Between a glum, drizzly first week and a glorious Greek Island cruise later on, May has provided few opportunities for cycling.  I find myself at the end of the month facing the challenge of working my way back into shape from a mediocre level of conditioning.  Each ride is one step closer to good form, but I want to take it slow so that the process involves recovering what I had a month ago rather than damaging joints, tendons, and muscles by pushing them too hard, thus making the recovery longer and more painful.


The wine-dark sea!

Today’s ride was supposed to be routine, but it turned out to be a minor Odyssey.  One of the thrills of our vacation was to travel on that same wine-dark sea that carried Homer’s Achaeans to Troy and home again.  Homer also recounts the long convoluted return of one of the warriors, Odysseus of Ithaca, who spent ten years getting home while his faithful wife, Penelope, wove and unwove a tapestry to keep her suitors at bay.  There were unforeseen adventures all along the way.

When I started out this morning, something wasn’t right.  It was the first time I had ridden the Trek since I had to change the rear tire.  Talk about good fortune—I was getting ready to ride one day about three weeks ago when I checked the rear tire only to find a gash right down to the threads.  I switched bikes that day, and changed the tire a day or two later, having bought one on sale some time before “just in case.”  (The Forté Pro+ tires I use are not being made in blue right now, but I found one in a store and got it on sale).

But today when I sailed down Academy Street and around the corner at the bottom there was an annoying “click” that I could swear was coming from the rear wheel.  It was synched to the rpms of the wheels, not the pedals.  So something was hitting the wheel every time around.  I dutifully rode back up the hill and checked everything out.  I took me a good five or six minutes to realize that the source of the sound was the front wheel, specifically the magnetic pickup for the bike computer on the fork.  It had been pushed too close to the wheel, so that the little magnet clamped to one of the spokes was hitting it on the way by.  Must have gotten pushed out of adjustment while I was installing the rear wheel with the new tire.

Easy fix, on my way.

Monster McMansion
Within the first two miles of my ride inbound on the W&OD there is a short, steep rise in the Trail where it skirts Idylwood Park and ascends to Virginia Avenue just inbound from Hurst Street, where it overpasses I-66 on the sidewalk.  (Many cyclists, it must be said, use Virginia Avenue for this little stretch, because the “Trail” here is no wider than a residential sidewalk and poses a real risk of collision with pedestrians and/or homeowners.)  As I was on the last part of the ascent along the park I looked up and gasped to see something that had not been there last time I rode by—the huge bulk of a McMansion at the top of the hill, on the far side of Virginia Avenue.  It was already clad in plywood sheathing, awaiting its Tyvek (which, according to its maker, DuPont, is not a mere product but a “weatherization system”).  What an archetypal symbol of the modernization of old suburbia.  The house that was on this property had been built more than half a century ago, when Falls Church was an outer suburb.  It sat back from the road at the end of a gravel driveway, in a dell, surrounded by a cluster of trees.  It was modestly brown, barely visible from the road.  In those days Idylwood Park was a dairy farm, whose family owners delivered milk by foot to neighborhood customers.  There was no I-66, though for a decade in the 1960s and 70s there was a cleared right-of-way that became a home for riding trails and wild blackberries while the building of the highway was in court.  Long ago, the same ridge had supposedly been a vantage point from which John Mosby’s raiders spied on the Union rail activity on the W&OD line.  Now the suburban atmosphere is being modernized through the widespread practice of the “teardown,” in which an older, modest middle-class home on a decent-sized lot is razed and a lot-filling “upwardly mobile” home, probably with five bedrooms, four or five baths (including the obligatory master bath large enough to service a harem), wet bar, kitchen with granite-topped island, and (ironically) a “two-car garage” that will barely accommodate a pair of Priuses.  Hope the eventual owners like the sound of soccer games from the park and the look of cyclists on their treks on their Treks.

Toe Clip
I discovered as my ride continued that my right toe clip was giving me problems.  I couldn’t reliably get my foot in all the way so that the ball of the foot would rest directly on the pedal.  At first I thought the problem was that the strap was not in place properly because one of the holders had worn through.  I stopped and re-inserted the strap, but the problem continued.   I rode with it for a while, but finally stopped again and found that the strap had been tightened so that the opening was too small to accommodate my shoe correctly.  Easily fixed.  But how did this happen?  Was this too a result of my efforts to reinstall my rear wheel when the new tire had been mounted?  Puzzling.

