It all began, as most things do, with something simple.  One night a couple of months ago our refrigerator leaked a little bit of water onto the kitchen floor.  It had done that a couple of other times too.  The icemaker had been giving us trouble for a couple of years, producing ice cubes erratically, many of them hollow.  The water would leak out into the ice cube storage bin rather than going into the ice cube maker, making a solid frozen block and jamming the dispenser.  Occasionally water would run out of the icemaker, down the front of the fridge, onto the floor.  But the week after it leaked a little bit, it leaked a lot.  And when we went down to the basement we saw just how much more.  Water had been seeping all night through the kitchen floor to form a couple of big pools in the basement.

So we set the ice cube sensor to “off,” turned off as best we could the flimsy shutoff valve in the refrigerator water line, and contemplated our next move.  The fridge was 15 years old, so repair seemed futile.  After checking the internet and a couple of stores, we determined what we wanted as a replacement: a GE model with “French doors” and an ice and water dispenser.  We bought it and set the delivery date for December 9, a safe four weeks away, well on the other side of Thanksgiving.  Best Buy gave us stern warnings about measurements, complete with online videos explaining just what we had to measure, and reminding us that all passages from outside to the installation site had to allow for the passage of this 375-pound brute.  We discovered right away that our model, like all standard refrigerators, needed 2” more clearance than we had under our built-in kitchen cabinets.  The standard height of refrigerators had moved up almost 3” since the cabinets were originally installed 22 years ago.

I’d had to take off ¾” when the now-dying Amana had been put in, but this called for a skilled woodworker to take out the old cabinet, reshape it to allow the right amount of clearance, and not completely destroy the look of the doors, which are paneled.  Meanwhile, things kept happening.  One morning our toaster oven just didn’t work.  Jane discovered boards in the façade of our circa 2002 garage/bedroom home addition that were rotting out, thanks to an apparent flow of rainwater down the façade rather than through the gutters.  And a potentially serious plumbing leak developed in our master bathroom.  We needed help; we started calling handymen.

Aside from just junking the old toaster oven and buying a new one, the master bath problem seemed to be the easiest to solve.  We had a plumbing contract along with our HVAC contract with United AirTemp.  One of their guys came out to look at the master bathroom leak.  The culprit was a faucet in one of the twin wash basins.  Installed 14 years ago, the design model by Kohler was now obsolete (and its polished bronze finish no longer quite in vogue).  But the faucet was irreparable, so we had to choose another.  Obviously we didn’t want to replace all the hardware in the room, so we sought a similar design.  The plumber kept talking about the one we wanted “or something comparable,” gave us a major invoice that would cover the replacement of the faucet with that “something,” and said he’d be in touch.  We called the next morning to affirm the faucet we wanted, and to say that the (Moen) one identified on the invoice was not suitable.  But of course we couldn’t talk to the plumber or his supervisor; the person on the phone would relay the message and one of them would call back.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I needed a woodworker.  On impulse I called the guy who installed the cabinets 22 years ago.  It was like old home week!  The voice on the phone was the brother of the one who actually put the originals in.  Larry was retired and in Florida, but Bob would be glad to do the job, even such a small one.  He’d send a carpenter up from Lorton to look at it tomorrow.  Great that we remembered their work!  We skipped a weekly Church meeting to accommodate their schedule, because the refrigerator delivery loomed.   Time came; no carpenter.  Called the next day, and the staffer said both Bob and the carpenter were on a job, but they’d call back later that day.  No call that day; they still haven’t called.

As soon as they broke the appointment I began calling alternatives; we needed that work done before the December 9 delivery day.  Angie’s List seemed totally intimidating, with so many options, not all in our part of the metro area.  So we tried HomeAdvisor, a site where you describe the job, give them your zip code, and they give you three prime references that you can call or have contact you.  We got two calls right away, and set up an appointment with the first one for the next day.  Guess what?  No show.

By this time we were getting to feeling a bit vulnerable.  Calls unanswered, not one but two potential water leaks in the house, kitchen currently unfit to receive new fridge.  I finally called AirTemp, whose plumber had not called about the faucet despite follow-ups from me, with the ultimatum that if we did not have an appointment to install the faucet we wanted by the end of that day, I would cancel the entire invoice.  (My alternative plan was to buy the faucet at Home Depot and hire an out-of-contract plumber to install it.)  Mirabile dictu!  An appointment was made for early the following week, and the faucet design we wanted would be provided.  We had a feeling that the alternative they offered was cheaper for them to acquire.

