November Ride

The sky is that radiant, infinitely deep blue of cold, clear air suffused with sunlight.  A contrail or two gives it a dimensionality, a frame of reference.  This is the last ride I am likely to take this month, if tomorrow’s weather forecast is to be believed.  I could squeeze in a ride in the morning, perhaps.  But I also need to squeeze in some leaf work before the onset of a real winter coastal storm.  They tend to form around Cape Hatteras and spin up along the Atlantic coast, like a coarse electric sander smoothing off the rough edges and filling in a niche or two.  This time of year they’re bound to be rain, well above freezing, except back up in the mountain ranges of the Blue Ridge and West Virginia.

Today is a day for the Trek.  With little wind and temperatures heading to the upper 40s, I decide to wear my lime green Cannondale training jersey along with pretty much the same gear as yesterday (see “Still Cool”).  The jersey has the advantage over the GoreTex of having pockets, so I don’t have to secret away my cell phone and keys in my Camelbak or my tiny saddlebag.

The chilly but light breeze from the SE is in my face as I head out.  It’s only 12:30 p.m., but already the sun is way below the tree line that lies 30 or so feet to the south as I roll southeast to the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington.  So it strobes, with an irritating irregularity, except for the times when I’m in a wide-open area. such as on the W&OD Trail bridge over the Beltway.  Right now that bridge presents a horrible sight.  The Beltway is torn up as they build new “hot” lanes on either side.  One by one, nearby road bridges have been shut down to be rebuilt.  The one that’s newly open was closed for a year.  It looks like they’re going to build a new Trail bridge immediately adjacent to the present one, however, so that the Trail will only be closed for a short time.  Meanwhile, the construction digging has resulted in some subsidence on either end of the bridge, and so there are fairly abrupt mini-ramps of 4″ or 5″ to surmount.  And as for the view, a whole strip of buffering trees and shrubs that separated neighborhoods from the multi-lane road has been stripped away, and is being replaced by a grim, gray, sound barrier wall.  It looks worse than the ones the Israelis continue to build on the West Bank.  I weep for the residents whose homes are adjacent to this (both here and on the West Bank).

Today there are mowing and clearing operations on the Falls Church section of the Trail.  There is always some kind of activity to obstruct and distract a rider on the W&OD these days.  In-season (i.e. summer) it’s mostly mowing the foliage adjacent to the trailway.  But there are also minor repairs and major projects such as the Hot Lane one described above.  And the power company on whose right-of-way much of the line is built is always busy with something.  So despite the prohibition of regular motorized vehicles, a rider encounters at least one internal combustion engine almost every single weekday.  Today the mowing vehicle is operated by some numbskull who doesn’t know how to run it half on, half off the asphalt so that riders can get by.  I have to dismount and walk my bike around him, even though he’s stopped for me.  The foliage-clearing vehicles are a bit more off the trailway, but I have to slow down to almost a stop to creep by because some workmen are idling along the trail side of their vehicle.  Sheez!  They are leaving areas of debris in their wake.  Such stuff contains sharp twigs and thorns, if not human trash like glass shards.  With my 115-lb. inflated tires I squeeze well to the opposite edge to get past.

Today is Monday, and both trail and auto traffic are light.  There’s an occasional walker, sometimes couples in pairs, the young ones often holding hands, the old familiar married ones sometimes in deep conversation, or looking at the flora or fauna.  The solo ones often have dogs, and today a guy with a frenetic puppy almost lets it run into my path before jerking back the leash.  At one crossing a jogger asks me if my frame is carbon fiber.  (“No; it’s smooth-welded aluminum.”  “Looks nice!”  “Thanks,” as the walk light comes on and I take off.)  At some intersections I often don’t need to stop, even at crossings that are usually traffic-heavy.  As for cyclists, today I neither pass nor am passed by anyone going in my direction on a 26-mile ride.  I pass perhaps four going the other way.  Everybody got it out of their system over the long holiday weekend, I guess.

