Skyline and a Whim

IMG_5532The stages of spring were on display over a vertical half-mile of the Blue Ridge, as Lane and I toured the central section of Skyline Drive. In the valleys, azaleas were still at peak, while on the top of the Drive, the oaks were yet to bud. Over the morning and into the evening, we had bright sun, billowy clouds, passing showers, head winds, tail winds, hours-long climbs and a new speed-record descent. A glorious day from start to finish.

The plan was to park in Sperryville at Mount Vernon Farm, which raises the only animals that end up on my plate. From there, our route would depend on weather and inclination. Lane had a hankering to grind out the climbs of the Drive, an effort to calm his mind and be in the moment of physical suffering. I’m up with that: Sperryville to Big Meadows (27 miles) is one of my favorite courses. Beyond that, we were subject to whim, with no cue sheet and a vague idea to finish the day exhausted. Mission accomplished.

At Big Meadows

Big Meadows

I tend to make the climb from Sperryville to Thonton Gap using metrics: respirations per minute, how many seconds does it take to climb a mile. This day I hardly looked at my watch, happy to be in each moment, taking no certain meaning from my physical condition. I just pedaled and tried to look at a well-traveled route with fresh eyes, as if I’d never passed this way before. Yeah, I may have taken a pic from this spot. But not on May 11. Not in this weather. Not with these leaves and wildflowers.

At Big Meadows, we considered what next. I proposed taking Swift Run Gap down into the Conway River Valley, which I had last explored with Chuck and Crista on Red Gate Ramble. On that day one year ago, we had searched out an ambiguous loop from the west side of the Conway linking to Wolf Town and found a dead end. With Lane the unexplored track was to the east: up the Rapidan River Valley on Graves Mill, taking us to an early 19th century settlement that today is nothing more than a marker, and Bluff Mountain Road, heading west toward the Conway and featuring short-stint grades of nearly 20 percent. I chugged up the hill at a bit over 3 mph; on the return I hit 52 mph above a hair pin that I wondered whether I would navigate (here I am).

From the Wolftown store, we took a familiar path back to Sperryville, except for a diversion on a roller-coaster otherwise known as Ruth Road, which backs up to a ridge on the east side of the Rapidan. From Hebron Church Road north of Madison, we could see that rain coming over Old Rag was likely to dump on us. It did. We survived, rolling into Mt. Vernon nearly 12 hours after our start, shaking our heads at the beauty of the Blue Ridge.

The pics are here. The route is there.

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Five Weeks

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Four minutes to launch, Team Definite Maybe: moi, Lane, Mike, Mary, Ed (photo by Laurie Erdman)

When in January DC Randonneurs announced the April 6 running of the Flèche, a 24-hour bike ride of at least 224 miles, I emailed my riding buddy Lane, who’d been lobbying me to do it for a long while: “mm k.”

Turned out I wasn’t the only potential member of the team less than certain about participating. Lane wrote back:

Ed, Mary and I had a brief conversation that started not-too-interested, turned could-take-it-or-leave-it, then spilled into let’s-see-if-there’s-an-interesting-route.  Mentions of a remote start were made: Martinsburg and Charlottesville. . .  The next day, Eric — also a member of Team Equivocal — sent me a rough route from Charlottesville that covers nice territory (specific roads need fleche-ing out) and puts the controle/meal pearls at good spots along the string.

Thus the ruminating began.

For the uninitiated, a definition. The Flèche is a rite of spring, a world-wide, 24-hour ride administered by Audax Club Parisien and its affiliates, including Randonneurs USA and its affiliates, like DC Randonneurs. Flèche, French for “arrow,” refers to teams starting from locations of their choosing and converging on a single target after riding routes of at least 360 kilometers. Ours is a non-competitive event, in which teams must meet certain rules to be certified (and certifiable), like maintaining a controle card and collecting clerks’ initials and receipts at 7-11’s and the like, to prove you rode the route. DCR members fielded 13 teams of three to five bikes for this year’s running.