Snapping Turtle
The W&OD skirts Four Mile Run through Arlington, much of it in a parkland called “Bon Air Park.”  Along the way there’s a little pond created by damming up the Run and used to control drainage, which has become the home of much aquatic life, flora and fauna.  There’s a small overlook where a rider can stop and watch for turtles, frogs, and fish, as well as water lilies and other plants, and aquatic birds.  Somewhat west of that spot, but along Four Mile Run, I came upon a woman today who was standing in the trail pointing at a turtle.  Now I do see turtles, mostly box turtles, on the W&OD.  But this was not that—it was a Snapping Turtle.  It was perhaps 20-22” overall, with a shell about 15” long and the rest accounted for by head and tail. First one I’d ever seen on the trail, though I know they’re capable of traveling a good distance from water on land.  The beak seemed to suggest it was big enough to perform efficient digital amputation surgery.  I slowed a bit, passed both her and it on the left, said “It’s a Snapping Turtle.  Don’t touch it” and went on my way.

Throwing the Chain
For the last few months the Trek has had a tendency to throw the chain on occasion when I shift into the big crank gear.  I thought I’d fixed it a few weeks back by a minor adjustment.  But today as I crested the climb of Patrick Henry Drive right after it crosses Washington Boulevard and roared downhill, when I shifted to the big gear the chain came off.  I coasted to the bottom of the hill, and luckily the spot was shady and cool.  There’s a bike lane on the street, and a parking lane too, so I was out of harm’s way as I worked at the curb.  Usually all I have to do is find a stick to pull the chain back over the gear and slip it back on, but the nearby properties were so well maintained that there were no sticks to be found.  I had to get out my bike tool and use it.  The chain in this case was also pinned between the cogset and the chainstay.  So I had to manipulate the rear derailleur and get the chain on a lower gear.  By the time I was finished fiddling around my fingers on both hands were greasy.  I cleaned up, mopped off the sweat from myself and my sunglasses, and was off again.  I wondered what had happened to what I thought was an adjusted drivetrain.  Could putting on a rear wheel be the cause of this, as well as all the other equipment problems?  I was more careful when I shifted into the big gear, but before I got home I forgot once, and I threw the chain again.  That time it was much easier to fix because I found a good stick.

When I finally got back I had had a great ride in nice warm (but not overly humid) weather.  Best of all, my wife was not fighting off suitors and my cat recognized me immediately.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.


Thoughts While Cycling

Bike Haiku

For days my legs ached
Too much to ride.  But I rode;
Now my legs don’t ache.

  • Today’s the first time all this spring when I’ve felt that I could hammer through the pain and fatigue in my legs and just keep the pace rockin’ and the gearing high as the end of a 30-mile ride neared.  My legs went on revving, felt strong along with the weariness, and never faltered.  I ended up passing a couple of riders I never thought I could have, and my bike computer verified that my average speed was way up from a similar ride two weeks ago.
  • Now the question is whether this represents a new level of fitness or just a good day.  We’ll see tomorrow, won’t we?
  • In all fairness, after two days of rain (the back half of the ’48 Braves’ rotation) we have had two days of perfect riding weather and three more are predicted.  Who could ask for anything more.  No whining from me.
  • One advantage of riding into a headwind is that when you have to turn your head to the right and spit, it flies rapidly off the trail and behind you.  A tailwind leaves the same act open to all sorts of results, many of them not desirable.

Those are all my thoughts for today.  Perhaps one too many.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.


