April is for 30 Days of Biking. And Poetry

“How many miles to the sun?” He smiled
In answer to my “Where are you going?”
Lilacs were caught in his handle bars,
His pedals were mud, his eyes were stars,
His hair was blowing.
Marion Strobel, “Man and Bike”

Today kicks off 30 Days of Biking, where people far and wide commit to getting on their bikes and– you guessed it– riding them for the 30 days in April.

As someone who rides year-round, I didn’t initially see the benefits of 30 Days of Biking, but I had such a positive experience with it last year that I decided to make the pledge again.

I’m combining my 30 Days of Biking with a personal challenge to read poetry every day in April. I used to love reading poetry growing up. However, my interest in it lapsed or was overtaken by other activities until recently.

Tidal Basin and Surly and me

During times of uncertainty and fear, poetry has soothed and helped me through, and I now have a desire to add a dose of lyric into my daily routine.

I thought you might enjoy the images captured in Marion Strobel’s “Man and Bike,” which is available to read in full here.

I think her poem a fitting way to ride into the month.

Errandonnee note: Still finalizing finishers, miles, and errands, but hope to have a full list this week. I mean it this time. Thanks to all for their participation and patience!

Stillness in the Ruckus of Washington, D.C.

Buses align Ohio Drive, one after the other, and block my once-daily view of the Potomac.

Large chatty groups of tourists swarm the National Mall, oblivious to the bike commuters that weave around them. They start the day early, and I fail to wake up any earlier to avoid their field trips.

The sudden influx is an annual jolt. The quiet commute is gone. Rush hour noises surround me. They seem even louder than before. People chatter and shout, buses belch and surge. And there’s honking. Always honking.

I still seek stillness in the ruckus. It’s my silent scavenger hunt. Instinct guides me, and the camera in hand is like an extra set of eyes.

A moment may be all there is before a still spot vanishes. Years ago, that would anger me. Now it is all I need.

Forsythia on the Mall
Forsythia on the Mall
Bike shadow on Green
Bike shadow on Green
Early Blossoms on the Mall
Early Blossoms on the Mall
Tidal Basin plus Surly
Tidal Basin plus Surly

Fallen flowers on 14th Street

Celebrating a sunny warm day as the cars go by
Celebrating a sunny warm day as the cars go by

Mood and Safety Enhancing: M204 Monkey Light Review

Our hours of daylight may be lengthening, but I still find myself doing plenty of night riding in the city. Melissa over at MonkeyLectric asked if I’d be interested in trying out a set of their M204 Monkey Lights, a multi-colored battery-operated light that attaches to one’s wheel spokes.

Monkey Light

Generally, I’m not much for doing product reviews, but the Monkey Light intrigued me so I said sure. I’ve now been using the Monkey Light on my Surly Long Haul Trucker for three months and my short summary of this light is:

Both mood and safety enhancing, the M204 Monkeylectric Monkey Light 204 is a reasonably priced (around $25.00), relatively easy-to-install supplemental light with a slightly clunky hub-affixed battery pack that provides colorful peripheral lighting for bike commuters. 

For night riding and dreary days, the Monkey Light M204 has been a pleasant addition. It’s like having my own little front wheel rainbow.

It was fairly simple to install, key for someone like me who does not like to futz with things. Total time to put the light on my bike was less than 30 minutes, and I took pictures along the way.

Monkey Light

The instructions explaining how to attach the light to my hub were easy to follow. The light affixes to the spokes with two zipties, and the battery pack fits to the hub through zip ties as well.

Monkey Light

MonkeyLectric sends a few extra zip ties with the light in the event you need to replace one, as well as a couple of metal ties to make the light more theft-proof (which I am not using).

I wound the wire that attaches the light to the battery pack around a spoke. I’m not a huge fan of how it looks, but it’s not too intrusive, and in the dark you can’t even tell it’s there, ha!

Monkey Light
Attaching the battery pack to the hub after winding the light wire around the spoke and before cutting the zip ties on the light.

 

The battery pack requires four AA batteries and MonkeyLectric sends you a set to get you started. I’m still using those initial batteries, but my nighttime commute generally runs between three and five miles.

Monkey Light battery pack
Monkey Light battery pack
Connecting the battery pack to the light cord
Connecting the battery pack to the light cord

Over the three months I’ve used the Monkey Light the battery pack has shifted, but I could not have attached the zip ties any tighter to the hub. I imagine I will need to reinstall the pack at some point to hopefully tighten the pack down more snugly, but for now it’s working without issue.

I don’t understand the run time indicators or pattern instructions included on the Monkey Light instructions. There are two possibilities for this:

1. I’m not good at reading pictures; or
2. I’m impatient and don’t take the time to decipher the pictures.

In any event, I know where “off” and “on” is located (the red button!) and I then push the black button until I find a pattern that suits my mood.

