Monday, November 19, 2012

A great overnight adventure!

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog much knows that I have a love of the C&O Canal, which runs 184.5 miles from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in Washington, DC. Built in the 1800s, and obsolete almost as soon as it was operational, the canal ceased operating in 1924. After long neglect and debate about its future, in 1971 the canal was made a National Historic Park, creating and preserving what I think is one of the finest recreational and historical resources in the greater DC area.

One of the features of the canal I've long been fascinated with has been the various lock houses along the towpath. Built to house the folks who tended and operated the many locks on the canal, they were mostly modest, simple homes of brick and stone construction. Some are long gone without a trace, others are merely foundations... but many still stand as relics of a past way of life. And in the last few years, the C &O Canal Trust has restored a half dozen of them and opened them up for overnight use by guests, to give folks a chance to sample what it might have been like to live on the canal in its heyday.

So on November 11th, to celebrate her birthday, my sweetie and I packed up our bikes and set forth for Lock House 28, at mile post 49. Starting just outside the Capital Beltway, at an area known as Carderock, we rode for about 40 miles to get there, and it was a wonderful ride. The towpath is virtually flat the whole way, making for a pretty easy ride. The surface can be a bit rough in spots, but with the right bike, the right tires and some care, it's just fine.

Monocacy Aqueduct near sunset.
One of my favorite sights on the towpath is the Monocacy Aqueduct. There were a number of stone aqueducts along the canal in the years it was operational, built to carry the water of the canal across rivers or streams that crossed paths with it as they flowed to the Potomac River. After the canal ceased operations, the aqueducts fell into disrepair, and some collapsed completely. Ultimately, the Monocacy received a major renovation, and stands as a wonderful reminder of what once was.

Of course, the real highlight of the trip was the lock house itself. We arrived there at dark, basically, and let ourselves in using the passkey, which is kept in a coded lockbox by the front door. The first thing that struck us was how chilly it felt inside. The day itself had been pretty warm for November, but the stout brick construction, coupled with the fact that the windows were all closed up and shuttered, meant that the cold night air really stays in these buildings a long time. We were very glad we'd brought good sleeping bags with us.

Once we had let ourselves in, we did a little exploring. The house has two floors, with two bedrooms on the second floor and a sort of living room and dining room below. There's also a basement, but that wasn't accessible to us. This particular lock house was set up to resemble what it might have looked like during the 19th century period of canal operations, with simple but charming wooden furniture and bedding. The walls were decorated with photos from various periods of the canal's history, and there was even a cabinet full of some lovely dish ware in a period style.

After getting unpacked and settled in, it was time for dinner. It was a beautiful night, so we decided to try lighting a fire and eating out under the stars. My girlfriend did a great job of building and lighting the fire... I was suitably impressed. A nice, simple dinner of hot soup, and we were ready to settle in and read a while. It was really quite fun to climb the narrow wooden steps by the light of a headlamp, then climb into a simple wooden bed with thin mattress (in a down sleeping bag too), and just relax and enjoy a good book.

Even better was waking up in the morning and figuring out how to open all the windows and shutters! The simple charm and coziness of the lock house became so much more evident with sunlight pouring in. After breakfast we just took some time sit and relax and enjoy some rest before setting out for the return ride. A hot cup of coffee or two, from one of the china cups (shown here beside some of our camp cooking gear), and a leisurely packing up, and we were ready to head back home. While the day started out cloudy as predicted, a few hours down the trail found us basking in sunlight by the river. And even though we had covered the same ground the day before, it somehow always feels different along the canal... the light is never quite the same, and riding in each direction gives you a different perspective on all you see.

We got off the trail right at dark again, and packed our stuff in the truck and headed home, refreshed and relaxed from a wonderful little adventure. All in, a delightful weekend.

More photos on Flickr: C&O Canal Lock House Overnight Ride 11/11/12 - 11/12/12

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Riding a "new" section of the C&O Canal

Well, technically it's not new, but a recently re-opened section that had been closed since 1996...

