Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh yeah, I rode 40 miles

So I have already saturated all my other online media outlets with this news, live-tweeting at five-mile intervals, uploading pictures on my journey, and generally delighting in my accomplishment for several hours and days afterward... but I forgot to mention it here. And I really think I should, since this is, after all, my Fitness Blog of Record:

I rode my bike 40 miles!

This was about 10 days ago, on a Saturday, when I had grown accustomed to my regular 13 mile commute to work, and I wanted more of a challenge. So on a warm and humid weekend morning, I strapped up my heart rate monitor, filled my water bottles, and headed out on the two-trail 20 mile journey from Silver Spring to Old Town.

The ride out took a little over 90 minutes, and entailed taking the Capital Crescent Trail (my daily trail) 12 miles from Silver Spring to Georgetown, then crossing the Key Bridge over the Potomac, and taking the Mt. Vernon Trail the remaining 8 miles to Old Town.

The ride out was thrilling. I'm pretty good at the Crescent trail since I ride it all the time, so that was no problem. After a few minutes of quizzical searching - as I had forgotten to map out exactly how to get from the sea-level trail to the 100-foot-level Key Bridge - I found a roundabout street path that led me there. The next 8 miles were a nice little bit of reminiscing, as I used to ride the Mt. Vernon Trail to get to my old job in Crystal City about 4 years ago.

The Mt. Vernon Trail is mostly flat, so it was an easy 8 miles... I will admit to passing a fair number of people and bikers on the way, as its posted "10 mph" speed limit is utterly ridiculous for a flat trail. On the way there were beautiful views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and kayakers enjoying the water.

I felt great until about mile 17, at which point I began to feel a little winded. Fortunately, Old Town was just a few miles ahead of me, and so I soldiered on. After another 15 minutes, I made it!

A friend said this looks like a magazine cover :-)

Having gotten to Old Town, I realized something rather pressing. I had no idea what to do next.

There were definitely a good dozen dead flies on each arm.

I walked my bike around for a while, and eventually settled on Thai food. It was delicious.

I was so proud, I Skyped my parents to tell them all about Matt's Big Adventure!

"You're riding too much! You'll hurt your knees!" --Mom

Fully satiated, it was time to head back. I knew the trip back would not be as pleasant as the trip out, but I didn't realize it was also going to be 10 degrees hotter (mid-80s) and that I would be totally exhausted. It turns out 20 miles is a great distance for me. FORTY miles is insane, at least at my current level of fitness.

It didn't help that the last 10 miles are mostly uphill. After around cumulative mile 31, it was a matter of sheer will to get back home. Luckily I was still surrounded by the beauty of nature, so it wasn't all bad.

When I arrived, I wiped all the dead bugs off my sun-block covered arms, and collapsed on the floor in a heap.  It took about 3 days to recover, but I found that the next time I got on the bike to ride my normal 13 miles to work, everything felt about 20 percent easier. It was incredible! I felt so much stronger! I can't wait to do a long trip again. :-)

I passed 200 miles this weekend... I was having so much fun I didn't even realized I'd hit that milestone. I think I'm up to around 230 now -- and that doesn't count the 16 miles' worth of testing pedal-assist ebikes this weekend................ (DUN DUN DUN)

Join us next time when I explain why pedal-assist is NOT, in fact, "cheating."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the Joy of Trails - or - Why I Will Not Take the City Shortcut Again

When I decided to try bicycle commuting from Silver Spring to downtown DC, the first choice was whether to take the Capital Crescent Trail, or just to make a straight shot down 14th Street into the city core. The trail would take a long time, but it would be safer - no traffic. The straight shot wouldn't be as peaceful, but it would be a lot faster. For the first couple weeks, I made the 12.7-mile hour-long journey around the Capital Crescent Trail. Today, for the first time, I took the direct route: Seven miles straight into town. Even with traffic and stoplights, it only took a little over 40 minutes, effectively cutting my commute time by a third. Instead of lazily wandering my way around the outskirts of town, I went right in there and got 'er done. So, I'll be commuting like this every day, right?


I far prefer the hour-long trail journey, for many, many reasons, presented here in reverse order. I will try to recall them here, but bear in mind I am still woozy from all the bus fumes I inhaled this morning, so I might miss a few.

  • Asshole Cabbies and Ignorant Trucks.

    I really do like the concept of "bike lanes." Even though I'm really no farther from the cars than I would be if they just went around me, that solid white line provides an impregnable mental barrier and gives me the confidence I need to just keep swimming, just keep swimming. At least, that's the theory. All too often it's blocked by a megatruck that's decided to rest a while while the CVS unloads some shipments, or by a reckless taxi driver who thinks "bike lanes" and "passing lanes" are synonymous. Actually it's not just taxis that do this, but they seem to be the most flagrant violator. So sometimes when my path is blocked, I have to move into the traffic lane, but there's no room, so I am just stuck there breathing in fumes, until I decide to just pick my bike up and bring it to over the sidewalk, where I have to walk it past hundreds of people until I can get back onto the road.

