Sunday, November 8, 2020

Covid Coffeeneuring

The theme of this year's coffeeneuring challenge is "one good thing." Eight months into the pandemic, it is clear that riding a bike is the one good thing that has enabled me to keep some sense of normalcy and joy. Through social isolation, canceled travel plans, and a tense, nail-biting election cycle, hopping on a bike remained a path to both mental and physical well-being.

Looking back at my blog history I see that 2020 is the 8th time I've completed the challenge - not missing a single year since I first coffeeneured in 2013. That's a record to be proud of! So here is a description of what I hope will be the only covid-plagued coffeeneuring season.

Ride #1: October 10, 2020 - 5.5 miles

Given the pandemic, I prepared my own beverage: a combination of my home-brewed kombucha and a lovely herbal tea called "tranquilitea." I rode a somewhat circuitous route to the Bon Air rose garden, where there still were plenty of beautiful blossoms.

Ride #2: October 13, 2020 - 17 miles

What better way to celebrate my 68th birthday than a 17-mile ride that included a decaf espresso and my favorite sticky bun from Best Buns. I love riding the Arlington "loop," especially when I stop 12 miles into the ride for a treat from Best Buns.

Ride #3: October 17, 2020 - 7 miles

For my weekend rides I decided to bring my own brew - avoiding coffee shops when they're likely to be more crowded. Fortunately I'm within a short ride to many lovely wooded settings and I rode to the grounds of the Long Branch Nature Center where the autumn leaves put on a nice show. In my thermos I had some of the lovely black Kenyan tea I brought back from my trip last November. It was hard to believe that a year ago I coffeeneured in Kenya. The world feels so different now.

Ride #4: October 21, 2020 - 7 miles

Being a mid-week ride I headed to the Arlington location of Northside Social, where I got an espresso and a ginger scone. When I emerged with my order - a plate in one hand and a saucer in the other - there were no free tables on the patio. As I was carefully stepping over the chain to head toward a bench, a youngish man came up and pleasantly offered me the table he was vacating. As I headed toward his table he smilingly said, "I was literally just writing about my grandma." From his demeanor he clearly didn't mean it as an insult, but - having just turned 68 - it stung a bit to think I look more like 80. But, hey, I can still get around by bike so looks aren't everything.

Ride #5: November 1, 202 - 9 miles

The morning was a bit chilly and I waited a bit too long for it to warm up some, given the strong prediction for rain. But I was itching to get out for a ride, despite knowing there was a good chance I'd get caught in the rain. I have a hilly ride I enjoy that goes past the Gulf Branch Nature Center and thought it would be nice to have both of Arlington's nature centers in my "coffeeneuring without walls" portfolio. No sooner did I get to the grounds of the nature center than the first sprinkles started. I had brewed a lovely soy chai and took a few big gulps of it before heading back toward home.

The rain came down in earnest but when you're at the farthest point from home there's nothing to do but soldier on. Fortunately I'd dressed in my Underarmour leggings and a wool sweater underneath a somewhat water-repellant jacket. Although I wouldn't have gone out if it had already been raining, getting caught in the rain really wasn't at all bad. That said, I stripped off my sodden clothes as soon as I entered home and a hot shower felt quite lovely. I also finished the nice chai, which was still warm in the thermos.

Ride #6: November 3, 2020 - 7.5 miles

This was largely an election-day jitters ride. I headed to Kung Fu Tea for a hot Thai milk tea. I sat on the bench and drank part of it and then walked around the corner to pick up a few items from Trader Joe's, where an adorable dog was waiting patiently outside for its human. I put the rest of the tea in my water bottle and headed home to anxiously await election results.