 Just below Williamsport, MD, in an area known as Big Slackwater (the Potomac flows very slowly here),  a section of the towpath had washed out in two big storms that year. As a result, a detour on local farm roads was created, that took you about five miles out of your way. More importantly, it spoiled the otherwise entirely "car free" aspect of an end to end Canal ride. For many years, it seemed this situation would never be resolved, much to the disappointment of folks like me.

The view looking downstream at the upper end of the Big Slackwater section.
Much to my surprise and delight, I read some time ago that they were actually working on a fix for the washed out portion of the towpath, due to be completed this fall! The official opening ceremonies were October 12th, but apparently the path was open to users prior to that. I wasn't able to make it before the opening, or attend the big event, but C and I did make it up there a week later, on Sunday the 21st.  Parking our car at the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, we rode down stream a few miles to the "new" section, which looks to have been quite a big project. There are several portions where they put in concrete pilings and a really solid looking concrete walkway, much like a bridge. Given the number of times this section washed out prior to the closure in '96, I'm glad they put in the extra effort to build something lasting.

Now I can't wait to do another end to end ride on the towpath... staying on the path the whole way!

More info can be found at:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Summer's Gone

And where the heck did it go?

And what the heck have I been up to?  Clearly not writing, at least here.  Sure, I've been writing my usual column for the Vienna Patch, and short posts for the bikes@vienna blog and our Facebook page, but that's about it.

So, I've decided to try to get back in the swing of writing, starting with a recap of what I've been doing all summer, starting with my latest adventures...

The photo above is from the northern end of Assateague Island, in Maryland. I've loved Assateague and neighboring Chincoteague for about as long as I can remember. Between a dimly remembered childhood visit and reading Margueurite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague and her other related books about the islands' famous ponies, coupled with the simple natural beauty of the islands, it's a place I can go back to again and again. Luckily for me, my girlfriend feels the same way, so last weekend off we went to camp on Chincoteague Island, at a campground right outside the National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, folks who know me, or who have followed this blog, know that I really like my Brompton folding bike, so it should come as no surprise that we each brought our Bromptons on this trip. A bike is a great way to explore the islands, and the packability of the Bromptons makes them an ideal addition to any trip there. An added bonus was that cyclists aren't charged the usual entry fee for the Refuge, saving us about $15 a day!

While it was a short visit, we packed in a lot of fun. The Refuge has beautiful beaches, and after Labor Day, the crowds really drop off. There's also a hike/bike access point for the beach that puts you about a mile north of where most folks park their cars and hang out on the beach, so it was pretty easy to find a deserted stretch of beach. We had gorgeous blue skies, and saw lots of gulls, terns, plovers, and sandpipers. We even spotted a few bald eagles, including a young one, not yet fully in its adult plumage. Such a beautiful, (relatively) unspoiled place.

The bikes also gave us the opportunity to explore the marshes, since there's a lovely multi use trail that winds through them and links up to the beach. The salt marshes there are just alive with all manner of critters, most notably wading birds and wild ponies. The ponies are hard to get close to, but the birds are everywhere. I've never been anywhere with so many snowy egrets... such beautiful birds. We also spotted some of the diminutive Sika deer (an Asian species introduced to the US at some point) Assateague is also known for.

No trip to the islands is complete without a visit to the quaint town of Chincoteague, a classic little island town... once primarily a fishing/oystering village, now a vacation destination. While it certainly has its share of touristy shops and restaurants, Chincoteague has largely avoided the sort of over-development that has ruined (in my opinion) so many beach towns. It's a sweet little place to tootle around on a bike, checking out small art galleries and book stores (of which there's an extraordinary number).

The only negative to the whole trip was the bugs. Thanks to a lot of recent rain, we were warned that the mosquitoes and flies were particularly bad. Luckily the wind was strong enough at the campsite that we weren't too bothered by the mosquitoes there. And the flies were really only bad at the beach, and really only bad on one of our several long walks... but they were VERY bad that day. Neither of has has ever seen anything like it... basically we were shadowed by a swarm of flies the entire two and a half hours we were out. And while they didn't land too many really serious bites, it was pretty unpleasant to have them hovering all the time, and landing on us frequently. Still, we managed to have a good time, and it was otherwise a beautiful, sunny day.

