Sunday, April 30, 2006

173 miles from Wilmington DE to Baltimore to Washington DC

What a weekend of biking -- 85 miles on Saturday, 88 miles on Sunday.

We prepared for the ride by heading up to Wilmington, Delaware on Friday evening in a rental car and staying in a Doubletree Hotel. Wilmington is a business town that, aside from a couple pubs, is deserted on the weekend - though we passed the HQ's for all sorts of banks. I plotted out routes til 2am and got up at 8am to start biking. We didn't actually get on the road til 10, for various reasons.

On Saturday, we biked 85 miles from Wilmington, Delaware to a northern suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. We took Route 2 (which has a wide shoulder) to Newark, Delaware, which is the home of a campus of the University of Delaware. Despite the name it is a pretty town with cafes and two bike shops, that's more interesting than Wilmington.

We turned onto the scenic but hilly Route 273, continued on Route 1 which crossed the Conowingo Dam, and followed the first five twists from this cue sheet (in reverse) to reach Rocks Chrome Hill Road. From there, we continued along the beautiful Atlantic Coast route of the Adventure Cycling Association.

En route, Mike took a tumble when the scenery got the better of him and he didn't notice a ridge in the road. Falling in Superman position, with arms outstretched, he scraped up his elbow but good, and hurt his knee and pinky a bit too.
A woman across the road had some sani-wipes in her car which we used to try to disinfect his wounds and clean him up a bit. We continued onward for a short time and stopped for lunch at a market that cooked us a 16" pizza. We picnicked on the sidewalk outside, and Mike wrapped his wound with gauze that they sold. Here's a picture of Mike's cleaned up bruise, and of my unbruised elbow.

The route had an unending supply of crunchy uphills and fast downhills -- it took a toll -- and we arrived just north of Baltimore while it was still light out, after passing through a gorgeous park and lake.

Our pause outside of a pizza shop to book a hotel somehow wasted a couple of hours, as a yacht show had driven up the hotel rates near the inner harbor. These hours weren't wasted, as the shop had an excellent batch of diet Sunkist and we consumed five cans. My phone battery was depleted in the process, so the photos below were liberated from the Web.

The locals were quite friendly and kept coming out to chat with us, regardless of whether we were on the phone or not. A cheerful fellow who was especially oblivious to whether we were on the phone or not ate an entire pizza on his scooter, offering slices to us and giving us an earful. We learned that he had flown just twice in his life and was afraid of his upcoming trip, and that he wasn't worried about his scooter being stolen because it was overinsured. The pizza staff steered us toward the hotels in the area which weren't booked up or exorbitantly priced, and we finally booked rooms at the Red Roof Inn outside of Baltimore.

We gave into temptation and had dinner at Friendly's. They asked for our drinks order but looked at me funny when I asked for a Black Russian. They're a family establishment. They're not especially vegetarian-friendly but I had them combine side orders of mac & cheese into an entree. Mmm. Dessert was a three-scoop sundae.

The Red Roof Inn wasn't bad at all, except after all that biking I needed to soak - and their bathtubs are cramped. Insomnia and the Sopranos kept me awake til 3am and the alarm clock woke me at 6:10 (courtesy of the previous occupant), but I caught a few more Zzz's until the official 8am wakeup. Usually I'm fine without much sleep but it took some time before I was 100%. We stopped for breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts (egg and cheese bagel) and headed into Baltimore and then right back out.

Baltimore has some wide, tree-lined roads -- very pretty. I would have liked to spend a couple more hours there, but we had a lot of mileage ahead. Baltimore also has some sketchy areas, and we went through them too. Stopped frequently in search of a bathroom but none were available -- the mini-marts had bulletproof glass and the 7-11's and gas stations didn't trust the locals with their bathrooms. We finally reached nicer areas, including a really cute downtown whose name I forget.

