On Your Left

This phrase is a call used as a common courtesy on the trails in these parts, usually uttered when a bicyclist is coming up on either a walker or another cyclist from behind.  It serves as a warning to the slower person about your approach, and also a request for the person to move towards the right side of the trail if he or she is blocking the trail.  You hear the phrase  quite frequently on crowded trails, and the responses to this call can vary quite a bit. Sometimes folks do not hear you unless you yell because they have their  earphones on and are listening to something or the other on their mobile devices. Sometimes folks do something unexpected like moving into your path.  But the call works often enough that its usage is a common practice.  I do not know what the etiquette of overtaking on a trail is in other places.  Perhaps in the UK, they say “On your right!”

It happened when I was barrelling downhill on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), heading from Bethesda to Fletcher’s Cove on the C&O Canal.  Traffic on the trail was unusually light that morning.  It was a cool morning, actually unusually cool for this time of year, and I was wearing extra gear to keep out the chill.  I felt an occasional drop of water from the overcast skies.  The forecasters had predicted that it would all clear up, but perhaps even this slight threat of inclement weather had been sufficient to deter other bikers from the trail.  (Or maybe it was because people have left town on vacations because of the start of summer.)

My goal for the ride was to tackle two trails that had slopes that were challenging.  I needed the training to be better prepared for the Rockies.   The Capital Crescent Trail and the Custis trail, both trails that I had found difficult in the past in this context, were within reachable distance of each other.

As I was speeding down the nearly empty CCT, I spied this kid in front of me who was walking down the middle of the trail in the same direction that I was riding.  I tried to warn him “On your left!”, but I got no response.  He had his earphones on!  I had to slow down.  I kept repeating myself with increasing urgency as I got closer to him and continued to slow down.  He heard me at the last minute and jumped to the side.  He turned to me with a sheepish grin on his face.  “Sorry, my bad.”  But I was not upset at all. In fact, I had to smile in spite of the fact that he had slowed me down significantly.  It was partly due to the look on his face, and the spirit in which he apologized.  There was no sign of annoyance in his demeanor at being startled, and he also openly accepted his responsibility.  Also, I was not really in a hurry (in spite of my speed), and I was happily distracted by the thought of a kid taking a walk on the trail in the middle of the morning, enjoying the outdoors.  Hopefully he had not bunked school, but in any case, he seemed to be involved a healthy outdoor diversion that was better than idling in front of an electronic display of some sort at home.  I was not upset.IMG_20170607_102733902_HDRLater on during the ride, while on a section of the W&OD trail in Virginia, I sighted a mother (I think!) and her little girl on the trail in front of me.  The two of them moved to the side of the trail when the mother noticed my approach.  The mother sat herself next to the kid, pointed my way, and the two of them waited for me to come by.  As I got closer she waved to me, and the kid gave me a big smile that would have melted any reasonable person’s heart.  I waved back with a smile on my face.  I got a big lift that lasted for a significant portion of the rest of the ride.IMG_20170607_115652484It is sometimes the small things that you remember from these type of outings, and I hope many such opportunities for smaller memories continue to present themselves during the next few weeks of training.IMG_20170602_092609202I managed to tackle the hills on both the Capital Crescent and Custis trails without having to get off the bike and push it uphill.  I am also learning how to better relax while doing rides like this that require some endurance.  I took breaks from riding whenever I felt like it without feeling a need to push myself and keep going.  I eased up on imaginary challenges that I tend to set for myself while riding.  In spite of this outlook, I did manage to keep a good pace.  In the end I covered about 46 miles, and I was in the groove towards the end, hitting four and a half minute miles on the rough trail.  Perhaps I am in decent shape for the final ride already.



Baking on the W&OD

The dogs days of summer have hit the Washington, DC, area.   The combination of the temperature and humidity makes the heat feel quite intense when you are in the open areas.  I have still been riding my bike regularly.  I start earlier in the day if I can, and ride through the hottest parts of the day.  It is usually not too bad under the trees, although I have gotten the strangest pattern of tans on different parts of my body because of my exposure (enough said!).