And one positive, if strange, "side effect" of sorts... we got to see the aerial spraying of the town with insecticide. Why is that positive? Well, I'm an old plane buff, so I got a kick out of seeing that they were using a vintage Beechcraft Model 18, the famous "Twin Beech" of the '40s. Very cool. Unfortunately, by the time I grabbed my camera, it was too far for a good shot.

We wound up the trip by driving up to the northern end of Assateague, up in Maryland. I've been to that area a bunch of times over the years, more than to the southern end near Chincoteague, but my girlfriend hadn't been there, at least that she could remember. With no town and no real buildings on the island, and the nearest town some distance away, the northern end feels a bit more "wild" than the southern end. There we took a short beach walk, and saw several flights of pelicans, then went off in search of ponies. We didn't manage to sight any really close up, but it was still fun to explore the marshes, and we got to watch a beautiful sunset to boot. The perfect end to a nearly perfect trip!

More photos at:  Chincoteague/Assateague 9/2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Strange Bird Incident

It's been far too long since I've written here.  It's not that nothing noteworthy happens in my life... it's simply finding the time to sit and write.

But tonight I break the dry spell because something really odd just happened... something I've never seen before.  I was working in the shop after closing, with the lights on, including lights right near the front window.  Suddenly I heard a soft "thump", followed by a fluttering sound... then another thump, some more fluttering, then silence.  I looked over just as the fluttering was dying down, just in time to realize a bird had just flown into the glass window, and now lay pressed against the glass, wings spread, face pressed right to the glass.

Apparently it was drawn by the light. I looked closely at it, and it was clear it was a chimney swift. A pretty common bird here in the evening, but I've never seen one do what this one was doing. Concerned, and seeing that it didn't seem to be at all inclined to extricate itself, I turned off the lights, then went outside to see if there was anything I could do. I was afraid the little guy had been injured, but a few seconds after I stepped outside, with a great flurry of wings, he took off, a bit unsteady at first, and flew across our lot and vanished.

Curious, I poked around online a bit and found advice for how to get a swift out of your living room if it comes down your chimney... and sure enough, one of the first steps is to turn off the lights, so it is drawn back up the chimney by the light outside.  Who knew?

Monday, March 12, 2012


... that rose colored Bridgestone mixte I posted about some time ago here?

Well, just a bit of an update, as I've changed a few things out on the bike.  Some of the changes are more technical, such as reducing the size of the chainrings, giving a lower and more useful gear range on the bike. Back when the bike was built, a 14 tooth small sprocket was the norm on the rear, with a 28 tooth large sprocket, so the 40/52 combination on the front made some sense. These days however, with sprocket clusters more typically having 13, 12, or even 11 teeth as the smallest sprocket. Paired with a 52 tooth big chainring that gives you a higher top gear than most mere mortals need, at about 108 gear inches for a 52x13 combination, even higher for the 12 or 13. The new arrangement has 36 and 48 teeth in the front, 13 - 30 in the back, which gives a rather nice range of about 32 to 100 gear inches. If you're old enough to remember when "10 - speeds" were the hot new thing, the top end is about what we had back then and the low is a bit lower, or easier on hills. I think that will work out well for this bike.

On the less techncal side, I've installed a shiny new set of Velo Orange Fluted Fenders, a Velo Orange Constructeur rear rack and a Portland Design Works Fenderbot tail light, bolted to the rear fender. One of the nice things about metal fenders (as opposed to the plastic ones the bike previously had, from SKS) is that they are strong and rigid enough to mount lights to, and can work in concert with a rack like the Constructeur rack to make a solid "system" of rack and fenders.  They look sharp too!

Remaining to be done on the Bridgestone? Cork grips are next, and after that, I don't know. We'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What a difference...

... 10 or 12 degrees can make!

When I went out on my ride Thursday morning, the radio said it was 54 degrees out. This morning they were saying it was 42. So I was curious how different it might be out on the trail today.