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March 2: White Post VA train depot

I hadn’t been riding much, having devoted the winter months to other pursuits. With five weeks until April 6, I kicked training into gear. Lane and I rode a hard century (some pics here) in snow flurries that included parts of our potential route in the Virginia counties of Fauquier, Clarke and Warren. The next weekend, we rode DCR’s 130-mile Wilderness Campaign brevet, which toured Civil War battlefields near Fredericksburg, with Ed and Mary on their tandem. We took the following weekend off when forecasts predicted rain and snow (falsely, it turned out), but planned the next week for a two-day ride from Sperryville overnight to Lexington. When a terrible forecast for Sunday (true, it turned out) led us to call off the trip, our foursome spent Saturday on a 155-mile tune-up (some lovely pics of that ride here) out of Warrenton, looping counter-clockwise to Gordonsville.

Early signs of spring on Leeds Manor Rd, Fauquier County

March 23: Signs of spring in Fauquier County

For the weekend before the Flèche, Lane and I mapped back-to-back 125-mile routes from Marshall to Staunton that included about 110 miles of the intended Flèche. Saturday’s ride took us through Front Royal, over Edinburg Gap to the Shenandoah Valley, where we picked up our Flèche route to Staunton, with about 10,000 feet of climbing. The return went over Rockfish Gap to Charlottesville, the start of our Flèche. But somewhere between Rockfish and lunch, Lane mused, “You know, we don’t have to do this. We could just run our tried-and-true.” After several hours in a cold rain that began the second we stepped out of the hotel in Staunton, and dubious about all the climbing we had planned, I quickly agreed.

And so we returned to the 235-mile route the rest of the team (other than I) had ridden twice. Eric, meanwhile, citing lack of training, had bailed early on the ride but offered to help us get to Charlottesville for the start. Mike, a veteran of the team, had responded with an enthusiasm for the Flèche that belied the name Captain Lane settled on: Team Definite Maybe.

After our 250-mile weekend, I spent the next five days resting and trying to catch up on sleep, and counting down to my next test in endurance riding. I’d had several 12-hour days on the bike, a hundred-fifty-something miles. But never anything like this. The anxiety reminded me of starting my 2010 solo tour from Portland OR to Jackson WY, when I had scheduled 1100 miles in 11 days on a loaded bike. Similar, but different, especially in forgoing sleep.

Saturday morning, Laurie drove me down to the start in D.C. Call me lazy, but I had no interest in adding another 6 miles to the day. Besides, we needed a photographer to capture the launch.

The wind-blasting Co-Motion tandem

The wind-blasting Co-Motion tandem

The daytime proved mostly like other DCR group rides, with a couple more rest stops, and we clung together more tightly. Ed & Mary, riding their wind-blasting Co-Motion, created a draft for us most of the time — one I would need if I were to complete the ride. Just after sunrise, we departed from a Starbucks not far from the Tidal Basin and rode northwest up the WOD Trail to Clarke’s Gap in Catoctin/South Mountain, which would remain our spine all day and night.

Lunch at the Blue Moon in Shepherdstown (photo by Bill Beck)

Lunch in Shepherdstown (photo by Bill Beck)

On toward the C&O Towpath to Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown in West Virginia, farm towns in Pennsylvania and then Shippensburg, where at 12 hours and 132 miles, we turned for the climb over South Mountain at Big Flat, a pass I’d heard much about.

Climbing a mountain on a rural road you’ve never been on in the dark, save for your headlight and the lights of a rare passing car, is an unusual experience. It’s quiet. You don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t have a sense of the passage of time or miles, you can’t tell how fast you’re going (but you know it’s slow). Now and then, when a car passes, you can judge the relative grade. All you know is that you’re working. And when you reach the pass, you know it because you’re no longer working. Sooner than I had figured, we reached the top, and began the frigid descent toward home.

