Riding in 2013 – Another warm winter so far

So it’s 2013, and I’m still riding.  A lot has changed with my riding routine this year.  For starters, I’m no longer recording ride stats in a spreadsheet.  I am using RunKeeper instead, and it’s been a great time saver.  I still plan to keep track of mileage for each of my bikes separately, though, so I’ll know when to replace tires, chains, etc.

I am also commuting to a new office, on the 6th floor of the Administration building at UMBC.  This requires me to ride the elevator to get in and out of the building, a prospect I was initially dreading.  However, so far it hasn’t been too bad.  The wait for the elevator isn’t bad, because it tends to be going the same direction I’m going, that is, up in the mornings and down in the evenings.  Although the elevators are sometimes crowded, I can wait for the next one and it’ll usually be empty.  The elevators aren’t huge, but the bike fits inside just fine.  Granted, it’s winter session and the campus isn’t crowded to begin with.  My tune may change in a couple of weeks when the spring semester starts.  We’ll see.

And finally, I’m trying out an Osprey Momentum 34 backpack, in lieu of panniers.  I really like the pack so far, and will write more on it after I’ve been using it for a month or so.

This winter has started off warm, similar to last winter.  I’ve been riding my road bike almost exclusively.  The past few days have been wet and drizzly.  A couple days ago, my rear fender started making this insidious rubbing noise.  It sounded like a leaf was caught between the fender and the tire, but I couldn’t find one.  It kept getting worse and worse, until finally I took the wheel off to get to the bottom of it.  It turns out that the silver mylar lining on the inside of the fender (Planet Bike Cascadia) was starting to peel away from the fender, and the loose end was rubbing against the tire.  I pulled on it, and about half of it peeled off the fender.  Now I have a fender that’s half silver and half clear, but no more rubbing noise.  I wonder how long before the remaining mylar starts to peel away.  The mylar seems to be totally cosmetic, and the fender is 5 years old and still fully functional, so no complaints.

Rain and Routes

Today was another one of those mornings where the weather radar failed me.  Usually, weather radar is a valuable ride-planning tool.  Today, although rain was predicted for most of the day, things looked fairly dry for my morning ride.  As soon as I got on the road, though, the rain picked up, and it rained pretty hard for the entire ride.  It tapered off as soon as I got to work (isn’t that how it always works?).  I didn’t pack any rain gear except a rain jacket.  I stopped about ½ way into the ride and put the jacket on, but by that time, it was too late.  I arrived at work completely drenched.  It seems like I have a ride or two like this every year, although they mostly happen in early Spring or in October or November.  It’s somewhat unusual to have a grey, drizzly day in mid June.

Anyhow, as I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying out some new routes to get from UMBC to my home in Elkridge.  Here’s a route I tried a few times last week.  This route avoids the Shelbourne Rd./Sulphur Spring Rd. intersection by cutting through Arbutus Middle School.

  • Exit UMBC via Poplar Ave. turn right onto Shelbourne Rd.
  • Just before you pass Arbutus Middle School, there’s a walkway that leads around the side of the building to the parking lot in the rear.  It’s just beyond the tennis courts.  Turn left onto this walkway and follow it to the parking lot.  You will need to turn a little early and ride a short distance on the sidewalk to reach the walkway.
  • At the lot entrance, turn left onto Sulphur Spring Rd.
  • Turn right onto Dolores Ave.
  • Turn left onto June Rd.
  • Turn right onto Oakland Rd.  Follow Oakland to the intersection with Selford Rd.
  • Proceed straight at the intersection.  Oakland Rd. turns into Cedar Ave.
  • Follow Cedar Ave. until it ends at S. Rolling Rd.  Turn left.
  • Follow S. Rolling awhile.  It will turn into South St.
  • Turn right at the entrance to Patapsco State Park.
  • Ride into the park and turn left on Glen Artney Rd.
  • Turn left onto River Rd. and exit the park.
  • Turn right onto Lawyers Hill Rd.

One of my objectives with this route was to avoid traffic on Shelbourne and Sulphur Spring Rd., and it does do that.  This route is OK, and I’ll probably ride it every now and then, but it’s not going to become my everyday ride home.  It has a number of disadvantages:

  • Cutting through the school property is not ideal.  The sidewalk doesn’t have ramps in convenient spots, so you have to either hop curbs, or follow the sidewalk all the way to the parking lot exit where there is a ramp.  The alternatives to cutting through the school are (1) following Shelbourne all the way to Sulphur Spring and turning left, which is a blind turn in traffic; or (2) continuing straight on Poplar out of UMBC and riding through the neighborhood there, which lets you out near downtown Arbutus, where there is a lot of traffic.
  • The route crosses Sulphur Spring Rd., Elm Rd., and Francis Ave., all of which are busy during rush hour, which means a lot of stop-and-go.  Granted, given the choice, I’d rather cross busy roads than ride on them.
  • The route is much hillier than my usual route home.  It runs through a lot of established neighborhoods, so there are a lot of opportunities to vary the route by riding on different side streets, but they all involve a lot of up-and-downhill riding, and some of the hills are pretty steep.  This is not really a disadvantage, but as I have to go up Lawyers Hill at the end of the ride, I prefer the rest of it to be a bit flatter.

