First things first. Today I got out of the house around 7:45am, and took Montgomery Rd. west to Bonnie Branch Rd. I did the same thing Monday, except I left 10 minutes later, at 7:55. That 10 minutes makes a big difference. At 7:55, there are tons of school buses on Montgomery Rd, leaving the middle school after drop-off. I had at least 10 of them pass me on Monday. It doesn’t make for a very pleasant ride, especially given how narrow Montgomery Rd. is between US 1 and Marshallee Dr. Today was much nicer – just 1 bus. Montgomery is never going to be my first choice of routes on school days, but I still like to take it once or twice a week to mix things up, and all the better to have it relatively free of school buses.
Today was the sloppiest day for riding that I’ve had in the 3 years I’ve been bike commuting year round. I’ve ridden in some messy conditions before, but today took the cake. Extra runoff from last night’s rain, combined with already muddy conditions in the park, combined with extremely warm and muggy weather, all added up to a sort of perfect storm of slop. There was a little bit of everything: wet, dirty leaves; damp, oil-slicked roads; mud puddles; wet mud; dry, gritty patches of dirt; you name it. In the park, I made the mistake of riding through the runoff water in the roadway in the Glen Artney area (near Lost Lake), thinking it would help clean off the bike. Instead, it ended up splattering mud on my shoes, socks, and bike. I spent an hour last weekend cleaning the bike off, and looks like I’ll be doing it again this weekend. Yeah, I’ll be happy when this September is over. Bring on some nice, cool, crisp Fall weather.
Wow, my hay fever is really kicking in. My allergies used to be worst during the first half of June. That seems to have changed over the past few years. They’re now OK in June and bad in September. I guess I’m getting less sensitive to grass and more sensitive to ragweed.
Today I rode into Patapsco State Park again, and checked out the section of the Grist Mill Trail between Ilchester Rd. and the Orange Grove Swinging Bridge. This section was open again after being closed last week due to mudslide danger. There were a couple of spots where previous mudslides hadn’t been cleared yet. A mountain bike would have no problem getting through. I elected to walk my road bike, and had no problem. Past the bridge, there was a crew working with a backhoe to clear another mudslide. Hopefully over the next day or so, they’ll work on getting the rest of the trail fully cleared. The entrance road was a bit less muddy than Friday. The river was a bit tamer than Friday, but still higher than usual. I think I’ll be switching to my mountain bike for my next few rides through the park, until all of the washout has been cleared off the trail. But in any case, at least it’s passable now.
I’ll say one thing about the weather this year: There’s never been a dull day. An earthquake, followed by a hurricane, followed by what was likely a hundred-year storm this past Wednesday, courtesy of another tropical system. Massive flooding kept me off my bike Wednesday and Thursday (yesterday). The flooding didn’t start until around noon on Wednesday, and there’s a good chance I might have biked in on Wednesday morning, but we had a contractor at the house in the morning, and I took the car to avoid getting to the office too late. I got to UMBC around 9:45, and I forgot how bad parking has gotten on campus since last year. I drove around for 20 minutes, and ended up parking around a mile from my office. The whole time, I was thinking that I might as well have biked, because I would have gotten to the office just as fast. But the decision to drive turned out to be fortuitous. If I had biked, I would have been stuck. By afternoon, every bikeable route home was flooded out. Route 1 was closed at the Howard County line, and Ellicott City’s Main St. was a raging torrent. I got home via I-95, which has a very high crossing over the Patapsco River.
Conditions had improved significantly by this morning, so I hopped on the bike and rode down into Patapsco State Park. Now, I ride through the park year-round in all sorts of conditions, and I’ve seen it pretty washed out before. But nothing compared to today. River Rd. was bikeable out to the swinging bridge, albeit a bit muddy and debris-strewn in spots. The upper Grist Mill Trail (between the bridge and Ilchester Rd.) was closed off with a sign warning of “landslide danger.” I started down the lower Grist Mill, but I soon came to a spot blocked by a fallen tree and a massive landslide. The debris was around a foot thick. With hiking boots, I could have slogged through it, but road bike shoes and cleats weren’t going to cut it. I turned around and doubled back on River Rd. to the Avalon day use area. The river itself was impressively swollen, raging, and muddy, and while the water level was as high as I’ve ever seen it, it was no longer overflowing its banks. The entrance road was muddy and had standing water in a few spots, but was otherwise OK. The slippery mud was the biggest hazard in the park. I had meant to bring my camera to take a few pictures, but I forgot it, and I doubt it would have done justice to the mess anyhow.
Wow. Will we ever have normal weather again?
So, in the past week, central Maryland has weathered an earthquake and a hurricane. Now we get to weather the first week of fall classes at UMBC, which is always exciting, and almost never in a good way. We’ll see what this year has in store for us.