Monkey Light

I like using this bike in the city. It is eye-catching and gives good additional peripheral light. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good images of me riding this bike in the dark so please accept the couple of still photos I took in my house with the lights off as a substitute.

The colors are fun, brighten my mood, but do not distract from my main job of pedaling. Monkey Light says that the light is waterproof, and it has held up to several commutes in steady rain.

Monkey Light Pennsylvania Ave

While this is no substitute for front or rear lights, if you are in the market for a bit of extra visibility on the bike at a reasonable cost, I’d recommend you check out the M204 Monkey Light. Thanks again to Melissa and MonkeyLectric for the opportunity to try it.

Riding in Search of Weak Spots

Some randonneurs maintain brevet fitness throughout the year, but I haven’t managed to achieve that. When September arrives, I ride for fun, and run myself into shape for a fall marathon or two.

Winter weather tempers my riding ambitions. It’s just not as glorious to ride around the countryside through various shades of winter browns and grays while hands and feet throb in protest.

With a March marathon behind me, and the calendar noting of the arrival of spring, I was out of excuses for not riding long. Felkerino and I agreed that if we were serious about riding brevets this year, then a long-ish tandem ride was in order.

Felkerino on Sugarland Road

We call these early season rides training rides, although more technically I suppose one could call them whatevering rides. We set an ambitious but not unreasonable distance and roughly scope out our route. Then we ride until we’re done.

March whatevering rides are all about acclimating our bodies to all-day saddle time, figuring out the weak spots in our fitness, and remembering what it’s like to ride the same bike.

“I wouldn’t have done that, Felkerino.”
“Thank you for calling out that bump, Felkerino.”
“Oh, we’re turning here!”

Training rides present an opportunity to refine the rando setup and take stock of what the bike needs. We revisit the state of the extra tubes and the tools stored in the side pockets. We dig into the bottom of the bag to see what forgotten treasure might have been left. (My favorite Ibex hat? Thank you!)

Tree in March

We remember how the Carradice starts out mostly empty and then fills with layers shed throughout the warming temperatures of the day. Booties, heavy gloves, jackets. As a ride continues past sunset, the layers gradually re-emerge. Like a multi-act play or a Madonna concert, a whatevering ride can require a few wardrobe changes.

We’re reminded that it’s important to exercise good rando habits, such as closing the Carradice bag each time we open it. Otherwise, a favorite vest might tumble out somewhere on the road and be lost forever. It’s one thing to do such silly things in the city, where it’s easier to retrace steps, but on a rando ride? Forget about it.

Saturday’s ride was a 115-mile loop from the District to Brunswick, Maryland, and back. Some flat, plenty of rollers, and a decent amount of climbing for the day without being punishing. A good early season whatevering, er, training ride.

Some sections of our route (especially the suburban ones) gave Felkerino plenty of practice with pothole dodging. Maybe this could be a new form of eye test that optometrists use for cyclists. Avoid all potholes and you don’t need new glasses.

2015-03-23 20.13.29

Our ride went smoothly, if you discount the slowly leaking tire we managed through much of the ride. We were rooting for our rear tire to make it through one more ride, but it was oblivious to our encouragement and continued to plague us with a slow leak until we found a good tire replacement spot, and swapped out worn tread for new.

Randonneurs can be weird. We probably should have replaced it when we first noticed the issue, rather than try to nurse it along. We imagined we were saving time by not changing the tire, but we were really delaying the inevitable.

My legs were not fully recovered from last week’s marathon, but they felt okay. Felkerino probably had to do a little extra lifting for the team on the hilly segments, but he knew what I’d been up to the week before and didn’t seem to mind.

The day offered several pleasantly warm, sunny hours. Oh how long it’s been since my toes felt toasty on a ride. This also aided our disposition during the late-ride tire change, too. It’s a luxury to change a tire in weather where your hands don’t freeze.

Flat fixing tandem. Felkerino and me

Even though my legs lacked the snap I would have liked, we physically made it through with no issues and in good spirits. Our rolling average was lower than it usually is during peak riding months. We took more breaks along the way than we would during a brevet, but completed our agreed-upon route without shortcutting or moaning and groaning.

A new vest has been ordered and we’ve restocked our tubes and spare tire supply. We’ve sketched out additional whatevering rides. I’m finally in a state of anticipation about the brevets.

The early spring warmth and late afternoon sun of Saturday made us believe that spring is coming. The grass is seriously contemplating an emergence, as are the early spring buds. I can feel it.

