About Arnold

A cyclist blogging about cycling and life cycles. Teach as adjunct at Georgetown and NOVA. Married. Retired from full time professorship.

Waiting for the New Beginning

Watching the Nats game on TV last night was an eerie experience.  We’d had downpours off and on all day (totaling about 4.5”), and the air was that warmish, damp August mugginess that makes one yearn for autumn.  Tanner Roark, he of the W 8, L 12 record and 4.05 ERA, was starting a game that meant little in the great scheme of things for the 62-63 Nats.  Attendance was light on a weekday night that was a late summer “school night” for many kids in the region; random cheers and calls echoed through the sparsely populated grandstands and concourses.  You could hear occasional bats rattle in the dugouts, and a word or two of the many exchanged among ballplayers draping their arms over the railing as they watched the game.  There was a dank gloom, a sense of unfocused malaise, of things coming to an end.

Earlier in the afternoon word had come of two waiver-deal trades.  Daniel Murphy, two-time Nats All-Star second baseman, a student of hitting with a Nats batting average of well over .300, if only a passable fielder, had gone to the Cubs for cash considerations, a mediocre prospect, and the proverbial “player to be named later.”  And Matt Adams, a hulking first baseman/outfielder with huge tattooed biceps, owning 18 homers on the season, went back to St. Louis, where he had begun his career with the Redbirds.  This happened two days after a backbreaking 12-1 thrashing of the Nats by the hapless Miami Marlins, and a day after the dean of D.C. sportswriters, Tom Boswell, had proclaimed the Nats’ season to be deceased.  Apparently the Nationals’ management finally agreed, and was cutting salary obligations to realign the finances to allow off-season acquisitions for 2019.

After Roark completed the third inning, it began to rain.  An assistant showed the umpiring Crew Chief an iPhone image of the incoming precipitation pattern, the ground crew threw the tarp on the field in less than two minutes, and the participants and loyalists among the fans waited it out for nearly two hours.  The stadium looked deserted on TV.  The dank gloom intensified.  Some players apparently watched the division-leading Braves game in the clubhouse, as they throttled the Buckos behind the shutout ball pitched by ex-Orioles starter Kevin Gausman.  A team going nowhere watching a team going somewhere.

Stevenson celebrates homer

Andrew Stevenson celebrates his first big-league home rum

The rain stopped; play resumed with Roark’s start wasted and Matt Grace on the hill for the Nats.  Before you knew it, the Phillies, chasing the Braves and trailing by a single game, were up 4-1.  A “here we go again” sense pervaded the emptying stadium.   But in the bottom of the 6th, stuff started to happen.  Twenty-year-old rookie Juan Soto singled.  Light-hitting catcher Matt Wieters singled him home.  Callup Andrew Stevenson, who drove from Syracuse and arrived at the stadium after the game started, hit a pinch-hit homer sharply to left for a career first.  Second-base backup Wilmer Difo whacked one into the upper deck in right field.  By the end of the inning, a 1-4 Nats deficit was a 6-4 lead.  They later tacked on four more runs, one being a home run by gimpy veteran Ryan Zimmerman, only his 12th of the season.

What was left of the crowd went home happy, having witnessed a rare Nationals comeback win.  The Phillies went back to their hotel two games behind the Braves, beaten in a game they needed to win by a team with nothing to lose.  This is the way baseball fans of the many non-contending teams in each league enjoy the last part of the season.  They take each day as it comes, and savor the baseball played that day for what it means right then and there, not for what it implies for the “playoff picture.”  It’s the national pastime, after all.  Soon it will give way to the frozen tundra of football, the slick ice on the hockey rink, the drafty basketball gym.  And we will all look forward to the day pitchers and catchers report in February.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

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After Berry Picking

In Eugene the mission was to harvest the blackberries.  Parts of Matthew’s yard are grown up into blackberry patches, thanks to the vigorous, ubiquitous wild vines that seem to thrive especially well in the weather and soil of the Pacific Northwest.  From the June blossoming through summer fruit-set and growth, the vines keep throwing out stocky new shoots, which serve to protect the maturing fruit with arched branches of sharp, tenacious thorns.

