It's nice doing the combined commute/training ride again. That daily ride, 12-25 miles each way, depending on how dilatory I feel, levels my moods, eats the stress, and knocks my weight down to merely alarming levels. It isn't to say it's without stressors though. Today, I have a tale of two commutes for you.
The forecast for this morning was a 19% chance of rain. How you get a 19% chance, and not, say, a 20% chance, is beyond me. Either way, it was a D.C. 19% chance, which means that 19% of the air will consist of water droplets. So I got rained on during the incoming ride. This wasn't bad, but it was a bit tiresome. Still, the commute went fast. I'm back on the fixed Surly, running maybe 65 gear inches, which isn't tall. So I spin like the dickens and maintain probably 24 MPH on the downhill of the Cap Crescent, and close to 20 on the flats. It's not exactly hammering, and as a matter of fact it feels like a light spin; the fixie is actually easier to pedal at 20 and maybe 105 RPM than it is to cruise along at 17 and 90 RPM, which feels mash-y. I focus on keeping the RPMs up, partly to work on smoothing out my spin and building up my hip flexors, but also to work on generating power via the aerobic system, rather than my usual muscular endurance-based mashing.
When I got to the office I had to negotiate the parking garage to get to bike parking. To enter, you have to go down a roughly 16% grade, turn hard left around this somewhat steeper off-camber, then turn hard right at the bottom of the ramp. Since people drive in and park, waiting for the attendants, the ramp is generally slimy with oil droppings. It was wet out today, and on wet days, the ramp is really treacherous. But a recent move by the property management corporation that runs the building has taken the slimy ramp to a whole new level. They recently painted it with this glossy, super-smooth gray paint. I've seen women spill on the thing when it's dry, but when it's wet...
I started down the ramp with hands on my brakes. I was also putting some back pressure on the pedals. Almost instantly, I was in a two wheeled skid down the ramp. I eased off the brakes entirely, but the front and rear wheel were both sliding - this was like being at frickin' Taneytown a couple weeks ago. Regardless of the slip, I still had to control my speed, since failure to navigate the off-camber is punishable with a collision into the guardrail, and possibly a 15 foot drop if you slide through it. So I tried to slow down by gently applying back pressure, but the bike was having none of that and the rear wheel simply locked up. I tried to get it turning again but I was picking up speed and sliding both ends faster than the wheels would turn. The slide was occurring in part becaue I was slipping across the down ramp at a 45 degree angle. Pretty quickly, I bit the wax tadpole and went down knee first. It hurt like hell and I skinned the thing, even through the knee warmers. I walked it to the bike rack from there. Well, I limped it to the rack anyhow. The butcher's bill is a skinned knee, a bruised, charlie-horsed-feeling calf, and a sense of uncertainty over my handling skills. I'm not sure whether to call the building manager and advise about the dangerous situation, or to keep my mouth shut and hope the building manager takes a spill on the same ramp.
The same basic rainstorm was in place for the commute home, only it was a little warmer out. Going across town was sketchy - when it's dark and rainy people simply don't see you. I did figure out a rule for bike commuting: If the guy behind you at a stoplight has a faulty muffler on his car, yield the lane and get out from in front of him. I got curbed by a couple guys like that tonight cruising up Pennsylvania Ave., and got curbed by a Lexis coming across the bridge into Georgetown . I'm going 25 along with traffic, no gap to the car in front of me, and this wanker in the Lexis pulls into my lane, right next to me, and forces me to the curb. *Lovely*
Eventually all that fun ended and I got to the Cap Crescent. It was heavily fogged over starting right at the Georgetown boathouse. Since my knee was bleeding and it was 65 I didn't want to wear knee warmers, but it was immediately clear that the clouds of fog were 5-10 degrees cooler than the clear areas. And man, was it foggy. There were stretches where visibility was 10 feet, at best. The fog was quite lovely in one way - it was mysterious, and mostly quiet. Sound carries funny in fog. There was huge traffic on nearby River Road, but it was inaudible. Yet sounds of cars from across the Potomac, and conversations occurring in Arlington, several hundred yards away, carried across the river and I could hear them. It was eerie; the cars whose lights I could occasionally see were silent to me, while the cars that were invisible made noises like some ghostly wraiths out there in the fog. The dramatic impact of fog for storytelling was suddenly made very clear to me tonight.
The romance was broken by a sudden snarling and choking noise. I was slightly terrified and burst through the edge of one fog bank seconds after the noise started, only to find a small white dog on the trail, choking with the urge to fight me. He was leashed but the owner had the leash fully extended, seemingly assuming that nobody was using the trial. I swerved and dropped a few well placed war whoops and a Blagojevichian sentence on the dog's owner. Further on, the romance of a fog bank was a bit more debunked when a rider came flying out of the fog and blew past me in the oncoming lane. I rode on wondering if the rider, who I only glimpsed for a second, was one of my friends. There weren't many people on the trail, so each encounter with another rider took on special significance. Who were these intrepid souls? Strangely, the fog didn't clear as I went up the hill and back to the truck.
The ride had been mysterious and peaceful all the way back to the truck, but it had not been clean, especially the segments on the Georgetown Branch gravel track. By the time we arrived at home, the fixie needed some serious maintenance to get all the dirt off it. So I whipped out the garden hose and took care of it. Yay fixie!
That's just an ordinary day's commute there. I wouldn't write about the commute every day, but it would be possible to do so, especially for a more talented writer than I. Instead I try to appreciate the little things that come with the commute - the wildlife, interesting dogs, odd weather, friends and strangers. There is enough there, most days, to keep the mind engaged in something other than just turning the pedals.