Fair Summer Day in New England

Last Wednesday the sun rose at 5:53 a.m. in Old Saybrook, CT.  Our bedroom window faced east, though, so we were probably aware of the approaching day before then, “first light” being at 5:23.  Time enough to roll over and snooze a bit more before breakfast.  Then a walk along the shore road to get muscles loose and blood flowing.

I sat for a bit of a rest on a bench looking out over Long Island Sound, as the tide continued its slow surge in.  Not more than five feet offshore, a cormorant dove and surfaced, dove and surfaced, submerging for just a few seconds.  Every time he came up with another bite-sized fish.  Often it shimmered silver in his beak for a second before he swallowed.  After about thirty or forty such bites, the bird made its way at a more purposeful pace, swimming toward the pointed rock where he and some of his friends hung out, drying feathers, scouting for food, and adding another layer of “whitewash” to their perch.  One of the ospreys from South Cove soared overhead, coming from behind my right shoulder, hanging a left over the shoreline, and winging away to the east.  It circled a couple of times, but did not do the hell-bent freefall dive of a fish hawk that has spotted prey.  Gulls and terns glided, wheeled, squawked; swallows silently pursued insects invisible to me.  The water was nearly calm close to shore, and just slightly rippled further out.  Later there would be whitecaps, as the almost-still wind freshened to a brisk onshore breeze and the flag on the pole by Seacrest Road rippled out due north.

river scene with boat

Connecticut River at East Haddam

By midmorning we were on a tour of the scenic area around Essex, Haddam, and other nearby towns along the Connecticut River.  Essex is one of the most beautiful river ports I’ve ever seen, with its shady old clapboard houses and their large trim lawns, jam-packed marina, and picture-perfect waterfront views.  We were glad of the lighter midweek traffic; apparently it’s hard to navigate on summer weekends.  Cruising on through small towns and rustic scenery, I got the sense I’ve often had that these landscapes are distinctively recognizable as New England.  Partly it’s the authentic Colonial architecture: wooden siding (not plastic or aluminum), with the boards laid close together (not 10” or 12” wide) to keep out wet and cold, shutters that still work or at least simulate that function, brick or stone chimneys atop functional fireplaces.  There are more evergreens and different deciduous trees from those where I live in Virginia.  I’m not sure what else goes into it, but the difference is unmistakable.

nest on bridge

Osprey Nest on East Haddam Swing Bridge

We stopped to stretch our legs near the East Haddam Swing Bridge, a truss structure over the Connecticut between East Haddam and Haddam.  From the shore we could see the osprey nest atop one of the bridge towers.  That pair has an unparalleled view up and down the river, and easy fishing.  The lot we parked in serves the Goodspeed Musicals building, an elegant early Victorian ex-opera house, which does a brisk summer business.

At lunch time we went to the Pizza Palace Restaurant, an exception to the excellent cooking offered by our hosts, Henry and Anne. But I was in pursuit of fried clams, and they said this was the place.  It was!  Anne and I shared a heaping plate of fried whole clams, with French fries and a mound of the best fried onion rings ever.  (Do you catch a “fried” theme here?)  Henry and Jane shared a pizza.  All of us left full and happy.

A lazy summer afternoon, with sun and sea breeze, led to another treat: a concert on the Old Saybrook Town Green.  We ate at home for convenience, but took some wine to sip.  It was a family event, starting at 6:30.  When we arrived, a number of families were already there.  Some were picnicking, others just talking.  Toddlers visited each other between family groups.  Two girls shot baskets on a court behind the green (and would still be doing it when we left).  Kids ran, walked, or rode tricycles on a paved path around war memorials, one for the “War of the Rebellion,” the other for the wars of the 20th century.  (It is to be noted that most French hamlets lost double or triple as many men in WW I as Old Saybrook has lost in all wars put together.)  In a large gazebo a three-man band warmed up.  Evening sun glowed warmly on a huge old butternut tree that presided over all.  The musicians were headed by a performer well versed in the rock-and-roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  We heard the songs of such artists as Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Del Shannon, whose hit “Runaway” opened the show and set the tone for the evening.  The lead man had an excellent voice for this kind of music, and his guitar work was impressively professional.  The music echoed through our youthful memories, and got my toes tapping.  Others, one couple in particular, went literally a few steps farther and danced in front of the stage.  The show went on, the kids quieted down and slept, the sunlight on the butternut tree faded.