Ripe Cluster

The Quarry: Ripe Blackberry Cluster

There’s something unique about wild blackberry thorns.  They aren’t long and spiky, like pyracantha thorns, which if the Romans didn’t use them for the Crown of Thorns they were missing a bet.  They aren’t small and stubby like rose thorns, which are easily avoided or handled with a bit of care.  The long tendrils of the blackberry drape many linear feet of thorn branches all around the berries.  You can’t reach in or walk into the briars without their sticking to your skin, entangling themselves in your hair (so they tell me), or grabbing your clothing in a veritable death-grip.  They are not barbed, but disentangling one’s hair, skin, and clothing from them is not easy.  A big part of the picking process is avoiding, removing, setting aside, and otherwise creating relatively thorn-free access to the boughs of berries.

I was an avid berry-picker when Matthew was a child.  Inspired by Euell Gibbons’ ‘60s classic Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I was a food forager, especially in the old I-66 right-of-way, which was cleared of houses (including one by Frank Lloyd Wright) and roads, and left to lie fallow during a ten-year court battle over whether to build the road inside the Beltway.  They finally built it, but not before our family had many servings of wineberries, blackberries, black and red raspberries, apples, crabapples, poke, rhubarb, sumac, watercress, and (yes) wild asparagus from nature’s bounty.

Picker's hand

Picker’s Hand: juice, dirt, blood

Matthew remembers our garden, where I later grew raspberries and blackberries.  But those blackberries were the thornless variety.  I was no fool; I was not going to bring into my garden the malice of blackberry thorns.  The thornless berries were big as your thumb and very tasty, but they lacked by just an ineffable bit that uniquely rich, complex flavor that made foraging the wild berries worth the bleeding hands and snagged clothes.  And all the old tricks came back when the patches in Eugene insisted by their fragrance and glistening black clusters of fruit that they must be picked the other day.

Three generations of Bradfords advanced on the brambles, since granddaughter Winnie—now almost 12 (!)—was in on it too.  Her job was to pick the easy stuff, with Matthew’s help, and eat all she wanted.  Matthew, armed with stainless steel bowl and clippers, did some serious picking as well as trimming, and I was a relentless picker, using my instinctively recalled tactics to avoid the thorns and strip the abundant clusters of their ripe fruit.

Picked berries

Some of the harvest, destined for jam.

The good thing about having your own backyard patches is that nobody else picks them.  Blackberry clusters do not ripen all at once.  The ones at the tips of the fronds are ready first, followed closely by about half the berries.  The others remain in various stages of green-pink on down to black.  They’re ripe not when they get glossy black, but when that gloss is accompanied by a bit of softness, and a gentle tug is enough to pull them off the stem.  The seemingly-ripe but still-firm berries need more time, because their sugar levels are not high enough.  That’s where Winnie becomes invaluable; by sampling them now and again she can confirm we’re getting the ripe ones.  Even gentle tugs can cause slightly overripe berries to fall to the ground.  When you have the abundance we did you can let them go.  Or you can pick the ones that just dropped.  And you can pick clusters down to the ground, without worrying about “salutations” from pets, which is a problem with trail-side berry patches.  There’s also no poison ivy to look out for, another occupational hazard.

In a short time we had well over a gallon of blackberries.  Our first picking, a couple of days earlier, had yielded a delicious cobbler.  But this lot was for the long haul.  Matthew made almost three quarts of jam.  Next winter the aromas and flavors of that jam will remind us of the rich abundance of nature in the Northwest, the warmth of a summer’s day, the joy of a family together.

© Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

Descent

Adam Yates is a professional bike racer for the Mitchelton-Scott team.  A climbing specialist, he’s participating in his third Tour de France.  On Tuesday, Stage 16 took the riders 218 km (135.5 miles)  through southern France and into the Pyrenees, from the medieval walled town of Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon on the Spanish border, winding over three high mountains (one 2nd category and two first category), and finishing with a twisty, highly technical descent into town.  The first riders over the last summit would stand a good chance of winning the stage, especially if they were good descenders, as the race leaders would probably wait until the next day to duke it out on a wicked uphill finish rather than risking a fall at 50 kmh or more.  Earlier in the stage the race would traverse a descent on which the Italian rider Fabio Casartelli had fallen and died in 1995, a crash that greatly influenced the mandatory wearing of helmets in professional racing.

Descending is a special skill, one that many climbers do have, though not all.  It requires an ability to “read” the turns correctly as one approaches each one, so that one can go through them on the best line, with a minimum need to brake and a minimum chance of demonstrating Newton’s Laws of Motion by careening off the road.  The less force needed to change the direction of the bike, the better.  And any hard braking risks locking up the wheel so that it doesn’t revolve for a moment, resulting almost certainly in a skid and a crash.  Along with those skills, the rider needs a sure and delicate touch in bike handling–no over- or understeering,and just enough lean to keep the center of gravity in a stable spot.

Yates falls

Adam Yates falls on the descent of the Col du Portillon

Going up the Col du Portillon, the last climb of the stage on Tuesday, Yates attacked out of a group of seven riders who were leading the race by a wide margin over the more cautious peloton.  He was 2 km from the summit, and he got a 30-second gap quickly.  The others couldn’t respond, except for the Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.  No slouch himself, Alaphilippe wore the polka-dot jersey (red on white) as the best climber in the race to that point.

Cresting the summit, Alaphilippe was 18 seconds behind Yates, the others badly distanced.  As the cyclingnews website narrator put it: “Here we go then. One white-knuckle descent to the finish line. . . . Yates begins his descent and takes it aggressively. He . . . can’t afford a single error.”   Two minutes later, on a simple and moderate left-handed bend, that single error came.

Yates crashed.

He was in the middle of the road, whose surface was dry.  The sun was out, the air was dry and clear.  But he crashed.  Alaphillipe went by him in a flash, and though Yates remounted, he was visibly shaken.  He took the next few curves at very moderate speed, compared to the hell-for-leather intensity he exhibited before.  By the end, Alaphilippe was all by himself, 15 seconds ahead of Yates, who was caught by two other riders from the lead group and was the third overall across the line.

In a flash Yates’ fate was reversed.  He and Alaphilippe are both 26.  They’ll have more descents together.  But Adam Yates will have to wait for for another day to get another great opportunity for a stage win at the Tour, and who knows when, or even if, that will be?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

Cherchez le Tour

Yesterday I was about ready to quit watching this year’s Tour de France, as the cold, ruthless hand of Team Sky fell on the peloton in a fashion eerily similar to the way the hand of US Postal would fall on it, in the first serious mountain stage each year.  Four-time Tour winner Chris Froome and his chief lieutenant, a Welshman named Geraint Thomas, took the field by the throat.  Froome almost seemed willing to gift the stage to Thomas, who attacked from the leader’s group with 5km left to go after the two stage leaders.  Froome did not counter until another overall contender, Roman Bardet, also tried to bridge the gap to the leaders.  In the end, Thomas made the final strong move

and it appeared nobody else could counter, even the favorite, Froome.  But Froome still finished third and put time into all his serious rivals except his own teammate.

skysports-geraint-thomas-tour-de-france-cycling_3991360

Geraint Thomas in yellow.

