Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Coffeeneuring Part 2: Completing the 2015 Challenge

Why would people look for excuses to ride their bikes to coffee shops? As with so many questions in life, the answers may be unique for each of us “coffeeneurs.” For me, I enjoy the sense of community among people who love to ride bikes and have fun along the way. Making connections on Facebook has added a new component and the chance to see cyclists around the globe connecting.

When the weather is nice, most days I find a way to ride my bike somewhere. But the coffeeneuring challenge also helps me get out on the bike on a day that I might have been tempted to stay indoors. It just so happens that this autumn has offered us the best cycling weather I can remember – ever – but having the challenge motivates me to, perhaps, ride a little farther and treat myself with some good coffee and maybe even a cookie.

My earlier blog chronicled my first five “official” rides, as well as some “extra credit” rides that I, as a retired person, have lots of time for. Herewith – my last two “official” rides and a bonus at the end.

October 24, 2015

Thumbnail image: Going places on the Arlington Loop infographic

Some people call it the “Arlington Triangle.” I call it the Arlington Loop – a 17-mile journey connecting several of Arlington’s bike paths. What originally attracted me to the loop was the possibility of riding east on the Custis Trail – which is predominantly downhill – and then joining the Mt. Vernon Trail, connecting finally to the W&OD and Four-Mile Run trails for the mostly flat ride home. It was a glorious Saturday so I was happy to be riding. I planned to stop in Shirlington, which is about 12 miles into the ride for me, and gives me another excuse to take the loop in the more downhill direction.

There is plenty of bike parking in Shirlington and I generally park by the library. I had thought about going to Busboys and Poets for coffee and lunch, but the line was way too long! So I walked over to Best Buns, where I got a tasty espresso and a sandwich. I then picked up a book at the library and a few groceries that I could fit into my backpack and headed home. It’s always a little bonus to ride past the dog park at Four-Mile Run where the pooches romp in the water and make mayhem.

Hoping to add a Coffeeneur patch to the backpack 
October 27, 2015

I look forward to coffeeneuring away from home and was glad that I planned to visit the Cycling Yogi in Philly for the week. Because I usually bike with him, I still haven’t learned all the ins and outs of getting on the bike paths from his Mt. Airy home to Center City. Fortunately, Google Maps will give me oral directions on my phone, so I headed out for a solo voyage. My goal was to find the vegan Grindcore House in south Philly. Of course, all coffee is vegan, but Grindcore features vegan snacks, as well as a low-key reading room. South Philly is hipster heaven, so naturally there was plenty of bike parking.

 Once I found my way to the Wissahickon bike trail I know my way pretty well from it to the Schuylkill River trail and on toward Center City. There now is a nice new connector from the trail to South Street, including a bike trough up the stairs and a well marked green lane on South Street – at least for a few blocks. Unfortunately Google Maps then disappointed me – taking me along a mile and a half of Washington Avenue: a terrible street for cycling with lots of traffic and no bike lane.

Beautiful ride on the Wissahickon trail

New infrastructure

Love the green lane!
This portion of the trip was 12 miles and I relaxed with an espresso and charged my phone, since the battery drains very quickly when using navigation. From there I wanted to try one of Philly’s many vegan restaurants for lunch. My original choice – Vegan Tree – ended up being closed on Tuesdays, so I rode to a hole-in-the-wall place just off Rittenhouse Square called HipCity Veg. This time I avoided Washington Avenue, taking the parallel, and much bike-friendlier Christian Street. At Hip City I got a yummy vegan fried chicken sandwich with pickles, BBQ sauce, and avocado. It didn’t quite match what you can get at DC’s Woodlands Vegan Bistro, but it hit the spot on a full day of cycling.

Grindcore offers water with its coffee - just like in Vienna

My yummy sandwich at Hip City Veg
My last stop was at the Reading Terminal Market (a Philly institution and food extravaganza) where I picked up my favorite dried peaches and then headed back to Mt. Airy. Coming out of the Wissahickon park I faced the eternal question: why must the big-ass hill always come at the end of a ride? Total miles for the day: 25. Getting lost: 0…that in itself, cause for celebration!

