Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

 

Saturday

A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.

 

The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.

Sunday

The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary

 

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

 

Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me

 

A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain

 

Monday

Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

 

From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

 

The Feeling Returns

When inspiration strikes, the feeling is magical. After this weekend, I’m enthused about spending more time out on the open road, now that summer is ending.

How so? Last week Mary and I decided to ride a DC Randonneurs 300K course, the “Contrary Mother of All 300Ks,” as a two-day, no credit tour. We’re randonneurs in the spring, but the rest of the year, we veer more toward touring and centuries, and this one is a beauty.

The West Virginia town of Romney, nestled in the hills, is at mile 102 and has a good hotel and dinner options. The second day would be about 90 miles, just as hilly but not as long. See the routes: Day 1 and Day 2.

We also put out the word on the DC Randonneurs listserv to see if anyone wanted to come along. To our happy surprise, another tandem team joined us – Gordon M. and his wife Kay T., on a lovely black Co-Motion tandem.

Gordon and Kay

Gordon and Kay

 

I’ve known Gordon for 20 years but only recently met Kay, a very active rider who has a successful masters-level bike racing pedigree. They were married just three months ago and are enjoying newlywed bliss.

We met Saturday in Middletown, Va. in the Shenandoah Valley, and pedaled off to the north and west into the rolling hills. Mary and I stuffed the Carradice with a few essentials, while they carried lightly loaded panniers.

The weather cooperated wonderfully with bright skies, low humidity, and moderate temperatures in the 80s. This after forecasts earlier in the week talked about possible rain from a tropical storm moving up the Atlantic coast. For once, the storm moved away and we were left with perfectly clear late summer weather — whoo!

This route is rarely flat and we were a bit quicker up the hills, but Kay and Gordon came on fast on the descents and flats and were rarely far away. We stopped to enjoy the orchard views and lingered at the rest stops, including a well-deserved late lunch in Capon Bridge.

Riding along the Capon River

Riding along the Capon River

 

Dinner at a local place that shall go unnamed in Romney was slow and kind of odd, but it gave us time to get better acquainted and learn more about each other’s bike collections. I’m afraid I took the prize for boring everyone with the nuances of 650b bikes vs. gravel grinders vs. singlespeeds, and so on. (See? I’m doing it now!)

Day 2: Sweet and Scenic

 

Sunday dawned a little overcast and cool. Mary and I rode by ourselves down into town to the Sheetz for a coffee-type drink and breakfast sandwiches, while Gordon and Kay lit out on the course toward Lost River ahead of us. The motorbike guys at the Sheetz asked us about the tandem and I found out a little about Honda Gold Wing touring motorcyles. Word is, the engines last forever. “The Cadillac of motorcycles,” one guy said.

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

A brief derailleur adjustment and photo stop

 

On the way to Lost River we rode over one hill after another on quiet roads, with just the occasional herd of cows and sheep looking on. One little dog came out to chase us, but I was certain the chain would stop it at the road’s edge. Then we noticed the chain wasn’t anchored! It gave a hearty chase, dragging the chain. That pup won the day’s prize for spirit.

Speaking of dragging chains, we kept dropping ours past the small front chainring on uphills, and had to stop a few times to pull the chain up onto the ring and fiddle with the front derailleur. The hills were steep enough – one was 16 percent – that we really needed to use that ring, and were glad when we got things working correctly. Relieved is more accurate, actually.

The Lost River Grill was supposed to stop serving breakfast at 11:30 AM and we arrived right then, trailing Gordan and Kay by 20 minutes. He talked them into keeping the breakfast menu going a little longer for us. I had purchased a little bottle of maple syrup at the South Branch Inn in Romney and was thrilled to order a waffle to justify carrying it over the hills. Unfortunately I left it there by mistake, still half-full. Oh well. It was delicious syrup and worth having it.

We climbed up Wolf Gap and the Garmin GPS unit went haywire trying to route us, beeping madly about a turn that did not exist, and finally just shut down at the top of the climb. No matter, we’ve blasted down that descent a few times and know the drill. The Spectrum tandem handled the sharp turns with aplomb and we got down to the Larkin’s Store in Edinburgh with smiles on our faces.

The smiles turned to frowns when we discovered the store was closed for repairs from a fire. We read later that a drink cooler caught fire and the owner saved the structure by getting everbody out and closing all the doors to limit oxygen. They’ve promised to re-open, I hope soon. That place is a main stop for the randonneurs and other riders in that part of the valley. We made do with some pocket food and didn’t need water, so all was well enough.

Larkin's is closed, but repairs are underway

Larkin’s is closed, but repairs are underway

 

Back Road never fails to entertain and was lovely and challenging with its many rollers and wide views. I just wish there was a crossing of Rt. 55 without having to ride on it for a few miles first – fast traffic and no shoulder make it a little scary. We got back to Middletown in good shape, and greeted Gordon and Kay who looked fresh and happy as they rolled into town.

Yes, that was fun!

Yes, that was fun!

