerges from the distance on the opposite side of the trail, coming straight at me.  The timing is just wrong, so that I have to slow way down, sometimes almost to a stop, and wait for the onrushing cyclist to go by before I can pull out and pass.  Ah, the lost momentum!  Oh, the pain of getting rolling again!  The other day this happens, except I am the approaching cyclist forcing the other guy to slow down just because I show up at the wrong moment.  He’s behind the ambling elderly couple.  As I pass he says to me with irritation “move over!”.  He wants me to hug the right edge of the trail so he can get by easily.  Wait!  Excuse me?  I am not obligated to make way on my side of the trail so you can squeeze by the couple by riding on my side without colliding with me.  I own my side of the trail.  You can use it when nobody’s there.  That’s the deal.  More to the point, it’s the deal because I don’t know you.  I can see you’re going much slower than I am.  Maybe you’re not such a good bike handler.  Maybe the couple is hearing-impaired and will step to the left despite your warning, forcing you to choose between hitting them and hitting me.  I reckon there’s a pretty good chance that either you’re a dodgy bike-handler or would prefer to hit me or both.  So the last thing I am going to do is enable your impatience and potential ineptitude.  It’s just not worth it to me to save you ten seconds and some added effort.

2)  Another earlier blog had to do with the steep ascent of Hunter Station Road.  After that climb, I loop around on Lawyer’s Rd., Twin Branches Rd., South Lakes Dr., and Sunrise Valley Dr. to rejoin the W&OD Trail.  Twin Branches features a swift descent past Lake Audubon and then another middling climb to South Lakes.  The whole road is very wide for two lanes, allowing for safe bike passage on either side.  But for some time, about halfway up the climb, a single parked car has become a permanent fixture.  Since there are seldom any other vehicles parked along the road, I am not looking for it.  When I see it looming up I have to pull to the left, out into the traffic part of the lane, check my rear for approaching vehicles, all the while making sure I am following the winding curve of the roadway and keeping up tempo on the climb so that I will expose myself to drivers for as brief a time as possible.  The vehicle’s VA tag is BIKE4FN.  Anybody who will pay $20 for a vanity plate is evidently sincerely committed to the cause, and I appreciate that.  But for those moments that it takes me to pass his or her vehicle, I am unable to bike for fun.  Ah, the irony!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


Into the Light / Into the Dark

Transcontinental flights play tricks with your body’s sense of time, and with your mind.  Flying west, I can leave at 9:00 a.m. and magically get into Denver just a couple of hours later.  In the Denver airport, having eaten only a sausage biscuit before departure, I fuel up on a nice sandwich, conceived by Wolfgang Puck (or staff) and executed by airport food service folk. Then on the (relatively) short flight to Eugene, OR, I “slip” another hour, so that when my son Matthew picks me up at the airport he wonders if I’ve eaten lunch.  “Of course!” my body replies, “it’s late afternoon.”  Actually, it’s 1:30 PDT, the sun’s out, the air is dry, cool, breezy: pure West Coast. My body really doesn’t care how screwed up its sense of time is as long as it’s out of eastern August heat and humidity.

Airliners going west are chasing the daylight.  They catch three hours’ worth by the time they hit the Coast.  Sipping wine in the beautifully landscaped back yard, we lounge in the warm afternoon sun and chat about plans for the looooong weekend.  Granddaughter Winnie (how nice to be grand-parental with someone named after my beloved mother!) has a birthday Sunday, and I have one Monday.  It’s Oregon, so winery visits are a must.  But surely some bike rides can be fit in too.  I brought my helmet, using my new Rudy Project equipment bag to carry on board my only luggage.  It’s shaped just right, and has myriad useful pockets, straps, and other features.  Having found a couple of spots in the schedule, we drive to Winnie’s school to pick her up.

Our first ride is the next day.  Winnie’s with her local grandma, Angie’s mom, and we have errands to do.  The first step has already been taken: borrowing Matthew’s brother-in-law Olin’s bike.  He’s on Orcas Island in WA doing construction; his bike’s at his house down the street.  It’s a Specialized MTB bike of the Old School–no spring dampers bisecting the frame.  It has turned-up hand grips at the ends of the flat bars, 700-38 tires inflatable to 35 pounds, and sports a bit of dust and mud.  Matthew’s on a Trek 7000, more of an urban hybrid bike.  It has mud guards, a hitch for a kid’s transport trailer, and a flat rear tire.  Last time the tire blew Matthew replaced it and the tube, and the tube had a pretty dramatic pinch flat, one that blew the tire off the rim.  So we change the flat, wipe off the Specialized, adjust the brakes and oil the chain on the Trek, inflate both tires, and we’re off.