These are my last two official coffeeneuring rides. However, I want to close with another bike adventure in Philly. My good friend Tamar is blessed with amazing parents who, for 20+ years put 28,000 miles on their tandem bike. Now in their 80s, she told me they had finally given up their tandem riding. Their well-used and much-loved bike was sitting forlornly in the garage. The Cycling Yogi and I had one bad experience on a cumbersome rental tandem some years earlier in San Francisco. But we still dreamed of making a tandem work for us.

We asked if Tamar’s parents would consider selling us the tandem. Being the big-hearted bike lovers they are, they declined cash but asked us to make a donation to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, which we were only too happy to do. We drove the half hour to their home in New Jersey on a rainy afternoon and managed to wrangle the tandem into the back of my Prius. We took it to Wissahickon Cyclery for a few minor adjustments and waited impatiently to be able to take it for a ride.

Friday afternoon it was ready and we headed out to the Schuylkill River Trail in the direction of Gettysburg. It was too late in the day to go all the way, but we rode as far as Norristown, a good 25 miles round trip – with only a few mishaps. Learning to ride in tandem will be featured in a future blog.

 So – the total “official” take down: 7 rides, 3 cities, 141.2 miles – and a whole lotta fun!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015 - Mid-Challenge Round-up: Coffee-what-ing?

What the heck is coffeeneuring? Hundreds of bicyclists around the world know about this fun fall challenge that makes up rules for cyclists to combine riding and consuming coffee or coffee-like beverages. It’s something of a two-wheeled scavenger hunt. Two things have made this year’s challenge especially delightful for me. Number one – this is the first year the Facebook group is up and those 700+ of us who have joined are connecting in new ways, sharing photos and suggestions.

Number two – this is my third year of taking the challenge, but my first since retiring six months ago. Working coffeeneurs may only, with several exceptions, count weekend rides, but we freewheeling retirees can ride out for coffee any day of the week. Part of my retired-person ritual is finding excuses to do errands by bike. With the added incentive of trying out new coffee shops (or revisiting old favorites) this year’s coffeeneuring challenge is giving my life a joyful caffeinated jolt.

A perfect day for riding to Mt. Vernon - 3 days before my 63rd birthday - 42.5 miles
 So here is a roundup of my rides to date. There are lots of extra rides but only two per week count as “official” entries.

October 1, 2015

This ride was two days before the official start of coffeeneuring, but it deserves mention because I rode 10 miles in the rain. If you have to ask why: it’s a bike thing, you wouldn’t understand. Hurricane Joaquin was threatening the East Coast and I thought I should get in a ride before the deluge. When I started out it was just a sprinkle, but the sprinkles turned into full-fledged rain. Even though I often avoid riding in the rain, the temperature wasn’t too cold, so I enjoyed the novelty. Once you’re wet, I observed, what’s a little more?

Suiting up for a wet ride
I rode to Rosslyn and back, stopping at the Italian Store in Westover, which is just half a mile from home. Bike parking is good in Westover, with several “staples” along the southern side of Washington Boulevard. I almost never complain, but my Americano was so diluted I traded it in for an espresso, which the barista graciously prepared for me. I dumped in just a few spoonfuls of the rejected Americano and it was just right, although unexceptional. With my rain shield-covered backpack and wet helmet on the counter, I got many comments from other customers about the “great” biking weather.

The rain shield really works!

October 3, 2015 (official entry)

I always seem to find myself in New York at the start of coffeeneuring season. This year was no exception, but I thought it would be too rain-soaked to ride. I had driven with my dogs up to Philly on Friday and it was a miserable five-hour trek with heavy rain and fog. But by Saturday the rains had stopped. I took Amtrak from Philly to NY and had an hour and a half before I was due to meet friends. Checking the Citibike app on the train, I was delighted to see there now are stations on the upper west side (which was not the case last year), close to where I was joining my friends.

Even better, an Internet search showed that the highlight of last year's coffeeneuring – Box Kite – had opened a branch on W 72nd Street.