After “dinner” (10 o’clock) in Gettysburg, we had a relatively easy, 17-mile run to Thurmont for a controle and a quick nutrient infusion at the Sheetz station.

Typical Randofeast (photo by Ed)

Typical Randofeast (photo by Ed)

Mike had been strong all day despite a bad cold that had hung around for a week. He had ridden to the start, and maintained good spirits. At Thurmont, Lane lobbied him to quit the ride. Mike was hurting, but he kept going. Out of town, Lane asked me how my stomach was doing, as I’d hardly eaten there. OK, I said, it’s just that my whole body is on the verge of collapse. (It was an exaggeration; my teeth were chattering and body shivering after the stop, but soon I was warm again — I was functioning.) I was riding mostly behind Ed & Mary when Lane, adopting his captain’s personna, rode up beside and ordered me to tuck in behind the tandem. “They will get you home.” If Mike dropped back, Lane told us, he would stay with him, so just keep moving. Near 2 a.m. (I guess), as we approached Frederick, Mike mumbled, “I have a decision to make.”

Somewhere in the center of town, Lane and Mike disappeared behind us, as Ed & Mary and I began chugging the rollers and crosswinds of Route 355. Ed asked if the pace was OK. I thanked them, “This is the pace I’ve been hoping for for 200 miles.” “Well,” he replied, “we can’t go any faster.” My mind adopted the mantra of a marathoner, “just get to the next mile marker”: It’s just a few miles to Urbana; It’s just a few miles to Hyattstown. Ah, said Mary, here’s Little Bennett State Park — an omen! Soon civilization crept in: street lights, light-industry, subdivisions, and then, about 4 a.m., the buzzing IHOP in Gaithersburg, HQ for the final controle for several Flèche teams.

At the IHOP (photo by Andrea Matney)

At the IHOP (photo by Andrea Matney)

I asked for a table for four and rather than fall down, just took one — no standing around for me. A while after we’d settled in, Lane marched in the door. “Move,” he glared at me. With a big smile, I made way for the captain, who had escorted Mike first to a crappy hotel and then to a better one in Frederick, then charged that same 25 miles through rollers and crosswinds on his own.

Lane and the Co-Mo arrive

Lane and the Co-Mo arrive (photo by Laurie)

Refueled on America’s finest dining, our crew was ready for the final 22 miles through the Maryland burbs to our target: the Key Bridge Marriott, on the Arlington side of the Potomac. I felt just fine. The crescent moon rose, the birds began chirping, and dawn broke as we reached the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda. I phoned Laurie. “We’re inside a half-hour,” I reported, allowing her time to get to the hotel for our arrival. It was one of the beautiful dawns I’ve seen, as the woods along the familiar trail lit up with each passing minute. The sun was just below the horizon when we pulled in at 6:45, greeted by dozens of returned riders, and my dear bride, ready with her camera to capture the moment — of me choking back sobs, and handshakes among my teammates who’d made it possible.

Without them, I wouldn’t have made it to Frederick. I would’ve been back in Gettysburg or somewhere, either waiting for Laurie to pick me up, or showing a little consideration by checking into a hotel. But I was surrounded by veterans like Mike, a journeyman rider whose idea of a good time is biking from home to Manhattan, and Ed and Mary, who’ve ridden Paris-Brest-Paris among other 1200k’s (750 miles in no more than 90 hours), and my dear friend Lane, who by every measure was my partner over a couple months of training and planning, and then became my captain when it mattered. I’m one of the lucky guys on the planet.

Some pics of the trip are here.

Powered down at the Key Bridge Marriott

Powered down at the Key Bridge Marriott (photo by Laurie)

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The Mogollon Rim and the Colorado Plateau

Cathedral Rock, Sedona

Cathedral Rock, Sedona

Walking over 2 billion years of volcanic eruptions and sediments deposited by ancient seas, I forget about the weird politics of Arizona and feel, dawn to dusk, awed by the edge between land and sky.

