Farewell 2011 Pool Season

The weather is finally starting to turn fall-like.  Yesterday evening, under the lights, Andrew and I took the ceremonial final swim of the 2011 season.  We beat last year’s date, September 26, by 3 days.  The kids’ first swim was on May 22, the same day we uncovered the pool.  That made for a swim season of just over 4 months.  We’ll put the winter cover on this weekend.  Looks like our now 4-year-old record late swim date, October 9, is going to stand for another year.  It’s anybody’s guess when it’ll be broken.

September wasn’t a good swimming month.  The persistent damp, dreary weather kept the water temperature under 80° for most of the month.  The pool was only used twice after Labor Day, last night and Monday 9/12.  The water temperature last night was around 78°, which as I’m fond of saying, is great for swimming laps, but a little cold for anything else.  Andrew, our 5 year old fish, was game to get in, but it was too cold for Michael and Mom.  We stayed in for around ½ hour.

Next Spring, we are looking at getting the pool remodeled.  New waterline tile, new coping, new plaster, new skimmers, some structural work, and other minor repairs.  The pool will need to be drained and sandblasted.  It won’t be cheap, but the end result should be very nice, and it’s certainly overdue for it.

Montgomery Road Jukeage

When I originally started bike commuting, I’m glad the weather was better than it has been for the past couple of weeks.  I might not have kept riding.  Not only has the weather been bad, but traffic also seems to be on the uptick on some of the back roads in Howard.  I’m hoping it’s just a statistical aberration.  I will say that things seemed a little better today than on Monday or Tuesday.  But suffice it to say that it’s been hard to stay motivated to ride recently.  The weather is finally supposed to improve by Friday, so I hope to get one nice-weather ride in before I leave on a 4-day business trip Monday.  Maybe when I get back, it’ll finally be Fall.

One great development has come out of my riding this week.  I found a way to avoid my least favorite part of my afternoon ride home, namely, the very end, where I have to cross Montgomery Rd. twice.  Normally, I come up Lawyers Hill Rd., make a left onto Montgomery at the light, and then another left into my driveway.  On most roads, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but Montgomery at rush hour is just a clusterf***, and it seems to be getting worse over time.  There’s also a bend just past where I need to turn into my driveway, leaving me with a short sight distance.  Put all that together, and you can see why I dread the last little bit of my ride home.  Some days it’s not bad, but on others I feel like I’m playing a real-life game of Frogger.

Anyhow, yesterday I found an alternate route.  I’ll prefix this by saying that this route is not going to be useful for 99% of riders.  Most people are going to want to take Lawyers Hill to Montgomery and then turn left or right at the light.  It’s not too bad making a left here.  My alternate is really only useful if you need to make another left off Montgomery (across traffic) before you get to the Elementary School.  That’s what I do every day, and that’s the part that sucks.  The route also requires you to cut through school property, which may be frowned upon in certain circles.  All that being said, here’s the route:

Coming up Lawyers Hill Rd., make a left onto Summer Home Terrace.  Ride up the hill and take the second right onto Latchlift Ct.  Follow this for a couple hundred feet, and look for a narrow paved trail on the right heading into the woods.  Turn right onto this trail.  Follow the trail through the woods and onto school property.  Proceed straight on the trail up a short, steep hill, towards the playground equipment.  Ride past the playground and bear left onto the access road behind the elementary school building.  Follow the access road around the building, and exit onto the parking lot.  Ride through the lot and out the school entrance road (Timberlee Rd.) to Montgomery Rd.  Turn right onto Montgomery.

This is an extremely nice shortcut for me, because it turns my two left turns on Montgomery into right turns.  I no longer have to cross traffic, and I have a better view of oncoming traffic while turning onto Montgomery.  I’m sure I’ll be coming this way whenever possible.