I got a bike just outside Penn Station and headed over to 8th Ave, which has a protected bike lane. There was just the tiniest drizzle, nothing to be concerned about, but once I got as far north as Central Park I was riding into a strong wind. My ears were painfully cold (always my sensitive spot in the cold), but I had worked up a sweat everywhere else.

Forty blocks – totaling 2.5 miles – went quickly in Manhattan. Before I knew it I docked the bike at 72nd and Central Park West and headed toward the uptown Box Kite. No!!!! It was no more. I was disappointed but, being NY, there was another option right across the street – Aroma Espresso Bar – where I got a respectable but pedestrian decaf Americano. (I did not know that Aroma is a chain, so I unintentionally broke my self-imposed rule of visiting only independent shops.) 

I resisted the beautiful-looking treats

Coffee came with a sugar cube
I decided to abandon the idea of getting Americanos and switch to espresso in the future. Although I didn’t get my hoped-for return to Box Kite, I was a short walk to my favorite grocery: Zabar's. I picked up a carton of my happy food to eat on the train ride home – Thai tofu fingers. From there I walked just a few more blocks to my friend's apartment.

October 7, 2015 (official entry)

Yay for covered bike parking
 It was a beautiful autumn day and I used a coffee ride as an excuse to get out and about. I did not, however, want to abandon the idea of getting some writing done. Many people like to write at coffee shops, but I’ve never been one of them. On a previous day I’d passed by a small store called Bakeshop in Clarendon. I decided to stop there and found it a congenial place to write. There were few patrons on a Wednesday mid-morning so it was quiet enough to work. The bike parking in the adjacent building was situated in a covered area – something I rarely see. The espresso was quite good but I had to avert my eyes from the very sumptuous display of baked goods. Of course, when a place is named Bakeshop I should expect this. I resisted a treat, but will surely return in the future for a cookie. About 8 miles round trip.

Treats to sample on a future visit
 October 10, 2015 (official entry)
My ideal biking temperature is 57 degrees, thus, it was the perfect day for a  long ride
This month has had exceptionally beautiful biking weather. I had no obligations on Saturday so I decided to bike to Mount Vernon. I started my ride by stopping at Sun and Moon Yoga Studio for 8:00 a.m. Pilates. From there I headed south on Quincy Street, which eventually crosses Route 50 as Henderson Road. A little jog takes one to Park Road, which becomes a bike path connector to the W&OD Trail. I had forgotten about this convenient route but, thanks to Google Maps, I now have it back in my riding repertoire.

This put me on the W&OD at about mile 3, so it was a short distance to Shirlington and onto the Mt. Vernon Trail connector. Since I got an early start it wasn’t very crowded and, by the time I got past Old Town, I practically had the path to myself.
Along the Mt Vernon trail
The last time I rode to Mt. Vernon was several years ago when the Cycling Yogi and I made the trip in the heat of summer. As I rode past the Old Town Safeway I remembered how we had stopped there on our way back and desperately devoured a watermelon. But this October day the temperature was about 30 degrees cooler – mid 50s, which is, for me, perfect. I enjoyed the last 4-5 miles of rolling hills, locked up at the rack in the parking lot and headed for the restrooms. While bike parking is ample it is the old-fashioned type of rack that is really impossible to safely lock a bike unless you’re at one of the ends. However, I don’t imagine people are going all the way to Mt. Vernon to steal a bike.
My bike on the end - note the brand new tires
I had brought just a small packet of peanuts with me so I was happy to find a banana in the food court. I didn’t plan to tour the grounds, but I took a little rest, saw the grazing sheep, and recharged my phone, which drains very quickly when I use Pandora.


My planned return route was to go through the Del Ray section of Alexandria for a nostalgic stop at St. Elmo’s for coffee and lunch. I used to meet a friend there but she moved away quite a few years ago and I just don’t get back.

By the time I unlocked my bike at Mt. Vernon there were quite a few rental bikes parked in the bike rack. As I resumed my ride there were many more riders headed toward Mt. Vernon on Bike and Roll rental bikes. Most were struggling with the moderate hills, often walking up them. I felt a bit sorry for them but was glad I was well ahead of them. I suspect I would have been grumpily impatient if I had to slow my hill ascents for struggling bike tyros.

