Rite of Passage

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.

Final Summer Fling

It’s the last week of summer vacation for Howard and Baltimore counties, with students returning to school on Monday 8/30.  That means this is the last week I get to enjoy relatively light traffic on my morning rides, before the roads get clogged with buses and other school traffic.  This week I’m enjoying a few last rides on roads that I tend to avoid during the school year.  One example is Ilchester Rd. between Montgomery and Landing.  I’ll occasionally ride eastbound on this road during school, but westbound (approaching the light at Montgomery) I avoid like the plague.  Today I took the fixie down Landing Rd – first time I’ve ever ridden Landing on this bike.  Then I turned left on Ilchester, rode all the way out to Montgomery, turned right and headed down Bonnie Branch Rd into the park.  The weather looks nice for biking through the end of the week.  I’ll likely switch to the road bike for Thursday and Friday’s rides.  One of those days I want to ride out to New Cut Rd. and then through Oella and Catonsville, and the other I was thinking about taking College Ave. out to Ellicott City and then taking River Rd. and riding through the park.  Next week, the plan is to start my rides out by going down Lawyers Hill Rd, to avoid the traffic on Montgomery Rd. in Elkridge.

Classes also start at UMBC next week, which means that navigating through campus is going to become a challenge, particularly with all the construction for the PAHF building going on, combined with all the new parking regulations.  The first week of classes is going to be a traffic nightmare.  I’ve already decided that I’m going to avoid Wilkens Ave/Hilltop Rd and come onto campus via Poplar Ave., at least for the first week.  After that, I’ll try to time my arrivals so they don’t coincide with the start of morning classes, to avoid the massive gridlock coming in on Hilltop.  The PAHF construction has pushed the student parking up beyond the Hilltop Circle traffic light, which means there’s going to be a LOT more pedestrian traffic in that area.  UMBC’s new zoned parking plan seems like a good idea, and I’m sure they’ll do what they can to manage things, but the first week is still going to be rough.  Hopefully things will settle down after that.

Canceling Mortgage Escrow Account

A couple years ago, I wrote about how my mortgage company consistently mis-calculated my monthly escrow payment, arriving at figures that were either too high or too low, depending on the time of year the escrow analysis was done.   Well, this past summer, the mortgage company ran another analysis and again came up with a figure that would have had me paying too much into escrow.  When this has happened in the past, we’ve called them and had them correct it, a process which typically involves sending a fax and spending about an hour on the phone.  This year, though, we decided to ask them what it would take to waive the escrow requirement on the account.  I figured that I’m responsible enough to set aside money for insurance and taxes on my own, and I stay on top of our local property tax rates, so I can do a better job anticipating these expenses than the mortgage company can.

Canceling the escrow account was easier than I had anticipated.  There were, however, a bunch of prerequisites.  Going from memory, they were:

  • A 12-month history of no late or missed payments
  • A 75% loan-to-value ratio (in other words, you need at least 25% of the property’s appraised value in equity)
  • No escrow disbursements due in the next 60 days

When we initially called, they checked to ensure that we met these requirements, then they mailed us a waiver which we needed to sign.  This arrived after about a week.  We signed it and faxed it back to them (along with a brief cover letter).  Within 24 hours of sending the fax, they had canceled the escrow account.  After another week, we received a check for the balance of the account.  All in all, it was straightforward and painless, and now they just bill us for principal and interest each month.  For taxes and insurance, we set money aside separately each month, which we can now do accurately, setting aside only what’s needed.

We were happy that our mortgage company was willing to waive the escrow account without too much fuss.  If you’re in a similar situation, you might consider checking with yours and see if they’ll work with you.  If not, there’s always the option of refinancing into a mortgage with no escrow account.  At today’s interest rates, that may make sense for a lot of people; in our case, the interest savings would only barely outweigh the closing costs, so for now, it was easier to waive the escrow account and stick with our current mortgage.

Dog Days

Yet another morning riding in the August soup.  The beginning of the week was hot-and-sunny soup, and the past 2 days have been damp-and-cloudy soup with the requisite messy storms mixed in.  I biked to work 4 days out of 5, shrewdly taking off on Tuesday, which was the hottest day of the week.

This morning I headed out Montgomery Rd and down Bonnie Branch Rd, only to find it blocked by a downed tree not far from the intersection with College Ave.  I would have tried to squeeze around it, if not for the truck on the other side of it, presumably there to attempt to remove it.  So I doubled back and took Ilchester Rd instead, cutting back to Bonnie Branch via Beechwood Rd.  I’d say it added around 3 miles to my ride.

I remember around this time in February, I was pining for summer and wondering if I’d ever get to shed all the winter gear and clothes.  Now I’m missing winter again.  I’m all for the changing seasons, and I’d probably get bored living in a temperate climate, but part of me wishes that summer and winter wouldn’t outstay their welcomes the way they seem to do so often around here.  🙂

July finally over

Well..  a truly miserable July, the hottest in recent memory, is finally over.  Let’s see what August has in store.  I finished July up with roughly 15 rides.  I say “roughly” because I’ve gotten kinda lazy with keeping ride stats lately, and sort of forgot to record any of my rides after July 14.  So I went from memory and couldn’t remember how many days I rode the rest of that week.  It could be argued that that is a good thing, as it indicates that my riding has become more of a routine, and less of a “novelty” where I feel like I need to record stats.

Despite the heat, I conveniently managed to avoid riding on some of the hottest days of the month, particularly last week, where I vacationed in the somewhat-cooler midwest, while temperatures here were in the triple digits.  I did have to ride home once when it was 100 degrees, but it was a dry heat, and in spite of the “blast furnace” nature of it (at 100 degrees, it no longer feels cool riding downhill, in spite of the air movement), it was actually more comfortable than riding at 90 degrees with high humidity.

Been doing most of my riding on the fixed-gear bike the past few weeks, which is atypical for the season.  It’s been mainly out of convenience..  I’ve needed the fenders for a few rides, and haven’t wanted to deal with switching bikes on the other days.  I really think I’m going to need a third bike for the colder months, preferably one that can ride off-road and in snow.  Not sure if it’s going to happen for this winter, but I’d definitely like to have one for 2011-2012.