The Daily Bike: Fall

What a lovely fall day for a ride! However, what with the truly winter day we had on Saturday, I was anticipating cold temperatures and cold wind on Sunday. I didn’t actually bother to stick my head outside, though, to check and instead of a cold winter day, it was a mild fall day. Therefore, I was way overdressed! Regardless, it was a wonderful, leisurely ride. I’ve been eating like crap lately, and have been feeling guilty about not riding, so the two hour ride I took today helped alleviate some of that guilt.

I’d been feeling nostalgic for my old riding haunts, now that the weather has turned, and decided to ride back to my old neighborhood. A great choice, as the leaves are turning and the trail riding was beautiful. Since I was in the area, I decided to go back to my old bike shop to have them look at my rear derailleur, as it’s been acting wonky for awhile. I was glad I went. Twenty minutes later, I had a derailleur which shifted nice and smooth again, new brake pads, tightened brake cables, and a straightened brake hood. Thanks Arrow!

It was just a great ride. I was in no hurry and just rode along as I felt like it. I don’t even know how far I went or how long I rode- I just went until I needed to turn around and then went back again! The trails were lovely and now that it’s a bit colder, there are fewer people out, so I had the trails all to myself. I’m comfortable riding on the road, but it’s not very relaxing in the city- there’s too much traffic to be aware of. On the trails, with no one around, it’s much easier to let your mind wander and enjoy the scenery. I welcome the return of the colder weather, as I find cold rides invigorating and the roads empty.

So, let us not lament the end of summer, but embrace the empty trails and hardcore status that winter riding gives us.

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Book review: Ten Points by Bill Strickland

Reading this book felt like an invasion of privacy. I don’t know Bill Strickland- I’ve never met him and I don’t even know anyone who has. But I read his articles and blogs, I’ve read his books and I’ve heard him interviewed, so I feel like so know him. This meant reading his memoir Ten Points didn’t feel just like reading any other book- it felt like reading his diary. After finishing his book, I feel like I’ve been shown all the life changing events of a person I’ve only just met. I felt like a peeping Tom reading this book, but it was absolutely worth it, as it was an amazing read.

Strickland was consumed by demons left over from an abusive father. For the most part, through his life, he was able to keep the demons in check. But once he became a husband and a father, he became fearful that his demons will ruin everything he helped build. He feels sure the curse of his childhood will cause him to turn into his father. Even when he discovered that cycling helped keep the demons in check, he was still afraid that they signified a curse which doomed him to failure. Which is why when his daughter innocently asks if he can score 10 points in his crit season, he says yes, hoping it will help banish the demons and break the curse. So we follow Strickland as he turns himself inside out to score 10 points and save himself from the curse.

I love reading, but I prefer simple fare- I’m not interested in flowery writing or pages of descriptions or in deciphering clues hidden in words. There are a few exceptions and Strickland is one of them. His writing seems effortless and the beauty with which he describes even the simplest of actions amazes me. He finds ways to put words to emotions and feelings and internal experiences that can’t be put into words. I wanted to put an example here, but I realized that each sentence and paragraph is part of the whole. You know how they say the whole is the sum of its parts? To take a part out of context would, first, lessen the impact it would would have as part of the whole, and second, deny a new reader the joy of discovery how it all fit together.

Strickland also has a way of weaving a story together that makes me envious. Whenever I write, I obsess over organization and flow. Strickland’s stories of his past and present are woven together seamlessly, with the introduction of each past event flowing into the present event  it mirrors and influenced. In this way, we are allowed to discover alongside Strickland how what he experienced in the past shaped who he becomes in the present.

As someone who loves cycling, I thoroughly enjoyed how he described the racing. I’ve never raced, and probably never will, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the middle of the pack. It is in these sections where his descriptive abilities really come out. The jostling, the shouts, the fighting for position, the reading of the pack, the way breaks get away, the recovery after sprints- the narration of the races made me feel like I had actually been in a race. It is during these races where Strickland discovers new things about himself and using his skill with words, his self realizations are put onto paper.

I will admit that the parts I enjoyed most were not the racing bits- it was his interactions with his daughter and wife that drew me in the most. The presence of his family around him as he fights his demons and as he looks back into his past made his journey into himself all that more moving.

While this is a book about bike racing, it isn’t just about bike racing. In fact, it’s mostly about how a family needs all its members to survive. It’s about how the weakness of one can destroy it and the strength of another can save it. The bike just happens to be where discoveries himself and tries to rid himself of the curse of his childhood. Through his book we are allowed a glimpse into his life. We get to see how he is a good father, even though he thinks he’s not. We see how the childhood events of his wife’s life shape her family decisions. We are allowed a brief look into a marriage that has gone through fire and emerged even stronger. We see how the wisdom and innocence of a child can inspire and motivate the adults that surround them.