But the ride last Friday was particularly brutal.  I had decided to go further out on the W&OD trail in Virginia.  The ride started off easily enough with my crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge into Rosslyn in Arlington early enough in the morning.  I stopped on the bridge to watch the planes on their way into National Airport.


I rode the short distance on the Mt. Vernon trail along the river towards National Airport, passing the Arlington Memorial Bridge along the way.


I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures of aircraft coming in for landing at the airport.

After I passed National airport, I had to turn off on to the Four Mile Run trail and ride a few miles to the start of the W&OD.  Things became more difficult once I got on the W&OD.  There was minimal tree cover over the trail and the sun was beating directly down from on high. The asphalt that formed the surface of the trail was also increasing the intensity of the heat.  As I rode out of Arlington, and past Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, and finally into Herndon, tackling the numerous ups and downs of the trail, and with the rhythm of the ride being constantly interrupted at the many busy road crossings, my energy levels dropped.  Two bottles of water (one with and the other without dissolved electrolytes) were being consumed quickly.  I managed to find a section of the trail with a little bit of shade just outside of Herndon, had my lunch to try to build up my energy level once again, and started on my way back home.

It was now getting to noon-time and the heat was really slowing me down.  The number of other people I was seeing on the trail was dropping.  Have you heard the song about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun?    Since I am not an Englishman, I must be a creature of the other sort!

I determined that I could not do the ride all the way to the turnoff for the Custis Trail in one stretch without a break as I had originally planned.  Back at Vienna I plonked my tired self on a bench outside the old station building where there was a little bit of shade and tried to recover.  I was fortunate to also find a water fountain to replenish my drinking supply.


I got back on the bike and did make it to my next stop, which was the start of the Custis Trail, without incident.  I parked myself under the shade of the trees in the park and re-energized myself with a fruit and more water.  All of my appetite had vanished at that point because of the heat.  I was gulping down the water.   The mixture with the electrolytes was gone, but I was able to refill the water bottles.

The ride from that point onward was easier because of the shade of the trees that covered the trail.  Once I got back on the towpath I stopped at Fletchers Cove to get a bottle of Gatorade, something that was not a part of my original plan.  That bottle did not last too long either.  I made it back successfully, and the recovery process that evening was actually very good, although I decided that I was going the spend the next day, which was also going to be super hot, indoors!   I am hoping for better conditions during our ride from Pittsburgh.

Take it Easy

Take It easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy….………………………..The Eagles

The constant jangling of the metal handlebar basket as I bounce along on my bike on the towpath is something that I have gotten used to. The sound is fading into the background as if I were wearing some noise cancelling headphones, but it is only what is left of my middle-aged rattled brain doing its thing!  With regular six to seven hours of steady biking all by myself day after day, starting in the relative cool of the early mornings, and continuing through the middle of these hot and humid summer days; with the legs beating a regular rhythm on the pedals without end; with the steady concentration of the ride and your thoughts only broken up the occasional scenic stops, the snack breaks, and the infrequent interaction with folks you come across on the trail;  it is all something that is becoming second-nature to me.

It has gotten to the point where I can recover from my long rides and do the same thing the next day without feeling the ill-effects of the previous days’ efforts.  It does not matter if I had been riding on a flat surface on the towpath or if I have overcome some challenging slopes on the Virginia side of the river or on the Capital Crescent Trail the previous day.  So I think I am about as ready as I can be for the long ride at the end of August.

I have biked all the way to Reston, VA, near Dulles airport, on the W&OD trail.  This picture was taken at the place where I stopped for lunch and turned back to return home.
IMG_20160729_115353475I would eventually like to bike to the end of the W&OD trail.  It is 45 miles long.

The picture below shows the scene at Lock 7 in the morning during a different ride.  It is still cool in the morning at this point and I am riding towards DC. I eventually crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge and took the Arlington loop.
IMG_20160804_093216941This is Swain’s Lock later the same day as I was returning to Riley’s Lock.   The heat had built up by this time.
IMG_20160804_134013227The picture below was taken at the end of the same ride. The kids are on Seneca Creek near Riley’s lock.  As I mentioned in another blog, there are kids everywhere!
IMG_20160804_143022126This picture was taken early in the morning the next day at the start of another ride.  The location is north of Taylor’s Landing near Sharpsburg, MD.
IMG_20160805_084512557As I was getting my bike out of the car, a few vans full of kids and equipment drove into the parking area.  When I inquired if I could help by moving my car out of the way, one of the adults told me not to bother.  They were simply dropping the kids and their bikes off so that they could ride the trail, and the vehicles were going to pick them up at the other end of the ride.  I like kids, but I did make sure to  start my ride going in the opposite direction of where they were headed.