It should be stipulated right here that Eugene is a lot like Amsterdam in several respects, one of which in the bicycle-to-people ratio (what did you think I meant?).  No Heineken factory, it’s true, but everybody rides bikes.  There are a commensurate number of bike shops, including one just a few block away from Matthew and Angie’s that specializes in comically odd custom bikes, including one with a reel mower instead of a front wheel.  So when you’re on the road drivers generally expect you to be there, and extend a “share the road” attitude.

Our first destination is Angie’s office.  Eugene has multiple bike trails, some of which run along the Willamette and McKenzie rivers.  So after a few blocks that include multiple stop signs, railroad tracks, and a “walk your bike” area in a park, we reach the riverside trail.  After riding along seeing beautiful views in a calm, park-like atmosphere, we cross a pedestrian/ bike bridge, go a little further on the trail, cut across some other streets, and land in her office parking lot.  We lock our bikes, take her car, do our errands, and return to switch transport again.  After getting a lecture about using the bike racks of the wrong building (not that there were any other users) we do quite a bit more trail cruising, down the river, across another bridge, back up along the home-bound river’s edge, and home.  There are a good number of walkers on the trail, a place where people fish, a guy taking close-up photos in a field full of flowers, and a modicum of riders, none of whom look like the serious power-rider, at this time on this day.  Just casual folk out having fun on the bike.  Just like us.

Our main errand?  Getting Winnie a bike with training wheels for her birthday.  Winnie’s a tall kid for her age (where could she get that from?), so I (acting also as Grandma’s agent) got her a bike she could grow into, a 16″ wheeled, purple “Hello Kitty” model with training wheels.  We eschewed the ultra-commercial imagery of Dora, the Princess, and such ilk.  It has white tires, which inflate to 35 pounds, just like Olin’s.

On my birthday we rode again.  This time Winnie went with us in the trailer.  The trailer is red and black, German-made.  It has instructions printed on it that begin with “Achtung!”, something that resonates weirdly with me, who can remember WW II (“Don’t mention the war!  I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!”).  It has all the comforts of home, or at least of a car.  Winnie has a cushion to sit on, a place to store her drinks and snack, and great vision on three sides.  She has a plastic cover for the rain.  It’s so comfy that she can and does frequently fall asleep in it.

So off we went with a picnic, stopping to do another errand (needed a Bota Box), detouring around construction, doubling back to the river trail, and exploring at greater length.  Our first stop was at a playground where Winnie demonstrated her agility and bottomless energy reserves.  Master of the biggest slides, she can also handle lots of the other equipment with verve and skill.  There we ate our sandwiches, featuring the last of Matthew’s trademark grilled leg of lamb.  Going farther downstream and crossing another bridge, we found dessert in an abundant blackberry patch along a boat landing ramp.  And on the homeward bound leg we were asked by a photographer to cross our bridge and then return to be photographed.  Matthew thought it was the carrier and his “Oregon” shirt that made us seem so picturesque.  When we got home we all agreed it was a great ride, with perfect weather and fun for all.

And one of my birthday gifts was a silkscreen-printed bicycle tie.

Airliners going east are rushing to meet the night.  Leaving San Francisco on the last home-bound leg, it was already twilight even as we passed over Lake Tahoe.  It is as if the flight home is a time for drowsy memories of vacation, a quiet interlude before rushing into the maelstrom of six days of missed emails, impending fall schedules, and household chores.  When we landed at Dulles my body thought it was just mid-evening, but it was 30 minutes into the next day.  Too late even to email the Eugene folks with the news that the trip was uneventful.  But it was great to sleep again in my own bed, no longer by myself.  Dark can be good.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


This summer may set a Washington, DC, record for misery.  So far we’ve had 55 days at or above 90°.  the record is 67, set in 1980, which I still remember as particularly insufferable.  It’s the summer, as I recall, that finally forced us to get air conditioners for the living room and the upstairs bedrooms of our little house in Falls Church.  The trees and our above-ground pool did not make the house or us cool enough.  I was a vegetable gardener then, and that summer I felt like I was in wet clothing continually from June until mid-September.