On the way home, I loop off the trail to ride three or four miles of rolling hilly streets in North Arlington.  As a former railroad line, the W&OD Trail is mostly on a gentle grade, except for a few modern over- and underpasses.  Street riding is a great recreational component anyhow, but this phase of the route lets me work my muscles and gears in different ways than the trail does.  North Arlington neighborhoods go back about 60 years, to the time right after WWII when the Virginia suburbs were first being  developed.  There are many brick houses, small and in styles of the 40s, lining the streets.  While the last few years have seen numerous remodeling projects, most of these have been along the lines of adding a second floor, making a garage, or the like.  Few have been teardowns, and those few have tended to hew to the style of the neighborhood, rather than impose a totally improbable McMansion, as has been the case in Vienna (there’s an especially pretentious one on Cottage Street that’s been frozen in time for over a year; seems they must have run out of money).  So a ride through these streets is a ride back in time.  The homes, modest and neat, have recently become the more desirable after decades of flight to the outer suburbs.  They’re transportation accessible, reasonable to maintain, in established communities, and near all the amenities.  What’s not to like?  Except, I suppose, their dated wiring, HVAC systems, bathrooms, and kitchens.

Today I see again the sticker on a van that’s always parked in the street as I go by: “Pray for the people of all nations.”  It has been my constant inspiration for years.  My God does not have “Enemies Lists” or “Axes of Evil”: she has unconditional love for all.

I climb a couple of steep hills at the beginning of my loop, then pass a commercial center, hang a left for an up-and-down ride through more neighborhoods and past Bishop O’Connell High School, around a couple more turns and back onto the W&OD.  From there I just trek northwest as far as Virginia Lane , when once again i leave the trail slightly to climb the hill on the road.  Along this stretch, the bike trail is just somebody’s sidewalk, and I’d rather duke it out with cars than pedestrians.  There are no unusual impediments; in fact, the trail is clear, and I rush downhill after the turn off Virginia Lane toward home.  As I leave the trail, go along the right-of-way for a few yards, and join Jackson Parkway, i always get ready to sprint uphill on Academy Street to home.  Today i don’t do too well, hitting only 16 mph into the wind as I pass my own house, circle back, and coast into the driveway.

But my lungs are filled with cold air, my body is alive with endorphins, and my lungs and heart have had over two hours of aerobic workout.

That’ll do just fine.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.



Still Cool

Sandra asked ‘way back on November 6th about a photo of me in my winter regalia.  I put a version of that garb on again today for a ride that will become much more typical of my excursions for the next three months.  The temperature was in the mid-40s (46º, to be exact), and we will come to love this temperature as “moderate” for a while.  As the solstice approaches, the rate of change of daylight and of temperature lessens.  The drop in temperature lags about a month behind the daylight (more about this at the solstice).  But the average temperature is still going down.  So this garb, featuring my ultra-lightweight and thermal-resistant Gortex outer jacket, will be the norm.  Notice the wool faux-turtleneck neck warmer, the thermal gloves, the heavier long tights, the Camelbak hydration system (you still need liquid in the winter), and of course the smoke-colored Rudy Project shades, that block 80% of the sunlight.  That’s essential, as the low-angle glare of the sun these days, even at mid-day, is very harsh.  So it’s me and my Trek, about to embark on an early afternoon excursion (the ‘Skins lost without me in attendance).


Winter Gear, November 28, 2010

Winter Gear, November 28, 2010


Autographed glossies available on request.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


A colleague and friend responded to my inquiry about her apparent non-finish in the Marine Corps Marathon, a race run annually in D.C. in the fall.  Her name was not listed among the finishers.  “Did you have problems en route or didn’t you run this year?” I asked.  She reported that she had to pull out at mile 19 because “I ruptured my bursa sac and tore up all the ligaments and tendons in my hip.”  I’m not a specialist in hip-joint structure, though I know what bursa sacs are.  But Julia’s words alone are almost enough to evoke sympathetic pain.  And frustration: her doctor says four weeks of therapy, and 6-8 weeks of no running.  She said “I’m going nuts, as you could imagine.”  Oh, Julia, I can, I can.

Yesterday I woke up with severe pain in my right knee.  This was sudden, overnight.  I had taken a couple of days off from my aerobic exercise to do errands, rake leaves, and prepare for Thanksgiving.  Things were fine the night before.  But yesterday I could barely stand and walk.  Any muscular stress made the knee pain very severe.  Bending the right knee did too.  And bending plus stress, as when I was going up or down stairs–well, suffice it to say, OUCH!  My left knee was soon aching too, though not nearly as badly.

My leg muscles and joints have a tendency to get achy when they’ve not been exercised for a couple of days, and the joints and ligaments, tendons, and such can get inflamed every now and then.  The sure cure for such things tends to be to ride them off.  Even when the pain is fairly intense, once I have gone a few miles it’s usually forgotten.  But this one seemed too severe.  I couldn’t walk it off.  I couldn’t walk very much at all, or do anything else that required much knee bending.  In the afternoon I raked leaves to get some needed yard work done and spend some time in abnormally warm air (when 61° is “abnormally warm” you know late fall is here).  But I was moving like a septuagenarian, which come to think of it I am.  In the late afternoon I hopped on the exercise bike to see if I could get a bit of aerobic work in.  I could, but at a low level of intensity.  Every hard push on that knee brought telling pain.