When it was almost 8 o’clock, we picked up to head home for a nightcap.  We’d had fair weather and an excellent summer day.  The sun set in Old Saybrook at 7:56 p.m.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

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Hockey Game

About once a year I go to an NHL game at the Verizon Center, often as part of an anniversary gift.  Usually on my own, because my wife Jane is happier to have the evening to relax at home.  Last night was the night, determined by the opponent of the home-town Capitals and the convenience of the date.

The Nashville Predators are in the Western Conference, and so are infrequent foes for the Eastern Conference Caps.  Their logo suggests a saber-toothed tiger.  The name is a little ambiguous, like the Toronto Raptors of the NBA or the even-more-vague NHL Minnesota Wild (a state and an adjective!).  The Wild logo’s vague predator features a more ursine animal profile.  I suppose both these team names are better than those of a prey species, like the Penguins or the Ducks.  Nashville, in any event, seemed a suitable adversary for a team named after a seat of government.  I’d have called the team the “Nashville Sound,” but what would that logo look like?

Even buying the ticket was a new deal to me.  I use Ticketmaster, having found that the discounts on other sites are not dramatic, and that this site provides reliability.  I was not prepared for the ticket format choices, however: an app or my credit card at the gate.  Chose the latter, leaving me more mystified than ever about the “Order Processing Fee” of $6.00.  Amazon can and has recently physically delivered everything from Haynes briefs to a stand-alone printer/scanner to my door in two days with no fees at all.  But somehow the ticket folks need $6.00 to allow some electronic information to flow through their circuits and to send me about three emails.  When I got to the gate they swiped my card and printed out a small slip with the seat location.  They probably made about $5.98 pure profit on that transaction.

Jane dropped me off at the Metro, which conveniently has a stop right at the arena.  Not quite as good as the old Boston Garden, where you could walk right from the North Station platform to the admission gate without ever going outside, but not bad.  I headed straight to Fuddrucker’s for a pre-game burger and fries, and then went in to find my seat.  I wanted to watch the pre-game skate, and I knew getting to the spot would take some time.  I bought a $65.25 (tax included) seat, one of the cheaper available.  It was on the third level (what they called the Second Balcony at the Garden, though we had other names for it), nearly at center ice, three rows from the top, on the aisle.  Actually, it provided a very good view of the whole ice, from a somewhat high and distant perspective.  The shocking thing to me is how expensive these seats are.  For this very ordinary game, the best places in the stands go for nearly $300 apiece (this excludes the suites and other elite locations).  You can’t get a seat anywhere for less than $55.  I remember buying a box seat in the old Garden a couple of times, especially once when I was astounded that some people who’d paid box seat money got there late and missed some action (Don McKenney had scored twice in the first ten minutes on Jacques Plante, if you can imagine that!).  That seat cost me $12, and while I know that was “real money” in those days, it was not the equivalent of $250, and maybe barely of $65.

After a series of escalator rides and a walk almost halfway around the concourse, I arrived about 30 minutes before game time.  The arena was nearly empty.  But I had come to watch the pre-game skate, which began a few minutes later.  Whirling circles of skaters looped around.  A few players stretched or did their private rituals.  Dmitri Orlov practiced his stick handling, but let’s just say that at his best he’s no Brad Marchand.  Braden Holtby, after practicing splits in full goalie gear (!), went between the pipes, and players started giving him shots, some hard and some easy.  Nikki Backstrom got about a dozen pucks at the top of the right circle, and fed them one by one to his linemate Alex Ovechkin, who waited in the middle of the left circle, instantly slamming each one into the now-empty net as it arrived.  Goal, goal, goal, . . . At the end, TJ Oshie ignored his teammates filing off the ice until he was all alone.  Then, feigning panic, he raced for the door, did a flying leap over the boards, and disappeared down the runway.   Then two Zambonis came out to preen the ice.  So did a full-scale inflatable car balloon, powered and controlled like a drone, with 4 little props, advertising some dealership.  Made me wish for one instant that I had a good air rifle for just long enough to take it down.