In one of the mysteries of the universe, the path offered me a strange magic: riding each direction I felt like I went down hill more than up. How great was that? About 25 miles in I thought to myself, maybe I could do a century (a 100-mile ride) some day (a thought that had never before occurred to me).

I devoured this lunch like a starving person
My detour to Del Ray would add a few miles to the trip but I figured if I could ride 40 miles I could ride 42 miles. What I didn’t know was that it was Art on the Avenue day and more than a mile of Mt. Vernon Avenue was blocked off for an art and craft street fair. It meant walking my bike through a few crowded blocks and encountering an enormous line at St. Elmo’s. There was good bike parking so I locked up and took advantage of their restroom. But 30 miles into my ride, with nothing but a banana and a few peanuts to eat, I was ravenous. An outdoor vendor was line-free so I ordered a sandwich, a peanut butter cookie, and a coffee. Sitting at a picnic table I enjoyed watching the kids with their whimsical craft projects – when I could lift my head from greedily devouring my lunch. When you have ridden 30 miles for lunch I suspect most anything tastes divine. That said, having been 98% vegan and sugar-free since summer, my splurge of fresh mozzarella and cookie was quite a treat. Even the coffee was not half bad.

Sometimes Google Maps is a cyclist’s best friends and other times it totally betrays the rider. I should have known better than to follow its direction to ride a heavily-trafficked section of King Street on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, I could maneuver past the stalled cars, but it was NOT pleasant (or particularly safe). Alternate routes were easily available and I would certainly avoid King Street by bike in the future. By the time I made it to the W&OD trail – my final stretch toward home – my fantasies of riding a century had crumbled. Instead the thought this ride is about 5 miles too long kept playing in my head like an idée fixe. Still, by the time I got home I was very proud of having ridden a total of 42.5 miles.
I made it!
October 13, 2015

This day I rode the 5 mile round-trip to the yoga studio, where I took Feldenkrais class with my yoga-teacher friends and then went across the street to House of Steep for tea, lunch, and foot soaks. It was my 63rd birthday, the weather was perfect, and I got to ride my bike and hang out with friends: talking while our feet languished in herb-scented hot water. I felt utterly content and happy. Knowing that I have a strong and healthy body and a life filled with friendship and activities that bring fulfillment and joy: what more could I wish for? Okay – a just and fair world in which all can enjoy these things would be much, much better. But sometimes we just need to be grateful for what we have. Not counting this as a coffeeneuring entry, as I knew there would be more trips in the week.
Later that night - my birthday dinner: Indian whole stuffed cauliflower

With coriander-tomato sauce and brown basmatti rice
October 14, 2015

For my post-birthday celebration I rode 13 miles round-trip to The Diner in Adams Morgan, where I met one of my oldest friends for brunch. I had a lovely chamomile-lavender tea, which was nicely brewed from whole herbs – not a tea bag. The weather was just right for sitting outdoors and I enjoyed a delicious veggie Reuben sandwich (yeah, more cheese). The Diner is across the street from my favorite bike shop: DC Bicycle Space and, not only does Adams Morgan have ample bike parking; there are lots of bikes using it!
Lots of  parking - lots of bikes!
This was a nostalgic ride for me because I got to see all the places I lived in DC from 1974-1986: group houses at 18th and Belmont and 19th and S; my apartment at 19th and Kalorama; as well as my long-ago boyfriend’s apartment on Columbia Road. Adams Morgan has changed tremendously since those days, but Millie and Al’s is still there. I don’t know what it’s like inside now, but it used to be a regular spot for pizza – even though the joke back then was to order your pie “hold the roaches.”

October 16, 2015 (official entry)

Last month I joined other volunteers to help assemble hundreds of bikes for DC schoolchildren. To their credit, DC public schools areproviding bikes to all second graders so that children throughout the city can learn to ride. Awesome, right? The bikes rotate through the schools and once the children have learned they get a group ride and picnic to celebrate. Volunteers were needed to help with this event, so I rode to a school in upper NW to participate.

