2o12 is off to a decent start for me. 2 rambles in 2 months. I’m not making any cocky statements about surviving winter because we’ve dodged a bullet so far but I’ve seen bad March snows in my lifetime. I’d rather just transition into spring quietly at this point. Sunday was Bob’s ramble route for the month and February’s route was a giant circle to all 4 corners of the city.
I was anxiously watching the weather reports Saturday night. The day brought us enough precipitation that I knew the roads were going to be wet. The only question was would they be frozen? I took the time to get a saddlebag on the singlespeed commuter with studded tires and be prepped for whatever mother nature brought us. The alarm went off at 5:45am. I went over to the computer and hit refresh for the Ellicott City weather forecast page I had up last night. It said 37 for an overnight low so I decided to ride the trucker and take my chances. Choosing the single speed with my massive Nokians would have been a near guarantee of not finishing for the day. As usual, I was late getting out of the house regardless of the fact that I was up an hour early. I put a foot down outside to step out to the gate and could feel the slightest bit of traction loss. Riding today was going to require extra finesse and care. Slowly I made my way downtown to the meetup in the main square at Fells Point. I was greeted by a great winter crowd of riders — John, Alex, Peter, new rambler Ken, Justin, Isaias, Brian, Bob & Charlie. I had just enough time to hike over to the Daily Grind and grab a Chocolate Chip muffin to chow on. By the time I got back we were ready to shove off.
The day started out riding through Little Italy and intersecting with the bike paths through Harborplace and south out of the city. I was running sweep as usual.
We had barely made it 5 miles before Ken had a flat along the trail in Middle Branch Park. I backtracked as he coasted to a stop and we set to work fixing it. Bob noticed he’d lost a few riders so he looped back but didn’t loop back ‘quite’ far enough. No matter because we were doing ok. I’d never changed a small 25c road tire before, so I had to wrestle with the tire iron for a little bit extra to make sure I didn’t do something stupid like pinch the only spare tube we had. I have patches, but really didn’t feel like breaking out the glue or peeling the tire off a second time. After 10-20 minutes of cussin’ and pumpin’, we were back on the road. I was chatting and navigating at the same time, so if you look at the gps track for the first 25 miles you’ll notice a bunch of little squiggles where I started to get off route. We looped along the bottom of the city and down through Linthicum towards the airport trail. I always inspect the cues as I plug them into my gps, but I purposefully try to zone out on exactly where we’re going. It was a treat when we got to the airport and cruised on the trails for a few “navigation-free” miles. From there we finally started to head west and even a little north up through Patapsco towards Ellicott City. The west side of the city has all kinds of little treasures I’ve never explored (like the Grist Mill Trail Below). Even though I worked there for 6 or 7 years, it was at a time that biking wasn’t really on my radar.
Ken and I plodded along together for the next few miles along the river. I’d not really timed how long the flat fix took or guestimated what our pace was in relation to the rest of the group. The road was wet and I had no interest in crashing so I resolved myself to taking it easy but with that resolution I’d also given up any hope of seeing the rest of our party before lunch. Much to my surprise there were a ton of bikes out by the rack when we got to the Old Mill Bakery at about 10:15. Bob had waited for us a few minutes so we could roll on as a group. We were only about 20 minutes behind at that point and not tired so we just took a quick breather and I skipped the coffee, had some handlebar bag trail mix and got moving again. As an aside — John & Alex, who had started the day near Owings Mills made a wrong turn somewhere near the airport. We breezed by them while they were off-course and arrived at the rest stop wondering where they were. We hoped they were ok, but there was no way we could backtrack at that point so we plugged on. They self-corrected and finished the day safe at home with 70 or so miles under their belt and plenty of time to watch football. I saw Tom floating around the cafe for a little bit so he met up with us along the way. I have no idea how many miles he rode with the group.
