Friends Two

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were supposed to meet Carl and Jean, our daughter-in-law Anna’s parents in Columbia, Pa on the second day of our stay there. It would have been a quick exit on Rt 30 on their way home from a wedding in New York stat. Columbia, Pa., I’m sure many of you will recognize as what Smithsonian magazine described as the 11th best small city to live in in America. Unfortunately, our plans get weathered.

First, we spend an extra day in Fredericksburg, Va., then we decide to spend an extra day in Westminster rather than ride to Columbia in what’s forecast to be heavy rain and 20+ north winds.

So we agree to meet in Westminster. Jean texts to let us know that they’re running into snow leaving, and might not arrive until 5 pm. No problem, easy to occupy myself with the Michigan State – UConn game.

Then the snow starts. Not really peredicted and in fact a quick check of the weather report indicates that it isn’t really happening. Which seems like a relief until it keeps accumulating. By the time that Jean and Carl arrive, there are four or five inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately the motel is well plowed and when they arrive, they tell us that they’ve made arrangements to stay in the room next to us.

Jean brings out champagne (to celebrate Shelagh’s book), blueberried goat cheese, and brie, and we know that we are at party central Westminster, Md. When they expressconcern that we are stuck for the night because of the roads, we surprise them with news of the excellent Italian restaurant located just a few slushy minutes walk away.

Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but a good time is had by all. In the morning the sun is shining, the weather slowly warming, the snow quickly melting and we are all on our way.


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Zeno Strikes Back

Shelagh and I are in Westminster, Maryland. It feels like we are creeping and crawling our way back home. Today, it is 45 degrees, 20+ mph north winds, and raining hard. We do not bike. We stay inside under the covers and look for restaurants that will deliver. We are not the postal service. In wind , snow and rain we give up. Even the liquor store is too far to walk. We have spent five of the last fifteen days hiding from the weather. The weather has become the Achille’s heel to our Odyssean efforts to return home.

Top that all you philhellenists.

Posted in Biking, Marriage, Maryland, Philhellenism, Rain, Travel | 1 Comment

What?  No Starbucks?

We had to get to Westminster, Md. The night before Shelagh and I had a very fun dinner at a N. Bethesda restaurant called El Patio, an Argentinian restaurant with music playing, people singing, and amazing food. But there was a nagging concern that we had to get to Westminster.  We wanted to meet with Anna’s  parents and we had already been delayed two days by weather. We repeatedly checked the forecast but it would not change. Heavy rain predicted all day and we had 60 miles to ride.

So we plan.  A good breakfast, coffee stop, a good lunch, coffee stop.  We can do this.  If we can’t stay dry, we can at least warm up intermittently.  Breakfast is only 1/2 a mile out of the way and then we’re on bike paths.  Maryland is blessed with many bike paths and it’s nice not to be dealing with cars in the rain.  Pedal, pedal, rain, rain.

Coffee time!  We see a shopping center and check it out for a Starbucks.  No Starbucks.  So we ride another ten minutes and there is another shopping center. This can’t be, another one without a Starbucks.  Concerned, we both check our phone GPS to make sure that we are still in America.  Fortunately, we see that the center has a place called K’s Cafe.  Finally, coffee.  Only when we get closer we see that K’s Cafe has both Chinese and Thai food but no coffee. Now we are desperate, and very wet. 

Shelagh points out that there is a Pennsylvania Dutch market next door.  I’m figuring that we don’t need any furniture, but they have something to eat. I go in to check it out and immediately there are many, many amazing smells.  First, the bakery, then the funnel cake fried bread, then the BBQ area, then the regular restaurant, then the fresh foods stand.  After we get our coffees and the freshest, tastiest donuts that I’ve had in years (ever?)  I’m thinking that maybe it’s OK not to find a Starbucks. Unfortunately, the day has more to offer.  Time for the Savvy?Travelers to stike again.

It’s getting later in the aftenoon and we’re very wet and very hungry and very wet and we can find just two possible restaurants for our 4 o’clock lunch and dry off.  The first looks imperfect and besides, if we can just ride 6 more miles to the next restaurant, we’ll have that much less to ride after lunch.  Except when we get there, we realize that the Brick Ridge restaurant is beautiful, but they are not open, or at least they will not be open for an hour, when they will serve dinner.  Fortunately they invite us to warm up and dry off.  They prepare us some hot tea, which goes well with the lemon basil scone that we bought in Ashland, Va. for jut the right occasion.

Refreshed, a little bit drier we get back on our bikes and slog the next 20 miles to Westminster.

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One of the truths of this kind of life, where you pack before fully understanding what you’ll be dealing with, and you have to carry everything on your bike, is that you start improvising as needs arise. For example, thanks to a tip we got on a bike trip long ago, we always keep shower caps on hand. These can be taken from most of the hotels, and they’re very handy when it starts to rain. Just slip a shower cap over your helmet and your head stays much drier. Much less trickling into the face, too.