I left home at 7:15, just as the sun was rising, riding Arlington’s hills to Chain Bridge and then to the Capital Crescent Trail. There was a beautiful view of the sun rising over the Potomac, but my photo didn’t do it justice. I stopped again to photograph the mist on the canal, but the beauty of that scene also is not so apparent in my photo.
Sunrise over Chain Bridge

Mist on the towpath
I made it to the school by 8:30 and helped fit helmets and adjust bike seats and learn the “advanced” route that I would be leading. I had a slew of parent volunteers accompanying our group of 11 kids. We would ride about 4 miles through a very hilly section of Rock Creek Park, before stopping for lunch and a short return to the school. Fortunately some of the parents were better map-readers than I am and we found our way without mishap.

Getting ready to ride
For novice riders the most important skill (aside from staying upright) is knowing how to stop – especially when riding down hill. All the kids were thoroughly tested before setting out on the ride. The pace of second graders is quite slow – even the three little boys who took the lead. I had to regularly exhort them to use their brakes, not their feet, as we went down hills and not to get ahead of me. There were autumn leaves and they wanted to drag their feet through them. But I didn’t want any accidents and I didn’t want us to get too far ahead of the slower riders, even though this little subgroup complained about how slow we were going.

Of course, when it came to the uphill section of the route it was a different story. Most of the kids had to walk their bikes up and there were a lot of hills! I didn’t hear a single complaint, however. I will acknowledge, it is not easy to get up the hills when one is riding slowly and can’t build momentum. That said, I have plenty of gears and experienced bike legs, so I could handle it. At one point, when we were waiting for the whole group to catch up, one of the boys asked me, “How do you get up the hills?” I told him I ride my bike, on average, at least 75 miles a week (and that I have a lot of gears). I was glad to be a bike “roll model” and show them that a bike-oriented lifestyle is possible, even for someone who probably looked ancient to them.

I could have taken an alternate route home but, as anyone who rides the CC Trail knows, heading north is all uphill – albeit at a gentle grade. However, I did not want to deny myself the joy of riding back down. And a joy it was! It had been another day of many miles and little food (just a small stash of fruit and nuts again) so I was happy to treat myself to a cookie at Baked and Wired. Even better, through this year’s coffeeneuring posts on Facebook I learned of the cortado – a coffee drink with which I was not previously acquainted. I can safely say it is my new favorite, by a long shot. For some reason they call it a “tallat” at Baked and Wired (parenthetically naming it “cortado”). This drink is a flavor feast of espresso mixed with luscious steamed cream. I took my small but satisfying feast outside to a wobbly little table that I shared with a young woman. It turned out she is a makeup artist and we discussed the profession, as my child is currently in cosmetology school and especially interested in makeup.

The absolute best - cookie and cortado
Bike parking in Georgetown is always a challenge and even though Baked and Wired has decorative bikes outside the shop, the only bike parking is sign-posts and fences. Still, despite this fact and the huge line, Baked and Wired fully deserves its reputation as one of DC’s best places for both coffee and baked goods. I am much more of a cookie person than a cupcake person, so I can’t comment on their huge assortment of cupcakes. But the normal-sized chocolate chip cookie that I got was delicious and tasted just like homemade. I appreciated that it wasn’t gargantuan like so many cookies these days. Whenever I get a huge cookie and tell myself I will just eat half and save half for later, well, the inevitable happens and there is no half cookie for later. My whole ride ended up being just over 30 miles, so I was plenty glad for the fortification of sugar and fat!

I'm not the only one parked on the fence
October 19, 2015 (official entry)

Over the weekend I’d had a very intense physical therapy appointment on Saturday and was rather listless on Sunday. But I awoke Monday morning with an overabundance of energy. This led to what I’m calling a Yogi’s Quadrathalon. I headed for the pool in the morning. The water felt divine, I had a lane mostly to myself, and I had extra time before the pool closed so I decided to swim 1.5 miles – 50% more than my usual mile.

When I got home I found out that an expected morning visitor had to cancel, so I jumped on my bike and headed to the Tenley-Friendship Library in DC for a free viniyoga class that I’d been wanting to try out. I got a little mixed up about how to get onto Arizona Avenue from the tow path, but figured it out and had to walk up a steep hill to MacArthur Blvd. From there I rode, and rode, and rode, and rode up the seemingly-endless hill toward Nebraska Avenue. Aside from a few rude cars honking at me, I made it, very grateful when it finally leveled off.