I passed the Dam 4 cave, and then Dam 4 itself, a couple of miles north of Taylors Landing.
IMG_20160805_090541930During this ride I biked all the way to Williamsport, MD, before turning back.   There is a lot of work going on in the park in Williamsport and I had to navigate my way past a dump truck that was blocking the trail.  The National Park Service is trying to get the canal in that section set up so that they can give rides to visitors in replica canal boats.  On my way back, at Taylor’s Landing, I did come across a group of four older women who were riding from Cumberland to Washington, DC, over five days.  They had actually roughed it out the previous night by staying in one of the lock houses.  It was unusual to see such a group on the trail.

Here is a recording to the song mentioned in this blog.

New Trails to Explore

Ever since I started biking instead of running, the distance that I have been covering in a single day on the trail has become significant enough that I find myself going over the same territory repeatedly, much more frequently than I am used to.   This does not necessarily dissuade me from riding, especially since the biking experience seems to be more about the actual process of biking rather than slowing down to take in the surroundings. However, human nature being what it is, I am always on the lookout for new places to go to and things to experience. During the last few weeks I made my way over the Potomac River into Virginia and up to Mt. Vernon.

So it was that I ended up actively investigating new trails for my ride last Friday on  Bikewashington.org. I saw that there was a way to get to the W&OD rail trail in Virginia heading west.  I read more about the Custis trail that could connect me to the W&OD.  (I had noticed the trailhead for the Custis trail during my ride to Mt. Vernon.)  This trail was built in in the 1980s, apparently at about the same time as Interstate 66 (which is also called the Custis Memorial Parkway in these parts).  Reading the reviews of this trail began to make me nervous.  The 4 mile trail running next to the highway (behind sound barriers) was well laid , but it had too many steep ups and downs.  People talked about the challenge posed by the layout of the trail, and of having to walk their bikes through certain sections.

It was with a little trepidation that I set out for the Custis trail on Friday morning, just a couple of days after having taken a nasty toss on the C&O Canal towpath, wondering if I would have to beat a hasty retreat.  But I was underestimating my physical capabilities.  The hills were tough enough, and I had to shift to low gears to tackle some of them, but I made it to the end of the trail unscathed.  My initial speed for this section was quite slow (as I tackled the city streets of Rosslyn soon after the Key Bridge), but after that I managed to hit a healthy pace in spite of the nature of trail.  I think that my confidence for the August ride just shot up one notch!

There were many miles to discover on the W&OD trail.  The 45 mile trail extends west beyond the Washington Beltway (Interstate 495) and starts at its eastern terminus in Shirlington in Arlington, VA.  As I navigated the trail attempting to realize the maximum distance I needed to cover for the day, I began to get a better understanding for the bike friendly nature of the town of Arlington.  There are trails everywhere! There are bike signs with directions, similar to the road signs (but smaller in size), for every side trail heading off into the local neighborhood.  I saw signs for the Four Mile Run Trail and the Bluemont Junction Trail, both major trails with good connections.  These asphalt covered trails ran through woods and on the sides of roads.  They even had a dividing line running down the middle for managing bike traffic.  At street crossings there were specific traffic lights for bikes.  There were water fountains for replenishing your drinking supplies in strategic locations. All of this was indeed a discovery for me.   I see myself doing further explorations on a bike in Virginia.

I made it back to Maryland without mishap after tackling the Custis trail once again on my way back.  The rest of the ride was uneventful.  The hot and humid day caused me to drink much more water than I expected, and I was thankful that I had refilled my water containers in Virginia.  There were hoards of people on the trail during the ride back.  Now that summer vacation has started, there are kids out everywhere.  One has to be more careful riding!