Sunday, October 26, 2014

California Coffeeneuring - A Vacation Adventure

October 20, 2014

The lengths a crazy bike enthusiast will go to to enhance her coffeeneuring challenge may surprise some readers. But is not the spirit of the challenge to encourage riders to try new things and pursue adventure on two wheels?

I flew to San Francisco on Sunday and drove with the Cycling Yogi to Monterey for a visit with his 92-year-old mother. She lives in Pebble Beach, just off one of the country's most magnificent roads: 17 Mile Drive. His mom borrowed a bike for me, and the Cycling Yogi already had a vintage Schwinn in her garage (see his guest blog, posted 9-23-14).

So on Monday afternoon we rode from her house to Carmel, where I had found the Carmel Coffee House and Roasting Company, boasting the area's best coffee. But I hardly needed an incentive to ride the hills along the ocean, stopping to see (and hear) the seals on Seal Rock, to take in crashing waves and windswept pines, and to glimpse a red headed woodpecker. The hilly terrain was enjoyable because every up had a down...none too extreme...well, almost none.

The least favorite part was the last mile or so, which became very trafficky. Once we entered Carmel, I had to walk my bike up the few steep blocks to the coffee shop, where I enjoyed an iced mocha (with just a bit of whipped cream), having worked up quite a sweat - even in the high-60s temperature. On the long stretch down into Carmel, I correctly predicted that I'd have to walk back up, but the rest of the return was smooth pedaling, taking the slightly shorter inland route...still beautiful.

Total distance: 12.5 miles

October 24, 2014

On Wednesday, after a day hiking in Pinnacles National Park, we returned to San Francisco, where I had a few days of work, followed by a mini-vacation continuation. I had two goals for my first-time SF bike try the Bay Area Bikeshare, and to ride "the wiggle" - an east-west route that avoids climbing the hills for which SF is so famous.

I had checked out a Bikeshare the previous afternoon to get a preview. My big mistake was making my foray during downtown rush hour. It was one of the first times I concluded that I would rather have walked than biked. How sad is that? To its credit, the SF bike shares have 7 gears (most cities have only 3) and they proved adequate for the hills I tackled on my first ride. The challenge was going up hills punctuated every block by traffic lights. I'm used to climbing my biggest hills on bike paths...not having to stop and start. Hats off to SF cyclists who are up to stop-and-go hill climbs!

In the large public parking garage near the Moscone Center, I happened to spy protected bike parking. If you have a fancy bike, the very modest 5-cents-per-hour charge for a locker seems like a good investment.

San Francisco has one of the highest cycling and bike commuting rates in the nation. This astonishes me, not only because of the terrain, but because of the grossly inadequate infrastructure. In my brief experience,  I observed sharrows on busy streets and almost no dedicated lanes. Traffic is clogged and drivers are aggressive and impatient. A big problem with the Bikeshare system is that it only operates in a tiny section of the city, so it's hard to find docking stations close to one's desired destination. After my first short ride, I docked and walked, which took me past the fanciest upscale coffee boutique I've ever seen: Nespresso. I took a photo, but was turned off by its sleek glamour, and was not in the mood for a $5+ coffee.

The next day, in the dark of early morning, the Cycling Yogi and I walked from our SoMa hotel to the Coit Tower, where I c
aptured the sunrise over the bay and we got some private instruction in Qi Gong and Tai Chi from a local practitioner. It helps that the CY speaks Chinese! From there we walked down the Filbert Steps, where we nabbed the last two bikeshares in the nearest dock. We rode along the Embarcadero, which had the skinniest bike lane I've ever seen...proving that you can be too thin...certainly if you're a bike lane!

But the coffeeneuring trip was scheduled for the afternoon. We rode down Market Street to where the wiggle begins - behind the Safeway at Duboce Park. On our way, 
I chatted up a nice young cyclist as we made our way out of the busiest section of Market St., and he told us there would be a dedicated lane and less traffic soon. Even once we got to the wiggle, there was a lot of traffic, but indeed, the route was quite level, despite steep hills all around us. The route was clearly marked with green bike sharrows, painted at close intervals on the roads. Cute little "bike highway 30" signs also were posted frequently.

IMG_1942.JPG.jpg We ended at the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. Had we not been on bike shares, which charge up the wazoo for rides over 30 minutes, the park would surely have provided a nicer place to pedal.

But we turned around to stop at Mojo Bicycle Shop and Cafe for our liquid refreshment...just a few short blocks (and one modest hill) off the wiggle. Bringing our bikes inside was no problem, and I ordered an iced Thai Tea - a slightly sweet, rather orange-tinged, cream-laced concoction, which provided a tasty and refreshing treat.