I got to the library just in time for class, which was just the thing for my overworked, understretched body. A friend was at class and we went across the street afterwards for lunch at an Indian restaurant. I didn’t get the restaurant’s name, but I wanted to share a photo of the restroom with its unique toilet configuration.

In case you want to pee with a friend
I planned to pick up some coffee beans on the way home and decided to wait until the very end of my ride, since my backpack was heavy with yoga mat and the extra layers of clothing I no longer needed. Although I usually buy my home coffee at World Market, when I cofffeeneur I have a hard rule about patronizing only independent shops. So I stopped at Trade Roots in Westover, where I got bag of fair trade organic beans. As mentioned previously, the bike parking in Westover is good, although it is across the street from Trade Roots. However, there is a mid-block pedestrian crossing in just the right place and the cars have cultivated the good habit of actually stopping to let pedestrians cross. My total bike miles came to 16.2 and, when I got home I took the dogs out for a walk.

A great place for coffee and gifts

Note: when I made this coffee the next day I discovered it has SUBSTANTIALLY more caffeine
than my normal brew. I was buzzing for hours!
I had hoped the ride would come to 15 miles because I wanted to say my Yogi’s Quadrathalon was: 1.5 mile swim, 15 mile bike ride, 1.5 hour yoga class, 15 minute walk. But I biked a little farther and the walk took more like half an hour. Somehow I felt filled with energy, despite my exertions. After dinner I went with a friend to the Insight Meditation Community of Washington's Monday evening group meditation at the Arlington Unitarian church. I will admit to becoming drowsy during the sit but at least I had no inclination to move my body!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Best Biking Season

The beginning of autumn generally signals prime biking season, with cooler temperatures and clear skies. So it’s no wonder that this week was filled with bike activity.

On Monday I had signed up to help build bikes for DC school children. “Build” would be an overstatement of my abilities, but I was assured that no technical skills would be needed. Organized by Revolution Cycles in Arlington, I rode in still-darkness to arrive at the shop by 7 a.m., in time to be transported by van with other volunteers and Revolution staff to the D.C. Public Schools surplus equipment warehouse in NE Washington.

Pallets and pallets of bikes in boxes

It turns out I need not have worried about technical skills. The big job for Monday was getting 400 balance bikes out of their boxes and removing the Styrofoam and so forth, then breaking down the boxes for recycling. The somewhat more skilled among us greased the seat stems and did a few other very minor assembly tasks. The unskilled like myself then transported the finished bikes to a remote area of the warehouse – which took more time that one might imagine. The most skilled volunteers actually assembled 16” and 20” bikes – about 150 of them, in addition to the 400 balance bikes.

Assembling the balance bikes

Although it was a beautifully cool day outdoors, the inside of the warehouse was steamy and the large fans that made the temperatures just barely tolerable were painfully loud. But the camaraderie of the volunteers made up for these hardships. That said, I learned that I am not cut out for assembly line work. The repetitive hand movements and lifting, lifting, lifting of the small bikes put quite a strain on my aging body.

This isn't even all the bikes!

Still, I’m glad I helped, since all kids should get a chance to learn to ride a bike!

Tuesday I had taken the “car-free day pledge.” I felt like a bit of a cheater, since many of my days, maybe most of my days, are car-free. Also – I was fortunate with the weather, which was clear and crisp. With my trailer I rode to the pick-up spot for my weekly share of vegetables fresh from the farm. It’s just over two miles and I have picked them up by bike nearly every week this season. After taking them home to unload, I rode to the yoga studio for my weekly treat of a gentle Feldenkrais class. Aside from walking the dogs in the morning, those were my only trips of the day.