Well, first thing I noticed was that I was glad I'd put on a bit more clothing! Thursday I was fine in just my Earth Wind and Rider long sleeve wool jersey, but today I was glad to have a thin Ibex long sleeve wool tee shirt under my Ibex jersey, AND a light windbreaker over that! And honestly, for the first half hour or so, I wouldn't have minded something to keep my ears warmer! Ah well, I warmed up soon enough.

The other major difference was the frogs. On the outbound leg of my ride, there were only a few spring peepers gamely chirruping away, sounding a bit forlorn.  By the time I was headed back home, the chorus had grown in both size and enthusiasm, but it was still a faint shadow of the sounds of Thursday. And most interesting... NO wood frogs singing at all!  Apparently they need warmer temperatures than the peepers to feel like singing.

One very happy discovery though... and a surprise... as I was just about back home, I saw a bird flitting into the underbrush... and it didn't look like any I'd seen of late. Curiosity caused me to stop and turn around, and I'm glad it did, because when I peered into the foliage, I saw a Northern Oriole! I haven't seen one of those in a very long time... such a pretty bird, and sadly not all that common any more, it seems.

All in all, it was a beautiful morning, even if it was a bit chilly at first.  Fewer folks were out to enjoy it, but I'm glad I got out there to enjoy it!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sure looks... feels... and SOUNDS... like...


Yes, I went out for a bike ride this morning... a short one, but a good one, and all of my senses were picking up signs of spring! Traces of fresh color at the tips of branches and in the underbrush, warm sunlight on my face, and frogs, both spring peepers and wood frogs, singing at the top of their lungs!

This is the earliest I recall ever hearing them, and it was quite a pleasant surprise. The W&OD Trail I was riding has a number of stream crossings and little wetland areas, and a couple of those were just alive with frog song today. We'd had a fair amount of rain yesterday, so the streams were swollen and there was a lot of standing water in the woods and brush, which I'm sure had a lot to do with the liveliness of the frogs. Birds were also in abundance, from chickadees and titmice to crows and red-shouldered hawks.

Needless to say, the trail was busier than it's been in a while, at least for a weekday morning. A lot of cyclists, runners and walkers were out and about. Before you know it, it will be absolutely crowded out there, especially on weekends, but for now it was just fun to enjoy the weather with like-minded folk.

Appropriately, today was the first day of "meteorological spring" here. Of course, having lived in this area a long time, I know that March, and even April, can sometimes bring some chilly, even wintry spells. But given the very mild winter we've had so far, I can't help but think today was truly the beginning of spring, even if we do have a few cold spells left.

More pictures from this morning can be seen here:

W&OD Trail, March 1, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What ever happened to that VO Mixte?

The Velo Orange Mixte, as of 2/26/12
Some of you out there may be wondering what ever became of the Velo Orange Mixte Project... the frameset I bought for my girlfriend for Christmas 2010. Well, it's been a longer process than either of us imagined, and there are still some things to be added and/or worked out (such as this mysterious noise it's now making... argh!)... but the bike has been on the road for some time now, and I've added bits and pieces over time to make it "just right".  For now, here's a quick photo of how it's decked out right now, as a teaser.  I'll write more about it soon, and hopefully get better photos up as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Short Ride With an Old Friend

I find it hard these days to squeeze in bike rides, what with now being a bike shop owner and all that comes with that. But some mornings I do manage to get out on a bike for at least a little while, and today was one of those days.

The "old friend" of the title is actually my old Trek road bike, which I bought new back in 1980, from our friends over at College Park Bicycles. If you'd told me those thirty-some years ago that I would one day own a bike shop, I would have said you were crazy. Yet here I am, and I now find myself at trade shows comparing notes with the very fellow who sold me this Trek, Larry Black, founder and still owner of the College Park store, as well as Mt. Airy Bicycles, both over in Maryland. I grew up not that far from College Park, and Larry's shop, when it opened in the late 70s, was one of my frequent haunts back then.
I've been talking with my girlfriend lately about owning more than one bike, and what it's like to switch from one to another, and if there's much adjustment involved on the part of the rider. Maybe it's because I own so many bikes, and have ridden so many more over the years, but I find I can hop on most bikes and feel more or less at home pretty quickly... assuming it's set up to basically fit me, that is.
That being said, having owned this Trek as long as I had, I have to admit it's the bike that feels most like "home" to me. It doesn't matter how long it's been since I've ridden it, as soon as I throw a leg over and push off, it's like I've been riding it all my life. And I guess if you do the math, I have been riding this bike for most of my adult life, since I bought it at the end of my first year of college!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowy night