Ride #7: November 7, 2020 - 8.5 miles

With unseasonably warm November weather I headed out with a thermos of soy chai, stopping at a nice spot on the Custis Trail for some refreshment. For many months I avoided riding on the trails as they were more crowded than the streets during the early months of the pandemic. But I've started using the trails again as there appear to be fewer bikers, walkers, and runners than there were a few months ago. I stopped at Mom's Organic Market and bought some ginger tea. As I was nearing home I could hear my phone exploding with text messages. At first I wondered what was going on and then it hit me: the election must have been called. Sure enough - when I got home I pulled out the phone to see the happy news: a perfect end to a crazy coffeeneuring season.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Errandonnee 2020

When the weather is in the mid 50s to mid 60s, there are few things I’d rather be doing than riding my bike. As luck would have it, the 2020 Errandonnee challenge coincided with perfect biking weather. I raise my helmet to those who completed their rides in February, when it was still a bit cold. I rarely ride when it’s below the mid 40s, above the mid 80s, or raining. Otherwise, I pretty much live an “errandonnee lifestyle” – biking for fun and transportation. I think it’s a large part of why I still feel healthy, happy, and – yes, young – at the age of 67! So here’s an account of this year’s challenge:

Trip 1. February 27, 2020 – Personal Business – 8 miles

I started the challenge in San Francisco, at the end of a 10-day trip to CA. The SF bikeshare system is now coordinated with Lyft. Regular bikes are at docking stations and the Lyft app can  conveniently find and pay for them. Apparently it's also possible to pay with the Clipper card, which is used on BART and MUNI, but I used the Lyft app. There also are Lyft e-bikes that appear to be scattered about the city, but I didn’t figure out how to use them.

There were many different decorations on the bikes.

I picked up my bike downtown around 5th and Market after visiting a dispensary in the SOMA neighborhood. I rode up toward Duboce Park where I knew I could begin the famous SF “wiggle” – a route designed to avoid the city’s tremendous hills. It only goes for about a mile, but it’s a fun little jaunt ending up at the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. 
The Wiggle is clearly marked on the road with green bike lanes.
I docked my bike, walked around a bit, stopped for a delicious vegan burger and then visited the Haight-Ashbury Post Office to mail my earlier purchase from what seemed like a fitting location. (Read between the lines.) I then climbed up into Buena Vista Park and walked through the park, eventually finding another Lyft bike to ride back downtown. I dropped it off on the Embarcadero, after which I still had to climb many hills on foot to arrive back at my lodging on Telegraph Hill.

The burgers are made with soy and mushroom - very yummy!

Beautiful views from Buena Vista Park - appropriately named!
Trip 2. March 2, 2020 – Social – 10 miles

I biked downtown to Absolute Noodle for lunch with friends, taking a slightly different route than usual to avoid Memorial Bridge construction. Suffice it to say, H St NW is not a bike friendly street and I don’t plan to repeat that mistake. But the “drunken noodles” were delicious, as was the company.

Trip 3. March 2, 2020 – Arts & Entertainment – 2 miles

Having taken my bike home on the Metro, I rode from EFC to the Westover Library to pick up a book I had on hold. Let’s say I hope the book will be entertaining! I regret that Arlington county opted to preserve parking along that stretch of Washington Boulevard instead of adding bike lane the entire way both directions. That section of road is very trafficky with people coming off Route 66. Oh well…

Trips 4-6. March 2, 2020 – Store visits (2) and Personal Care – 5 miles total

After stopping home to let the dog out I rode to the Target in Falls Church to make a return, then to Aldi to pick up a few vegetables, as my fridge was bare after returning from CA. Then I stopped halfway home for a PT appointment – rehabbing an old shoulder injury. Each location had bike parking. Although my total miles for the day came to 17, it felt like nothing, having broken the trips up into several chunks.

Trip 7. March 3, 2020 – Social – .25 mile

This was a walking trip, accompanied by my old dog, Charlie. Although the distance was short for me, he’s nearly 18 years old and it was a long walk for him. We took in the daffodils blooming and went to deliver a thank you gift to my neighbor who took care of Charlie while I was in CA.

Trips 8-11. March 4, 2020 – Non-store, Personal Care, You Carried What?, and Wild Card – 9 miles

On my way to do a full grocery shop I stopped at the bank (that’s non-store, right?) where I waited for the bank employee to wipe down every surface on her desk in the ongoing hysteria to avoid Corona virus. Then I went upstairs to the gym where I wiped down the surfaces of the hand-cranked bike that I use to help rehab my shoulder. I’m calling that personal care. I’m finally up to level 4 on the bike and have new admiration for people who use hand-cranked bikes. I have only seen one person in the US on such a contraption, but I noticed quite a few when I visited India: used by people who couldn’t bike with their legs.

Hand-cranked bike at the gym.
Then I made my way to Trader Joe’s and am using the trip as a “you carried what” entry to illustrate just how much one can carry in a bike trailer. Sometimes you fall in love and that feeling doesn’t last. Fortunately my love affair with my Burley Travoy bike trailer has endured and I can haul groceries – even a big bag of dog food – effortlessly.

Trailer fully loaded.

Carried all this!
My last stop was to the Finder’s Keepers consignment store on Washington Boulevard, which I’m classifying as a wild card. I had taken a few items to consign and – yay – something sold so I stopped in to pick up my cash.

Trips 12-13. March 5, 2020 – Personal Business – 8 miles

It was a little chilly in the morning so I layered up to bike into DC for a doctor's appointment and to make a return to the DC library (season 8 of GoT which I finally watched the old-fashioned way on DVDs). By the time I got to the library I needed to peel off a layer. I hadn’t been to the West End library for a while, but its new bright green exterior is hard to miss. At the doctor’s office I had to follow a maze to get to the elevator as the lobby is under construction. By the time I got out the day was no longer chilly.

Bright green makes it easy to find the library.

finding the elevator was a bit more difficult.
Trip 14. March 8, 2020 – Work – 5 miles

This is a bonus ride, but I wanted to log a ride in every category this year. With the time change to daylight saving and the 36 degree temperature at 8:30 I needed this motivation to get on the bike and ride to the yoga studio. But Sundays are my only work days and I knew it would be warm by the time I finished teaching at noon. On my way there a car did a new-to-me boneheaded move. Along Lee Highway I cut through a parking lot and, as I was about to exit through a curb cut a car started driving into the parking lot through the sidewalk's curb cut. No, it didn't wait for me. In any case, as expected, the day was perfect for riding for my trip home.

So: grand total of 47 miles over 14 trips within 12 days using all 9 categories. Looking back at my blog, this appears to be my 7th Errandonnee - beginning in 2013, having missed only 2018. Many thanks to Mary G for inventing this fun activity!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Tri-City Coffeeneuring: 2019 Edition

This year’s coffeeneuring challenge came right on the heels of my break-up with caffeine. Yes, it’s sad, but I’d come to notice more and more that my nighttime sleep patterns were disrupted to the point that I had to take action. I only have coffee in the morning, I told myself (although my “one cup” of coffee probably had as much caffeine as most people have in 2-3 cups), so that couldn’t be affecting my sleep. Reluctant though I was to entertain the idea, I switched to black tea in the morning and, well, it seems to have made a tremendous difference. Yes, I know black tea also has caffeine, but not nearly as much as coffee and, besides, I knew from the past that going “cold turkey” was likely to result in massive headaches. But I wasn’t about to let a break up keep me from coffeeneuring!


Ride 1 – October 12, 2019 – Best Buns – 10 miles

It was a perfect biking day, low 60s with a bit of cloud cover and I was remembering the delicious sticky bun I’d discovered several months ago at Best Buns in Shirlington. This is my general “go-to” ride when it’s a nice day and I don’t have a particular errand to do by bike. It’s an easy 10-miles that can either be almost entirely flat or can incorporate a few hills, since the W&OD and 4-mile Run bike paths run parallel to each other nearly the whole way.

The good news: their decaf espresso was delicious! I brought the sticky bun home under the false pretense that I would keep it for Sunday breakfast. But a little voice kept whispering, it’ll be stale by morning and so much yummier when it’s fresh. No, the sticky bun didn’t last till morning and I have no regrets. It was scrumptious.

Ride 2 – October 15, 2019 – Northside Social (Arlington) – 7 miles

I try to visit only independent shops, and Northside Social is a regular coffeeneuring go-to. Although there now is a location slightly closer to my home, I wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather and ride a bit farther, stopping for a yoga class on the way home. Although the morning was brisk, I managed to overdress and was glad to ditch my outer layer upon arrival at Northside Social.

I had an outstanding decaf espresso, which came with a tiny bite of biscotti – the perfect tiny treat for the tiny coffee.


Ride 3 – October 18, 2019 – Ididos – 5 miles

I was going to drive a friend up to New Jersey in her car and return by train, so I took a bike share to her house. The ride felt rather cumbersome and slow, but I was glad to get a bit of exercise before the long drive. Since driving is not my thing, despite my break-up with caffeine, I decided rules were meant to be broken. My friend had been raving about Idido: the new coffee shop in her neighborhood, conveniently right around the corner from the docking station at Columbia Pike and Walter Reed. I got a delicious espresso that kept me alert the whole way to NJ. I couldn’t resist the multi-grain croissant, which I saved for my lunch.

Bonus Ride  – October 20, 2019 – Zabar’s – 3 miles

This was my week for using bike shares. After spending a night in NJ, I headed into the city, having managed to find a ticket to Hadestown. (Yes, it was great!) That night I stayed in the city with a friend, planning to take a Citibike to Penn Station the next morning. On the way, I stopped at Zabar’s. I love their coffee and decided that, if I’m going to give up caffeine, I should buy a bag of their decaf espresso to take home with me. (I don’t know if buying coffee is still an approved Coffeeneuring activity, so I’m including it as a bonus ride.)

I do wish that Citibike offered what we now have in the Capital Bike Share: the $2 single ride. But no, I had to pay $12 + tax for my 3-mile ride to the train. Subway would have been much cheaper, but it’s always more fun to go by bike. The wonderful bicycle infrastructure in Manhattan meant I could ride in a protected bike lane nearly the entire way down Columbus and 9th Avenues. It started to sprinkle early on my ride, but having paid a premium for the bike, I was not about to bail. Fortunately it remained a light mist and I was able to dock right outside the station.

Ride 4 – October 23, 2019 – Manhattan Deli – 12 miles

Despite the name, this ride was in Arlington/DC, although I stayed with the week’s bike share theme. It was a beautiful day for biking so I took a series of bike shares (so as not to incur excess charges) to my hair appointment at Woodley Park. The normal route would have been to take Rock Creek Parkway but I knew there was NO WAY I would make it up the big hill on a bike share bike. Taking a ride down memory lane, I went through Dupont Circle and rode up 19th Street: still a climb on a heavy bike, but not nearly as challenging. Huffing and puffing, I made it. As a bonus I got to see 3 places I’d lived in DC in the 70s: 19th and S, 18th and Belmont, and 19th and Kalorama. Some of you will not believe this, but when I moved to DC my rooms in group houses in these beautiful neighborhoods went for $35-$65 a month and my apartment on Kalorama first rented for $156 a month. Those were the days!

Well – they were the days for low rent, but not for biking in the city. Riding in DC traffic, having moved here from Madison, WI (where I biked everywhere), freaked me out completely. There were no bike lanes back then and it was years before I got back on a bike – and then rode only on the Rock Creek Park trail.

But back to coffeeneuring. Thirsty when I got to Woodley Park, I went into Manhattan Deli where I saw an interesting kombucha: grapefruit/sage. I also couldn’t resist the adorable little bottle of kefir, so I got both. I was glad I did because I had made a classic kombucha mistake: not reading the fine print of the label. This happened to me once before: the kombucha was polluted by the addition of stevia – something that I think should be outlawed. IMHO kombucha is meant to be tangy but, if it is sweet, the off-taste of stevia makes it an abomination. I know, I know, some people like it.

Fortunately I had poured part of the bottle into a cup. My hairdresser, who does not share my disaffection for stevia, accepted the rest of the bottle, so it wasn’t wasted. The kefir was delicious!

After my hair appointment I took another bike share downtown, where I could catch an orange or silver line train home. It’s one thing to take a bike share into DC and quite another to ride one home, which is significantly more uphill. Riding down 18th Street I noted coffee shops that would have made a good addition to my coffeeneuring pursuits, but perhaps I will visit them on another ride. There’s a reason I didn’t just take my own bike, but I will save that story for another time.


Ride 5 – October 25, 2019 – Bayou Bakery – 8 miles

Just a day to take advantage of the beautiful October weather. I rode to Bayou Bakery, making something of a figure-8 route. And, for once, I didn’t overdress – I wore a skort and short-sleeved top which was just right for a temperature hovering around 60 degrees. I remembered that BayouBakery had good Halloween decorations. I got a decaf espresso which was a little more on the sour side than I consider ideal. But as I sat outside sipping and browsing the City Paper, I had a nice chat with a young girl who stayed outside with her beautiful 2-year-old golden lab while her dad went inside to get their food. She couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old, and already a ski racer, she demonstrated her technique for me and I learned about the family’s old dog that had died and had resembled a mountain lion. All in all, a lovely afternoon diversion.

Ride 6 – October 30, 2019 - Gluten Free Goat Bakery and Commonplace Coffee Company – 5 miles

A visit to Pittsburgh in perfect fall weather was sure to include ample coffeeneuring opportunities. I had checked out the “Healthy Ride” bike share program and downloaded the nextbike app in advance. Then I booked a dog-friendly hotel conveniently located a block from a docking station. In the morning I rode to the Gluten Free Goat Bakery and got a delicious maple-pecan donut. I was disappointed that they had neither decaf nor espresso, so I settled for a lemon-ginger-turmeric tea.

Since the bakery is just over a mile from the hotel, I rode a bit past it to get in a little more of a morning ride. The East Liberty neighborhood has lots of interesting shops, including a bike shop claiming to be among the top 100 in the nation, a coffee/tattoo shop (maybe next time!), a yoga studio, and more.

The locking system of this bike share system is different than what I’ve seen anywhere else. I unlocked the bike easily (single ride costs just $2), but I was perplexed when it came to locking the bike back up. A woman waiting at the bus stop saw my confusion and came over, showing me how to slide the front wheel into a slot so that the locking cable can go through the center of the hub.

After having my tea and donut, I discovered there were no bikes left in the closest station. No worries; a quick look at the app showed three bikes just a couple blocks away. I got back in time to move my car from its 2-hour parking space.

After complementing my donut breakfast with left over Taiwanese food (stinky tofu and spicy green beans), I walked the dog and then headed over to my daughter’s house. She got a new bike, freeing up my old bike that she’d been using, and we rode to Commonplace Coffee Company, where I got a very lovely decaf espresso. It was served with a tiny shortbread cookie and glass of sparking water - just like in Vienna.

Here was the best part of my coffeeneuring day: watching my child speed up the hills way ahead of me. Pittsburgh is hilly (the bike share bikes have 7 gears, as they do in San Francisco) and clearly my daughter has been biking a lot, as the hills didn’t slow her down a bit. I, on the other hand, was slow as a tortoise. It didn’t help that my decrepit old bike can’t shift into its 7 lowest gears. Nevertheless, I made it, and we spent the rest of the morning working at the coffee shop.

From there we biked to Frick Park for a walk, a picnic lunch she’d packed, and then a bike ride back to her house. Total distance: about 5 miles.


Ride 7 – November 4, 2019 – Kung Fu Tea – 7 miles

How better to prepare for a 19-hour plane trip than to go out for a coffeeneuring ride on a perfect 60-degree day? As my flight doesn’t leave till evening, I rode to Kung Fu Tea, opting for something new: green tea/taro milk. It was good, but not quite the rapturous experience I had last year when I got the hot black milk tea. But the distance was right, and it’s located right around the corner from Trader Joe’s, where I wanted to pick up a couple items for my trip.

Now, Arlington, VA folks – many of you have surely experienced the ginormous disruption at the horrible intersection of Wilson and Washington Boulevards. I know they say they’re improving the bikeability of the intersection, but they’ve been working on it for a long time and right now it’s a tremendous mess. It is really not clear how one is supposed to navigate the intersection and I had to go through some wet asphalt, which clung to my tires and required a bit of clean up when I got home. But – the ride was a beautiful finish to my official 2019 coffeeneuring season.

TEASER: There will be bonus coffeeneuring updates from – drumroll – the coffee producing country of Kenya. I’ve read that virtually all the coffee grown in Kenya is exported and I should not expect to find delicious coffee while I’m there. However, I have arranged two bicycle adventures, one of which is through a game park called Hell’s Gate where I may see zebra, antelope, baboons, gazelles, and many birds. Stay tuned for updates!