Another recent discovery: when your gloves are still soaked from yesterday’s ride, and you need something warm on your hands for the walk to breakfast: socks. Preferably clean socks, if you still have any. (If you do, then you overpacked, incidentally.) Best of all would be clean, black socks, which recede from looking sock like and bring to mind black gloves. Sort of.

Plastic bags over the feet are supposed to help keep feet dry in the rain, though I’ve yet to remember to try this on mornings when that might be useful. Seems like a good idea, but plastic bags are at a premium, needed as they are to cover the small canvas bag at the front of my bike and the larger canvas bag above my panniers in back.

You can probably tell we’ve been riding in some rain. My sister Maura mentions during a phone call that the we’re starting to sound a little glum on the blog. I hope not. But if that’s coming through at all, it’s probably just because of the rainy rides, which can be a little debilitating. Riding in the rain and wind and cold both strengthens and depletes. Letting go of the discomfort and just riding is sometimes the best thing to do, but that can be difficult. I’ve found Lamaze breathing helpful in the worst of these moments. But that’s me.

Jerry’s epiphany comes as a truck drives by, splashing him “full puddle,” and he realizes it doesn’t matter in the least. We’re already soaked and more water can’t possibly worsen things. I think this is around the same time I start entertaining myself by squeezing my toes around in my shoes, just for the squelchy feeling. Which is to say, before I lose my sense of humor.

We have rain the morning we start out from Woodbridge, VA, for Washington, D.C., but it stops by the time we actually ride into the city, which is great. I love coming across the bridge (not actually the bridge we’d been aiming for – another example of improv), and riding bike paths past so many extraordinary landmarks: the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the Washington Monument. At one point, I realize we are riding past Reagan International Airport, and it occurs to me that this was where we had our layover on the way to Key West, oh-so-many weeks ago. Feels like a year in some ways (and that’s not me being glum).

2014-03-28 14.16.50 HDR

The Washington Monument looked so much bigger in person, as these planes were landing at Reagan! Now just a hint of a shadow of a distant background structure.

The scariest thing to happen that day is the driver who runs a stop sign and basically drives straight at Jerry, who’s able to duck out of the way. At the next stop sign, the guy does a 180 and starts back again. Not, it will turn out, to harm us, but just to go the other way. Jerry, who has cycled up to where he is (“Danger, Will Robinson,” I’m thinking), shouts at the guy, “You just ran that stop sign and practically hit me back there!” The guy stops, rolls down his window, and apologizes. Well, first he starts to deny it, then apologizes, “if that’s really what I did.” Jerry thanks him and the guy drives away. Jerry and I ride along quietly for a few minutes. Then we talk about how it ended up being a positive interaction, more or less. I decide not to chastize Jerry for getting in the face of some big-city stranger who drives aggressively, possibly with violent tendencies. I likewise decide not to remind him that he is wearing a helmet and a shower cap, and does not look particularly scary, himself.


Posted in Biking, D.C., Travel | 2 Comments

Q & A, Part 2

A good friend wrote me a personal email with a whole batch of new questions. She said maybe I wouldn’t want to answer them publically, but as I have no shame, I’m going to address them here in any case. Here goes:

She began by suggesting that perhaps the romantic notion of chasing spring feels more like kicking winter’s ass.  There are days when this is true, but sometimes winter is kicking our ass. Less and less, though. Cold spring rains have hard kicks, too, incidentally.

She also said she was “glad to learn the Mean Value Theorem didn’t join the pack and cause harm or damage” in the dog post. I went back and read about the Mean Value Theorem, and was stumped as to how to answer. Hmmm. I will keep my eyes open for the dog that fits this concept.

Here are her other questions:

  • Is the sex better after 800 miles?

You’d need to try it for yourself!

  • What article of clothing can you not wait to throw away and never see again and never ever think about wearing again?

For Jerry: Brown wool socks
For Shelagh: All of Jerry’s clothes

  • How are your socks holding up?

Jerry’s brown wool socks are not doing well!!

  • What has become a luxury?

Crossing our legs when sitting in a booth at dinner time. Best moment of the day!!

  • Have you guys played the state license plate game yet?

No – good idea! Except that would require focus. Also, we’re too busy trying to come up with blog ideas.

  • I suppose punch-bug is out?

Out. Yes.

  • Do you sing while riding?

We both do.

  • If yes, what songs and can anyone else hear you?

Shelagh can hear Jerry. One recent selection: From Hair, Manchester, England. He blames this on his friend Rob Steinberg and his insidious act of earworm implanting.

Shelagh sings more loudly sometimes. One recent funny one was as I came around a corner, loudly singing Flaco Jimenez’s Siempre Quiero Estar Contigo (had it on the mp3 player – great song, always lifts my mood), and was caught unexpectedly by an Amish family outside doing yard work. Awkward. But I didn’t stop.