The Cycling Yogi did not enjoy the SF bike infrastructure, noting that he feels much safer riding in his home town of Philadelphia, or in my DC/Arlington area. I'd have to concur. In addition, I had numerous glitches with docking station malfunctions. After returning my bike, I repeatedly got text messages exhorting me to return my overdue bike. I'm now BFFs with the consistently friendly and helpful customer service staff at Bay Area Bikeshare, who repeatedly checked their computers and promised to remove any overdue charges from my credit card. Also, the CY informed me that the Bikeshare seats were not scrotum-friendly...something I am incapable of evaluating on my own.

But all-in-all, I enjoyed getting to know the Golden Gate city by bike. The weather was glorious, and I got to coffeeneur on a Friday, since I will be flying back home all day Saturday.

Total distance: 5 miles

October 26, 2014

This morning required a quick adjustment to East coast time, as I had to get to the yoga studio by 9 a.m. to teach my two Sunday morning classes. With the beautiful October weather, I added some "errandaneeing" to my coffeeneuring. From yoga I cycled to Clarendon, where I was picking up a new set of glasses, then on to Trader Joe's for a pound of coffee and some tea. I try to avoid the big chain stores for my coffeeneuring adventures, but my home supply of beans was not going to last the week and TJ's was on the way home. I selected an organic, fair trade, blend. I added some extra hills to make stops at the ATM and post office before returning home for lunch and preparations for my return to work.

Total distance: 8 miles

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Coffeeneuring Ride 4: The Arlington Loop

October 18, 2014

The wind, my God, the wind. For the last 7 miles I felt like I was in one of those endless pools where you swim and swim and don’t get anywhere. I was pedaling and pedaling and had to keep downshifting to make progress. But let’s back up.

I knew that Saturday would be a lovely autumn bike day and decided to ride the “Arlington loop” – a 17-mile circular route that has the best of all worlds. I live in the Westover neighborhood (see the black line to the left of the loop, below), less than a mile from three great bike paths: the Custis, the Four Mile Run, and the W&OD. To ride the loop, I start with the Custis and go clockwise. This allows me to ride the more downhill portion of the Custis and return on the flat W&OD. Also, I can ride the first 12 miles and stop in Shirlington (about 6 o'clock on the map) for a snack – or a hot beverage if I’m coffeeneuring. Busboys and Poets was to be my destination.

Thumbnail image: Going places on the Arlington Loop infographic 

I called my friend Gayle in the morning and she was up for riding with me; we arranged to meet by the Big Wheel Bikes just off the Custis Trail. But so much for plans. She called and said the brand new tire on her bike was flat and wouldn’t hold air, but she was still up for meeting at BB&P.

The Mt. Vernon Trail was pretty crowded, but I managed to make good time. Once I joined up with the Four Mile Run Trail I just barely missed a black snake that was slithering off the path toward the grass. This was when the wind began, but I had the motivation of lunch, so I forged ahead.

Gayle and I had a lovely leisurely lunch, which I capped off with a soy chai latte – sweet and tasty enough to qualify as desert, with lots of cinnamon. Even though the end of the loop is then just 5 miles to home, the wind was fierce and I had to ride directly into it.

 But I felt well exercised, well fed, and happy to have caught up with my friend. Tomorrow morning I fly to the West Coast for vacation/business. I have already scoped out some options for Cali-coffeeneuring – so stay tuned!

Total distance: 17 miles

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014 - Weeks 1 and 2

Week 1

As luck would have it, the beginning of the 2014 coffeeneuring challenge coincided with a trip to New York. As I did last year, I made it a goal to avoid chains and seek out the independent coffee shops. Fate smiled kindly on me: when I Googled “independent coffee shop NYC” I discovered a recent NY Times article about the emerging coffee culture in the city. Once I identified the most appealing shops, I had to check for early morning openings on Saturday and Sunday, and then find proximity to a Citibike docking station.

October 4, 2014

Saturday morning dawned drizzly, but that was not going to deter me. I grabbed a bike at 32nd and Park, near the very shabby (and definitely not chic) Community Church of NY lodging that constituted my NY digs and headed downtown on the 2nd Ave protected bike lane. My destination was Box Kite on St Mark's Place, which opened at 7 and had as its specialty the "one and one" - an elegant preparation for the true connoisseur. Using single-harvest beans, the double-shot espresso is split into two preparations: a straight shot in one cup and a thick, creamy elegant macchiato in the second cup. Nestled between the two little cups is a little glass of sparkling water and a tiny cookie - reminiscent of my recent trip to Vienna, where the outstanding coffee is always accompanied by a glass of water.