Grout Removal Finally Finished

So yesterday, about a year after starting, I finally finished grinding the grout out around the master bathroom tub.  This is not a job I’d recommend doing with older tile, unless it is really valuable and/or has historical significance.  It’s boring, dusty, tedious, and time consuming.  Did I mention that it’s dusty?  That cannot be understated.  Our tile is very close together, with very narrow grout joints.  They’re too narrow for a 1/16″ Dremel grout bit.  I removed our grout with a Dremel diamond wheel, coupled to a right angle driver attachment.  It worked, but it kicked up a LOT of dust.  We have a layer of fine grout dust covering everything in the bathroom.  It can also be fatiguing, particularly on overhead sections.  When your arms get tired, it’s easy to slip and scratch the tile glazing with the tool.  I burned through 2 diamond wheels on this job.  You can tell that a wheel is shot when it’s lost around 1/8″ of its diameter, and it starts kicking up a lot of sparks and not cutting as well.

Now that the tub is finally grout-free, the next steps are to

  • Clean up.  Wipe everything down with a wet rag, top to bottom.  Sweep up piles of loose grout dust with a dust pan.  Let surfaces dry, then vacuum up remaining dust with shop vac.  Then wipe with wet rag again.
  • Clean tiles thoroughly and prep for new grout.  Knock out and clean up any grout I couldn’t get to with the Dremel.  Remove old caulk in a couple of spots.
  • Regrout the tile.
  • Misc improvements (new in-shower light fixture, faucet handles, shower head, exhaust fan, etc.)
  • Put in new shower door.

I won’t be doing this again in this house.  Our tile is not nice or historic enough to be worth the effort.  It’s easier to rip everything out and start with new wall board and new tile.  That’s what we’ll be doing when we get around to remodeling our other bathroom(s).

Sloppiest ride ever.

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.

This and that

A bunch of random bike-related stuff today.

I rode through Catonsville again this morning, and tried out one of my route modifications I mentioned in my previous post, for avoiding the Mellor Ave. / Bloomsbury Ave. intersection.  Coming down Mellor, I detoured right onto Montemar Ave., and followed that around to Bloomsbury.  I then turned left onto Bloomsbury and rode out to Asylum La. to cut through Spring Grove.  Montemar is an infinitely better spot to make a left onto Bloomsbury.  I was able to see adequately in both directions, and make my turn without worrying about getting creamed by some unseen, speeding car.  Coincidentally, there was some kind of road work going on at the Mellor and Bloomsbury intersection.  Not sure what they’re doing or how long it’s going to take.  We’ll see.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a couple of Planet Bike “Blaze” headlights, a 1-watt and a 2-watt.  I was looking for a replacement for my old NiteRider Sol, which has a cord that’s going bad.  From a convenience standpoint, the Blaze is fantastic.  I put mounting brackets on all 3 of my bikes, and moving the lights from bike to bike is a snap.  Both lights use the same bracket.  I’m going to look into getting a helmet mount, so I can ride with one light on the bars and another on my helmet.  I’ve used the flash mode on both lights several times on overcast days.  The true test for the lights will come in November, when I ride home in the dark.  Both lights put out a similar amount of light, and ironically, the beam on the 1-watt seems a little brighter than the 2-watt.  I compared them in a darkened room, and I may need to actually ride with them at night to see the true difference between the two.  We’ll see come November.  Compared to the NiteRider Sol, the Blaze is roughly the same brightness, but the beam is slightly narrower and more focused.  The big win: the Blaze takes two AA batteries, and is self contained, unlike the Sol, which uses a proprietary battery pack that attaches to a cord (and the cord seems to be a weak link).

The chain on my fixed-gear bike is already getting close to needing replacement.  It’s a SRAM PC-1, and it has probably 750 miles on it.  I’m hoping to get 1000 out of it.  I somewhat expected shorter chain life with fixed gear, as the chain takes much more abuse than it would on a bike with a freewheel.  I guess I should plan on replacing the chain every year or so.  Fortunately, the PC-1 is pretty cheap.  It’s certainly a lot cheaper than replacing tires.