  • Metric Fuckton of Hills.

    For some reason, I had the impression that riding from Silver Spring to downtown DC was basically one big hill. After all, Silver Spring is at 340 feet above sea level; DC is basically at sea level. That's 340 feet over 7 miles, or about an 8 percent decline. But it didn't play out like that, ohhh no. Here's the log from today's trip -- be sure to check out the elevation profile at the bottom:

    See that? That's not a smooth slope. That's a series of extended half-pipes culminating with a mega hill at mile 1.5, a minor mega-hill just before mile 2, another at 2.5 and 2.75, then again at 4, until FINALLY we see the big quarter-mile roller coaster drop off just before mile 6. So there's a lot of uphills, which sucks, but it's usually not so bad because uphills have a built-in reward: downhills. But EVEN THE DOWNHILLS ARE NOT FUN, because there are so many Stop Lights and Pedestrians and Weaving Cars and Inattentive Drivers and The Possibility of Danger, that you can't just sit back and enjoy the hills. Which brings me to the main problem...
  • Not Enough "Weeeeeeee!" Time.

    Here's what it comes down to. The only way I am going to ride to work is if it's fun. Dodging traffic and dealing with hills is not fun. It gets me to work faster, sure, but it feels so... utilitarian. I'm getting some exercise, yeah, and I'm getting there about as fast as I would with the metro. But it's not fun. It's not something I seek out. It's not something I dream about.

    I dream about the bike trails. I dream about the long 4-mile gently sloping uphill ride into Bethesda, and more to the point, I dream about the amazing 8-mile downhill into DC. I don't buy bike gear and wake up early and get all suited up to go pedal through traffic; I do it so I can feel the intensity of powering up that long big hill, and the rush of reaching the other side. I do it for that feeling we all get on long steep hills with no cars to dodge and no stop lights to contend with. I do it for the Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

    I dream about the trails because I get to ride to work under a beautiful green canopy, surrounded by nature, passing waterfalls and streams, and when the trail opens up into a view of the Potomac and I've gone over 10 miles and there are only 2 left, I feel satisfied and content and happy. And I'm smiling all the way to work.

    And when I get there, I can't wait to do it again tomorrow.

    Cut 20 minutes off a beautiful journey by shortcutting through a noisy, crowded metropolis?

    Why on earth would I want to do that?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Zen and the Art of Cycling

I am finding cycling to be invigorating, refreshing, relaxing, and therapeutic. The other day I snapped a shot of the Potomac on my ride home from work:

On Saturday I met up with a friend in Bethesda and we rode along the trail together! It was the first time I've ever gone bike riding with someone. :-) Here we are being awesome:

I have admittedly gone kind of wild with the bike-related spending. But it's all in the name of safety, so I'm okay with it. My blinking lights are awesome but I think my favorite item has been the Reflective Dots and Dashes, which I got on clearance at City Sports for $2.86.  Check out my helmet!

Looks like my reflectors work!

This morning I woke up too late to ride to work and by the end of the day I was regretting it. After a long day at work I was so wound up, and I realized how great the hourlong bike ride home felt last week. It's hard, especially on the uphills, but it's also calming. I almost crave it.

Notice that I haven't talked about calories or my heart rate or anything like that. I've just been talking about how fun and relaxing and invigorating it is. Oh, I'm still strapped up and I know I'm burning about 1,000 calories a ride, but that's not what I think about, it's not what I'm focused on. I just want to get back on there and ride some more. It's exercise, but it doesn't feel like exercise. It just feels... awesome.  And THAT is how I know this is going to help me shed some weight.  :-)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Biking to Work Rocks

I rode to work today and it was AWESOME.
I made a trial run on Saturday, checking to see how long it would take, and to see whether the trip back was doable or far too uphill. (Answer: Doable.) This morning I strapped up my heart rate monitor, completely immersed myself in blazing yellow spandex, and set out on the 12-mile arc.
Below is an incredibly cool interactive map of the trip. Go ahead and click the "Speed" and "Heart Rate" check boxes to see them overlaid on the elevation graph. (Isn't that cool!)

In total, the ride took about an hour of actual riding time, six minutes of resting or waiting around at stop lights, and ten minutes of enduring taunts from coworkers when I showed up wearing skin-tight bike shorts. The hour is only about 10-15 minutes longer than it would take for me to take the metro (walking to metro + riding the train + walking to office), and I arrived at work with my exercise already done for the day!
If the calculations are to be believed, I burned over *900 calories* on my ride -- and I felt GREAT when I got to work! Totally energized, and -- after a quick hop in the office shower -- ready to go. (NB: I did need coffee about an hour later.) Over the last couple hours I have felt the slightly odd combination of tired and wired.
I've also been incredibly hungry all day; going forward I'll be sure to have some more protein and slow-digesting carbs before I head out.
I've got choir rehearsal tonight so I plan to leave my bike here, take the metro to work in the morning, and ride back tomorrow evening.
So far, so good.