This year has featured the kind of midsummer rain I remember from the vegetable gardening era.  On hot, humid days “thermals” of hot air pockets start bubbling up, like bubbles in hot water on the stove.  Because warm air rises, they rise through the cooler air above ground level.   On the way up, they rub against the cool air and accumulate a static electricity charge.  As they cool off at higher altitude, these hot air bubbles can hold less and less water as vapor.  The water condenses into droplets, and rain clouds form; then they start raining as the drops get too big to float in the air.  The static electricity creates lightning, as positive charges of electricity seek more negatively charged objects.  Lines of thunderstorms sweep through from the Blue Ridge to the Bay.  Not an act of God; just an act of natural physics.  But insurance companies aren’t responsible, no matter if a deity or mere matter is acting in destructive ways.

In the few days between my mid-August trips I’ve found fewer days suitable for riding my bike.  Monday was OK.  And I rode, though in dripping, suffocating humidity.  On Tuesday it was 78° by 7:30 am.  Later I rode a few miles on errands in 92° heat, and in fact my triumph was finding a good bike route to Tyson-Pimmit Regional Library.  There I got a W. S. Merwin book to read on the plane to Eugene.  We all owe it to the new national Poet Laureate to be a bit more familiar with his works, after all.  But it wasn’t the workout ride I needed.  I thought, “as long as I ride tomorrow between the rain showers, I’ll be OK.”

This morning is “tomorrow.”  We got two inches of rain between midnight and sunrise.  It could not have been more humid when the rain stopped.  This afternoon we got more rain.  Tonight more rain is predicted.  All right, I know when I’m licked.  I will just have to start rebuilding my conditioning on August 25, and hope that the weather will permit more riding, that the debilitating heat will diminish, that I can be in condition to do a couple of legitimate long rides in late September.  At least we do not have a drought any longer.  The widespread flash floods and water rescues of clueless drivers indicate that rain rules.  More power to it.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

The Westward Cycle

“Go west, young man” has been the advice of every Easterner since Horace Greeley, famed New York Tribune editor who coined the phrase to express his vision of the eternal hope of the frontier, the open country, the direction in which expansion and new prosperity could best be found.  Young men have ever since followed his advice, and relatively few of them have gone “back East,” as westerners call the site of the original thirteen colonies.  When do you go west?  When life has stagnated in the east, when there are few clues suggesting it could get better, when there seems to be hope in the golden sunsets of the Pacific more than the foggy sunrises of the Atlantic.

And so it was that we found ourselves packing moving boxes in Savannah, GA, last Saturday, a day we had planned originally as the first of a brief vacation visit with son Jon, daughter-in-law Jen, and the grandkids: Emilee (14), Gracie (8), and Jackson (3½).  On rather short notice they had run up against it in east Georgia, with jobs that underperformed the promises, public schools so bad that the only option was the expense of private schools, summer weather that makes a Turkish Bath seem dry and slightly chilly by comparison, and flora and fauna that include an inordinate number of poisonous, oversize, dangerous, or just plain gross species over a long breeding season.

They had set their sights irrevocably on the San Diego area, Jen’s childhood home and present location of parents and friends.  Jen, at least, was cycling back to her roots.  The 26′ Penske truck (diesel, with only 5600 miles on it) was in the drive (after Budget failed miserably to make good on its promises); it would be one-way, but clearly would cycle back to Savannah with the next cross-country, one-way rental.   The house was in a shambles, a jumble of furniture and belongings that had been in a cycle of movement from VA to Chicago to several Savannah sites.  Yet everybody was in a pretty good mood.  Emilee was hanging out with her best friend; she would be changing schools, cycling into a new life phase, but so would everybody her age in San Diego.  The move, in fact, was being rushed to make sure the kids got in on the start of the new school year, another cycle: registration, orientations, tryouts, first classes.