At the start of the game the arena goes dark.  It is just 7:00.  The seats are now maybe half-full.  The four officials skate around to the very loud music designed to stir up the crowd.  Spotlight beams dart about in the dark.  Two minutes later both teams emerge.  While the Capitals get a full spotlight and a “color guard” consisting of peewee players raising Caps banners on hockey-stick poles, the visiting Predators skulk out in darkness.  Then it’s lights up, honor a soldier, national anthem, and the puck drops at 7:08.  Afterwards I heard a fan describe it as a “sleepy” game.  The Caps, red-hot and leading the Conference by several points three weeks back, had their “bye week” (a dumb idea if I ever heard one) and came back flat.  Since then they had been 6-6-2, including a zip-for-four West Coast trip.  Last night they played tough against a defense-minded Predators club that looked like they’d have trouble scoring in the between-periods peewee game.  Late in the first period a Nashville defenseman, carrying the puck, lost his footing as he was turning to the left of his net to head up-ice.  He fell and the puck skidded behind the other defender.  The Caps suddenly had a 2-on-0 right in front of the net.  Highly touted rookie Jakub Vrana drew the goalie’s attention, passed to (ex-Bruin!) Brett Connolly on the open side, and the Caps had a goal.

Other than that, the game was drowsy.  Some antics with the Caps’ cartoony eagle mascot and a pewee hockey “game” enlivened intermissions.  One team had a girl goalie, and she was interviewed.  A few contests, shooting t-shirts into the crowd, the usual stuff.  As if the sport isn’t enough by itself.  There were few good scoring chances in the actual game.  Both teams had a shots-on-goal number in the mid-twenties.  But the Predators won a whopping 70% of the faceoffs, which kept the Caps from applying constant pressure.  Neither team was good at puck possession, neither goalie was severely tested.  On the one setup Ovechkin got in his left circle “sweet spot,” he completely mis-hit the puck, despite his pregame practice, and it weakly drifted to the boards in the corner.  There were an annoying number of “commercial TV” timeouts, a practice entirely unknown in the old days.  In the third period Tom Wilson of the Caps took a Predator hard but clean into the boards by the team benches.  Another Predator decided to take Wilson on.  Big mistake.  Wilson is unlikely to instigate fights, but he likes to fight, and he’s good at it.  The last seven or eight punches, all hard rights, were thrown by him, and the refs mercifully called it a TKO.  Wilson went to the sin bin, the Predator to the dressing room, not to return.

Unfortunately, the two best shots on goal the Predators took both went in cleanly.  The second was in overtime, when they executed a beautiful set play, luring the Caps up-ice out of their defensive zone and then sending both forwards rocketing in on a 2-on-1.  The left wing had an open shot and did not miss.  I was outa there fast to beat the crowd onto the Metro, which does not put on extra trains for hockey games.  I got a seat on the Orange Line, but a couple of people stood all the way to Dunn Loring.  When I told Jane the game had gone into overtime but ended very quickly, she said “actually it was at 3:12.”  Coulda knocked me over with a feather.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.

Nature Report

Last Saturday my ride launched at about 11:30 in 77˚ weather.  It had been cloudy and even threatening for part of the morning, but finally things broke up into bright sun and copious cumulus clouds.  The sun was as yellow as the button in the middle of the asters by the side of the trail, the clouds as white as the circular doilies of Queen Anne’s Lace in the meadows nearby, and the patches of sky in between those clouds as blue and intense as the first blossoms of the copious Cornflowers that were newly opened everywhere.  All felt fresh and new after the midweek downpours ensuing from a slowly moving frontal boundary.

It being Saturday and school being newly out, every Weekend Warrior and their whole family—Warrior spouse, kid on a bike, and toddler on a tricycle—was out on the trail, so one had to ride with one’s eyes open.  The line for the light at Maple Avenue was about ten people long.

Apparently the animals felt the same way about the coming of nice weather.  Outbound from Vienna, along Difficult Run, I spotted a terrapin on the trail ahead.  It was traversing at a testudinarian pace from right to left, and had almost reached the center line.   So I veered slightly to the right to pass.  Just as I got to the terrapin a rider coming the other way stopped smack in the middle of her lane, reached down, and picked the reptile up to help it complete its journey safely.  The angle of her lean, however, brought her head, shoulders, and arm onto my side, and I just avoided a glancing blow.  Weekend warrior behavior.