Took my first post-Irene bike ride to work today. The goal was to scout out Patapsco State Park, to see if there were any downed trees or debris to block my passage. Today I rode into the park on the Howard County side via River Rd., past the Avalon day use area, out to the swinging bridge, and back via the Grist Mill Trail. Figuring there’d be lots of debris to negotiate, I took my mountain bike. This part of the park turned out to be in great shape. There was definitely evidence of recent trail maintenance, which must have taken place yesterday or Sunday. There were no fallen trees blocking the road or trail, and no more debris than you’d expect after any average summer storm. Tomorrow, I’ll ride the upper section of the Grist Mill Trail out to Ilchester Rd., and check out how River Rd. fared in the storm.
Howard County schools are back in session starting today (one day late, again thanks to Irene) which means that for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to avoid riding on Montgomery Rd. in the mornings. I’ll start my rides by going down Lawyers Hill Rd., and then vary the routes from there. If I’m feeling adventurous, maybe I’ll even attempt a few climbs up the notorious Ilchester Rd.
It seems like the biggest fallout from Hurricane Irene has been the power outages. Apparently it’s going to take until the weekend to get power restored to everybody. Irene’s track was very similar to Hurricane Floyd back in 1999, and I remember Floyd causing a lot of power outages. It seems worse this time around. It might just be because the area has gotten so much denser and built out in the 12 years since Floyd. The more electrical infrastructure you build, the more you have to support, and the more vulnerable it is to storms like Floyd and Irene.
School has started, both at UMBC and in the surrounding counties. That means more traffic to deal with, particularly during my morning rides. The first week is always the worst, after which things start to improve as people fall into a routine. I’m not crazy about this time of year, but it does have one thing going for it — weather conditions are slowly starting to get better for riding. It’s still hot, but it’s a dry, more tolerable heat. The biking nirvana of early Fall is right around the corner.
Today marked my 20th and final ride of August, making it my most prolific bike-commuting month to date. That record may stand for awhile, as holidays, vacation and random days off tend to keep my ride totals under 20 most months.
New route today. I wanted an option for a longer ride, without dealing with traffic on Montgomery and/or Frederick Rds. I went down Lawyers Hill, through the park on the Grist Mill Trail, left on Ilchester, right on Beechwood, and right on Bonnie Branch. This took me right back to the park entrance, where I doubled back through the park and rode to UMBC through Relay/Halethorpe. This was my first time ever doing the notorious climb up Ilchester Rd., and it was humbling. My bike dumped its chain when I dropped into the granny gear, and I almost fell over. I then had to ride a quick loop to get the bike moving again up the steep grade. But after that it wasn’t too bad, and it kept me out of traffic. I’ll probably ride this more often, as it’s good hill training. Won’t be doing it with fixed gear any time soon, though.
I came into UMBC via Poplar Ave. Traffic on that side of campus was not bad when I arrived, around 8:45am. I’ll probably avoid coming in via Wilkens/Hilltop for at least a week, when things have settled down and I have a better sense for what time classes start.
So we’ve hit one of the two times of year (the other being the dead of winter) where you really have to be hard-core to be out on the bike. This afternoon I should easily break my record for hottest ride home. It was already close to 90 when I rode in this morning, and the predicted high is 102, though with some luck we’ll be a bit off the high by 5:00pm. We’ll see I guess. I will say this: I see more cyclists out in the extreme heat than I do when it’s extremely cold. Personally, given the choice, I’ll take cold, but that’s just me.
This has been an extreme summer for construction. On a typical ride through Patapsco, Relay and Halethorpe, I go through no fewer than 5 construction zones. Of particular note, the lower Grist Mill Trail is currently closed down for repairs. According to the DNR web site, they’re repaving it and fixing drainage issues. It’s supposed to take 4 weeks. That part of the trail definitely needed some work; there were 1 or 2 very rough patches, and I’ve experienced first-hand how badly it has flooded out on occasion. Should be nice when it’s finished. There’s also some kind of work going on along the entrance road, not far from the viaduct. I haven’t seen anyone there for a week or so, but there are two rough patches where it appears that they dug a trench across the road to lay some sort of pipe. Probably more drainage-related stuff, though there’s nothing about this on DNR’s page.
We’ve got ourselves some good old-fashioned Mid-Atlantic summer weather this week. My morning ride was a nice, sweaty, humid 81°. High of 89 later today, with (you guessed it) thunderstorms predicted for late afternoon and evening. I tend to take shorter rides in this kind of weather, and today was no exception.
Yesterday afternoon I flipped the odometer on my road bike over to 6000 miles. I was at the corner of Poplar Ave and Shelbourne Rd, just leaving the UMBC campus. I also remember 5000, which I hit on September 29, 2009, on the Grist Mill Trail in Patapsco State Park. 4000 was on June 2, 2009. Now that I have 2 commuter bikes, I’m spreading the mileage out between them a bit more.
It’s been a good week for wildlife sightings. Tuesday I saw a bird on the river that looked like a heron or egret. It’s kind of rare to see these types of sea birds in our area. Wednesday I surprised a fox on South St in Relay, just after exiting the park. Today I rescued a box turtle from the park access road. And of course, there’s also been the usual bevy of unfriendly Canada geese.
Today marked my last ride of May. Total tally: 18 commutes by bike, 0 by car. My kind of month!