Another unexpected cycle was the presence of my ex-wife and her husband.  They’d arranged to make a last-minute support trip, and Ken did most of the heavy lifting in helping Jon load the van.  We all enjoyed the time with the kids, got along well enough together, and enjoyed a hilarious game of Trivial Pursuit on Saturday night.  Jane and I held up the tradition we’d established with Anne and Henry on the Norwegian Cruise Line, as Trivial Pursuit Champs.  But the fun was with the game, the silliness, the relaxation after a long day and a somewhat anxious time.

Just as the first wagons west had traveled for day across trackless prairie, so our beloved kids and grandkids were embarking on a trip to the Great Unknown.  Not trackless, of course, but with “friends” regaling them with stories of bugs the size of Blue Jays, and rental trucks that failed en route, they were given reasons to fear.  Who wouldn’t worry a bit?  But they made it, straight across the deep south, through Selma, Dallas, El Paso, and Tucson to San Diego.  They had real bravery, a grasp of common sense and resolve, optimism, and close family bonds that are the envy of us.

When they arrived in California, of course, they had to start coming down to earth.  the Golden State may be a dream that could come true, but life is what it is.  Jen, who is a great writer with a feel for the ironies of life, had this to say about the third day in her old stomping grounds:

Driving around my hometown today in my mom’s car with the sunroof open, wind in my hair and Van Halen on the CD player, feeling like a teen again….and then the sippy cup came flying and hit me on the head from the back seat and it was back to reality.

I couldn’t improve on that.

Other cycles of life impinged on the move.  The family had adopted two cats several weeks before the move.  The young calico had a litter only two or three days before we arrived.  Gracie, the eight-year-old, showed me the mother and her kittens.  Eyes still not open, the youngsters huddled together for security and warmth.  Gracie and I talked about the plan to leave them with friends for a week, until Jon returned to GA briefly to tie up the loose ends.  Then they would be taken to the shelter or sold.  Gracie opined with smiling confidence that these were such sweet, innocent (her word!), loving kittens that people would gladly pay $200 each for them.  I felt like hugging her and affirming her judgment.   For, dear Gracie, if people were as they should be you could easily get $200 apiece for your kittens, and the Pentagon would have to hold a yard sale to unload those dreary matte black white elephants they call B-2 bombers.

Our generation’s cycle is almost over, Gracie.  I pray that your generation’s cycle can make the love of kittens and the hatred of armaments the center of human values.  We, you, all of us need that, need that badly.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Old Saybrook Circuit

My sister-in-law Anne has one of the coolest old bikes I know of.  It’s a Royce Union from her college years, about 35 years old (stop it!–gentlemen do not do that kind of math).  It has a white steel frame, curved forks with quite a bit of rake, ten speeds with shifters on the stem, dual brake levers on the handlebars, 32×700 tires with the old gum sidewalls, and brand new cables and cushy seat (though she still has the old one).  The frame’s a size or two smaller than ideal for me, but it’s fairly comfortable to ride if I put the seat up a couple of inches.

Anne and her husband Henry have a cottage (the Sea Turtle, as Anne is into all things testudinarious) on Long Island Sound, and it’s one of our very favorite family customs to visit them a couple of times each summer.  When we do, I ride Anne’s bike around a circuit I developed that takes me to so many different kinds of essential New England environments in their Connecticut town of Old Saybrook.  As I ride I reconnect with my native region and with memories of living there even longer ago than Anne’s college days.

I begin my ride by traveling along the beachfront road, Maple Avenue, in the bright sunshine, with the row of elegant cottages on the land side, and the shore on the other.  These cottage properties all began as modest places with minimal amenities, but many have been either radically rebuilt or torn down and replaced with more elegant structures.  That’s especially true along the road where they enjoy a wholly unencumbered view of Long Island Sound and want to make the most of it.  On a clear day cyclists can see Long Island in sharp enough profile to identify buildings and boats near that shore.  The local beach is naturally stony, but civic associations have created sandy bathing beaches, one with its own breakwater.  Not that the sound has surf worth mentioning unless there’s a winter gale blowing.