As for the cabinet, I retried Home Advisor, got two new names plus the one who blew off the appointment before.  Figured he had work, checked the other two online, and called them both.  The first to respond was Bermudez Construction.  The estimator was there the next evening; he gave a thorough analysis of our outdoors rot situation as well as the cabinet job.  He talked about his methods and pricing, and we came to an agreement.  The work was to be done eight days in advance of the delivery date for the fridge.  He had to push that date back a couple of days because of complications on a prior job, but he assured us about our deadline.  He came with one assistant and did everything expertly in one day.  Aces!

In the course of his initial assessment, however, he moved the refrigerator, and it started leaking.  Oh, no!  We needed immediate plumbing.  This time, however, AirTemp came through.  A different plumber came to assess this problem, and returned the next day to put a modern, sturdy shutoff valve in the line to the fridge.  This job was covered in our contract.  And we were assured we’d meet Best Buy’s expectation of a strong, stable water supply for the fridge installation.

The Bermudez inspector had found another interesting thing, however: a white-faced hornet nest on the back of our house.  Naturally we called our pest control contractor, who came and removed it a couple of days later.  (See earlier blog for hornet details.)

Meanwhile, the other AirTemp plumber came back a few days later to install the new bathroom faucet, which went without incident, except that he had to get a helper to come in to loosen the old one from its mooring.

By December 9, everything was ready for the refrigerator delivery.  These new monsters are so big (36” wide, 34” deep, and 69” high) that they routinely have to remove the fridge doors to get them through standard entryway home doors.  Surprisingly, the two installers lifted the unit with straps, not a dolly, which made maneuvering in the tight right-angle turn from hall to kitchen easy.  Sure enough, the cabinet space gap was just right, and the new water line attachment was made with flexible hose rather than squiggly thin copper tubing.  In 90 minutes the old one was gone, and the new one humming away to cool itself down.  With all our refrigeratable food stuffed into the garage backup fridge and on the cool screen porch, cooling couldn’t happen too soon.

After only five weeks, eight different handymen, eight handyman visits, and about twenty phone calls, our house was not rotten, did not leak, did store and freeze perishable food, and had no white-faced hornet nest attached.  And there was still a little time for the quiet contemplation of the Advent season.  Amen!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016


Back On My Bike


Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride while in recovery. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

The British cyclist Tom Simpson is credited with the heroic, never-say-die plea “put me back on my bike.” Simpson was ascending Mont Ventoux in Provence during the Tour de France on Friday, July 13, 1967. It was one of Ventoux’ boiling hot days. Only a few kilometers from the top, out among the bare quartz boulders, Simpson fell to the road, a victim of dehydration, the heat, amphetamines, and the alcohol he had stopped to grab in the town at the foot of the mountain. Bystanders did put him back on his bike, though he may have only gasped “on, on, on.” But the thought was there. He wobbled a few hundred feet and fell again. He died on the airlift to the hospital, his internal body temperature a fatal 108°.

I have not been quite that desperate to ride, nor quite as heroic. The last time I was on my bike before today was May 3. By that time I had completed three of my prescribed nine weeks of radiation treatment, begun on April 13. I’d ridden my familiar 20+ mile routes twice since then, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. But on that first Sunday in May the roof kind of caved in. Two miles into the ride, I felt overwhelming fatigue. I rested at the little park next to Maple Avenue in Vienna, amazed at my lack of stamina. Reasoning that it was probably just a temporary reaction, I continued on after 15 minutes of recuperation. I got as far as Hunter Mill Road, about 5 ½ miles from home. I had to rest once more halfway there, and again at the road crossing. Realizing I’d been foolish to get myself out there in my condition, I got myself back home very slowly. That was the end of my bike riding for 10 ½ weeks. I couldn’t get my body out of first gear, and the thought of going anywhere by bike was unfathomable.