It was clear that we weren't going to arrive in DC in time for the rally, so with 36 miles to go, we stopped for lunch at a wine store/deli/mini-mart in a little Maryland town. Quite a friendly place - everyone in the store chatted with us, employees and customers alike. We ate at a picnic table outside, though Mike eventually moved into the shade because the sun was so warm ;-).

Our new goal was to reach DC before the Hertz office closed; we were cutting it close. Twenty plus miles later we reached the Rock Creek Trail, which is a gorgeous biking and hiking trail that lasts twelve miles, leading all the way into D.C. The path curves all over -- side to side and up and down -- and speeding over it felt like a Pole Position course. This was Mike's favorite part of the trip and probably mine, too. The photo to the right shows the greenery but the path was actually paved, and fine for road bikes. It is mostly downhill from Maryland to DC, and mostly uphill from DC to Maryland, so we were coming from the right direction!

We reached DC just 15 minutes before the Hertz office would close, but getting out of the park was so confusing that we missed the deadline and then some. DC has an incredible series of bike roads in that park that lead to the Zoo, Connecticut Avenue, even the White House, but no signs! A couple of friendly bicyclists directed us, and we eventually made it to the back of the zoo half an hour before closing time.

DC's zoo is the best zoo around, for two reasons: (a) it's a public park that you can just walk into -- no admission or barriers, and (b) the pandas, of course. The pandas weren't available to visit, and (alas) we couldn't find the capybaras, but we said hi to the cheetahs and a giraffe. Did you know that cheetahs can run 70 miles an hour? This photo was taken by someone a year ago, when they were only 10 weeks old. Now they are larger but not yet fully grown.

We left the zoo and headed off to dinner. Turning left at the exit, just a few minute bike ride away, was the incredible Jandara Cafe. We each had strawberry diaquiris and I had their spring rolls and their incredible Jandara Noodles with Tofu. It was so good that I ordered a second one to bring home. Meanwhile, Alamo came through and had a Jeep waiting for us at Union Station -- they'd be open until 10pm.

We had a mad ride through the beautiful DC streets and made it to Union Station with a good 12 minutes to spare, then drove back to NYC.

Mike had left his keys at home and his building's security staff wasted an hour of our time; after refilling the tank ($60 for 80% of a tank!) and parking the car, I didn't get home til 6am. Still have sore legs (good sore) and a reddish face and arms from the sun, but it's all good.

Friday, April 28, 2006

9 miles to the bike shop

In preparation for the trip, headed out to the bike shop for a new light. (The original was so faint that Mike called it a placebo ... until it was stolen. Now someone else has the placebo.) As a test, I wore shorts and a t-shirt. Noooo ... too cold, at least at first. Biking raises your body temperature but to be cautious, added a Nylon windbreaker and switched to sweatpants.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

13.1 miles to Fairway and Red Bamboo

The key to fast biking is a deadline. In this case, lunch with Bearette at Red Bamboo, a vegan restaurant with The. Most. Incredible. (fake) chicken parmesan heroes. Much better than real chicken. If you ever visit, two other specialties are (fake) roast beef, and for an appetizer, Dragonfly Dumplings.

Not that I had an appetizer. I've been very good these past few days - no snacks. The key for me is to take small steps -- a slightly healthier substitution here, a bit of willpower there. Will it stick? No idea, but I'm guessing yes.

I'm a bit antsy about the upcoming trip -- the first big trip of the season. The weather forecast's sunny, temperatures 40's-60's. The route is longer than we expected so we'll start in Wilmington (Delaware) instead of Philadelphia. The plan is to drive there on Friday night, bike ~100 miles to Baltimore on Saturday, and bike ~50 miles to DC on Sunday, hopefully in time for the Darfur rally. I just want to start biking, but that won't happen til Saturday!

Check out -- I encourage you to get involved, however small the way -- it's important that we don't turn our backs to genocide.

Here's hoping the trip will work out!

Monday, April 24, 2006

11.9 miles to 125th Street

We love warm weather! What are these sheep doing, you're asking? hired them to nibble on grass around busy traffic-filled intersections in towns around the Netherlands.

