I collect all the items for a Sunday afternoon ride. It’s November, and the clock is working its way around to 1:00. Still breezy after another minor weather shift: a costal low way offshore is pumping air from the North Atlantic in on a northeast vector. Sun’s out, though, and I’m ready to go.
The garage faces south, and the white paint catches the sun, creating a deceptive microclimate of warmth. It will be cooler and windier out on the road, but it’s nice to feel a last kiss of balminess as I top off the tires to 8 atmospheres (116 lbs.) while the Trek leans against the garage door. It’s an essential part of my pre-ride ritual; neglect of lubrication and tire pressure causes more basic maintenance problems than anything else. Early in my riding life I incurred a wholly unnecessary flat just because I didn’t realize that tires lose 5% to 10% of their air pressure on every ride. Never again.
Rolling fast down Academy Street, a sweeping left onto Jackson Parkway, then uphill to the right-of-way, the cool of the wind is evident. I’ve worn a mock turtle neck warmer, a lined, long sleeve jersey (black and white with blue and yellow logo art: GT Bikes, Shimano, Michelin man, Nike swoosh) and base layer, padded shorts with leggings over, Assos Early Winter socks, Performance lined gloves, lined skull cap, shoes and helmet. This is pretty standard garb for me in the 45°-55° range. I see people riding in shorts and even short sleeves under 50°, but I’m all for reasonably healthy comfort. Feeling the chill, and I remind myself that I have dressed for the middle of the ride, by which time my metabolism will be up, burning calories and thus generating heat.
The northeast breeze gives me a tailwind as I ride out toward Vienna and then beyond to Reston and Herndon. Traffic is light both on the trail and the road crossings, and most of the trail traffic is walkers. I enjoy the stillness of the trail on days like this, the sun low in the sky, its light slanting over meadows and through stands of trees. The wind is too light to rustle the leaves, and the murmur of organic life is hushed. A few sparrows and mockingbirds flit silently through the trailside brush, but only the odd burst of sound from the neighborhoods along the wooded trail—a distant emergency vehicle wail, the shout from a backyard football game, a vehicular murmuring as I approach the Toll Road underpass—briefly insinuates itself. The sparrows are mostly the plump, spry, cheery White-Throats, as sure a sign of coming winter as there is.
Leaf fall is still under way, though the farther west I ride the barer the trees are. I can’t spot exactly which species are holding out, but at home it’s always our pin oaks. Others, like sweet gums, seem to like to let go bit by bit all fall, and they bestow their star-like leaves in yellow, brown, and vivid maroon on our front stoop all fall. Others, like our maple near the east end of the house, do a mass dump over about a ten-day period. It is starkly empty today, but was quite full even a week ago. The leaves cover the grassy areas beside the trail, and a few are always skittering over the asphalt, providing a good estimate of the wind velocity and direction. On this quiet day, as I pass a flat patch of ground covered with brown sycamore leaves, one rises up, a huge brown moth caught by a breeze, flits over its prostrate comrades, finds a more comfortable nook, and settles in again with the rest.
Today I don’t do my usual turn into Trailside Park in western Herndon, where I catch a breath, watch the skateboarders (there’s always a few kids there, even weekdays during school hours), mop my brow, and loop back. Instead I go north on Crestview, zigzag onto Fantasia, swoop by the Corwins’ place (they’re out today getting family photos taken), take the long downhill on Hiddenbrook (where it’s easy to hit 30+ mph), and then turn back along Dranesville to the W&OD again. The Corwins are moving to Ashburn next month, and I won’t be going past their house there very often unless I extend my riding range a bit. But today it’s a nice run through traffic-free subdivision streets. Until I hit Dranesville, that is. This final segment of the loop is a four-lane road with bike lanes on each side. When the road gets closer to Herndon and narrows a bit, the bike lane, of course, abruptly disappears. The choice is up on the sidewalk, with its uneven expansion cracks and pedestrian hazards, or staying on the road. I stay. The traffic is light enough, and the distance short enough, so that I trust drivers to share the road.
Resting in Herndon, I look at the sky really for the first time. Winter clouds: the cirrus and the stratocirrus, those amazing “mares’ tails,” with an occasional contrail mixed in. Underneath are sporadic small dark grey reminders of that offshore low pressure. It’s as if they were saying “by tomorrow we’re going to be all over the sky, so get ready.” The winter sun’s low glare lights clouds differently from the summer light, often more brilliantly, but these scudding maritime clouds remain the color of the cold grey North Atlantic, where they were born. The halyards of the town green flags clink against the poles in the desultory breeze.
Cool weather like this activates my sinuses, which have become increasingly sensitive over the last few years. My eyes water and my nose runs, though once the eyes dry out a little they’re not a big problem. Today, though, going home into the wind, everything is running most of the time. Visibility is only a problem, though, when too many tears get on the inside of my glasses. Today that doesn’t happen, even if this weather in general tends to make me dehydrate about as rapidly as when I perspire in warm air. I arrive home refreshed, exhilarated, full of energy, and a little stronger than I was yesterday. And ready to get warm.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.