But today showed that the unexpected is always lurking. Team Sky may still be dominant, yet now the question is whether Froome has it in him to win the Tour again.  Today’s stage ended with a much, much steeper climb than yesterday, up the legendary L’Alpe d’Huez, with its twenty-one switchbacks over 13 km, average gradient of 8%, and 1700 meter (5570 foot) elevation.  As the end approached, one rider (Steven Kruijswijk) remained ahead; the leaders were in a fairly large group, led by another Sky rider (Colombian climber Egan Bernal), then Froome and Thomas (the two Sky teammates), then most of the other contenders.  After various feints and charges, as many as five or six were together across the road with just 4 km left.  Then attacks began, and in the last fairly sharp corner Thomas was took the best line and had the most strength.  Froome finished 4th, only three seconds back.  But his lieutenant has now beaten him two days in a row on terrain suited to Froome.  Thomas is the better time trialer, but there’s only one ITT in the Tour, on the next-to-last day.
Finally the booing.  Near the end the crowd was booing some or all of the contending riders.  Perhaps it was that they did not wait when contender Vincenzo Nibali fell with less than 4 km to go.  But the fall was too close to the finish line to establish a “level playing field” for all to contend.  The contenders had to contend, and they did.  Or was the booing directed at Froome, who was allowed to race only at the last minute because of an unresolved doping finding.  The Tour crowds didn’t show much love for Lance Armstrong in his last race up L’Alpe d’Huez either; he has booed and spat on because of suspected doping, which the crowd believed long before the eventual investigation, findings, and fall from grace.
Bradly Wiggins, former Team Sky Tour champion, said Sky would have a problem on its hands if Thomas won.  And he knows, because he was the victim of Froome, his then-young teammate who outpaced him and ultimately replaced him as team leader.
Stay tuned!  The Tour has more feats of derring-do and behind-the-scenes drama to offer in the next eleven days.
© Arnold Bradford, 2018.

Cyclist Assault on the W&OD

This never happens.  Sexual assaults?  There have been a few over the last 15 years. Collisions?  Of course.  Cyclists hit by vehicles at crossings?  Sadly, several.  Angry words exchanged?  Every day, I am sure, and several within my hearing.

But “road rage” attacks?  Never, until I heard this on the radio a couple of days ago:

A bicyclist was seriously injured Sunday on one of the area’s most popular bike trails when another cyclist reached out and struck him as they passed each other, authorities said.

It sounds horrible.  Somebody just reached over into the other lane and smacked another rider.

But wait; there’s more.  In the expanded Washington Post report, the story goes on [I disavow and deplore the painfully clunky prose you are about to read]:

According to the sheriff’s office, the victim was headed west and reportedly on the center line of the trail as he tried to pass two other cyclists. A cyclist going in the opposite direction purposely extended his arm and struck him on his helmet, the sheriff’s office said.

The westbound cyclist fell to the ground, the sheriff’s office said. The other cyclist rode off to the east, the sheriff’s office said, heading toward Ashburn Village Boulevard.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the suspect in what they described as an assault wore a white/light green shirt, a helmet and sunglasses, and was about six feet tall.

According to the office, his bicycle was said to resemble a time trial bike or a triathlon bike. The bars on the bike were “aero bars” and his helmet was an “aero” helmet covered with a sun shade that covered half his face, according to the statement.

Now it’s a whole different thing, right?  Clearly the “victim” was on the wrong side of the yellow line, not “on” it.  Check out the photo, taken at a place not far from the incident;

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The W&OD Near Ashburn Village Boulevard

there’s not enough room on that section to pass without getting out of your lane.

So it is easy to infer that the “suspect”, the tri-bike guy with the white/light green jersey and the aero helmet, was faced with a speeding cyclist coming at him on his side of the trail, passing other bikes headed in his direction on their proper side of the trail.  He had no place to go except way over to the edge or off the trail.  The shoulder varies in width and quality, but it’s never a good place to be forced onto at a second’s notice.  It’s easy for me to see why the “suspect” would want to smack the “victim,” or true assailant, who had put himself, the “suspect,” and others in harm’s way.  Not that I am condoning a deliberate attempt to injure another cyclist in any circumstances, but the “victim,” it would appear, got what was coming to him.