For a mid-January break from the Mid-Atlantic winter, Laurie and I plotted a drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas, with our time devoted to hiking around the red rocks of Sedona and the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. I’d been waiting for three decades to return to the Canyon (Laurie had never been), and Laurie was intrigued by the energy “vortexes” of Sedona.

After a late-day flight and overnight stay in Phoenix, we drove north, rising from Saguaro-cactus habitat around Phoenix (elevation 1000 feet) over the Black Hills to a stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument, a limestone cliff dwelling occupied from about 1100 to 1400, along Beaver Creek. Less than 10 miles north on I-17, we turned northwest. Winding through the Beaver Creek valley, we suddenly entered the red rocks around Sedona.  Had we also entered a vortex?

Sedona

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Airport Mesa

Google “Sedona vortex” and you’ll find all sorts of entries. Whether these centers of energy uplift are legit, New Age hokum, or a gift to the Chamber of Commerce, I dunno. You can’t throw a rock in Sedona without hitting a psychic, a crystal shop, a shaman bedecked in beads, a purveyor of Tibetan singing bowls — or a woman dressed in natural fibers. I didn’t feel an energy flow in particular, other than exultation at having

Bell Rock

stumbled into one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen. But when these magical cliffs reflect the light of sunrise or sunset (we saw each for three days), I’m inclined to believe anything good, maybe even from the Chamber.

So I go with the flow. There are four recognized vortexes. The first afternoon, we hiked three or four miles around the first, Airport

Red Rod Crossing, below Cathedral Rock

Mesa, which lies in the center of Sedona’s formations and has good views of two other vortexes, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. On the morning of day 2, we drove north, behind Capitol Butte, which towers over the town, to hike into the Boynton Canyon vortex, and in the afternoon we circumnavigated Bell Rock (up which I climbed as high as only feet can take you), on the south side of town. On the third morning, we had a flat hike from the west through Crescent Moon Park along Oak Creek to Buddha Beach, where a lot of people have stacked hundreds of small stones in whimsical homage to Gautama, and where the vortex energy is said to be strongest. After lunch (vegan/gluten-free restaurant, natch), while Laurie hung with the mediums, I made a steep but short hike from the south side of Oak Creek to Cathedral Rock, which had sublime views of Airport Mesa to the north, Bell Rock to the south, and Crescent Moon to the west. It was my favorite vantage.

From there as a crow flies, a mChapel 2ile-and-a-half east, is Sedona’s man-made landmark. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is the conception of sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who in 1932 was inspired by the Empire State Building. It’s also evidence that there’s room for Catholics amid all the holy-rock peddlers in Sedona.

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Boynton Canyon

On the way out of town, we drove north about 30 miles to Flagstaff, following Oak Creek Canyon. Sedona is at 4500 feet, Flagtaff 6800. Halfway up the canyon, the road, which is otherwise fairly straight and barely inclined, climbs a series of switchbacks. This is the Mogollon Rim where it meets the Colorado Plateau. Sedona also is on the  Rim. Under the lava flows that form the crust of the Plateau are a series of sedimentary deposits. Sedona is heavy in iron oxide, providing the rust color that characterizes many of the layers. They are the product of ancient seas and tidal flats that sloshed back and forth across the shifting Pacific coast until about 250 million years ago. Erosion has worn away the land south of the Rim, revealing Sedona. To the north, and sitting on the Four Corners, the Colorado Plateau was formed by geological uplift, but not twisted and folded as were the Rockies to the east. And so over the Plateau we went another 80 miles, toward the Canyon.

My photo log from Phoenix through Oak Creek Canyon is here.

Wendy, on Cathedral Rock

Wendy, on Cathedral Rock

Grand Canyon

The first and last time I was at the Canyon, on both rims, was May 1980, on a whirwind 6,000-mile drive (thanks, Phyl) from Oakland to D.C., by way of St. Helens (the day before it exploded), Yoho in British Columbia, and Arizona, before turning east toward D.C. I camped amid snow flurries and hiked a short way down. So I’d been there.