Until today. There have been a few days in the last couple of weeks when I’ve felt a little stronger again. And today was a beautiful, cool, clear, low humidity day. In his The Vision of Sir Launfal, James Russell Lowell wrote “And what is so rare as a day in June? / Then, if ever, come perfect days.” Not so fast, Jimmy boy. Today was pretty rare, too. And I’m talking northern Virginia in hot, hazy, humid July. Furthermore, I had just spent an hour watching the Tour de France charge up the mountain-top finish at Plateau de Beille. I figured that if those guys can spin uphill on wet, rainy roads at nearly 20 mph, I ought to be able to chug along the relatively flat bike trail for a bit.

For the first time in 2 ½ months, I couldn’t wait to get my gear on and take off. I was revved up, excited to be back in the saddle. I determined to go as far as I could, to turn back at the first sign of exhaustion or weakness, but in any case to go no farther than Hunter Mill Road. I know that athletic recovery has to be managed carefully and methodically. There’s no point in rushing things to the point that you suffer a setback and have to begin again. A body with 75 years of wear on it needs more time to get back into shape; no part of my frame was used to riding any more—not my arms, not my quads, not my calfs, not my butt. My motto: “go for it but go easy.”

I rolled down Academy Street, geared down for the incline up Jackson Parkway, hung a left up the paved right-of-way, and hung another left to roll westward on the W&OD Trail. Up and over the little hill between our house and Vienna. Check. Past the place I had to stop in the town of Vienna. Check. Feeling strong. Out past the old railroad station, along the park area to the west of town, over the bridge at Piney Branch, past the dead end of Clark’s Crossing Road, past Tamarack Park, over Angelico Branch, and stop at Hunter Mill Road. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. I felt good enough to go on, but caution and common sense were in control, and I turned back. About halfway along I realized that I was beginning to feel a little weary, and was pleased that I had recognized the need to set limits. As always, I felt euphoric, better when I got back that I’d felt when I left.

Tomorrow is going to be another rare day. Wild horses couldn’t hold me back now! I’m going to . . . Oh, wait. I’m going to consult closely with my legs and my cardiovascular system tomorrow morning before doing anything rash.

© Arnold J. Bradford, 2015

Massive Victory Margins II

Everybody’s favorite ski babe, Lindsey Vonn, is back!  I read in today’s Washington Post that she won a Super-G race in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, thereby setting a new record for career World Cup wins at 63, breaking a 35-year mark held by Annemarie Moser-Proell.  If that knee she shattered last year holds up, there’s a lot more victories on the way for her, one suspects.  This is especially true since she wins races by “massive” margins, like the one yesterday in which she was “a huge 0.85 ahead” of her nearest rival.  That’s not hours; that’s not minutes; that’s eighty-five one-hundredths of a single second.  Thank goodness it wasn’t even close.

Ms. Vonn’s massive margins spotlight the importance of electronic metrics to modern sports.  If it were not for radar guns how could we be sure the fastball hurled plateward by Stephen Strasburg was traveling 98 miles an hour rather than a measly 94?  if it were not for high-speed electronic shutters how could we be sure that Marcel Kittel’s bike crossed the finish line just a rim’s width ahead of Mark Cavendish’s?  If it were not for electronic stopwatches how could we know how huge Vonn’s time gaps are?

To us amateurs eyeballing them from the bottom of the run, the Super-G contestants would surely seem to be a couple dozen fit, strong, skilled woman skiers who got to the bottom of the hill in just about exactly the same time.  We wouldn’t know by what astonishing and humiliating margins they trailed the victorious Lindsey.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2015

On the Chain, Gang

About three years ago I converted my old Specialized Hard Rock Sport to a sort of “town bike.” I was not using it for its intended off-road purposes, and the shock absorbers in the forks drove me crazy going uphill because they absorbed so much energy that should have gone to the cranks. The knobby fat tires were noisy and high-friction on road surfaces, and the bike itself easily weighed 35 pounds.

So I bought Specialized road-friendly tires for it (smoother, tread for control on slick surfaces, not traction in mud), added a rack over the rear tire with a detachable commuter bag attached, a fold-up basket for groceries on the left side, a bell for warning pedestrians, and two locks: a U-lock mounted on the frame, and a cable lock in the commuter bag. Now it probably weighed 45 pounds, but was more useful.