I can envision taking this route once every week or two.  If nothing else, it’s a change of scenery, and it’s given me a new appreciation for my everyday route, which follows Sulphur Spring and Selford Rd.  Selford is flatter, and bypasses both Elm Rd. as well as the busier (and hillier) part of Francis Ave.

New Month, New Routes

I rode 16 times in May 2012.  We’re now into June.  After an exceptionally warm winter and early spring, June has started off with a spell of cool weather.  I’ve actually ridden with long sleeves on two mornings this week, which is almost unheard of in June.  It’s not ideal weather for enjoying our newly-replastered swimming pool, but it’s been great (albeit a bit wet) weather for biking.  And given how rare it is to get cool weather this time of year, you’re not going to hear me complaining.

After 4-odd years of riding essentially the same route home every day (from UMBC to Elkridge), I’m starting to look for some alternative ways to get home.  My primary motivation is to find routes with less traffic, but there’s also a desire to shake things up a bit.  My one requirement for a ride home is that it not take me more than 45 minutes.  I’m not interested in taking long rides home in the afternoon — I just want to get home, eat dinner, and enjoy the evening.  I also strongly prefer routes that don’t require me to get off the bike.  If the route is 100% roads, this is not usually an issue.  But to avoid traffic, sometimes I’ll consider cutting through an area that doesn’t carry vehicles.  That might mean brief detours onto sidewalks, curbs, fire roads, etc.  If I have to hop a couple of curbs, it’s not going to be a show stopper, but it won’t work if I have to walk the bike a significant distance.

My “usual” daily ride home takes me through Arbutus via Shelbourne Rd. and Poplar Ave., right on Sulphur Spring Rd., left on Selford Rd., right on Francis Ave., Left on S Rolling Rd., into Patapsco State Park via South St., out of the park via River Rd., and up Lawyers Hill Rd.  Total distance is roughly 8 miles.  There’s a reason I’ve stuck with this route for so long:   it works.  It’s quick, not too hilly, and the traffic is not too bad.  If I could skip one section, it’d be Sulphur Spring Road, because it’s very narrow and traffic can get heavy there.

I’m working on refining two alternate routes from UMBC to Elkridge.  One takes a different route through Arbutus, which skips out on a lot of traffic at the expense of a few more hills; the other bypasses Arbutus, Halethorpe and Relay entirely, by going into Patapsco State Park via Foxhall Farm Rd. in Catonsville.  This route requires riding a short distance on an unpaved fire road, and the beginning of the ride leaves a bit to be desired, traffic-wise.  Over the next few days, I’ll post in greater detail about both routes.

Bike Commuting from UMBC to West Catonsville

Once every year or so, I have occasion to bike commute from UMBC to the western part of Catonsville, MD, during afternoon rush hour.  I’m still trying to find a route I like, that doesn’t require dealing with really heavy traffic.

The first time I did this, I took this route:

  • Exit UMBC via Hilltop Rd to traffic circle
  • Proceed through circle and follow Hilltop straight through to Bloomsbury Ave intersection
  • Proceed through Bloomsbury intersection onto Mellor Ave.
  • Follow Mellor to Frederick Rd. light and turn left
  • Turn right onto Winters La. and follow to Edmondson Ave. light.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.
  • Follow Edmondson to end.

This was OK, but there’s a lot of hill climbing at the beginning of the ride.  Traffic is really bad at the Hilltop Rd./Wilkens Ave. traffic circle leaving UMBC, and at the intersection of Edmondson Ave. and Rolling Rd.  Traffic backs way up at the light, and due to the lane configuration, there’s no way to “filter” past it.  You just have to sit in it, and it’s an uphill grade to boot.

This year I tried the following alternate:

  • Exit UMBC via Walker Ave. and turn left onto Wilkens Ave.
  • Turn right onto Rolling Rd., then make an immediate left onto Collegiate Dr.
  • Go about ½ mile and turn right onto Campus Dr.  then make another left to stay on Campus Dr.
  • Turn right towards McCurley Ave.  There’s a paved path here that leads from the CCBC campus to the end of McCurley Ave. in Catonsville.
  • Follow McCurley to end and turn right onto Hilton Ave.
  • Ride through Oak Forest community to Montrose Ave.  Follow Montrose to Frederick Rd.
  • Cross Frederick and turn onto the No. 8 Streetcar Path.
  • Follow the trail until it ends at Dutton Ave.  Turn right onto Dutton.
  • Turn left onto Edmondson Ave.  and follow Edmondson to end.