I have never tasted anything like the preparation, which was sour and green tasting, but packed with flavor. On its own, it was incredibly intense; as a macchiato, it was a delight. Tiny sips alternated with the water and nibbles of cookie made for a memorable and unique coffee experience. My server informed me that the coffee was Kirura from Kenya, and roasted by Mad Cap. I think he could have given me the names of the folks who harvested the beans, if I'd asked! He wanted to know how I liked it. I said it was not an every day coffee, but was wonderful for a special treat, and he heartily agreed.

I had planned to ride back and pick up bagels at my favorite - Ess-a-Bagel - but alas, they were closed for Yom Kippur. I suppose I should have been fasting myself, but a book group reunion in NY gave me an excuse to skip the fast this year.

Total distance: 4 miles

October 5, 2014

Finding an independent coffee shop that was open at 7 on a Sunday morning was more of a challenge; I had to be back in my room close to 8, as I was catching a 9 a.m. train. Also, cheapskate that I am, I wanted to use my same 24-hour Citibike rental, so my ride had to be completed by about 7:40. As a side note, the Citibike app very conveniently allows the user to add coffee shops to the map. However, early on a Sunday morning the bikes have not been redistributed, and a number of locations were either empty or full. Nevertheless, I had everything planned out until I hit a glitch. 

The station nearest me gave me an unlocking code, but I tried two different bikes, and it would not let me remove a bike. Thinking I had, perhaps, remembered the code incorrectly, I tried to get another one. But, of course, the user must wait two minutes for a new code. I didn't have time to spare, so I elected to walk to the next location, where I was able to secure a bike and ride to 47th street. I had planned to walk west to Gregory's, which also made the NYT review, but a block sooner I saw Filicori Zecchini, which was just opening its doors. So I opted for a redeye with kosher organic milk, which was quite good, although nothing exceptional.

Total distance: just barely 2 miles. [Every once in a while the coffeeneuring rules need to be slightly bent. Had my original docking station been functional, I could have completed the short trip by bike, but I feel I should get credit for my walking distance, not to mention my perseverance! I wanted to complete two visits while in NY so that I'd have more variety than I'd be able to find at home.]

October 7, 2014

Bonus ride - I always seem to have a lot of travel during coffeeneuring season, and I suggest that any time the cyclist is away from home should be a coffeeneuring opportunity, any day of the week. I have an annual meeting in Brookline, MA, so I already knew that my hotel would be right across the street from the Coolidge Corner Hubway station. But what a thrill to search for the best independent coffee shop in Boston and discover that the winner was just a mile away, and a block from another Hubway station. At 6:45 the sky was getting light and it was already a balmy 61 degrees. After being in NY, where a day pass on Citibike cost over $10 (with tax), the $6 day charge for Hubway felt like a bargain.

Some readers may disagree, but, having biked in many cities, I consider Boston drivers the worst. Despite some of the most extensive signage, I really don't like riding on major roads in Boston unless they have a designated bike lane. Fortunately my blocks on the very busy Beacon street were few, and I was able to head north on the aptly-named Pleasant Street to Blue State Coffee on Commonwealth Ave. I arrived just as they opened at 7 and asked the barista what drink would best showcase their "best-in-Boston" status. He suggested a cappuccino. Indeed, it was smooth, creamy, and full-flavored, without a hint of bitterness.

The only downside of my adventure was that the ride was too short. I wanted to spend the morning riding around, and would have loved to ride to my meeting at Boston College - but, alas, the Hubway system doesn't extend that far west. So I returned to my room for yoga and a shower before my meeting. The docking station was completely empty, so I imagine another rider nabbed my returned bike within minutes.

Total distance: 2 miles (wanted more!)

Week 2

October 12, 2014

Saturday morning was a rainy mess, so I decided to wait till today for my expedition. Sunday turned out to be one of those perfect biking days: low 60s, clear, and crisp. I biked to yoga and taught my two Sunday morning classes (still waiting for @coffeeneur to show up at Sun and MoonArlington some Sunday morning). It was so gorgeous I decided to bike from there to Georgetown.

My mom had sent me a check for my birthday (which is tomorrow). Even at 62 I guess I’m not too old! So I went to Athleta, where I get a generous 30% teacher discount, and my birthday check was enough for two brightly-colored (are you happy Cycling Yogi) cool-weather tops. Coming across Key Bridge I spied Pie Sisters and decided to add a little sweetness to my hot beverage. Luckily, Revolution Cycles is right next-door, and they provide two bike racks – possibly the only ones in all of Georgetown.

It was a hard decision, but I chose a key lime tart, accompanied by ginger-lemon tea. I ordinarily buy Yogi brand at home, but I must admit – they served Stash, and it was superior.

Fueled by sugar and whipped cream, I headed home along the Custis Trail – an uphill climb that I usually avoid at all costs. But today I had magic pedals. The uphill stretches didn’t seem so bad and I never even got to my lowest granny gear. Maybe 62 won’t be so bad.

Total distance: 11 miles