It was a Sunday afternoon.  It was a rare (for this spring) warm April day.  The cyclists being passed were probably going slowly.  They might well have been a family.  They, along with the dog walkers, the septuagenarian couples taking walks, the second graders being taught how to ride their bikes, the riders stopped on the trail to take a cell phone call, and the rest of the human comedy that occupies the Trail on nice weekend days, can’t be expected to know or follow the Trail Rules.  If regular riders want to get out there on days like that, they have to ride slowly.  Period.

So it’s a shame it happened, and I am glad such events are very rare.  Two guys trying to squeeze too much intensity out of a rare recreational moment.

But I bet I know one guy who’s not going to be wearing his light green kit, donning his aero helmet, or riding his tri-bike for a while out on the Trail.

Copyright Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

National Pastime

It’s April and the baseball season has started.  As a Nats fan I’d know the month without a calendar from the mere fact that Adam Eaton is on the DL.  Over the last three days we’ve been given reason to remember why this sport is our “national pastime,” amusing, entertaining, and thrilling us consistently for six months of competition and then another of postseason drama.

Three days ago the up-and-coming, but not there yet, Atlanta Braves jumped all over the ex-defending champ Chicago Cubs to lead 10-2 after 3 ½ innings.  It was still 10-5 going into the bottom of the 8th.  But in that frame the Cubbies scored nine runs, transforming a 5-run deficit into a 4-run lead.  This feat was accomplished not by a lot of long, loud hits thundering off Cub bats.  No, it was more the two hit batsmen, the wild pitch, and the 5 walks (four of them in a row, three of them RBI walks) that did it.  The Braves got two outs on the Cubs before the first of the nine runs scored.  The two singles and a double, the only Cub hits of the inning, were almost incidental.  The Wrigley crowd went home happy.

Colon hurls

Bartolo Colon gets all of his 285 pounds behind a pitch.

Next, a couple of days ago it was the all-Texas showdown between the Rangers and the Astros.  The Astros are the current defending World Series champs.  So naturally the Rangers sent out Bartolo Colon to quiet them down.  At 5’11” and 285 pounds, Colon is baseball’s version of a sumo wrestler.  He is rotund, but beneath the outer layer of fat lurks the body of an athlete, apparently.  Colon has pitched in the big leagues for 22 years, nearly a quarter of a century.  He’s been with 11 teams in both leagues, and as a member of the L. A. Angels he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, when he also led the AL with 21 wins.  Possessor of an efficient, low-stress delivery, he pounds the strike zone and pitches to contact.  But he is 44, and he almost didn’t find a team this year.  Yet against the Astros he was awesome.  He carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and positioned the Rangers to win in ten, 3-1.  Forty-four, and nearly perfect.  Go figure.

And then there was last night’s Nats-Mets game, and another improbable rally.  As with the Cubs, the deficit was five runs, the homestanding Mets having racked up a 6-1 lead behind the strong hurling of Jacob deGrom, leader of a strong starting rotation and at least a couple of pounds lighter this season solely by virtue of former beard and flowing locks shorn to conventional athletic standards.  He carried his handy lead into the eighth, but after opening the frame by sandwiching a pair of hits around a whiff, he had thrown 103 pitches.  He was relieved, and the fat was in the fire.  Three more hits, a hit batsman, and four walks (2 of them RBIs) later, the Nats were up 7-6.  In the ninth the Nats got one more on a leadoff homer, and it looked like they’d need it after the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera doubled with one out.  But in an inexplicably bonehead move, he attempted to steal third with the tying run at the plate and first base open.  He was out.  One out later, the Citi Field crowd went home unhappy.

What other sport can beat this combination of skill, derring-do, and luck, triumph and defeat?