Still, as we make our way from the visitor’s center to the heavily touristed Mather Point, my heart quickens. I see bits of the North Rim through the trees in front of us. And then the vista opens. Tears stream down my face. Words don’t come. I am overwhelmed.

Sunrise on the South RimWe walk along the rim trail, which bears about 5 million visitors a year, the vast majority of whom do no more than we do our first afternoon. Eventually we make our way to Grand Canyon Village and a refurbished but rustic log cabin, where we will spend two nights, near the Bright Angel trailhead. Peak daytime temps: high 20s. Nighttime low: single digits. Too cold to linger under the stars. Also too cold to inspire an early-morning start of a daylong hike.

Back at the visitor’s center, Ranger Brown, a grizzled character out of central casting, advises me to take the South Kaibab Trail over Bright Angel. The former offers only a mile-and-a-half of trodding over ice at the start, he says, the latter twice as much, before the sun at its low angle can do some melting. Besides, he notes, Kaibab is a vista trail, and Bright Angel is a ravine trail. Stop at Skeleton Point, three miles in, because that’s as good a view of the river as you’ll get without going all the way down — and DON’T GO ALL THE WAY DOWN. Of course, park rangers spend a fair amount of time helping struggling explorers survive “Code W” (for Wimp). Never mind that I’m an endurance athlete often scratching my limits. Ranger Brown has been here 13 years, since he arrived to watch the fall bird migration over two months from a spot near Mather Point. I’ll take his advice.

After 10 hours of sleep (7000 feet will do that to you), I stir slowly and don’t make it to the trailhead till 9:30. It’s 27 degrees — balmy. The elevation plunge begins. With tens of thousands of hikers every year, this most popular trail is built to last (and closed for rebuilding periodically). The trail in places is blasted out of cliffs. It has log steps and rain gutters separated by walls of rock. It is rigorous and unrelenting. And in January, it’s nearly empty.

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Atop O’Neill Butte

The most prominent feature, about two miles in, is O’Neill Butte, the horn on the saddle facing north off the Rim. Skeleton Point is the northern edge of a plateau below O’Neill, with a view of the Colorado near Phantom Ranch, the overnight base for the lucky who win the summer lottery for its few spots (it’s more open in winter). Beyond Skeleton, the trail again plunges into the ravine, just as it does off the Rim above. After eating lunch here, I descend a bit and watch a mule train snaking its way up, the two drivers stopping every five minutes to let the pack animals rest. And then I meander back toward the top, knowing I have more afternoon sun than I can fill. Along the way, I stop to gaze at a young hiker sitting on a boulder on the edge of O’Neill. Nice perch. Upon reaching the rim, I walk two miles back to the visitor’s center. Pics of the hike, plus a couple from Grandview Point to the east with a view of the Colorado, are here.

The Colorado, from Grandview Point, site of the Rim's first hotel

The Colorado, from Grandview Point, site of the Rim’s first hotel

The next morning, steps from our cabin, I hit the rim at dawn to catch the light against the cliffs and walk two miles east to Yavapai Point. The Park Service has built a geologic timeline on this stretch, one meter per million years, with stones drawn from the canyon’s basement (2 billion years old) to its top layer — 270 million years ago. There are gaps, between and on top, as erosion wore away the fossil record, including that of the dinosaurs. The Colorado Plateau, as I noted above, is the product of the uplifting of tectonic plates. But geologists can’t explain why the Plateau lifted straight up, rather than folding over; the 40 distinct layers of rock at the canyon are horizontal, unlike the slanted layers revealed by highway cuts through mountain ranges. The canyon itself is a mere 6 million years old, the product of the Colorado River finding a route to the Gulf of California and cutting through the Plateau to get there. A file of Rim pics over the three days is here.

