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Situation Critical  //   Saturday - January 22, 2005

Spearmint reports from Thursay's DC Critical Mass:
Sub-freezing temps and the previous night’s thin layer of snow didn’t thwart fifty or so Critical Mass riders from showing up around 7:30 Thursday morning at Union Station for another group ride. But this one is a little different. Timed to coincide with Inauguration Day activities, it's loosely dubbed the Counter-Inauguaration Ride. Riders show up festooned with all manner of protest messages and slogans. There are moutain bikes, road bikes, cross bikes, fixies, singlespeeds, you name it. Among the gathering crowd, roving bands of reporters snatch interviews and roll tape in an effort to capsulize the purpose of the ride for a future sound byte. Gary, DT, and I roll in on time, and within minutes, Zack, a buddy from the DC area, finds us.

After more than a half hour of milling around, we are off. Equipped with a cheat-sheet itinerary and chaperoned the entire time by a small phalanx of squad cars, we pedal our way slowly through the streets of DC, many riders chanting “more bikes, less Bush” at bystanders and drivers. Some shout back words of encouragement or simply give a “thumbs up” in silent solidarity, others look on quizzically, a few glare menacingly at us from behind the safety of their windshields. The air is crisp and cold, but the streets are ice-free and the mood is upbeat. Many of the riders seem underdressed for the low temps. Throughout the ride, DC’s finest remain surprisingly passive; at times they pull ahead of the group to block traffic at intersections and sound siren bleats at random from the back of the pack to alert approaching motorists--welcome gestures, to be sure, but I suddenly get the feeling that our ride is quietly being coopted. The whole thing feels a little too mainstream, too benign. On the plus side, the extra show of sound and force succeeds in garnering more attention

At some point, we stop along the way for hot refreshments, and check out the DC Indymedia HQ, where I have the brief pleasure of chatting with a female anarchist who is preparing a protest display for the evening.

We head out again en masse and arrive at our final destination, Malcolm X Park, sometime after 9 a.m. An anti-war protest event is about to happen. Members of DAWN are already hard at work on a poignant display: row after row of cardboard coffins, each covered in black bunting and draped in an American flag, representing US troops killed in Iraq. The scene is at once macabre and surreal. We snap pix, hang out a while, then pedal off in search of coffee and food to kill some time before the bars open.

Later, we quaff ale at RFD, watch the toob for news of demonstrations, then ride over to 7th and D, where an altercation has erupted between protestors and police. Alas, we arrive too late and only witness the confusion of aftermath. We speak with protestors and observers from the National Lawyers Guild, take some pix, then make our way to Capitol City Brewing Company. Along the route, we take advantage of closed streets to get in some good natured derby action and come upon a forlorn group of joggers doing their “Run Against Bush.” We arrive at the bar just in time for happy hour. Two of Zack’s coworkers join us and we throw down a few more pints, along with some grub.

Here’s where it gets a bit fuzzy. Eventually, we head to Dupont Circle with the intent to join the second Critical Mass ride. We arrive late. There are riders scattered about the monument to the eponymous Civil War admiral, but nothing seems to be in the works. We circle the area on our bikes calling for riders in an effort to rally the group, but only a handful of people take us up on it. We head off into the darkening streets at random. Soon the recruits start peeling away, unwilling or unable to keep up with us as we dart through traffic, between cones and Jersey walls, and around cops in cars and astride hogs. In our zeal, we manage to miss the “real” ride, along with a lot of the other heavy action. We leave Zack around 6 p.m. and head home to the suburbs south of the city.

For a more in-depth ride description and links to excellent pix of the event, check out Gary’s site.

- Spearmint

Snowball's Chance  //   Friday - January 21, 2005

For once the weather gurus get in right on the money and we get snow most of the day that tapers off around quitting time. Six showed for the Wednesday night ride and were reward with one of the finest mid-week rides ever.

A couple of inches of powder gave things a different edge without being knee-deep miserable. Lots of good times slipping and sliding. It was decided to get most of our trail ride in and then peel off to the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. to refuel before finishing things up. The snow makes things bright, even with overcast skies, and I ride lights out a few times when I open up a gap and leave the others behind. Its cold and peaceful and like I'm out on a solo ride.

In my never-ending quest to ride more dirt than pavement we hooked in to a seldom ridden trail. I found it and used it a few times on the Tour de Patapsco epic, a crater filled horse trail that is only occasionally marked. Found it right away and despite the trail being completely covered in snow, things were going smooth and we were right on track. Somewhere though, I got us off track. With no topo, GPS or other device to lead the way I relied on instinct and my general knowledge of the area. Luckily everyone was having a good time in the snow even though we had to do a bit of bush-whacking and hike-a-biking. We eventually popped out in a familiar area a bit north of the original plan and got back on track to the bar where hot food and cold beer awaited.