 

Mary and I went to dinner at Roma Italian at Stephens City, which made for a satisfying end note to the weekend.

Sometimes things just work out well without drama. I took a lot of inspiration from Gordon and Kay, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves – and Mary, who rode strong as always.  This weekend was a great finale to a fun and active summer.

The Spectrum Tandem, Bowie, and the Snow

Last week was a weird and long one. The death of David Bowie on Sunday hit me harder than I expected.

I saw Bowie perform twice. The first time was on the first U.S. stop of his monster Serious Moonlight tour in 1983, at the US Festival in California; there were 300,000 people there. Like many in the crowd, I suppose, I was a recent convert, having been drawn in by the Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and Let’s Dance albums.

My Vantage Point during Bowie's US Festival show

My Vantage Point during Bowie’s US Festival show

The show was a revelation in what rock music could be — both powerful and artistic. It was at that time and remains for me the most electric rock concert I’ve seen; a standard in terms of theatrics and raw rock sound that nobody else has equaled.

Up to then I’d always been a fan of his sound but I was more into the hits than his albums. I realized why his fans were so ardent.

I was on Team Bowie until I saw him at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside DC in 1990 on his Sound+Vision Tour, which was supposed to be his last tour singing his big hits. That experience was a letdown; he appeared to be disinterested.

After that Bowie’s output didn’t register, until the release of the Blackstar album on Jan. 8. It had that Bowie weirdness that caught my ear. It seemed Bowie was back in form — at age 69 — pushing current rock artists to do something really new (looking at you, James Murphy!).

Then his surprise death kind of knocked me down. The guy had cancer, kept it secret, recorded one final album about it, plus two eerie videos, then died two days after the release. This was an artistic act nobody else would pull off. Who does that?

Johnny Cash recorded three albums in his final years, but it was known that he was ill and was racing time.

As long as Bowie was still recording, it felt like I still had a living link to those days of youth; all that’s gone now. But we have something else.

Bowie’s final gift was his challenge to us to create, to push our own and society’s limits, while we still have time, right up until the final day.

I’m starting to dig into Bowie’s back catalog to hear the songs that didn’t get into compilations. I’m also interested to see whether renewed public attention to his work will spur some of today’s artists toward bolder directions.

The next album from Arcade Fire should be interesting and so should one planned by Murphy and his renewed LCD Soundsystem. Murphy played on Blackstar, so I hope that experience will have an impact.

Even in death, I believe Bowie is going to move rock music in ways we can’t yet predict.

The end of work on Friday came none too soon. With a three-day holiday weekend ahead, Mary and I got out the car on Saturday to take our new Spectrum road tandem back to Tom Kellogg’s workshop in Breinigsville, Pa. for a small fix.

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

The view from the car roof (courtesy Mary G)

He used internal cable routing for the rear brake and on our second ride the sleeve started to make a metallic noise inside the frame when we went over a bump. By phone, Tom suspected the sleeve was hitting a set of bottle cage bolt bosses that protrude into the frame tube.

Tom brought us into the warm confines of his shop at his rural home, and quickly confirmed the noise source was that sleeve. While we went to lunch, he injected some expanding insulation foam into the frame tube, which isolated the sleeve and stopped the noise.

We had a nice visit afterwards where we talked about bikes and riding. Tom gave us some free T-Shirts for our trouble.

A souvenir from Tom

A souvenir from Tom

On Sunday we decided to ignore the gloomy forecast for snow showers and took out the Spectrum, with Ted N., to Leesburg via the W&OD Trail. The skies were dark grey but the temperatures were enough above freezing, so we kept on going after Ted turned back in Vienna, about 20 miles out.

Not snowing, yet

Not snowing, yet

The frame noise was gone, so we were glad about that. The whole bike rolls really smoothly. It’s appropriately stiff but not as rigid as our Cannondale MTB tandem (super-stiff) or our Co-Motion Java (very stiff), and has a more agile feeling in turns.

By the time we got to Leesburg snow flurries had started and were gaining intensity, but were still melting on the ground, so we were OK. After getting hauled over the Potomac on White’s Ferry we rode through a fair squall and got cold and a little wet. This was a bummer! Riding a century in the January cold is never easy, is it?

You can see our ride details at my Garmin Connect page.

Waiting on White's Ferry

Waiting on White’s Ferry

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

The tandem discount. One bike, not two riders!

We warmed up in Poolesville at the McDonalds while the snow tailed off, and by the time we got home in late afternoon the sun had come out. We rode around the neighborhood to make it an exact century, 100.0 miles, right outside our door so that we could claim some bragging rights on the Freezing Saddles challenge.

Warmup at McDonalds

Warmup at McDonalds

I’ll write up a separate post on buying a custom steel tandem; it took a long time to get and costs a lot, and then you find out how it rides. After our first century, in the snow, we’re satisfied, and expect the feeling to grow.

The Spectrum's first ride on Whites Ferry

The Spectrum’s first ride on Whites Ferry