Mid-morning, we departed the sublime, heading for the ridiculous. To go from one of nature’s awesome creations to America’s model of excess is jarring. Fortunately we took the day to adjust, driving nearly 300 miles through northwestern Arizona and across the Colorado into Nevada atop Hoover Dam, where we stopped to tour one of the great engineering feats of American history.

Hoover Dam

The dam was born of an effort to control flooding along the Colorado and effect the water compact among the seven states (and later Mexico) drawing the river’s water. A secondary benefit was electricity generation for the Southwest. Today, nearly 80 years after its construction, the dam continues to serve all three purposes. Yes, of course, the security apparatus of the Age of Terrorism has descended upon this landmark, but it’s not overbearing. Shots of the dam are here.

IMG_4947And then finally, the ridiculous. We ended in Vegas because Laurie was attending a conference at the Bellagio. Having spent a night on the Strip, I need never do it again. (Here are my final shots, with only a clip of the Bellagio’s fountain tribute to Michael Jackson; see youtube for the full version.)  On the other hand, Vegas is a proximate destination from which to explore the West — on a loaded touring bike. To summer….

Sedona

Schnebley Hill, named after Sedona’s first postmaster

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Red Oak run-down

Red Oak Mountain summitI’d been absent from my favorite riding territory for four months when I heard the call of the chilly peaks of Rappahannock County the last week in December. Kelly Smith suspected I’d be riding the last Friday of the year. “Are you thinking of hitting some gravel”? he asked. Excellent idea, I replied, I’ll bring the Co-Motion and we’ll make something up as we ride out of Sperryville.

Finding black ice in Gid Brown Hollow on the drive out, we decided to reverse our intended course and begin on Woodward Road, which rises from Main Street and turns to gravel as it heads south along the base of the Blue Ridge below Thornton Gap. Soon enough we hit an ice-covered hill, forcing us out of our saddles for a little hiking. No problem. We stayed close to the base of the ridge, rounding Old Rag on Etlan Road and heading up Weakley Hollow toward White Oak Canyon, before riding down the Robinson River valley all the way to Hebron Valley Road.

At Brightwood in Madison County, we turned north, continuing to choose the route as options approached. The tough gravel on Quaintance Road, or the murderous rollers of Round Hill Road? We chose to be murdered.

Red Oak Mtn Rd

Start of the 3-mile ascent to Red Oak summit

We’d been enjoying a tailwind long enough when I suggested we climb to the summit of Red Oak Mountain above Woodville. Kelly had been whispering that he could’ve worn another layer in the hazy, mid-30s temperatures that had already peaked. This would warm us: first a mile climb on pavement before a dip into gravel, then the steep 1.4 miles to the top, on slushy, muddy tracks. We walked a couple hundred yards to the summit on ice-covered snow. Sublime: the 270-degree view below a defunct forest fire watchtower. Of course, we still had to roll off the mountain, over tracks that seemed slicker than they had been on the climb.

It wasn’t a terribly long day, but the gravel made us work for our dinner. The pics are here.

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Chill in the air

The draw of a fall tour is, of course, the color. A side benefit is a bit of hide-toughening before the winter cold sets in. On a long weekend a month after the equinox, we had both on a run through the mountains of central-southern Pennsylvania.

Our crew was a reprise of the summer Vermont tour, organized by Crista. Lane and I were in for three days not four, so we drove to Shippensburg early Saturday to meet Chuck & Crista and Joel, who had biked out of Frederick on Friday.

We spent a cool, mostly cloudy day chugging west against the grain of the Alleghenies, which our route cut at the point where the rake of the bear claw tips from mostly east-west to mostly north-south. We “enjoyed” five climbs of two-and-a-half to three miles with grades of eight to ten percent, the toughest of them number four, Sideling Hill, west of Raystown Lake. And on the last downside of the day, Joel encountered hail on Tussey Mountain. But I was in the valley, taking in a double rainbow amid a shower.