I don’t worry much about illness or pain unless it affects my biking.  I get it checked out, but I don’t worry.  But I am a sheer hypochondriac about cycling injuries.  The spectre of being off the bike for a while just to rest my knee was a horrifying thought.  What if it was finally chronic knee degeneration, brought on by cycling?  Could I ever ride again?  Would I need to be accompanied by an osteopathic nurse?  Would she, a strawberry blonde like the one Casey waltzed with in the gay ’90s, ride along on an old “penny-farthing” high wheeler so she could hold the drip line high enough?  Would I just slowly transmute from bike rider to a power wheelchair operator?

So I popped two Ibuprofen last night.  This morning, still in pain.  Perhaps a little less, but not so you’d notice.  Then another Ibuprofen about 11:30, just before going out shopping–for Thanksgiving ingredients.  I was walking and medicating it off, perhaps.  When I got home about 1:30, I intended to drop the goods and head out to the wine store.  But it was 61°, another above-average temperature reading, the sky was blue, the road was calling.

In fact, when I went into the garage, my Trek distinctly said “ride me, big boy, ride me.”  This mode of address was less seductive than descriptive, I’m afraid.  So I mounted the sleek, lean, hot, blue and white machine and did about 24 miles.  There was some pain at the start, but it diminished.  By about the 13 mile mark, I could not feel any pain in either knee.  Adrenalin, I suppose.  But that pain-free ride continued to the end.  I was not at my most aggressive hammering intensity, but I was keeping up a decent pace.

At the end of the ride, once I dismounted and calculated the intensity of the ride by the speed and  time, my right knee was not painless, but very subdued.  I could do any activity, such as getting up from the sofa or bopping around the kitchen, without grimacing in pain.  If anything, things have improved since then.  The right knee is just uncomfortable enough to let me know it if I try something difficult, and the left knee is painless.

So once again the combination of moderate medication and “ride it off” works.  I feel grateful that I don’t apparently have, as Julia does, a real injury.  I’d be going nuts too, and I’m glad I don’t have to.

A day later:  even less discomfort.  I’ll give it a rest for today with no ride.  I can make virtually any movement effortlessly, and even standing up or doing the stairs is fine.  Now if I could only figure out why the pain flares up now and then . . .

[Written 11/22; finished and posted 11/23.]

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Iron Man

The first “Iron Man” was Joe McGinnity, Hall of Fame pitcher for John McGraw’s New York Giants.  he started and won both ends of a doubleheader three times, but earned his nickname because he worked in a foundry offseason (back in an era when baseball salaries were relatively in line with those for more mundane occupations and ballplayers had to have other jobs when they weren’t playing).

My friend and fraternity brother Mike is another “Iron Man.”  Not long ago he sent me an email entitled “TaDa!!!”  It showed two photos of a Cat Eye bike computer.  One read “99999”; the other read “0.”  Mike had then ridden 100,000 miles over an eleven year period since retirement in 1999.

Mike rides just about every day in and around Portland, OR.  360 days a year.  25 miles a day.  On two routes.  I asked him how he managed that, when so many days are surely rainy in Portland.  How does one set out in cold, wet weather?  Mike simply says that he, like Christine O’Donnell, is “not a witch,” and does not melt.  Besides, he adds, a hot shower is never more than three hours away.  that might be about 2 hours and 50 minutes too long for some of us.  The few days he does not ride are when very occasional frozen precipitation hits Portland.  One of his two crashes was in such conditions.  Though he was a physics major, Mike must have forgotten the bit in Newton’s Laws about bodies in motion tending to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.  When the ice and snow take away the “outside force” of friction, we cyclists can stay in motion longer than we intend, and in unanticipated directions as well.

Mike says his routes take him over a combination of city streets (mostly on designated bike lanes in cycling-friendly Portland), bike trails, and country roads.  The ability to work out those rich blends of environment on a 25-mile ride is beyond the grasp of a resident in a large (sub)urban area like my Fairfax County, a decidedly non-bicycle-friendly place where all the type-A commuters take it very personally if a cyclist is slowing them down for a few seconds.  The only way to find a perfect combination of environments is to drive the bike some distance to a fringe area, which undercuts the efficiency and “greenness” of a daily ride.