Wednesday was the Jewish Day of Atonement, or, as the Cycling Yogi has led me to think of it, at-one-ment. I don’t participate in organized services of any kind, but I do believe in having a day for fasting and contemplation. I dropped my dogs at the groomer and headed out to GreatFalls, where I spent the morning walking and enjoying the beauty of rushing river, falling leaf, and ancient rock. I stopped at a farm market on the way back and got pots of mums for my front yard and bright, cut flowers for my living room. The autumnal shades of red, gold, and orange lift my heart and there is something about the tangy scent of marigolds that I find immensely pleasant.

Thursday I planned a big biking circuit. I rode over Chain Bridge to the Capital Crescent Trail, which I took to Dorset Street. This put me a short distance from my dentist’s office, where I was scheduled for a cleaning. I happened to glance at the Washington Post while I was waiting and saw an article about the DC plan to have all second graders learn to ride bikes. There were photos of some of the larger bikes the volunteers assembled this week.

I had planned a few errands in NW Washington – but unfortunately had not checked the public library’s hours. They don’t open until 1 p.m. on Thursdays – so I was unable to procure the book I wanted. I rambled around a bit and picked up a carryout lunch, which I then took to the grounds of the Levine School of Music where I take a singing class. I enjoyed lunch in the shade of a tree. After class, I returned home via Rock Creek Park, which I am getting more familiar with. My circuit totaled 21 miles, which felt like a good day’s ride. The weather stayed mercifully cool.

So fall already has ushered in many happy pedaling miles. Stay tuned, as the official coffeeneuring season is about to kick off next weekend.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Confessions of a Hill Avoider

Give me some credit – as a self-avowed hill avoider, it took some nerve to show up on a Sunday morning for DC Bicycle Space’s “Hills of Rock Creek Park” ride. I ordinarily teach yoga on Sunday mornings but the studio was closed for Labor Day weekend. And, the first weekend of the month is advertised as a “beginners” ride: slower pace (10-12 mph compared to 14-15) and not quite as many hills. Add to the mix a wonderfully cool morning and I knew it was then or never for me to tackle the Rock Creek ride.

Toward the end of the ride

A group of about 15 cyclists gathered at 8:00 a.m. at Bicycle Space’s new location on 18th Street in Adams Morgan – and about 4 or 5 of us were first time group riders so I didn’t feel too awkward and alone. I lived in Adams Morgan from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s and used to cycle in Rock Creek Park. Now that I live in Northern Virginia I never do any more – in part because the paths aren’t in the greatest repair, but mostly – I’ve just gotten out of the habit. So it was nice to get back into the park with its shade and with the help of a group leader who had planned out a rigorous hill ride for our “pleasure.”

I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, so it was nice to be able to just follow along without the tinge of getting-lost-anxiety I often have when riding solo (with good reason…readers of this blog may recall my mishaps a few years ago in the Twin Cities). So over hill and dale we rode. It quickly became apparent that I was destined to always be the last one up the hills. Our sensitive and adept group leader – Chris - asked one of the other riders to take the rear – ensuring I didn’t get left behind.

Eric was a good companion for me. He had done the Rock Creek ride the past three weekends. Plus, he commutes through the park from Takoma Park to Arlington every day. So he knew the park well and, I guess, didn’t feel any compulsion to prove himself by riding fast. He teaches astronomy and physics at Marymount University, so we had stimulating conversation between my huffs and puffs chugging up the hills.

At designated spots the group waited for us to catch up. I never once felt shamed for my slower pace and none of the riders acted the slightest bit impatient. From the beginning my front brake was making a funny sound. At our first bathroom stop one of the other riders pulled out a handy-dandy bike fixer gizmo and adjusted my misaligned brake in no time. Talk about full service! During the rest of the ride many of the other riders checked in with me to see how my brakes were doing. I enjoyed the friendliness of the group.

Getting my brakes adjusted

I would be at pains to tell you exactly where we went, but the far point of our ride was the Mormon Temple, which many locals refer to as “Oz.” Having just seen The Book of Mormon on Broadway this summer, it took great reserve for me not to not break out in the song “I Believe,” although I quoted one of its best lines (I believe that in 1978 God changed His mind about Black people) to one of my fellow riders. Hey – he brought up the topic of the show, so it seemed appropriate.

See why we call it Oz?