I went on all the way to the skateboard park at the west end of Herndon, but I promised not to further discuss this topic, so I will not report that it was my first ride to my former regular westbound turn-around point.  On the way back there is a long downhill stretch from Michael Faraday Ct. to Hunter Mill Road, featuring a speedy, leafy descent from Sunrise Valley to Buckthorn Lane, with a short, steep rise just before Buckthorn.  Along that stretch an animal ran right into the buzz-saw of my front wheel.  I suspect it was a squirrel, because they characteristically cross roadways in frantic, demented dashes, featuring instant 180˚ turns if they see a vehicle coming in mid-dash.  Could have been a chipmunk.  In any case, this one dashed straight into the spokes from about 20” away.  Why it didn’t see me coming I can’t imagine.  But the spokes were revolving so fast—I was probably traveling at about 22 mph—that it made a fur-muffled bump sound and bounced straight off again, grazing my right shoe, which was on the downstroke.  I barely saw it, because needless to say I was focusing on the road ahead.

Immediately I heard an approaching rider exclaim “oh dear.”  I didn’t brake or stop pedaling, because it would have been to no avail.  I have no veterinary skills, nor do I carry needles with units of tetanus vaccine, or leather gloves.  I am not equipped on any level to render assistance to wounded wild animals.  I assume it was the worse for the collision.  If it died, my major regret is that it did not live out its role in the food chain by providing a meal to some hungry predator, a hawk or a fox.

About a mile inbound from Hunter Mill, headed for Vienna, I saw another Weekend Warrior stopped in the lane ahead of me.  I reckoned it was somebody on their cell phone, or with a mechanical.  As I approached she was looking ahead, not at me, so I said “on the left” and swung around her.  Then I saw what she was looking at: a long Black Rat Snake, wriggling again from right to left, crossing the trail ahead of her.  Its head was in the grass on the far shoulder and its tail just past the center line, with a set of slithering S-curves worthy of the Shenandoah River.  Straightened out, it would have to have been at least 5 feet long.  Too late to stop, I swerved back to the right in front of her and just missed the snake.  I said “sorry, I didn’t see that!” as I passed.  She laughed and said “neither did I at first.”  So glad not to have injured a large reptilian eater of vermin and (less happily) bird eggs and baby birds.

runner lunge

Department of Silly Walks: Runner Lunge

After all that action I didn’t know what to expect today, equally warm and sunny, though a bit more humid.  But I found: nothing.  The closest I came was the mundane, familiar domestic scene of an immature English Sparrow, now fully as large as its parent, standing in the middle of the trail, flapping its wings, chirping helplessly, demanding to be fed (before going back down to the basement to play more video games).  And then there was the exerciser, in tank top, spandex pants, walking shoes with low socks, and a pink baseball cap with an oversize brim about as big as the one Jayson Werth wishes he had yesterday.  She was blending yoga and walking by making each step a Runner Lunge.  As I passed I was SO tempted to say “Perfect for the Department of Silly Walks!  John Cleese has nothing on you.”  But I didn’t.

Still, you never know what you’re going to run into on the W&OD.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

Herndon

This brief posting is just to document that yesterday, on a cool, clear, breezy day, I got to my old westbound turn-around point, downtown Herndon.  For years I looped off the W&OD on the way west to climb Hunter Station Road, which has a steep incline of about 14% for about a quarter mile.  I gave that up as a normal routine several years ago when my heart rhythm wouldn’t take it.  Instead I extended the ride to west Herndon, but here is my original spot, exactly 11 miles from home, making a nice 22 mile ride.  You’re looking at the scene from the north side of the trail, where I am sitting on a bench.  Note the old station, the baggage wagon, the semaphore signal, and the plaza to the left with the table and umbrella, a new twist.  You can perhaps make out that the station door on the right has some stained glass panes, 1890s style.  So nice to be there again!  I promise that henceforth I shall continue to progress in my recovery without marking every small step with a blog posting.

herndon station

Herndon Station on the W&OD, my westbound turn-around point

 

Turn-Around Point

Last Friday, for the first time in over a year, I pointed my bike eastward on the W&OD.  After about a mile on this ride there’s a relatively steep incline, as the trail curls around Idylwood Park and parallels I-66 to reach the overpass at Virginia Avenue.  It’s enough of a kick to test my legs for the day.  [I used to live near the overpass, and remember walking out to the overpass to see traffic jammed by severe freezing rain, Rolling Thunder, and other freak phenomena.]  It was a real effort, but I made it.  After the corresponding downhill, the trail runs straight east, over West Broad Street (Route 7), through the City of Falls Church, and then across Lee Highway (Route 29).  There it fragments into several alternate routes, all of which lead back to a single trail in Benjamin Banneker Park.

Now going more southeast, the trail runs along the edge of I-66, separated by a metal sound barrier, then eases away from the highway about where the Custis Trail splits off on a more easterly vector to Rosslyn, the Key Bridge, and the Mount Vernon Trail.  But the W&OD heads gently toward Shirlington, underpassing Wilson Boulevard, Carlin Springs Road, and Arlington Boulevard.  Along the way there are a couple of bridges over Four Mile Run, and one place where you can go through Bluemount Park on the Four Mile Run Trail before rejoining the W&OD.  That route is so narrow and bumpy (thanks to tree roots under the pavement) that I just stay on the W&OD.  Before you get to the Columbia Pike crossing there’s a drainage pond on the left that has great water plants and turtles on logs, in season.  There’s also another chance to go on the Four Mile Run Trail, right along the Run itself, with its picturesque waterfalls, rapids, and peaceful nature, all the way down to Walter Reed Drive.  Staying on the W&OD, at Columbia Pike there’s now a nice rest area with fountain, benches, and plantings.

Turnaround

My Turn-Around Point and Eastern End of the W&OD Trail

After another short downhill to George Mason Drive, the Trail is right along Four Mile Run Drive, flat and sunny, with community vegetable gardens on the left, now full of onions and cabbages, with hopeful tomatoes, peppers, beans, cukes, and melons for later in the season.  It ends where it meets Shirlington Road, though right across that road is the continuation of the Four Mile Run Trail that connects with the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport.  Used to be that you’d have to cross I-395 on a pedestrian overpass a couple of block south, but now it’s all an underpass, albeit a long and fairly dark one, especially if you’re wearing sunglasses.  So Shirlington is the W&OD terminus, and simultaneously the gateway to longer rides.

Last Friday it was my terminus too.  I had committed to the full 10.1 miles  each way.  The risk factor was the ride back.  All the way from Shirlington to the I-66 overpass it is a relentless, though gradual, uphill, with the exception of those quick up-and-down over- and underpasses, and one truly flat stretch of about a mile in Falls Church.  By the time I got back to the climb up Virginia Avenue, I questioned my reserve strength.  I decided to ride on the trail rather than the street, even though the trail is essentially the sidewalk for a block of houses, and there are people on it a lot.  I figured it would be a safer place if I had to dismount.  I did not need to, but my bike was in its lowest gearing—smallest chainring and largest cog—for the last couple of hundred feet.

Two years ago I always included an off-trail loop through North Arlington just to get some real hills in and add about three miles to the ride.  But I was happy this time just to get to my first pre-treatment turnaround point and back with no real problems.  I’ll get that loop back into the picture soon enough.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

Leicester City F. C.

It seems that in the world beyond our shores (where they use the term “football” for a sport that actually requires all players except keepers to manipulate the ball with their feet), an upstart football team, Leicester City F. C., the Foxes, have won the British Premier League Cup after beginning the season at 5,000 to 1 underdogs (underfoxes?).  I heard a team member the other night on a sports show make a snarky remark about how Americans can’t pronounce the name of their fair city.

Leicester city

Leicester City F. C. in triumph mode.

Well, as a New Englander born and bred, I can assure all the fine gents of Leicester City that we in the American northeast can and do pronounce it correctly.  That’s because Massachusetts, along with the rest of New England, has its own fair share of English place names, reflecting the origins of our Pilgrim and Puritan fathers, mostly from the south coast of England.  We’re used to places that don’t sound like they’re spelled, such as Gloucester (Glaw-stuh), Leominster (Lemmin-stuh), and Worcester (Wuss-tuh).  Why, we’ve even got our very own local Leicester (Less-tuh) in central Mass.  Of course there’s also Dorchester, Winchester, and Rochester, that are pronounced just the way they’re spelled.  Don’t ask me why; that’s the quirk of the English tongue, that makes America and Britain the “two nations divided by a common language.”