The climb out of Ellicott City on Frederick Rd. gave us our first encounter with real traffic for the day. It was a subdued encounter for the most part, but it was persistent. We made our way north on St. Johns lane to Old Frederick rd. and our western-most part of the journey at the intersection of Frederick & Woodstock. All day long the groups would start to split up a bit and the lead pack was pulling away by this point. Us slowpokes were working our way up Woodstock when I saw the entire lead group stopped along a bridge over some tracks up ahead. I instantly thought someone had fallen at the tracks, but it turns out that it was ‘just’ that Isaias’ left crank arm had come completely off. Welcome to the “crank-busters club” Isaias! Good news was that the interface wasn’t messed up and the bolt stayed in the arm which stayed clipped to his foot and no one was injured. We all pulled out our multi-tools and started going down the line to see if any of them had a 10mm allen bolt. Two had the correct size but only my trusty Topeak mini-18 won the lotto and had the honor of being used because it was long enough to reach in and tighten the bolt. Next time I go to pick up a multi-tool (which I was just in REI the other day looking at them) I have a useful criteria for my choice. “How long are the hex wrench arms?”
We continued north from there and the lead group pulled away again while Charlie, Bob and I were in back. Bob was hanging out with us because he had run the studded tires on his Kogswell and was working twice as hard as any of us. The sweeps were not totally alone, and every so often we’d catch up to Justin or Ken as they were a bit ahead. Another hour or so down the road and maybe only a mile away from lunch Ken had another flat. This one was probably my fault b/c I didn’t check the inside of the tire in my haste to get back on the road. Maybe we didn’t pump it up enough. We’re not sure, but Bob patched it quick and we limped into town so we could eat and worry about it later.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. I love bicycle food.
Out of lunch – Ken’s tube was still leaking so Bob pulled it again to improve upon his earlier patch job — pumped it up once again and we were ready to rip. The afternoon brought sunnier skies and drier roads for a definite improvement. It was very nice to not spend the entire day worrying if I was going to slip on every little wet patch in the road. Riding after lunch was blissfully and abnormally quiet. Everyone must have been stuck in traffic jams trying to get to their local Wal-Mart for party platters or something. It wasn’t till we got close to game time over on the east side of the city that we were accosted by fleets of pizza delivery vehicles and superbowl commuters. The lead group dropped the hammer and that was the last we saw of them. After 2 it was Ken and Justin who would pull away and fall back intermittently with Bob, Charlie and I in back. Bob was dragging on the studs and had mentioned in passing that he might cut off when we intersected the NCR trail. Justin, Ken and I were a little ahead at this point and stopped, but when Bob and Charlie rolled up 2 minutes later he didn’t even coast – just kept pedaling through while saying “I’m goin’ for it!”.
Cool thing about this route — since we were wrapping around the city closely, we intersected ALL of Bob’s other rides at some point. I’d be riding along and think to myself. “Hey, I’ve been here before…” and sure enough I had been. Only problem I had by this point was my throat was getting sore from all the great conversations and calling out ‘car back’ for every car that was back. We cut across Jarretsville Pike at 4 corners and stopped at the McDonalds long enough for me to abuse the facilities and eat some snacks from my bar bag.
Sweet Air, Mt Vista, and Raphel (I skipped a bunch) completed our loop across the top of the city to Philadelphia Rd., where our busy automotive encounters started ‘en-force’. Charlie and I both hit the intersection of Allender Rd. at just the wrong time and got stuck in a really crappy spot before we both decided to just duck into the 7-11 parking lot instead. We all skipped the last rest stop after having pretty much skipped the McDonalds a few miles before. It was cool and my bottles had a little water left. A few more quick jogs southeast and we hooked up with our familiar path back into the city along Ebenezer, Vincent, then Bird River rd. I remember how wiped out I felt after riding these roads on the Point-to-Point in October 2010. What a difference a year makes. I still felt pretty good coming across the Eastern Ave. bridge, but traffic was crazy and by the time we got back to the start I was ready to be off my feet for a while. Stopped at John Stevens for a beer or 2 ( Heavy Seas Loose Cannon hop3 ) and then we broke camp for an uneventful commute home.
Numbers: time on bike – 9:14’ | miles – 116 | moving avg – 12.6 | overall avg – 9.9 | elev gain – 6340′
Thanks to all, and see you next month!