This is not an easy book to read- books that deal with child abuse never are. There were many times I had to put the book down and compose myself. But I had to finish it. I had to know how (if) he conquers his demons. This book is a moving look into how what doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger, but only if you’re willing to face it head on.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 9 | A Hill

Okay. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m this far behind on #30daysofbiking. My motivation to bike is waaaay down. I barely ride during the week anymore. Going on a ride after work just seems like sooo much work. I’m bored of all my usual routes and I hate riding in after work traffic. So most of my riding is on the weekends. But I enjoy taking pictures and writing about my rides, so I’m going to keep it up, even when it’s not longer fashionable to do so.

On the weekend of this ride, I went with Melissa (my 50 states buddy) out to MacArthur Blvd. My first trip on MacArthur was my ill fated trip with Shannon that resulted in 3 flats, 45 minutes of walking, and a bike fairy. My second trip on MacArthur was out to Great Falls. This time I was finally going to tackle the epic hill of MacArthur. I don’t know much about this hill, except that lots of people ride it because it is hard. Does it have a name? Probably. But I don’t know it. I was dreading it and looking forward to it, as it would be an interesting test of my fitness. The hill was hard…but not that hard. There was suffering, but it was not epic. Whenever I thought it might be too hard, I said to myself, “You did RAGBRAI and 30 miles on that [bleep] Skyline. This hill ain’t nothing but a mole hill compared to that.” So I made it to the top. And I could even hold a conversation with Melissa when I got to the top! Progress, what?!

We took a break about half way through and the second half was pretty brutal. We were riding on more heavily trafficked roads (which is not relaxing), there were a lot of stoplights, it was a lot hillier than I expected, and I was more wiped than I thought I was from the big hill. Melissa is significantly faster on the climbs than I am, so I would get dropped and only catch back up with her when she would stop and wait. It was exhausting. Plus, I was so unprepared food-wise, I had almost no food to eat and was starving. This mean that once I got home, I ate a big ass burger, a milkshake, and drank a beer. Well deserved.

My Ride Around the 50 States

This past weekend I participated in WABA’s 50 states ride. This is a 65 mile route that covers all 50 state streets in the District and goes to all 4 quadrants of the city (SW, SE, NE, NW). When I signed up, I did some research to see how hard it might be. Most people don’t usually think of DC as being particularly hilly but the blogs I read by people who had participated in past years quickly put an end to that idea. For a person with average bike fitness like myself, it was clear the hills would be significant! Also- 65 miles is not an insignificant amount of miles to bike. However, I felt confident in my ability to complete the ride. I had, in fact, ridden RAGBRAI and 30 miles on Skyline Drive. I could do 65 miles in moderately hilly DC!

Got that memorized?

I rode with Melissa, who rode with me and Shannon on Skyline Drive. She was not wearing her cute red earrings, but I decided to ride with her anyway. Check in started at 7:30 and we got there a little after 8. We were thinking this would mean we could leave early, but they didn’t want anyone to leave until 9! While this meant we had an hour to kill, it also meant we got front row line up! Yeah! The one and only time I will be lined up in the front row for anything bike related. AND Melissa totally got the hole shot! The ride was definitely off to a good start.

On the front row (all the way to the left, from my best side) Photo: WABA Flickr

Now, I was a bit nervous about the 7 page cue sheet and the hundred some cues. However, my nerves were unfounded. It was surprisingly easy to stay on track, often because there would be another group of 50 staters ahead of you, showing you were to turn. And even when we were by ourselves, it really wasn’t that hard to follow the cues. The best part was when we missed a cue and a bunch of construction guys started yelling at us that we were going the wrong way! “Over here! You missed the turn!”

Cue sheet

The first 20 miles  flatish and fast, as we wound through downtown DC. Once we got to Anacostia (SE DC), that’s when the road turned up. Right after the Anacosita rest stop, it was a long ride up MLK Jr Ave, which I didn’t find too hard and thought to myself, if that’s the worst of it, I’m golden. However, it wasn’t the worst and I was not golden. We soon turned to go up Alabama, which I found to be MUCH worse- longer and steeper. I felt a little throw-upy at the end of that hill.

Throw up Alabama

Ride Profile

The rest of the route was up and down, up and down. I thought the worst section was the NW section- the hills were significant and we kept riding over the same roads over and over.