More whatevering rides through the hills, a little tweaking here and there but not too much, more disciplined time in the saddle, and we will have sorted out our weak spots. Add in a few more sunny days in the 60s (is this too much to ask?) and we’ll be brevet ready.

Birthday Week Bike Rides in BikeDC

Dear Washington, D.C., my current city of residence,

I discovered a better way to maneuver around you after too many years as a subterranean Metro passenger.

Monday Afternoon at the Monument
Monday Afternoon at the Monument

Your dense pinwheel layout and abundant side streets instilled a belief that I could pedal your roads without too much angst or trouble.

Tuesday Morning Under the 14th Street Bridge
Tuesday Morning Under the 14th Street Bridge

My first days were simple routes, from Adams Morgan to L’Enfant Plaza. I had lots to learn. There were missteps, like that one morning I was late to work and foolishly tried to rip down 14th Street. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Tuesday Morning Cheesy Monument Photo Time with the Jefferson
Tuesday Morning Cheesy Monument Photo Time with the Jefferson

But I gained confidence. I explored. You became even more easily navigable than I first imagined.

Tuesday 15th Street Cycletrack and These Horses
Tuesday 15th Street Cycletrack and These Horses

Through the years, we’ve come to know each other better, you and I. You’re a decent place for us cyclists, D.C.

Wednesday by the Jefferson. Watching the Tourists Arrive
Wednesday by the Jefferson. Watching the Tourists Arrive

The cars have tried to take you over, but you still save some parts of yourself just for us. Never concede them, please. Try and reclaim others, if you can.

Thursday Under Memorial Bridge
Thursday Under Memorial Bridge

This is my birthday week– a week in March that also marks the changing of the seasons.

Thursday. Calm water on the Potomac. The Surly wants its own Shot.
Thursday. Calm water on the Potomac. The Surly wants its own Shot.

Before the buses block the view of the Potomac River and the tourists overtake your streets and sidewalks, I captured some moments of us together.

I also snuck in my own tourist photo.

Cheesy pre-work selfie with my favorite cycling partner
Cheesy pre-work selfie with my favorite cycling partner
Ending the Week with a Rainy Pass through the White House Plaza
Ending the Week with a Rainy Pass through the White House Plaza

The city. My bike. Me.

I think we look good together, and I look forward to another year with you. Let’s hope it’s the best year yet.

Randonneuring In Retrospect

I’m a randonneur romantic. Sure, longer brevets almost always include periods where I question my recreational pursuits due to discomfort, exhaustion, or some dissatisfaction with a route segment, but they don’t hang on. Eventually, those feelings fade and bike riding reclaims its place on my list of favorite things to do.

Another reason I love the randonneuring events is because they introduce an additional level of commitment and discipline to Felkerino’s and my riding. Early weekend wake-ups for training rides in the hills become standard routine.

I incorporate more focused cross-training into my weekdays. Overall time in the saddle goes up. Bike mileage steadily increases and peaks until the carefully scheduled taper goes into effect.

After all that, I stand rather anticlimactically at an uncivilized hour in a generic hotel parking lot with my brevet card in hand ready to see how our months of hard work will pay off. Despite the unassuming circumstances, randonneur show time has arrived.

Over the course of 10 years of brevets, I’ve ridden rides that while they were happening, felt they were devouring me with their difficulty. Yet after I completed them and time did its work to soothe the event-inspired discomforts, a blanket of bliss wrapped itself around me.

Almost always, my body forgets the fatigue and frustrations of an event. My mind looks beyond pain point memories, or reconstructs them as necessary parts of the ride experience. Without the low moments, there can be no highs. The post-ride sensations that usually remain are so powerful and positive that they compel me to take on the next big ride.

D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck
D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck

But that is not what happened on my most recent 1000K. In August, Felkerino and I rode a 1000K where the memories that lingered were primarily pain points. Despite the passing of time, my recall of this ride is not the savoring experience I’ve come to hope for and even expect from randonneuring.

When I remember this particular event, what I’m most happy about is that Felkerino and I pushed through and did not quit. We also enjoyed some pretty sweet night riding, too, but generally my point of pride is that we showed we can gut out a rando event even when we’re not enjoying it.

I’m still puzzling through why this ride’s memories evoke such  overall dissatisfaction. One month before this 1000K, Felkerino and I were completing a sublime two-week bike tour of Colorado.

We liberated ourselves from the clock and were not constrained by a prescribed route. Having all day to travel 100 or so miles in the summer sun was a treat. Maybe bike touring through the Colorado Rockies spoiled us, and we were unprepared for the rigors of a 1000K brevet.

On the other hand, maybe it’s because I’ve been doing brevets long enough now that their novelty has worn off. I know the general flow of an event, from a 200K up to a 1200K. I know the fitness that’s required complete them. I’m confident that Felkerino and I have a fairly tuned system that sets us up well for finishing rides.