The idea was that I could work fitness into my daily routines by doing local errands on this vehicle, while leaving the Audis safely in the garage. Whether it was going to Thoreau Middle School to vote, to CVS to pick up a prescription, to the bank for a deposit, to the library for a book, to Giant for food, to the P. O. to mail a package, or to Emmaus UCC to work on the finances, I’d use the bike. It worked pretty well, until nasty winter weather and summertime lassitude got the better of me.

And so the bike, my only bike not wall-mounted, stood in the garage, until yesterday.

That’s when the sublimely perfect fall weather forecast for all week inspired me to think of the Specialized again. I had two large envelopes to mail, and a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible to pick up from the church to prepare to lead a Bible study group. So I donned a comfortable shirt, collected my mailings, and went out to the garage. I told my wife I’d probably need to apply some lubricant, but once I did that I’d be gone.

There were two immediately noticeable effects of the long inactive period of about a year and a half: the tires were flat, though I had pumped them each once during that time, and the bike computer mount snapped from brittle old age (about 14 years) when I tried to mount the computer. But it could be temporarily attached with a rubber band, and the tires happily inflated and stayed hard at 80 psi.

Then I wheeled the bike out, got the oil and a rag, and started applying oil to the chain. It soon became evident that I was going to have to do more than a light lube job; the links were fairly well frozen. Despite the garaging, the chain had become inflexible, due probably to a combination of oxidation and of dried oil residue and grit in the joints. A thorough oiling and hand cranking didn’t loosen it up too much. I thought it might get flexible if I just rode it a bit in its newly-oiled state, but a trip down to the bottom of the street rid me of that delusion; I had to walk the bike back uphill to the garage.

I didn’t really have time to soak the chain in solvent, but I did want to ride that bike in the glorious cool air and bright sun. So I went to a “brute force” solution, using two pairs of pliers (can you imagine anything more useless than a single plier, or scissor, or pant?—they always come in pairs), plus some heavy-duty oil, necessary because I had used up the last of my chain lubricant: Seeds’ Merit Fine High Performance Sprocket & Gear Oil, a leftover from the Andrew era.

The process involved hand-checking every single link. For the frozen joints, which averaged about every other one, I put a drop of oil on it, grasped the link body on either side of the joint with my two pairs of pliers, and flexed until the joint loosened. Almost always that was rather quickly. After I was sure I had checked them all, I wiped the extra oil off the chain and gave it a whirl. Success!

An hour after I planned to go, I rode off on my errands in the bright and sunny afternoon, nagged only by the realization that I probably had two other bikes that were going to need the same treatment. Maintenance is the name of the game. But I intend to use this one enough to prevent a relapse.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

Marianne Vos: Woman Cycling Champ at La Course

There’s a short cycling video out that really grabs me. It’s taken on a video camera attached to the bicycle of Marianne Vos, a Dutch cyclist, who was competing in a race called La Course, a one-day, 13-circuit around the finishing loop for the Tour de France in Paris. The action happened on July 27, the same day that the Tour finished there. The women raced earlier in the afternoon.

Vos with medal

Marianne Vos with her 2012 Road Champion gold medal

Vos isn’t just any racer. Born and raised in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands (also the home town of that enigmatically powerful Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch), at age 27 she is one of the very best, if not the best, woman racing cyclist. She’s held both the World and Dutch National titles in both cyclo-cross and road racing multiple times, has won three of the last 4 Giro d’Italia Femminile GC titles (along with the points classification all 4 years), and is defending Olympic Gold Medalist in the women’s road race, as well as defending champion of the World Road Race and World Road Cup titles. No wonder they say her nickname is “The Cannibal,” in honor of a dominance similar to that of Belgian Eddie “The Cannibal” Merckx in his heyday.

You can tell that Vos is a confident racer just because she let them put the camera on her bike in an important race. In an age of cycling when every gram is weighed and analyzed, this was no small concession. What the camera shows is the last couple of kilometers of the race. From the viewpoint of the bike’s head tube, where the camera is attached well below eye level, the somewhat fish-eye lens gives a less-than flattering view of the rear end of the rider whom Vos is following most of the time, but it’s interesting to see how close the riders are. You can hear the rumble of the cobble-paved streets, and the sudden hush when they hit the asphalt sections. You can sense very clearly the incredible speeds at which they are traveling, the precise closeness in which they group themselves, the clear reality that one second of hesitation, one wrong “read,” one bad move, and you’re out of it. There’s a pretty big bunch that resolves itself in the last few hundred meters to four. This happens primarily when Vos finds a space right next to the barriers and goes to the front; you could swear she’s going to hit the stanchions a la Dave Zabriskie a few Tours ago.