NW section

The WORST hill was right after the last rest step, where we had to do a little out and back to hit Arizona. As we went down Nebraska, I could see others coming up the other side, and thought, shit, we gotta come back up this! Then it was a very, very steep descent down Arizona and as we whizzed down that, i thought oh SHIT, what goes down has to come up again! And come up we did- I almost had to get off and walk the first part, as the road went directly up after it turned and I didn’t have time to shift down. And it was a steep mo-fo! I had to employ the zig-zag technique to get up the hills. It was the only way I was able to keep up enough momentum to avoid stopping or even going backwards. And once we escaped that section, we still had to go back up a section of Nebraska we had descended to get to Arizona. It was brutal. But! Shockingly- I felt okay! I didn’t feel throw-upy at all, even though I was quite out of breath. Ever since RAGBRAI, I don’t care either way about hills. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them either. I just accept them- when one hill is immediately followed by another, I just think, Oh well, another hill, and start climbing. It’s quite refreshing, actually!

The hills of Arizona

The coolest part about the ride was going to all the different areas of the city and the thing I liked the most was seeing the variety of housing around the city. I wished I had taken more pictures of the all the different styles. There were the beautiful townhouses, uniquely colored and styled, with elaborate yards (no matter how small). There were the functional rowhouses, all the same with their brick simplicity. There were the mid sized detached houses a little further out, with yards. And there were the run down houses of all varieties.

You absolutely need to be comfortable riding in traffic and on crazy city streets to do this ride. As the day went on and traffic picked up, some of the roads were super sketchy to ride on. I would say South Dakota and Michigan NE were the scariest roads to ride on- lots of traffic, lots of lanes, all fast, with nowhere for bikes to go. The same went for Connecticut NW. Trying to cross 2 lanes of heavily trafficked road to turn left is not for the faint of heart.

Of course, a bike trip with me wouldn’t be complete without a flat. It was a frustrating flat, because in the spare tube I had, where the valve sat in the tube was wider than other brands and prevented the tire from sitting directly on the rim. Once I figured out this was the problem, I just used Melissa’s spare tube, but we probably wasted about 40 minutes trying to figure out my flat.

It was a great ride. I’m glad I participated and I’m definitely coming back next year! To close the post, an obligatory photo with our home state street signs!

Person First

As I’ve entered the cycling world and became a cyclist myself, one thing I’ve had to get used to is the amount of anger, dislike, and disregard centered around cyclists. All cyclists, and especially me, have learned to stay away from the comment section of stories about cyclists- whether it is a story about a hit and run, or a fatality, or biking infrastructure. Why? The amount of vitriol and hatred that is directed at cyclist in those comments makes me sick to my stomach. People say things like, “I want to run cyclists over when they get in my way,” “When they slow me down, I honk my horn at them to scare them out of my way,” “Cyclists deserve to get run over, they have no place on the road.” Those things sound like exaggerations, but they’re not. I’ve read multiple comments along those same lines. When I read things like that, first I feel sick, then I get angry, then I get scared- what’s to say that these commentators, or people feel similar, aren’t driving behind me and get so angry that I’m in their way, using “their” road that they decide to bump my back tire, or squeeze past me and “accidentally” hit me on the way by? Or, less life threatening but no less terrifying, yell something obscene at me or throw something out the window at me? I know these comments don’t represent the entire car driving population, but it only takes one angry driver to cause me to crash.

For me, there are two issues to address. One is that the road does not “belong” to anyone. Just because cars use the road the most and they are usually the biggest thing out there does not mean it is “their” road. The road is for everyone to use- everyone pays for the roads, everyone can use the roads. It’s true that those who own cars do have to pay special taxes associated with them- gas tax, licensing fees, etc. But most of that money goes towards interstates and state roads- most of which cyclist don’t (or can’t) use. The county and back roads that cyclists most often use are mostly paid for through general funds, which get their money through local, property and sales tax- things unrelated to automobiles and which everyone pays, no matter their mode of transportation. In addition, most roads don’t even pay for themselves at all- they don’t even break even when it comes to construction and upkeep. So they are constantly being subsidized. (For more information: Cyclists Ride on the Roads They Pay For, Bikes Pay for Roads Too, Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don’t Pay for Themselves)

But my other point goes beyond numbers, money, even mode of transportation. It’s about the fact that I’m a HUMAN. Just like everyone else. Just like those driving in cars, just like the pedestrians crossing the street. The fact that I’m on two wheels and not encased in metal doesn’t make me less of a human than a person sitting in the car. I deserve respect and consideration just like anyone else- it shouldn’t matter whether I’m on two feet, two wheels, or four wheels. NO ONE deserves to be yelled at, harassed, threatened, spit on, bonked on the head, run over, called terrible names. It’s true that cyclists aren’t perfect. There are a lot of us who don’t follow all the road rules. And I know that can be frustrating to see. But please don’t hate all cyclists just because one ran a red light, or didn’t stop at a stop sign. Does every single motorists follow every single rule? No. Neither does every single cyclist. Yes, cyclists can be unpredictable and dangerous, but so can can motor vehicles. Everyone has the responsibility to remain diligent and alert, whatever mode of transportation they are using. Because the road will only be as safe as the people make it.