  • Have you shed any tears?

Jerry has not (unless he kept it from me…)
Shelagh, yes. At the end of the headwind/rain/dog day. BUT not until the hot shower had the adverse effect of giving my freezing cold skin a rash for the next hour.

  • Blisters?  Got any?

Nope. Knock on wood and all that.

  • Can one hair wash completely remove helmet-head or are there permanent (no pun intended) alterations to your hair style?

We both got big haircuts recently, so it’s easier now.

  • Have you written any poems?

I (Shelagh) tried one day, but couldn’t remember anything later. I have no brain after a day on the bike…

  • Have you smelled any roses?

Not since Savannah. However, I did discover a patch of the thorny bushes, with no blooms, in a recent emergency trip into the woods in North Carolina.

My friend closed her email by saying “Godspeed.” Which really surprised me. She used to live in Vermont, now she lives in Texas. And her signoff fit with a salutation thing we’ve picked up on. Southerners were all like “God bless!” and “Be safe!” whenever we started to bike away after speaking with them. We’ve passed through “Be careful!” territory and are now mostly in “Take care!” and “Have fun!” land. Interesting, to note this change. (By the way, any and all good wishes have been much appreciated.)


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A Few Favorite Funny Moments

From the Actual Trip:

1. When we ate out in Florida with Jerry’s relatives and his cousin Richard asked what we wear when we’re not on the bikes, and we looked down and back up and said … “This!”

2. When our room at the Marriott in Fredericksburg was freezing and we kept amping up the heat and talking about calling maintenance, and Jerry at last figured out that the people before us must have opened a window and it had been open all night, when it dipped to the high 20s.

2. When the little boy ran into his yard to watch us bike past, then stood stalk still, mouth wide open, head cocked at an angle. As if we were aliens landing in his yard in a glossy red space ship.

3. When I asked the Ferry worker what the charge would be for two people and their bicycles and he said, “It’s free, unless you’re Catholic, in which case it’s a half hour of your life that you’ll never get back.”

From Before, But Recalled While Riding, To My Great Amusement:

1. When our friend Gary was riding his recumbant bicycle up a big hill, and a woman pulled up alongside him in her car – clearly thinking his bike had something to do with a disibility – and said, You have such courage!

2. When my South African friend Taryn gave me her take on the imposter who signed Obama’s speech at Nelson Mandela’s funeral: Secret service and various security agencies crawling everywhere, speaking into little microphones, watching the crowd for ANY sign of a problem, and the man – a convicted murderer! – stands THIS close (pokes me in the shoulder) to the President of the United States, inventing hand gestures!

3. When friend and fellow piano student of Carol Hewitt, Cindy Broadfoot, got up to play, clearly not having had time to write up the background of her piece’s composer to share with the group (something we’re expected to do before our informal recitals, but often don’t do – being busy adults with jobs and responsibilities), and said: My piece is by Beethoven. I couldn’t find anything on him.

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Spring ain’t bustin out all over!

Remember the dream? We were going to fly to Florida in February and experience springtime in Florida. Then we would slowly ride north and track the coming of spring to Vermont.

Looked good in the beginning despite the naysayers. A few people suggested we cancel our plans because of the snowstorm. We told them that the storm in Atlanta was actualy 600 miles away and we weren’t particularly threatened. As we biked north, we remained content that we could stay south of the many winter storms, and we saw what we in Vermont have learned to call the signs of spring. You know, when you’re desperate, even the lawns with your dog’s winter mess can be viewed as hopeful. So we gloried in the many beautiful flowers and flowering bushes and trees in Florida. And then coming into Georgia and the Carolinas we enjoyed the tremendous variety of camillias and other flowers. But even then there were signs that this Spring was going to be different. We hit our first frost in southern Georgia and talked with the innkeepers about the damage done to all of the buds this year. Wherever we went, people were talking about this extraordinary winter. In Bath, NC they are opening the schools on Saturday to make up for the many days of school that have been cancelled. We received a message from our friend Gary declaring this the most brutal winter he has ever experienced in Northampton, Mass. And he has lived there a long time, maybe even before they kept measurements of this sort of thing.

We were still biking south of the trouble. But the signs were diminishing. Lots and lots of daffodills but when you looked at the trees, it seemed that they all had their flower buds ready to open but no, they were going to wait till they were sure. If you looked into the natural forests, no signs of spring, no flowers, no flowering or leafing trees.

Today, we meet winter. We get to participate in a Fredericksburg snowstorm. We participate by staying in our room and recovering from the previous day’s ride from Richmond. We figure three days before the roads are rideable. Shelagh draws a clear line in the snow. Snow or ice on the road and we wait. So we wait.

Posted in Biking, Civil War, Travel, Virginia | Leave a comment