I finally ponied up for a replacement iPod - mine had been broken for a long time - and it's lots of fun. These things now play videos. I had scoffed at it, but with a larger (color) screenand higher resolution, I watched episode one of this season's Apprentice straight through. Sure there was a bit of eye strain, but the video was sharp and the show was fun. The Donald's contestants are now more polished and more international than they were in the past.

My iTunes involvement got a bit out of hand as I got episodes of several TV shows and subscribed to podcasts galore. There is an excellent weekly Stanford University podcast where they record some of their speakers who give talks. Today's episode was called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Apparently the point of stress is to give us (or a zebra) a heads up and the energy needed to run away from that lion. The body's long-term efforts are just shut off to help you live for the next hour -- your immune system, digestion, growth (!) and more. This can wreak havoc on us in today's society when we're stressed by taxes for weeks or months rather than just 30 minutes or two hours that was intended.

There are some coping mechanisms that reduce stress and prevent ulcers -- having friends around, getting advanced warning about when the stressor will come (so you don't need to constantly worry that you'll get a shock in the next second), and having an outlet or a hobby for times when you're stressed.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

33 berry wet miles to Manhattan Beach

with Lani (a friend from HS and college). We headed toward Coney Island but detoured at Neptune Avenue to stop at her parents' house in Manhattan Beach. They plied us with fresh blueberries, blackberries and nuts. Mmm. Here were the tidbits they shared - I can't vouch for the details though they're both very sharp medical doctors:
  • The next Chernobyl is likely to be Chernobyl: only 3% of the radiation has dissipated, and the sarcophagus keeping it in is in disrepair and close to collapse. Yes, depressing.
  • Global dimming: less light is getting through to earth because of all the pollution - especially due to airplanes. Scientists were doubtful at first, because you'd think the earth would then get cooler - but in fact it's getting warmer. They finally figured out that global warming is much worse than they thought, and has been warming the earth enough to more than offset the cooling from global dimming.
  • In 50 years Manhattan and the east coast may need to have a dike around it, as global warming melts the icebergs. Not exactly sure about the timeframe.
Speaking of berries and nuts, they thought we were nuts for heading back by bike in the rain.
On a lighter note, these photos are from the same series that Bearette posted on a certain blog dedicated to Capybaras' friends just hours ago. On the left, staff members from the China Wolong Giant Panda Research Center, hosting a reunion for the 16 pandas who were born there in 2005. Now that would be a dream job!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

12.9 sunny miles to Fairway

Had a fast, fast return - thank you wind! Got that cadence up too. Nowhere near Mike's Corner territory of course.

Mike L and I may have some exciting plans for the weekend of April 29-30: biking from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Don't hold us to it, it might fall through, but it would be awesome for several reasons:
  1. Last year we biked from NYC to Phila, so this would fill in more of the east coast
  2. There is an important rally in DC that Sunday ( I'm not a rallying kind of guy, but anyone who really means "never again" needs to speak up now. I encourage you to get involved.
  3. Jandara Cafe - an incredible Thai restaurant in DC with the famous Jandara Noodles
  4. Pandas!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

11 miles to Cranberry Street

Jury Duty: Day II also saw Orange, Pineapple and Mulberry streets as I headed further into Brooklyn at lunchtime. 70 degrees and sunny, mmm.

If you're ever looking to meet people, here's the surefire key: mind-numbing boredom. Sitting in the jury pool all day, we were looking for any excuse to chat. Coincidentally, last night (tax time) the post office kept me waiting in line for three hours; by the end I knew the life stories of the customers in front and back of me. 2:30am and we were a bit disappointed to reach the front of the line.

Scientific American wrote about "lucky people". Some research study found that they:
  • Smile twice as often and engage in more eye contact than unlucky people do; this leads to more social encounters, which generates more opportunities.
  • Are more relaxed; they notice chance opportunities even when they're not expecting them;
  • Are open to new experiences; they don't tend to be bound by convention, and they like the notion of unpredictability;
  • Turn bad breaks into good opportunities.