Catonsville Route Tweak, Revisited

Unexpectedly summer-like weather for the ride in this morning.  It wasn’t hot, but the humidity was out in full force, and I worked up a good sweat.  A front is supposed to sweep through today and drop the temperatures.  I brought a rain jacket because there’s a 50% chance of showers later, but now I’m wondering if I’ll need it more to keep warm than to keep dry.

For the past several months, Bloomsbury Ave. in Catonsville has been closed off between Frederick Rd. and Mellor Ave., open to local traffic only.  This has been great for me, because I could ride past the barrier and get from Mellor Ave. to Asylum La. pretty easily.  Bloomsbury Ave. is normally wall-to-wall cars in the morning, and the closure has cut down on 99% of the car traffic.  Well, it seems that the inevitable has happened, and the road is now open again, meaning, I once again feel like I’m risking my life making a left onto Bloomsbury from Mellor, due to the limited sight distances in both directions.  So, the next couple times I come through here, I’m going to evaluate a couple of alternate routes that avoid this intersection:

Alternative 1.  From Mellor, make a right onto Montemar Ave.  Follow Montemar to Bloomsbury, and turn left.  Hopefully this intersection will have better visibility, allowing for a safer left turn.  I’ll then have to proceed straight through the Mellor/Bloomsbury intersection, but I’ll have the right-of-way.

Alternative 2.  Avoid Mellor Ave. altogether.  Take Magruder Ave. all the way through to Bloomsbury, turn right, and then make a left onto Asylum.  I’ll have to ride in traffic for a bit on Bloomsbury, but I think that’s preferable to crossing against the same traffic with an inadequate line of sight.

I’m hoping that one of these two alternatives will work out, particularly on school days, when traffic on Bloomsbury is heaviest.  The real solution to the problem is to redo the Mellor/Bloomsbury/Hilltop Rd. intersection, with either a traffic circle, stop light or 4-way stop.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Improving Conditions

Conditions in Patapsco State Park continue to improve after last week’s monsoon.  All of the mudslides have been cleared off the Grist Mill Trail, so I can now get through on my road bike without having to stop and walk through any mud.  It’s still quite muddy, particularly on the River Rd. entrance on the Howard County side, but it’s getting better.  Unless your bike has fenders, you’ll still get dirty.  My single speed bike has the dubious distinction of being my “mud bike” this month.  It’s getting quite dirty, but there’s not much point in cleaning it off, because it’ll just get dirty again on the next ride.  I’m happy they cleared the trail, because if they hadn’t, I probably would have switched to my mountain bike for the rest of the week.  That would have left me with two dirty bikes instead of one, and the mountain bike will have plenty of opportunities to get dirty this winter (road salt — uggh).

This time last week, we were just starting to see effects from Tropical Storm Lee.  Things have quieted down quite a bit since then.  We’re now finally starting to get some nice late-summer Maryland weather.  Of course, the ragweed and mosquitoes are out in force, but you gotta take the bad with the good.


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.

Muddy Adventure

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?


Once again we find ourselves in the month of September.  September is one of those months that’s neither here nor there.  It doesn’t really feel like summer any more, but it’s not autumn yet either.  It’s still humid and muggy all the time, and I work up a good sweat every time I ride my bike, but it’s too cold to use the pool most of the time.  The tropics are cranking out a new hurricane every week.  I think September should be declared a separate season.  We’ll have Winter, Spring, Summer, Troptember, and Autumn.

This week, we’ve got endless rain on deck from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.  It was drizzling when I rode to work, but not enough to make me want to wear rain gear.  I did pack it along, though, for the first time since last spring.  I suspect I’ll need the rain gear for the ride home this afternoon.

All this rain is a good thing, though, because it’s keeping a big category 3 hurricane out at sea, which otherwise might have threatened the east coast.  Yep, it’s that time of year.

Won’t be long ’til October…