After several pitchers and a belly full of food we've dried out just enough to be cold and damp as we suit back up for the return trip. After a couple of miles we are warmed back up and re-enter trail. No other tracks but a fox who must have been sniffing out some food. He sticks to the trail for the most part, occasionally making detours as he probably searches for food and then resumes on the trail. We follow his tracks for about a mile. Pretty cool. Cross the swinging bridge and continue on the flat stuff, 2 separate spills (not me luckily) make for good fun as sprints take place and we make our way back to the finish. A+ ride rating on this one.

- riderx

One More Time  //   Tuesday - January 18, 2005

Sunday was another good ride, back to back days of dirt was oh so nice after being off the trail for so long. Not nearly as good as Saturday. Debated whether to go back up to Gambrill, so much fun up there and the conditions are so good. But, it's an hour each way; burnin' time and burnin' fuel. Felt the need to give the home field some love too. Early morning once again as the thermometer was supposed to peak a bit above freezing around midday. It's below freezing when we start and we had over 12 solid hours of freezing temps Sat. night, figured the trail should be stiff. It was in most spots, but others had mud holes and slop. Stuck to stuff we knew would be dry or solid but still came across some sore areas that left me feeling a twinge of guilt. Perhaps my trail radar is a bit off from my recent lack of time in the woods.

Feeling like a little kid on x-mas eve tonight, we've had below freezing weather for days now, I know the trail is solid and there's a bit of snow in tomorrow's forecast. Not a lot, but if all goes right it should be the first night snow ride of the year. Can't wait.

- riderx

I'm riding, I'm shining up my saddle  //   Monday - January 17, 2005

Things were looking a bit desperate, dangerous for my sanity. Between Thursday night and Friday morning this area got dumped on to the tune of 4-5" of rain. An hour west, in the rocky and mountainous terrain of the Frederick area, you can generally ride in almost any condition, it is rare that rain can effect the trails to the point where riding would do any damage. After all, it is primarily rock, with a little soil in between. But when you have this much rain less than 24 hours prior to the ride and a lot more rain that's fallen in the recent past, it is possible that even these trails should be left alone.

I'm getting mixed data on how much rain has fallen up there and what conditions to expect. With a cold front blowing in and freezing temps forecast for the night, Jay and I make plans for an early morning ride to catch the temperatures before they creep past freezing and hopefully get frozen trails.

We decide on the trails at Gambrill State park instead of our usual routes just north in the Frederick Watershed and park at the lower lot. A few other trail users are in the lot on this cold, crisp morning. Another pair of riders pulls up shortly, one sporting a Spicer Ti single speed with EBB. I don't scope it in too much detail, but it looks good for the price and I've never heard anything but good things about Spicer.

We roll out of the lot taking the south piece of the blue trail, something I haven't ridden in years and don't really remember what it is like. The trail is both dry and frozen and Jay lets out a shout of excitement - you'd think it was him who had been off the dirt for 2.5 months. This section winds up being the steepest, gnarliest downhill part of our ride. But I feel good, it's like I never was off the bike. I dive right into the rocks, fast and confident, it's been a long time since I've been on the Kelly, and since it was newly built, I haven't had many rides on it total, but it feels like second nature. Like I rode it just yesterday. The air is cold and icy, the eyes blur with tears from the slightest wind, making the vision cloudy, but I'm not slowing for anything. By the bottom of the hill, I'm feeling it in my thumb and hand. I make a quick adjustment of the brake lever bringing it closer to the bar and that winds up curing most of that problem.

Some hike-a-bike throughout the next section, steep steep, rocky, rooty stuff. I'm feeling good overall, but notice my climbing has suffered a little, there's just no substitute for grinding one gear off road. No matter how much fixed gear road riding I do, it's a different kind of work out in the woods. No matter, I don't feel like I've lost much and I should be able to gain it back in short order. After some nice steady climbing we reach an intersection and meet up with the two riders from the parking lot. They latch on and now we've got a group of four.

More climbing, rocky stuff, working our way to the highest point of the loop, grinding up and over technical challenges, using body english, finesse and sheer will power. I dab a few times, knowing a few months ago I could have cleaned this but the legs are not quite as strong today. At the top we regroup, find out the two anonymous riders are both named Chris, shoot the shit a bit, then take off whipping through a twisty, rock strewn section of singletrack that lets me turn up the speed. Big fat smiles as we all find our own groove and rail the frozen tundra. Road crossing, we regroup once more and then that's the last we see of our new friends on the trail. The blood is flowing through the muscles, my body feels good, my mind even better and I hammer through the rocks on an endorphin high, stringing out several miles of fast, technical rock riding in one long series of pedal cranks, not worried if anyone is behind me, not stopping for anything, just enjoying the rush.

As we near the end of the trail I stop at an intersection and wait for Jay. We grab a quick extra loop on a side trail, unsure which direction we should take it in, but Jay makes the call and it winds up being the right one, fun technical downhill, long stretched out climb. Then we are back at the car, heading back to town shortly for food and beer. It was a fine day to be back in the saddle again.

- riderx


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