This route seemed OK on paper, but was a net loss.  Leaving UMBC via Walker is better than taking Hilltop, because it avoids all the traffic queued up at the circle.  However, you still have to cross the circle from Wilkens, which is a pain.  A better alternative might be to turn right onto Wilkens and then left onto Valley.  Westbound traffic on Rolling Rd. is just horrible, even for the minuscule distance I’m on it.  Taking the lane here is mandatory, or you’ll be sitting forever waiting to cross.  I was hoping cutting through CCBC would avoid some of the up-and-down hills on Hilltop Rd., but Collegiate Dr. is just as hilly, if not more so.  The trail out of CCBC also has a steep grade.  The traffic at the Frederick Rd. crossing at Montrose is really bad too.  And to top it off, the route doesn’t avoid the Edmondson Ave/Rolling Rd intersection either.  The route does have a couple bright spots:  the stretch from Hilton Ave. to Montrose Ave. is a nice ride, and the Streetcar Path, though a bit bumpy, is pleasant and bucolic.  Unfortunately, these aren’t enough to overcome the negatives.

Rolling Rd. and Frederick Rd. are the two big trouble spots on both of these routes, and there’s no way to get through Catonsville without riding on them or crossing them.  Next time I do this (likely in another year) I’m going to try the long way, and ride through Patapsco State Park to Ilchester/River Rd., and then up through Oella.  This takes me 5 or 6 miles out of the way, but I think it’ll be a much better ride.

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?

First Day of Classes

So today, I rode the upper Grist Mill Trail through Patapsco State Park, took River Rd. to Ellicott City, then rode up Oella Ave. and into Catonsville via the No. 9 Trolley Trail.  No issues at all until I went to turn from Bloomsbury Ave. onto Asylum La. to cut through Spring Grove.  Asylum was blocked by a large fallen tree, and apparently they’re not in a big hurry to clear it out.  No way around it on either side, so I had to drag the bike through a bit of foliage, but it was passable.  There was a small section that looked more beaten-down than the rest, no doubt from other riders doing the same thing, so I did my part and helped tamp it down some more.

Other than the tree, there was not much to report.  There was a big fallen power line on Oella Ave. right near the Oella Mill complex.  I’m guessing some people there are still without power.  River Rd. was clear and dry, with no mud, and only one little area with a bit of runoff.  Lots of friendly riders, walkers and joggers out in the park.

Today is the first day of fall classes at UMBC.  Traditionally during this week, I’ve always come onto campus via Poplar Ave.  However, ever since they started the new zoned parking plan last year, the traffic on Hilltop Circle has increased quite a bit, particularly early in the semester.  Today I decided to try coming in via Walker Ave. instead, and it wasn’t too bad.  There was a bit more traffic on Wilkens Ave. than in the summer, but the traffic light at Wilkens and Valley Rd. does a good job of metering the traffic.  When I come in this way, I don’t have to ride on Hilltop at all.  I just cross it, then take the access road behind the library parking garage, and follow the trail over to the Engineering/Fine Arts building area.  It looks like Walker will be a viable way to come onto campus, so the only route I’ll need to avoid is Hilltop Rd., which I’ve been riding less and less anyway.

That time of year

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.

Catonsville Route Tweak

Today was my last day at the office, and my last bike commute, until November 15.  Lest I go into serious withdrawal, I’m going to try to work a couple of recreational rides in over the next couple of weeks.  Come the 15th, my afternoon rides will be in the dark again, so I’ll need to remember to load my bike up with even more flashers than it’s already sporting.

I switched back to the road bike today and rode out Landing Rd., down Beechwood and Bonnie Branch Rds. and then out to Oella Ave. via River and Frederick Rds.  I tried an alternate route to get from Catonsville to UMBC, and it looks like a winner.  In the past, starting at the intersection of Mellor Ave and Bloomsbury Ave., I would go straight onto Hilltop Rd.  Then at the Valley Rd. 4-way stop, I would either continue straight and go into UMBC via the Wilkens Ave. traffic circle, or turn left on Valley, right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  I always hated taking Hilltop because of the terrain, traffic, and nonexistent shoulder.  Last time I rode it, I noticed another biker cutting through Spring Grove, and I figured I’d give it a shot.  From Mellor, I turned left on Bloomsbury, then right on Asylum and into Spring Grove.  The roads in Spring Grove can be confusing to navigate, but I just kept bearing right and ended up coming out the entrance onto Valley Rd.  I made a left on Valley and then right on Wilkens, and left on Walker.  It was much, much, much nicer than taking Hilltop, so much so that it may inspire me to come in through Catonsville more often.  The only real downer to this route is crossing Bloomsbury at Mellor Ave., where you can’t see very far either to the left or the right.  I’ve always thought there should be a 4-way stop there.  I have a couple ideas for ways to avoid this intersection, which I’ll try out and report back on soon.

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.