Enjoy the aura of your cup victory and your upcoming play in the Champions League, Leicester City!  We Bostonians know what it means to savor a triumph by an underdog, and we can say so properly.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

First Ride

Today the harsh wind, the bleak gray skies, the borderline icy temperatures have begun to abate.  Meteorologists have promised, for what such promises are worth, a week of above average temperatures and sunny skies.  A clearing line swept across like the lifting of a grey veil yesterday, and the wind is blowing from the south.

I feel nervous and excited.  I’ve not been out on my bike since last mid-November, turning to the exercise bike in the cellar as an alternative to facing winter cycling.  I disappoint myself, but neither my confidence, nor my energy levels, nor my conditioning have recovered to near their levels last year before my cancer was diagnosed and radiation and hormone treatments began.  Then too, being 76 years old doesn’t help, whether the diminution in strength and resistance is real or imagined.

The indoor/outdoor thermometer reads 61.2˚ at 11:00, but that may be influenced by sun shining on the sensor.  AccuWeather says it’s 57˚.  Close enough for government work; I know what gear works in that temperature range, and though it should get several degrees warmer I’m going to be conservative and go heavier on the clothing: bib shorts, thermal underlayer, lime-green training jacket (handkerchief and iPhone bagged in plastic in the pockets), soft heavier socks, nominal sweatband.

In the garage, rakes and snow shovels cover my cycling shoe stand, omens of the chores of months just past.  They get relegated to the remote corners.  My bike rolls out easily past the new smaller Audi A3.  After being on the wall for three months the tires are at about 2 atmospheres; the pump fills the front one to 6, the rear to 7.  I’m grateful that I lubricated the bike just before I stopped using it. Fresh water in the bottle, computer cleared of that last fall ride’s data, helmet and gloves on, and I’m ready to go.

Rolling downhill toward Jackson Parkway I have that slightly disoriented feeling of relearning the feel and nuances of riding.  I’ve lost the instinctive certainty of melding with the machine.  Up Jackson to the W&OD right-of-way, where I see it’s been cleaned off and the brush has been taken back several feet off the tarmac.   That’s even truer up on the trail itself, where the swath is from 10 to 20 feet wide.  At least they had the sense to do it before all the little nesting creatures became active.

abutment

Bridge Abutment near Vienna on W&OD: “JULY 1902”

Workmen are fussing with the new crossing lights at Cedar Lane.  Are those traffic cameras?  Good!  The cleared underbrush and bare limbs reveal new home construction from teardowns on the way to Vienna, and there are two areas where tree-trimmers have blocked half the trail with their trucks.  Can’t they get those monsters off the trail entirely?  At the Community Center the large building project, featuring a “scored earth” approach to tree conservation, has us going between narrow chain-link barriers and across the middle of the now-shut parking lot.

Monitoring my body, I feel strong.  My neck hurts some, though.  I’m not used to this angle, even though my handlebars are set to a more relaxed position.  I move along pretty well in the quartering tailwind.  There are a few walkers and dog-walkers, and just a rider or two.  One passes me west of Vienna, the only one to do so on this 11.3 mile ride.  One more service truck setup to pass.  That’s three in less than four miles.  Sheesh!   Out where Angelico Branch is swampy the spring peepers, and even more the “spring croakers,” are starting to wind up the volume.  Thousands of horny amphibians in cold water.  I feel so good that I’m very tempted to go beyond Hunter Mill Road and try the steep trail hill.  But I won’t.   I need to return into the wind, and I don’t trust my energy reserves.

Good decision, as I start to feel the effort in my back and quads by the time I’m nearing Vienna again.  Going east I have to walk my bike around three huge tree trimming trucks east of Park Avenue.  I do just OK up and over the hill, but by the time I’m back at Academy I have enough left for an out-of-the-saddle sprint to the top of the street.

Not too bad.  And tomorrow it’s supposed to be over 70˚.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.