Caboose on W&OD Trail, Vienna, VA

So far it's not been a very wintry winter here in the DC area. On the one hand, as a bicycle shop owner, that's a good thing, as it's kept business livelier than it's been in years when we've had a serious winter. On the other hand, I LIKE SNOW!

Well, last night we got some. Nothing like two years ago, when we had the famous Snowmageddon (DC loves hyperbole), but enough to look and feel like winter, finally. I went for a walk around the town, and took some pictures and just enjoyed the snow. Very pretty night, and I think I got a few good pictures. I was very glad to have the "fast" fixed focal length lens that I bought when my "kit" lens got damaged... it's really nice in low light situations. It also helps that downtown Vienna really has a remarkable amount of ambient light from streetlights!

This morning it seems to be devolving into freezing rain, which is a lot less appealing than snow, so I'm glad I got out for a short walk last night.

More pictures can be seen at: Snowfall in Vienna, 1/20 - 1/21/2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Morning Ride

Well, I got out for a short ride this morning, and it was lovely. Gorgeous blue skies, no wind to speak of... chilly, in the mid-30s, but with the promise of a wamer day ahead of us. And that certainly has come true - we're having a glorious, warm, sunny afternoon here in Northern Virginia! A real contrast to Tuesday, when it barely climbed past freezing. Yeah, I know you folks in the midwest or Rocky Mountain states are thinking "Ha! That's not winter!"... and you're right. But this is the mid-Atlantic, where we're spoiled by often having mild days mid-winter, like today.

Out there on the trail this morning, it was not very busy, despite the sunny day and forecast.  I guess it was still too chilly and folks were planning to wait til it warmed up. Honestly, that's one thing I really like about riding in winter... you get the trails largely to yourself! The only folks I saw were on foot, aside from a few riders who looked like they were on their way to work.  I was out on a Tour Easy recumbent, so it was a nice, comfortable ride. I'm more typically a "wedgie" (upright bike) rider, but this morning I was in the mood for the 'bent. A fun ride, and every time I ride the Tour Easy I'm reminded why it's been such a classic, enduring design. Since sometime in the 70s, the basic design has remained the same, and it's a smooth riding, comfortable, and fun.

One other thing I tried today was a new piece of headgear I'd never tried... it's called a "Buff", and it's meant to be a multi-use item... a neck gaiter, ear warmer, or hat, depending on exactly how you arrange it. One ride isn't really much of a test, but so far I like it, and can see where it might come in handy in "borderline" weather. The ability to re-arrange it as needed could be a nice feature.

Took a few pictures while I was out too... too pretty a day to pass it up. I am mostly drawn to natural subjects in my photos, but sometimes something man-made will really catch my eye. Today it was this combination of an electical line tower and a pair of jet contrails, against the blue sky that drew my attention. Kinda striking, no?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Strange combination of messages

I was driving down the road the other day, when I noticed what I think is a strange combination of "messages" on the back of the vehicle in front of me. The first thing that caught my eye was the bumper sticker, shown below:

 Now, that's not the first time I've seen or heard that sentiment expressed, so it wasn't particularly surprising.  But then I noticed the license plate...  Virginia, like many states, has special plates that allow you to voice your support for a particular cause or organization or whatever, and some portion of the fee paid goes toward that cause. Right next to the bumper sticker, there was a "Friend of the Chesapeake" license plate, a combination that struck me as just a little odd, given that the general impression one gets of the "Drill" folks is not one friendly to an environmental cause. 

Obviously, nothing is ever as simplistic as it seems, and there are many shadings and subtleties of stance on both environmental causes and energy policy.  But this is a somewhat unexpected mix of messages, no?