Day One

Spring finally arrived in northern Virginia today.  It was in the mid-80s by late afternoon, breezy and wonderful, the first entire day that was truly like spring is supposed to be.  Nature was completely undaunted by any ominous omens of the calendar, which made it Friday the 13th.

Just three years ago yesterday I began my cancer treatment, quite a different spring regimen.  The aftereffects of the successful treatment have left me with less stamina and less determination to subject myself to discomfort.  So since 2015 I have not ridden my bike on the relatively more temperate days of midwinter or early spring.  All of the first three months of the year were on the exercise bike, or walking, and even these activities did not have the compelling allure they’ve had in years past.  But I was whipped into better shape by the visit of my daughter and granddaughter, who wanted to see the sights of our nation’s capital.  I was tested by Capitol Hill, challenged by the stairs of numerous subways, government buildings and museums, and generally called to consider that I was not too old to “use it” lest I “lose it.”

So this morning I was eager to get out on the W&OD Trail in the belated warmth of the season.  Couldn’t just pick up and go, of course.  I first discovered that we had no 2032 batteries to replace the dead one in my bike computer.  So off I went to CVS, returned and then sought out the manual that would allow me to reprogram the gadget.  After a mere 40 minutes from start to finish I had my electronic source of statistics back.  I’d carried over the mileage tally for 9 or 10 years, outlasting several batteries, but today I started over again at zero, because I think this is the beginning of a new era in my cycling life.

Coda

Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride these days. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

Out in the garage my next challenge awaited.  Since the Jamis Coda had not been ridden since late September 2017, its tires were low despite my pumping them up once over the winter.  And sitting idle in the garage is not good for the drive train, particularly the chain.  Though I had oiled it in September, it was stiffened with rust and dirt.  Luckily the tires held air, and about ten minutes with a rag and chain oil got the drive train workable.  More oil for the cables, a readjustment of the rear brakes (new brake shoes needed soon!), and I was ready to suit up and go.  I decided on my trusty Kelme / Costa Bianca jersey, the colors of a European pro team of the Lance Armstrong era.  Sandro Botero rode for them, as did a couple of riders—Chechu Rubiera and Roberto Heras—who switched to Lance’s US Postal team and helped him win several of his seven straight Tours de France almost as much as PEDs helped him.

I took off with a lurking trepidation—would my body be up for this?  The plan was to ride just 11 miles, out to Hunter Mill Road and back.  No overkill on the first ride of the season.  I felt good on the bike, and going up Jackson Parkway and onto the right-of-way over to the Trail, I passed a couple of neighbors planting new bushes along the 50 or 60 foot paved link.  Everybody’s loving the warm air.  Once on the Trail, I found my strength and stamina were OK.  I was passing the really slow riders, was being passed by the strong ones, and dodging a number of walkers.  As always, I marveled at the convergence of roadblock groups, like the two moms pushing strollers side-by-side, and the walker passing them, spread out across the whole trail just when I wanted to go by.  My cheery “on the left” was not met with any rush on the walker’s part to get over quickly.  Cheeky!  I knew I had missed the Spring Peepers in the marshes of Difficult Run by about a month, and the bullfrogs too.   But on the way home some kind of froggy noises were emanating from Eudora Park, where Piney Branch flows.

I was feeling good as I approached my turnaround.  Inside my head something whispered “go ahead, you can do a few more miles.”  But I said “get thee behind me, Lance,” recognizing the voice of the temptation to do more than one is naturally capable of, whatever the price.  By about halfway home I realized how smart I had been to keep to my plan.  I was riding into a brisk quartering headwind, and all the muscles that were doing things unfamiliar to them were starting to ache: quads, shoulders, arm and hand muscles, knee joints.

Back at my desk, the computer said that my numbers for time and speed were in the same range I had reached near the end of last year.  So now it’s nothing but onward and upward.  I well may be out there again tomorrow because it’s supposed to be another warm day.