The road then goes through a short wooded area, where a right turn would take me out to the short peninsula of Fenwick, where there are some old, really nice beach homes and ultimately a lighthouse.  I usually keep going, though, across a causeway and flat bridge where South Cove, that sits behind the shoreside community, empties into the sea.  I often see mute swans there, and Anne was speechless when I told here there weren’t any on my ride last time.  There are always fishermen though, drowning some worms where the water flows under the bridge.  Right beyond that is the “Point,” where there’s a boating club, restaurant, and parking lot.  I hang a left at the stop sign and head back on College Street for about 2 1/2 miles into the town of Old Saybrook.  Along the way there are more year-round homes with lots of shade and green lawns.  The ones on the left side of the road back onto South Cove.  I pass the UCC church, and an emergency evacuation route with a depth gauge for flooding that goes up to fifteen feet.  Just in case there’s repeat of the hurricane of ’38, I guess.  This storm is still vivid in local memory and legend, probably the worst hurricane ever experienced in this part of the world.

Main Street in Old Saybrook is, rather incongruously, a four-lane boulevard.  The median holds lamp posts, which are often regaled with American flags when I see them, because our visits are often on the Fourth of July and/or Labor Day.  The street is several blocks long, including the usual assortment of banks, drugstores, restaurants, and other establishments necessary for the comforts of life in a semi-resort town (a great many of the beachside area homes are quixotically inhabited by summer people).  There’s also a big parking lot that hosts both the farmers’ market and the arts & crafts shows.  Street parking is diagonal, and free, giving a quaint Norman Rockwell feel to the place, though the width of the road prevents the tree-lined effect so beloved of small-town American memories.  At the end of Main is the traffic light that governs the intersection with Route 1, the main shore road in southern New England before I-95 was built.  Route 1 runs from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida, and I have stood at the southern end, though not the northern.  Along here it’s also the Lower Boston Post Road, a main track for stage coaches between Boston and New York City in colonial days.

At the last turnaround before the light, I double back along Main Street until I pass the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, where I hang a right onto Old Boston Post Road.  You’ve really got to love it–hallowed ground!  The old post road is just a two-lane street carrying me for several blocks past modest, old New England houses, the kind with steep-pitched roofs, narrow clapboard siding painted in subdued, tasteful hues, and gardens in the informal, slightly messy, almost English cottage style, full of tall flowers and hollyhocks, and complemented by shrubbery of the lilac and boxwood sort.  And a huge old shade tree or two, of course.

A block before the Old Post Road rejoins the newer I tun left on my favorite stretch of the circuit, the road across the salt marshes.  Technically a causeway for much of its length, this road begins on the north as Great Hammock Road, and halfway across becomes Plum Bank Road.  After a brief initial stretch along more shaded old homes, the road bursts into the bright sunshiny glare of the real New England shoreline.  To my left is the marsh, extending green for acres and acres, and looking deceptively like a grassy field in the distance.  But there are water channels all through it, and at low tide I can see their muddy traces, where egrets and herons stalk their prey.  Red-wings natter and swoop in the marsh grasses.  Ospreys fly overhead, purposefully toward the shore to fish, or equally purposefully back to the nest with a catch, always held aerodynamically face-forward.  To my right are modest, old, shacky beach houses, built on stable bay dunes, with a parking lot for a small public beach.  Small boats are docked near the edge of the road where a major inlet broadens out into Long Island Sound.  Out here I couldn’t be closer to the real human and animal life of the shore.

A short stretch takes me back to the five-way intersection where Henry buys his newspapers at a tiny convenience store.  I could angle right, back to the Sea Turtle, but instead I take Maple Avenue the other way, back to Main Street where the flood gauge is.  Maple Avenue has newer homes, some built I’d guess in the 1960s and 70s.  They are of diverse styles, tastes, and qualities, though I admit to being amused by the two or three with front yards pretentiously full of faux-marble lawn decorations, statuary, and fountains.  The ride is a long, shady false flat that runs slightly uphill toward the intersection at Main.  If the flood waters are ever measurable there, all these homes will be imperiled.  Just a block or so behind Maple on either side are the sizable salt coves from which the flood waters would come, the larger of which is South Cove on my right.  I hang a right and skirt the cove on another side, retracing my route along Main / College Street to the marina, then right again onto Bridge Street, across the low bridge spanning the outlet of South Cove, and past the side road to the Fenwick community, where Hepburn’s former home is.  Then the street becomes Maple Avenue again, carrying me back along the beachfront to the Sea Turtle.

One last thing I like about this circuit is that when I do pull in to the familiar driveway, someone is almost always prepared to observe that the sun is over the yardarm somewhere.  That’s how vacation rides should end.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.