Next time you’re tempted to honk, rev, yell, or worse, at a cyclist, just imagine that it’s me on that bike. Or, if you don’t know me from Eve, imagine it’s your sister, or best friend, or significant other, or anyone else you know that rides a bike. Imagine how I (or that person), might feel about that honk, or yell, or profanity, or that pass which cuts a little too close and too fast for comfort. I just want to be able to ride my bike and not worry that my mere presence on the road will incite someone to cause me bodily harm. I’ll do my best not to act stupid or behave recklessly, and I’ll try my hardest to make sure I’m not unnecessarily impeding the  journey of those in cars. But if I feel I need to take the whole lane because I’m scared that someone trying to pass me won’t have enough room and will knock against me, I’ll do it. Not because I hate cars and the people in them but because I have a right to the road too, and a right to feel safe on them.

When you see a cyclist, don’t just see the two wheels they’re riding on- see the person who is using their two feet to push their bike forward.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 8 | The Ride Home

Today I rode my bike home, and of course, I picked the one day of the week that it decided to rain. But, while I’m sweet, I’m not made of sugar, so I didn’t melt. And it certainly wasn’t the worst rain I’ve ridden in! I’ve been biking home from work for awhile now. I used to bike to and from work, but have abandoned the “to” part. I decided the hassle of riding to work was more than I was willing to put up with. Picking and packing the day’s outfit, along with all the necessary accessories and vanity products was too stressful. So, I started taking my bike on the metro in the morning then riding my bike home after work. This works so much better. Bikes aren’t allowed on the metro between 7am and 10am, so I do have to leave my house earlier. But packing is so much easier, as I only need to mindlessly pack my cycling gear, and I get to leave work a half hour early, as I get into work a half hour earlier. As the days get shorter, this option will be even more appealing, as it means I can get a ride in before it gets too dark.

I upgraded my backpack, also. I got a very nice Timbuk2 laptop backpack. While my bag is still heavy with my laptop, it’s easier to transport. And it’s a great backpack for short trips! So, this is an official endorsement of the Timbuk2 H.A.L. laptop backpack! (Although Timbuk2 has a lot of good commuting  backpack options!)

Since I’ve started biking home, I’ve moved, and while my new route is the same length as my previous commute, it is a much more urban route. However, thanks to Google Maps and Rails to Trails, the route is quite bike friendly, with many streets with bike lanes being used.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 7 | Another day

I went on a ride after work today. There was still a lot of traffic, even though I left earlier than I did before. I’m going to have to find a new after work riding route- too much pissing off motorists (I’m sure!) and fearing for my life happening to continue using this route. Nothing exciting, just another day on the bike!

#30DaysofBiking: Day 6 | Shake

Tanline and bike grease

Today I was too lazy to spend time kitting up for a long ride but I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather, so I just rode to Silver Spring so I could sit outside while I enjoyed a shake and read my book.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 5 | Back in the saddle

After almost a week and half of not being on my bike, I figured it was time to get back on. I blame most of that time off on the hurricanes- first there was Irene, then Lee, which meant we spent all of last week wading through water. Then once the weather cleared up, I had a friend visiting. Then when she left, I honestly wasn’t interested in riding- I was out of the habit and unmotivated. Often, if I go too long between rides, I start feeling anxious and antsy. But the past week, I’ve had no desire to get on my bike and even the good weather didn’t make me miss it much. I would say that I wished I could be on my bike, but I didn’t mean it. It felt a little weird- I’ve never had that happen before. It also made me a little nervous- was my love affair with my bike starting to fizzle out? Even though the day I took this ride I was super stressed out at from work and life, I had no desire to take a ride- which is often the first thing that comes to mind when I need some recovery time. I was tempted to veg out at home, once again instead of going through the hassle of getting ready for a ride. But a bike friend convinced me it would make me feel better and made me feel guilty about avoiding my bike. So I kitted up and headed out. And, of course, I was glad I did. Even though I left later than I should have, so I had to deal with tons of traffic, it was still lovely out and I got to spend a bit of time away from traffic on a little used trail. I could tell it had been awhile since I’d been on the bike- my legs felt the burn on the smallest of hills and my breathing was extra labored. But it was a good workout, I didn’t get hit by any cars and I’ve broken the couch potato habit.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 4 | Too Late







I had intended to go on a group ride this morning. On Sundays, one of the bike shops downtown does a group ride that I enjoying doing. However, because I couldn’t get my lazy butt out of bed fast enough this morning, I missed the early train and they had already left by the time I got there! So I didn’t completely waste the effort I had put into getting ready, I biked home. So instead of getting 25 miles in toady, I got in 6. Better than zero.