Perhaps waning sunlight and winter’s freeze dampened my enthusiasm for long rides, and the arrival of springtime will reshape my August 1000K memories and rekindle my affinity for randonneuring.

At the very least, I hope a brevet or two with Felkerino through the emerging blossoms and greens of spring will generate new memories and bring back to the fore the seductive sensations I’ve always loved about randonneuring rides.

The End of the Errandonnee Era

To quote Bike Like Crazy, it’s the end of the the Errandonnee era– for 2015, that is.

Don’t be too sad, though. Spring is on its way, errands go on, and we’ll be back next year.

Many thanks to all the errandeurs (and errundeur) who inspired me over the last 12 days and brought it all to life.

Errandonnee

If you were unable to complete 12 errands in 12 days, but managed significant progress, please consider submitting for an honorable mention!

Paperwork is due around March 24. Please let me know if you would like a patch for your Errandonnee efforts (four dollars, no more no less. Outside the USA, five PayPal dollars does the trick).

I hope to put together a couple of highlight posts so we’ll just see how that homework assignment goes. And I will be announcing the finishers and honorable mentions sometime next week!

 

D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon: A Soggy Sign of Spring

Whenever the transition from winter to spring begins to occur, I greet it with incredulity. But how? Less than two weeks ago, the city was coated in snow.

Ten days ago, I made a snowman during a snow day run. A UPI photographer even caught me in the act.

Heavy snowfall expected in Washington DC
Photo courtesy of Mike Theiler/UPI

Since then, the white stuff has melted and winter moved out of the way– just in time for the running of the D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

I always wonder how my body will hold up to running 26.2 miles in March. Generally, I have a tough time hauling myself outside in winter months compared to the warmer, brighter days of spring and summer, but a long run that routes exclusively through the city is impossible for me to resist.

The D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll organizers have plotted out a thoughtful marathon course. Each year, the run passes through all four of the District’s quadrants, and the organizers aren’t afraid to send its participants over hills.

My favorite parts of the 2015 route included going up Harvard Street and around Howard University in Northwest, going into Southeast through Anacostia Park, rising into Fort Dupont, and the signature finish via Minnesota Avenue (also a hill).

The Pi Day edition of this event featured moderate temperatures and steady rain. So much rain! It was definitely the wettest run I’ve done, and made me grateful for all the rainy brevets Felkerino and I have ridden over the years, which have taught me a thing or two about dealing with less-than-ideal weather and dressing accordingly.

Temperatures remained mostly in the fifties but the rain and cloudy skies meant a lower “real feel.” In anticipation of the weather, I chose my lightweight trail runners with some wool socks– a combination I hoped would keep my feet warm, but also drain water.

Rock Roll Marathon me running

 

I dressed in a sleeveless Nuu-Muu (which is basically a running tunic) with shorts, and a long-sleeve lightweight wool base layer. I also wore gloves for the first ten miles. This combination seemed to work well for most of the day.

When I made the turn for the second half of the course, I didn’t feel any doubt about continuing. My body never tightened up on me and I felt starry-eyed for much of the event. I did not mind the hills; I think varied terrain makes a course more interesting and increases my sense of accomplishment.

I approached the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon as a whatevering-plus run. It was a once-a-year treat to tour the city and see places I seldom visit. It was awesome to see runners taking over the streets of D.C. Sorry cars, it’s our day.

D.C. is a city that supports runners, and I am so proud of that. People came out in pouring rain to cheer for regular everyday people who were running around town. It was quite moving to observe.

The run thins significantly in the last 13.1 miles, as the majority of people run the half-marathon distance. This increase in personal space gives the full marathoners more physical space, and for me that leads to more head space.

I was really able to get in my head during this event. I thought about my family, my parents, the rain and the puddles, my life with Felkerino in the city, and what a gift it was to be a runner on Pi Day.

Bikeshare post-marathon

I was on the brink of big-time tears from all this contemplation and it started to overwhelm me. I forced myself out of my head so that I wouldn’t start sobbing with all of these emotions in front of all these runners who I didn’t know and pulled my mind back to concentrating on my feet splish-splashing over the pavement.

My friends Jerry and Carolyn were out to see me in the early miles, along with Felkerino, and Felkerino met me and cheered as I crossed the finish line. My final time was 4:30:31, but it didn’t seem like I had been running that long. We rode bikes home together.

Some days you get lucky; everything works and the body cooperates. The mental space is conducive, and you have a good run. I never anticipated feeling so great on such a dreary day, but I did. One week before my birthday– I’d call it an excellent early birthday present.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,766 other followers

%d bloggers like this: