Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pedaling a Pooch in a Pannier

            Many life lessons are learned on a bike, and last Friday’s ride reinforced a common theme: you may start out expecting one thing and find that life has something entirely different in store for you.  I’m still in Minneapolis, and accompanied my cousin Miriam to her weekly yoga class – a strength-building vinyasa-based session at the Center for Performing Arts, taught by Arles – a skilled and permission-giving instructor.

            In the late afternoon, her partner, Amy, and I biked to Minnehaha Falls – the area I’d gotten lost in three times on Wednesday. With Amy as my Sherpa, we easily found the falls, following the Minnehaha trail for an easy 5-mile ride. Amy filled me in on the local history: tributes to the poet Longfellow – whose epic Hiawatha was reputedly inspired by the falls and, in turn, was incorporated into Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The steps and stone walls that facilitate viewing of the falls were a 1940 Works ProgressAdministration project – a reminder of the many useful government-funded efforts of days gone by.

            After viewing the falls and some surrounding areas, we were heading home, riding a somewhat deserted section of path along Hiawatha Avenue (also known as I-55) when we spotted a small white dog scampering in the grass. There were a few parked cars, and I assumed the dog’s owner was watching it. But Amy, wiser and more compassionate than I, insisted we investigate. In fact, the cars were empty, the dog had no collar, and there were no people around. The friendly little fellow was only too happy for us to scoop him up and go for a ride in Amy’s pannier.

            But the afternoon was hot and, after a couple miles, the little white dog managed to jump out. We called Miriam and asked her to meet us at a designated point where the bike path intersected the road. For the next mile or so, Amy cradled the pooch in one arm, and impressed me with her ability to ride one handed to the pick-up location. While Miriam drove the lost dog home, Amy and I stopped to pick up some dog food and enjoyed delicious homemade ice cream cones from GrandOle Creamery.

            Back at Miriam and Amy’s, we were quickly besotted by “our” new dog. We tried to figure out if he was a Bichon, or a Malti-Poo, or some other breed. He appeared to be well taken care of, but Miriam’s daughter, Rhea, gave him a bath with Aveda shampoo and we pulled out an assortment of toys left over from their departed dog, Yofi. The plan was that, in the morning, Amy would take the dog to a vet to see if it had a microchip, and call local animal shelters to see if there was a missing dog report that matched his description. However, I think that everyone harbored a secret hope that he would become part of the family, as he was a delightfully charming, affectionate, and well-behaved little fellow.

            I went up to bed around 10:00 but my concern about the dog was nagging at me. I pulled out my I-pad and did an online search: “Minneapolis lost small white dog” – which quickly took me to Craig’s List. Less than 2 hours earlier, a listing for a “multi-poo,” lost near the Minnehaha dog park had been posted. It included a photo of a dog named Cooper, clearly the same little fellow who had so quickly won us over. With some sadness, but knowing it was the right thing, we called the number – which turned out to be the owner’s irresponsible girlfriend who had been caring for the dog. We said it was too late to pick the dog up that night, but arranged for the owner to call early Saturday morning.

            Miriam and I left Saturday morning to take a workshop on “Writing Family” at the Loft Literary Center where she studies. Thus, we missed meeting Cooper’s daddy and the bittersweet goodbye to the little charmer. Amy reported that Cooper went wild with glee when his dad arrived, so we rested assured that we had performed a mitzvah – a good deed – by rescuing Cooper and finding his rightful owner. He turned out to be a Maltese-Shitsu-Poodle mix, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some similar dog eventually makes its way into Miriam and Amy’s home.

            Miriam and I both enjoyed the workshop, ably taught by Laura Flynn and then walked around the neighborhood, in which I saw many people on bikes. Minneapolis is clearly a very bike-friendly community. We went into the new Guthrie Theater and walked out onto the viewing area to see the “endless bridge” which crosses the Mississippi river and is closed to automobiles, making it a lovely crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists.

            This morning the rain has begun, and thus, I may have taken my last bike ride in the Twin Cities, for now. I will enjoy just hanging out with family for the last full day of what has been a wonderful visit. But I look forward to future trips to Minneapolis, and the chance to explore more of the city’s beautiful bicycle infrastructure.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Twintastic Bike Cities

 I’ve read about Minneapolis being one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S., so I was eager for my visit to the Twin Cities and the chance to explore on two wheels. The first step was to check out my cousin Miriam’s neglected bike, which was hanging from a hook in her garage, waiting patiently for someone to ride it. It’s a perfectly good bike, but it needed air in the tires and a quick stop at their local bike shop, Charlie’s Tangletown Bikes, to tighten up the seat and lube the chain. The shop featured an enticing selection of nutcase helmets in the front window and Charlie himself fixed up the bike for a very reasonable $5.

My cousin and her partner, Amy, took me for a little tour (in the car) of the bike paths around some of Minneapolis’s many lakes. The first thing I noticed was the luxury of paths that are separated for pedestrians and cyclists. Many of the local paths are split and clearly signed, so these two very different types of users don’t need to compete with each other. I have never had this luxury and it felt like bicycle heaven. On a Sunday afternoon the bikers were out in force, but the most unusual rider was the fellow pictured below, who sported a white dove perched contentedly on his shoulder.

Monday evening Amy and I headed out after dinner – the temperatures still warm and humid, but not bad compared to D.C. – and the sun was almost setting, so the ride was shady. We could get on the Minnehaha Trail just half a block from their home and rode it 2.5 miles to Lake Nokomis. It’s another two miles to ride around the entire lake, making for an easy, flat, seven-mile ride.

The sun made a brilliant red circle when we got to the lake and the ghostly half moon was midway up the sky ahead of us. What a perk: biking around Minneapolis’s lakes allows the rider to go swimming if s/he gets too hot. There are many swimming beaches on the small lakes, and plenty of folks take advantage of them.

But my big adventure was planned for Wednesday, when I had a meeting with my long-time colleague, the director of the Minnesota AARP office, located near the state capitol in St. Paul. I scoped out the 13-mile route, following the Minnehaha trail to the Mississippi River which I would cross into St. Paul. From there I would go north to Summit Avenue, a shady residential street with bike lane the whole way till I was practically downtown.

The trip went smoothly. I missed my river crossing closest to the Minnehaha, but rode north along the river to the next crossing (Marshall), which only took me a few blocks out of my way. Because I planned to get to the office around noon, I was riding in the heat of the day and – yes – even Minneapolis is having a 90+ degree heat wave. I took a water break on Summit and decided to try out using the GPS on my I-phone, as there were quite a few twists and turns from the end of Summit to my destination. I stopped when I got a view of the capitol building and using the GPS worked well. I arrived just in time, thirsty and drenched in sweat. After a quick clean-up in the restroom I changed into the work clothes I’d carried in my backpack (no rack/panniers on my cousin’s bike). My colleague, Michelle, took me out for a tasty Japanese lunch (vegetarian bento box with spinach, miso soup, salad, tofu, rice and pickles…yum!!!) and we spent four hours talking business and catching up on our personal lives.

I’d originally planned to just put the bike on the bus for the return home, and had mapped out a good route. But, for some insane reason, I decided to bike home. I wanted to try a different path – in part because I’d missed seeing Minnehaha Falls on my way out (because of the missed turn) and thought I’d try the river route from St. Paul instead of the city route. And thus began my long, hot, thirsty voyage during which I got lost many times and had to depend on the kindness of strangers to find my way back. Fortunately, other bikers generally tend to be helpful , and it’s true that Midwesterners are especially friendly and glad to help.

            My first wrong turn came at Fort Snelling, where I missed a turn and ended up on a path that took me along I-55, where I made a long crossing of the Mississippi. I know I shouldn’t go over the river again and, indeed, I had to turn around and do it again, but an especially nice cyclist went out of his way and guided me to the spot that would lead me to the right path. However, once I got to Minnehaha Park, the intersection of several paths was very confusing. By then, I’d been riding 2 hours in the extreme heat and had consumed every last drop of my water – probably losing half my body weight in sweat. So when I saw a Dairy Queen, I went in for a mango smoothie and 20 minutes of air conditioning. Even so, I got just as confused at the intersection, and ended up on the wrong path, going north when I wanted to go west. I recognized my mistake pretty soon, but – rather than chance a third mistake at the dreaded intersection – I decided to take the easy-to-navigate city streets to a place that I could see would make a clear connection back to the Minnehaha trail that goes to within a block of my cousin’s house.

 I was desperate for salt by the time I reached my destination, and fortunately my cousin had a jar of pickles – the cycling yogi’s remedy – of which I consumed many, including a glass of the salty juice!

            But – on the positive side – I saw many parts of the twin cities and found an amenity that the DC-region should embrace. There was one section of trail that required going down and then up a long flight of steep stairs for making a bridge crossing. As I was about to lift the bike and carry it, I noticed a steel bike ramp which I was only too happy to use. Despite having good bike maps for Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as an I-phone, my lifelong struggle with directional challenges made for a very long bike ride home in the hot sun. On the other hand, I felt the accomplishment of navigating an unknown city, and my physical stamina was more than up to the task – the only real challenge being dehydration and heat.

            Today will be a day of rest, or swimming, but another bike adventure is in the works for Friday, which is predicted to be cooler. Even more important, I will be accompanied by Amy, who will be my trusty bicycle Sherpa!

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Biking" in the Water

            I couldn’t get the hang of kayaking until I applied my biking skills. You might wonder how a predominantly lower-body activity could inform one that uses the upper-body – but it was the feel of cycling that helped my body “get” the rhythm and movement needed to kayak.

            I’ve been vacationing north of Minneapolis on a lake that shall remain nameless – lest its pristine beauty become overrun by tourists. My host, Ruth, wanted to show me Cuyuna recreation area – a series of six interconnected lakes that were created from extinct iron mines.

            We headed to Cycle Path & Paddle to rent kayaks. While waiting to be transported to the lakes, I explored this very friendly store – which also (as you could surmise from its name) rents bikes. I spotted a couple Surly bikes with the most enormous tires I’ve ever seen on a bike, and was told they’re good in the snow – of which Minnesota, of course, gets plenty.

            I also was intrigued by the T-shirts sporting “Shred the Red” slogans. The mountain bike trails around the mine lakes are called “the red” because of their color – derived from the iron-rich earth. So mountain bikers who tackle the 25-mile trails around the lakes are said to “shred the red.” The tires of the rental bikes showed plenty of red residue ground into them.

            But this was to be a kayak adventure. I have kayaked only occasionally – each time feeling clumsy and awkward, if not downright incompetent. Ruth tried her best to instruct me (as others have tried in the past) but my body just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. And then I took a few strokes and said – with revelatory joy – “It’s like riding a bike!” More like a hand-cranked bike, but that body connection was all I needed to begin gliding gracefully along the water. As the day progressed, I had some moments that felt full of ease and with all the pleasure I get from riding fast on a bike or swimming with flippers: movement, momentum, freedom, joy.

            We paddled through several of the lakes until we found a peninsula onto which we could pull the kayaks. The day was breezy but quite warm, so we were eager to dock the kayaks and swim. The water was perfectly clear – its temperature refreshing without being frigid. There were multitudes of small green fish – two to three inches long – that we glimpsed through the lucid water. I picked up a few iron-rich rocks from the bottom near the shore (which then dropped off quickly to deep water). The rocks instantly stained my hands a rusty red from their iron.

            After swimming, we ate our picnic lunches and reminisced about long-ago boyfriends, our conversation meandering aimlessly like the lakes through the forest. We swam again before getting back into the kayaks to return to our starting point. Despite my improved kayaking skills, paddling into the wind was not easy! But I felt the satisfaction of good exercise and was happy to return to the cottage for a quiet remainder of the afternoon.

            To our surprise, the cottage had lost power – perhaps a casualty of the gusty winds. But it stays light here until nearly 10 p.m., and by the time it’s dark I’ll surely be ready for bed.

(Postscript – my blog was handwritten to preserve battery power in my laptop. A few hours later, power was restored and we were able to cook our dinner and flush the toilets without having to haul buckets of water from the lake.)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What's the Connection Between Cherry Pie and Biking?

This blog has nothing to do with bike riding, unless you count the fact that I whacked out my back yesterday and, consequently, would do no biking today (no great loss, given the 90+ degree heat and humidity). But I also did not feel up to teaching my usual Sunday morning yoga classes, which was a great loss, especially since it was the first week of the summer session, and I hate to miss the first week. But I’m leaving for vacation on Wednesday, and wanted to give my back another day to recuperate so that I’d be in good shape for vacation.

The result was that I decided to treat myself to the Sunday papers – NY Times AND Washington Post, since my Sunday morning teaching schedule ordinarily leaves me no time for what once was a cherished ritual: Sunday papers in bed with coffee and (if I was lucky) a love interest. Going out early for the papers meant walking past the Westover Farmer’s Market and, wouldn’t you know – it happened to be that tiny window during which sour cherries are in season.

Even though I’ve been totally off sugar for over a month, making fresh cherry pie once a year is a must. Maybe it’s the memories of climbing the sour cherry trees in my grandmother’s back yard, picking the tart fruit for her to make pie. Besides, the fellow I’ve recently started dating made the most extraordinary statement after we’d watched the fireworks together on the 4th. He said he’d observed that women our age (early 60s) who are too thin look bony and haggard – not sexy. No one would accuse me of being too skinny, and his statement made me feel very good about my well-toned, NORMAL-sized body. And, therefore, I will eat a piece of cherry pie this evening without a shred of guilt!

So, here follows my cherry pie making technique, honed over years of experience and experiment. I hope there are some pie-lovin’ bike enthusiasts out there who won’t mind hearing about pie instead of bikes for a change.

My generous quart of cherries numbered 156 and took about 14 minutes to pit, which, using my great computational skills, I figured comes to about 11 cherries per minute…or just over 5 seconds each. After years of overly runny filling, despite trying every technique in several books, Internet sites, and word-of-mouth, I now prepare a baked pie shell and cook the filling on the stove.

And, after years of failure, I have mastered the baked pie shell. After forming my all-butter crust in the pie pan, I prick it all over with a fork and freeze it for at least a couple hours. Indeed, it makes a difference to bake it on the top shelf of the oven (at 450 degrees), and I check it every 3-5 minutes (more frequently at the beginning) to make sure it isn’t puffing up and threatening to slide down the edges of the pie plate…giving it extra fork-pricks if needed. For this morning’s pie, I decided to make a top crust by using cookie cutters to make shapes for the top.

 The filling is simple. The cherries and their juice go into an enameled, cast-iron pot with a cup of sugar and ¼ cup of cornstarch. A dash of salt and the juice from half a lime give a little extra zing. The filling thickens up in less than 10 minutes, and I add a few drops of almond extract. After it cools a bit, into the shell it goes, to be decorated with the top crust.

I had enough crust to make a mini-shell, so I cooked up a couple peaches for the baby pie, grating in a bit of fresh ginger. Peaches and ginger are so lovely together.

I went for a nice swim this afternoon, loosening up the back, and now look forward to this evening’s pie delight, and with luck, at least one good bike ride before I head north to Minnesota for my vacation.