Sunday morning we headed south with the grain through rolling hills and valleys, taking a few hard punches along the way. Over an 1800-foot gap, I hit 50 miles an hour for the first time ever, a non-event because the road was smooth and fairly straight. An hour or so after a mid-afternoon lunch, we made the turn east, once again cutting against the grain until the final climb back over Sideling Hill, 10 miles from the day’s end on the C&O Canal at Hancock, Maryland.

After a restful night at the Riverrun B&B next to the Western Maryland Rail Trail, we got up Monday to a cold thermometer, about 40 degrees, and put off the start of a section of the DC Randonneurs’ classic Frederick 400k route. C&C and Joel broke east for their return to Frederick; Lane and I continued the 400k to Cove Gap and on into the Cumberland Valley to Shippensburg. After four hours, the temperatures had risen to earlier-season levels, the upper 60s under clear skies. We’d had just a taste of the winter cold, but as the pics show, mission accomplished on the color.

The photo show is here.

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Circle Game

The first Saturday in April, I accompanied Chuck and Crista through the fruit orchards of Adams County (“Three Babes in the Woods”), where we inhaled the apple blossoms and basked in intensifying rays of the early-spring sun. As a group of DC Randonneurs (C&C, Neal, Greg, Roger, Bill, Chris, Steve, yours truly) rode a similar route on the last Saturday in September, Joni Mitchell kept running through my head:

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

We were back to view the fruits of the season, as it were. And what spectacular fruits, and what a stunning Crista route: again out of Emmitsburg, mostly northeasterly to York Springs, back on some different and some same roads, as in same as the morning and same as April. The wind and the clouds kept us from shedding our morning layers — a harbinger of the months to come, before we look ahead from where we came.

The pictures are here.

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Back to the Cape

We kept asking each other: What were we doing that kept us from coming back for five years?

The truth, mostly: biking. This trip was a spur-of-the-moment thank-you to my wife Laurie for sagging a bunch of cyclists from Vermont back home at the start of summer. Cape Cod is a place she could just sit, rather than drive to a different hotel every night for two weeks. That we brought my daughter with us for the first summer in the last seven was icing.

I’ve been to the Cape not quite 20 times since the 1980s. Many things about my life have changed, but the Cape remains a place of subtle, timeless beauty that I appreciate in its shifting tides and moon phases, and in August’s declining temperatures and arc of the sun. One week is too quick to experience the shortest of these cycles. But my own pace slows enough to observe them.

Naturally, a good way to observe is on a bike. (Walking is the best way to experience tidal shifts.) The worst is in a car. For the first time, this year we stayed in Provincetown, one of America’s edge cities, where traveling in three cardinal directions will lead you to the water. We parked the car and all got around on our bikes — for groceries, restaurants,  nearby beaches, and the crazy show that is Ptown. Its minor-league development allows a critical mass of people to celebrate the nature that is reasonably protected on the Outer Cape, the forearm and hand of Cape Cod.

Enough exposition. The point of this post is the pics, in four sets:

First are many views of Provincetown, from “downtown” to the National Seashore outpost at Provincelands, including Herring Cove and Race Point.

Second covers a day-long bike ride down the forearm to Nickerson State Park in Brewster, just below the bicep. After hilly Truro, the route picks up the Cape Cod Rail Trail, passing by Marconi Beach, where the inventor built the first transatlantic radio link, and Nauset, a popular and slightly overwhelmed National Park Service beach.

Third is a morning bike tour of Truro, adjacent to Provincetown, which is largely National Seashore and therefore protected from development. Highpoints include Corn Hill, said to be the on-shore moorings for the Mayflower before it went on to Plymouth; Highland Light, aka Cape Cod Light, which was moved back from the encroaching cliff in the 1990s; and the former Truro Air Force Station, a Cold War outpost and DEW installation, whose facilities are being repurposed or allowed to revert to nature. Also at the station is a temporary Energy Department research facility, where personnel launch pollution measurement balloons every six hours.

And fourth is a collection from the annual Carnival Parade, a celebration of drag in one of the nation’s gay capitals.

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