It seems only fitting that on May First my attention turned to workers during my ride.  The Public Works Department folks had the traffic down to one lane on North Harrison Street, about two blocks beyond the Harris Teeter, for repaving.  They’ve already inserted one annoying little piece of “road furniture” at the secondary entrance to the Harris Teeter shopping center, in order to facilitate more orderly though much slower transitioning between the lot, the other lot directly across the street at the Safeway, and the street.  Coming up the rise toward 26th St., I passed the “One Lane” and “Flagman Ahead” signs, and hit milled pavement.  I could see ahead that they had blocked off 27th St., where I usually turn left to head back toward 28th St., N. Little Falls Road, and ultimately the W&OD again.  So I crossed the opposite lane, which was not only milled but sprinkled here and there with a light coating of tar, lifted my bike over the 1.5” shelf of pavement near the curb, rode on the sidewalk for 100’ or so, and turned down blessedly smooth and unmilled 26th St., went around the corner and down N. Jefferson for a block, and rejoined 27th  just beyond the end of the paving project.

Four or five blocks later I decided that I had to stop and brush off my front tire, which had accumulated a variety of small pebbles that had just enough tar on them to stay stuck.  The periodic clicking as they hit the pavement on each revolution was bad enough, but I didn’t want to take the chance that some sharp-edged fragment would embed itself in the tire and ultimately cause a flat.

This impromptu detour is only the most recent of a number I’ve made in North Arlington in recent weeks.  Once they had the area of 19th Rd., 19th St., and Tuckahoe all shut down, and another time I had to circumnavigate Bishop O’Connell HS because 28th and N. Little Falls were being done.  It’s actually kind of interesting to see some different neighborhood blocks, and besides, the work is done in a couple of days.  By the next time I ride there, they’ll have moved on to some other blocks, perhaps nearby and perhaps not.  And once the repaving is done, the surface is excellent!

Coincidentally or not, today’s ride also revealed a key piece of repaving on the W&OD.  Just east of the spot where the W&OD underpasses Wilson Boulevard there has been an evil patch of pavement for several years.  About 50’ long, it’s covered with cracks and bumps from tree roots.  Riders have worn paths in the dirt on either side so they can hop off and bypass the pavement.  If you stay on it, you have to stand on the pedals and freewheel.  The upthrust pavement is that difficult.  But I’ll now have to put the description in the past tense, because when I reached that spot today there was new, black, smooth asphalt.  Not a trace of a bump to be found.  Thanks, Park Authority!  Last time I rode over that spot I said to myself I was going have to complain.  But I never got around to it.  I don’t want to exaggerate my influence or the respect in which I am held, but my mere intention to complain got them to do the job.  Just saying . . .

If Arlington County is doing busy and active work with repaving, the opposite is true of the Town of Vienna.  They closed Cottage Street between Patrick St. and Yeonas Dr. (four blocks) last fall.  They did the whole nine yards, I guess.  New sewers, new sidewalks, new subsurface, the works.  For the duration we have had to take a somewhat different neighborhood shortcut to drive to I-66 westbound.

One of my local cycling rides begins at the Gallows Road end of Cottage and goes almost to where it ends behind the Vienna Shopping Center.  I then cut over on Locust, past the Police Station, to Center, where I ride back up to Moore Ave. and hang a right back over to Cottage, where I return to the Gallows Road end.  Doing that three times, plus a little loop at the end in my neighborhood, gives me a 20.5-mile ride with 1400’ of uphill.  A lot of that uphill comes in the blocks they were repaving.

And now the project is over, the detour signs are gone, and Cottage is open for business so I’m back on my original route.  The new pavement is smooth, black, and fast, allowing me to climb with direct-drive energy, not dodging potholes and cracks, and descend with the swift smoothness of a hungry osprey.  Just one liiiiiiitle problem: though they had the bleeding road closed for months for a complete upgrade, the Town of Vienna did not, I repeat DID NOT, repave the fourth block, between Walker St. and Yeonas.  What’s the big deal, you say?  Well, this is the worst patch of pavement I have ever seen on a public street in the United States, a few random blocks of DC excepted.  From one side to the other the surfaces is crumbled into coarse gravel, intermixed with small bumps of attached but crumbling asphalt.  There are places where the whole top layer is gone, leaving 2”-deep depressions.  The ride is so jarring that I often am not sure I can maintain control of my bike.  It makes riding the cobblestones of the European “Spring Classics” bike races, such as Paris-Roubaix, seem like a weekend cruise.  Even George Hincapie would have trouble with it.  I thought the whole purpose of the project was to address this particular patch of substandard road.  What were they thinking?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.