In the finishing straight there are three bikes ahead of Vos, then as she really starts her sprint the image sways rhythmically from side to side, faster and faster. Then there are only two ahead of her, then one, then none as the finishing line looms up. You hear an off-camera scream of joy, the swaying stops, the shot fades to black, “The Cannibal” wins again. Well worth the two minutes of viewing.


©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.

“Machines,” by Michael Donaghy

I’m sharing a link to a short lyric poem that appeared on yesterday’s Writer’s Almanac, a daily posting from National Public Radio.  It compares a bicycle to a keyboard composition by Henry Purcell.  Most apt.  Note that it was published in 2000, and the reference to the “racer’s twelve-speed bike” was archaic even then.  Further, the poem’s identification of Schwinn as the builder who perfected the design of the gears or the bike frame is radically misplaced.  For an American audience, however, it resonates more than a relatively obscure European name would.  I especially love the comparison of the concentric sprockets of the drive train to the old geocentric universe.  Anything that helps me think of my ride in terms of Dante’s heaven is spirit-lifting.

The Writer’s Almanac, “Machines”

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

A New Angle

Ever since I first got my Jamis Coda Comp a few years back, it has been a challenge to adjust things to provide an efficient position on the bike.  I worked the seat up and down over a range of at least 2”, and finally found a spot that seemed to work for knee flex and pedaling efficiency.  The bike has straight bars, and I always felt somewhat “stretched out” in reaching them.  They provide absolutely no alternate hand positions, because the brake and shift apparatus, and the bike computer, take up too much of the inboard bar room between the grips and the stem.  So the Coda has only limited options to relieve muscle fatigue brought on by my position on the bike.

One of the problems with position was that I had a little trouble getting my head up high enough to see far ahead.  That was a clue that it was not a good position.  Another problem was the absence of alternatives for posture.  But by far the most important was that I came to feel too stretched out, that my back just wasn’t up to handling this position without a degree of ongoing fatigue.  I was at a point that I’d begun to call the bike “The Rack” in my interior monologues.  It was no longer a vehicle that I happily anticipated riding.

So finally a few days ago I did what I should have done long ago, and which the Jamis people had already provided the means to do.  They had built the bike with a Ritchey adjustable stem.  I’d always been afraid to mess with it, which shows that I’m a foolish coward about some things.  The stem attaches to the center post with a simple two-bolt clamp.  Immediately in front of the post, a large bolt goes through the stem to join the clamp part of the stem to the neck of the stem.  The fact that there are two pieces joined at this point is what makes the stem adjustable.  Once I’d convinced myself that I could do no damage by taking this construction apart, I just got out my Allen wrenches and went to work.  I discovered that the stem is built solidly, with deeply interlocking ridges at the adjustable point. I simply took this joint apart, realigned the two interlocking pieces at a different angle that looked about right, and re-bolted everything together.


Ritchey Adjustable Stem on Jamis Coda Comp, at new angle

The result is that while the stem used to tilt just barely upward, at right angles to the steering column, it now juts up at a slightly jauntier angle, perhaps 10˚ or 15˚ above the 90˚ angle.  As a result, the handlebars are now about 2” higher than they were.  I do not have to bend my back over so far to hold the handlebars.   To finish the job, of course, I had to rearrange the brake and gearshift levers to compensate for the new angle, because they still have to slant downward so that when my hands are on the bars in a natural position, they catch the levers in the right places on my fingers.  Likewise, the computer had to be readjusted so that it lies at a good angle to be read.

A couple of rides have convinced me that this was a good move.  I feel more in control of the bike, my back muscles are less overly stretched, and I can see things more immediately.  I still have what I’d call an “aggressive” posture, not sitting upright as if I were in a straight-back chair, just not in racing mode.  So I’m now wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.  Of course, now I have noticed that the bars are just barely off-center to the right horizontally, but that’s easily fixed another time.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.