Mike jokingly added to his odometer photos “and now, on to one million…..NOT!”  I suggested all he’d have to do was to extend his daily route a bit, perhaps from Portland to Salem and back.  But Mike will be on the road on his Trek hybrid for years to come, I hope,  cruising those familiar routes.  A true Iron Man, in body and in will.

Have a good ride today, Mike.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


The ghosts of the past, the memories of rides and riders, reveal themselves in interesting ways.  The other day i got an email from my stepson Andrew.  He was forwarding and commenting on a blogger’s praise of ex-pro Davis Phinney, who rode for the 7 Eleven team back in the early 1980s, when Americans first joined the international peloton in Europe for the big races.  The comment was that Phinney was a stud, but his Bolle shades were “lame.”  Andrew remembered glasses like that; we have a photo of him in 7 Eleven kit (no glasses on), trying his best to emulate the stars who were his heroes:

the cycling shades back then were kew-ew-ewl!!  I loved my Rudy Projects, later my huge iridescent Bolle’s — these were seriously among my most prized possessions as a teen.

Soon his brother Matt chimed in, naming his old favorite shades, lost in the shadows of time:

I do remember my first (two pairs of Oakley Factory Pilots)….my white one with the wrap-around ear holders, and the foam browpad to absorb the sweat, and then my red ones….definitely cool (for cycling) at the time.  My blades (can’t remember if they were razor blades or not), were the best pair of cycling shades I have ever had….light, stayed comfortably on my face in all positions, had the metallic coloring…..Oakley had it going on even back then. I would still wear them today, if I had them.

I seconded the emotion, responding “As an innocent bystander to the issue of shades of the ’80s, I can say that there’s nothing more pointless than criticizing the styles of earlier eras.  Much as I love this posting’s affection for the spirit of the times and the studliness of the young Davis Phinney, to his smugness about sunglass styles I say “Phooey!”  As if his currently cool shades will be the epitome of sunshade design until the end of time.  Right on, Andrew!  Right on, Matt!  Every pair of shades that reminds you of good times riding your bikes or watching bike racing is “kew-ew-ewl” forever.”

That proclaimed, I will add that the blog itself is really great, with lots of avid readers commenting on that wonderful era of Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter (vs. Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow), Bob Roll (vs. Floyd Landis), steel frames (vs. carbon fiber), and pre-race coffee (vs. EPO).  It’s Velominati: Keepers of the Cog, at:

So great to know there are so many fans out there who can have a dialogue that does not descend into vituperation and/or inanity.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010


There is nobody so easily deceived as a cyclist riding with a tailwind.  It’s so easy to become convinced that the strong, effortless pedal strokes, the blazing speed, the sustained uphill power, are all a result of one’s own cycling prowess, not of that steady, strong wind rushing past from behind.  The internet purveyors of Nigerian multi-million dollar bank accounts could get my money if they could harness my willingness to be deceived by a tailwind.  Today I got a free ride on the outbound loop. Could have sworn those dry leaves scuttering along in front of me were just going my way for the fun of it.  At turnaround time, though, the full truth became immediately apparent.  I’d have to grind for every inch coming back.  The winds were basically WNW but swirling and eddying, bringing down new autumn leaves and rearranging those that had already fallen.  And not only did I have to ride into those eddies, but uphill to boot.  I’ve always claimed that my forté Is riding downhill in a tailwind, so the home-bound leg today was my anti-forté, I suppose.  Still, on a bright fall day the pleasure of light, color, and energy made for a great day out on the bike.

Weather like this during the lead-up to the Christmas season surely inspired the poet Clement Moore.  His poem “A Visit from St. Nick,”  said to be the most famous verse ever written by an American, uses a sort of mini-epic simile to describe the approach of St. Nick and his sleigh.  Moore compares the action of the miniature sleigh and reindeer in reaching the roof of the house to dry leaves swirling in a high wind:

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too.

Moore observes that the dry leaves swirling in the breeze fly upward when they, and the wind, reach a barrier, because they cannot continue on without doing so.  What makes the simile “epic” is that the action of the leaves is so graphically portrayed that it has an interest and a life of its own, not just as a descriptor of the main subject, St. Nick’s visit.  Most interestingly, it would appear that the “right jolly old elf” and his vehicle are approaching at or near the ground, and only at the last minute “dash away” to the porch roof and the wall top before they “flew . . . up” to the roof-top.  Yet at the end they fly away like weightless thistle-down, perhaps near the ground again until they once again “mount to the sky.”  Hmmm . . . is there an article for The Explicator in this?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.