Monday, April 17, 2006

7.5 miles to Brookhattan and Jury Duty

The holy grail of jury duty is to be empaneled on the first day, for a short case. Civic duty without the endless waiting. But it wasn't meant to be.

I was selected for voir dire for a criminal trial - a scraggly older man who had allegedly stole someone's wallet - they nailed him minutes later but were prosecuting him for the eight credit cards that were inside. (Lost, Bearette, does that make it a felony?)

The jurors were asked: Have you or your family members ever been the victim of a crime? Have you ever served on a jury? Somehow, they empaneled a jury that was living under a rock - people who had lived for 30-50 years yet never been mugged, didn't know anyone who had been, hadn't had any experience on a jury. Needless to say, they didn't select me.

The defense lawyer asked whether we thought he might be guilty; nobody did. Come on: between the guy's unhinged appearance and the outline of the case, of course he was probably guilty. But that's beside the point - the question is whether the state proves its case.

Brookhattan: with 15 minutes left after an incredible lunch at Thailand Restaurant, I biked halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge before returning. Yellow curries of the world, untie!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

50.4 miles to the 9W mini-golf zone of destruction

And a quest for sugar water

76 degrees - Lani and I basked and biked past Alpine NJ into Rockland County. Our goal: the elusive 9W mini-golf, for 18 holes and an ice cold soda. (The Englewood boat dock's machine was unplugged and I was parched.)

But instead of 9W mini-golf, we found a landfill. No soda machines, no windmill, no $3 bucket of balls - just a Komatsu bulldozer and a demolished driving range. We tanned on a bench near the rubble and turned around.

There's a police station on the way back, at the entrance to the Palisades trail. Cyclists stop there for water and their bathrooms. But New Jersey's Finest keep the good stuff to themselves - a vending machine peeked out behind a locked glass door, outside in their backyard. I set out on my soda quest, around the building - past the "No Trespassing" signs, over their waist-high fence, and got myself a refreshing diet soda. Mmm. Made it back to safety and we returned. They don't call me Capybaras "Danger" United for nothing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

12 miles to Fairway and back

Woke up relatively early and headed out for a bike ride. I got to sleep at a normal time, thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn's book on meditation, Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. There's a short chapter on meditation while you're lying down.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

14.2 weekend miles, a parade, and karaoke

Every time I reach the Brooklyn Bridge it starts to snow. On Saturday, it rained.

I thought about crossing anyway, but an endless throng of protesters streamed across, upset about the immigration bill. Most protests alienate me - they're angry and polarizing. But here, the messages were touching: "We love America"; "We are workers, not criminals"; "No human being is illegal". It's a more nuanced issue than they let on, but they were more persuasive than a confrontational crowd would have been.

Predictably, some socialist partisan hoisted a Workers Unite banner. They piss me off, always co-opting efforts they contribute nothing to, but it was an isolated individual and didn't typify the gathering.

The rain wasn't letting up, so I headed uptown for my first real Karaoke experience. My debut performances were truly embarrassing. Lessons learned: (a) rock star dreams ain't gonna happen, unless I learn the drums; (b) for realism, turn up the volume and the echo; (c) Hard Rock may be hard on the eardrums, but it's fun to sing.

  • Jack and Diane
  • Janie's got a gun
  • Mr. Tambourine Man
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Take on Me
Fun despite deeply embarrassing singing:
  • Baby Got Back (couldn't remember the tune - listen to the original next time)
  • Living on a Prayer (range problems)
  • No Sleep til Brooklyn
  • Sweet Child of Mine (yet another shouting theme)
Best performances: (not saying much ...)
  • Here comes the rain again
  • Imagine
  • I Would Walk 500 miles
  • Theme song to Different Strokes
  • Summer nights
  • Sweet Caroline
On Sunday night I took a short, 8 mile ride down the Hudson River bike trail to Battery Park City and back, returning 10 minutes after Desperate Housewives began. It's incredible that so much talent and money is devoted to entertaining us for an hour.