The entire ride came to 24 miles and I felt proud of myself for finishing without the humiliation of walking up a hill. Despite the supportiveness of the group, it was hard for me not to feel a little defensive about my slower pace. But I looked around and am pretty sure that I was the only rider older than 50 – much less over 60. So I felt deserved in my self-congratulations.

While I can rarely do a group ride on a Sunday morning, Bicycle Space leads a Hills of Anacostia ride on Saturday mornings. So – I’m a little sorry that the first weekend of October and November already are booked. No – I’m not ready for the non-beginner ride. But I’m marking my calendar for the first Saturday of December. Who knows – maybe one day I’ll actually go out of my way to find hills!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Golden Gate Cycling

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge offers beautiful views and brisk breezes. But on a pleasant August afternoon there are just too many people swarming this iconic landmark. On weekdays before 3:30, only the eastern span is open to pedestrians and bicycles. Clear, regularly-placed signage indicates that pedestrians should walk on the eastern half of the span and cyclists – going both directions – should use the western half of the same walkway. As you can imagine, it isn’t wide enough. The hazards of the cramped space are compounded by clueless tourists meandering every which-way, large groups spreading across the entire width, and cyclists who appear unsteady on two wheels. I spied one young couple on a tandem, the guy up front toiling away while his girlfriend tucked her feet up on the bike frame – too busy taking selfies to bother pedaling.

On my return trip back across the bridge I had to regularly call out to wandering pedestrians, “please walk to the left.” With the noise of wind and car traffic, I had to use a louder voice than I would have liked. And then it happened. One young man, paying no attention to where he was walking, took offense at being asked to move over. “Don’t have a heart attack old lady,” he yelled at me.

Selfie with rental bike
Old lady, hurled at me as an insult. It was a low blow. Sure, I probably delude myself that I look younger than I do. But old lady??? Once the crowds diminished, another “old lady” riding behind me the whole way said, “let me talk to you when we get across.” She was about my same vintage – early 60s – and clearly a very fit, regular San Francisco cyclist. She vented her frustration about the hordes of tourists who are encouraged by the bike rental companies to cycle across the clogged bridge without having basic cycling skills or knowledge of bike etiquette. She didn’t know I was a visitor myself and she took the sting off the “old lady” comment by telling me, “I could tell you really knew how to ride.” It’s not easy going at slow speed, keeping your balance, weaving around the crowds. I was glad to have my old lady cycling prowess acknowledged by a kindred spirit.

But enough about the frustrations. I rented my bike at Golden Gate Bicycle Rentals near Golden Gate Park. There was quite a crowd of people getting bikes and they had several models – a rather awful-looking “comfort” bike, mountain bikes, and a nice city bike. The rental guy was about to give me a “comfort bike” when he saw, perhaps, the distressed look on my face, or possibly caught a glance of my big bicyclist thighs. Whatever it was, he said, “You look like you bike a lot…I’ll give you this one” (the nice city bike). A tourist in a large group got the comfort bike. I suspect she wouldn’t have appreciated the difference. Lucky for me the bike guy didn’t discriminate against “old ladies” – and the 24-speed Specialized was a worthy mount for my afternoon adventure.

Someone was training dogs in the Presidio

We were advised to take Arguello Avenue north to the Presidio as the flattest route. Even so, there were a few substantial up-hills, but nothing this old lady couldn’t handle – albeit using the “granny gears” a few times. The signage for bike route 65 to the GG Bridge could have been a bit clearer, but I found my way, riding up and up through the Presidio to the entrance for the bridge.

After my trip back and forth across the bridge, I took the coastal route west, joyously coasting down a huge hill from the top of the Presidio to sea level. I entered Golden Gate Park at 25th Avenue, rode west to the ocean on the bike lane of the main road (stopping to snap a photo of the windmill) and then south to the other corner of the park, traveling along the ocean to the other windmill. Going east I took the park’s very nice bike path, past the polo field and many groups of picnickers enjoying the lovely day.

Because of glitches on the BART, it had taken me two hours to get from my airport hotel to the bike rental near the park – a trip that ordinarily would have taken just an hour. Once I finally got on the bike, I immediately felt my grumpiness vanish. The same thing happened after finishing the less-than-jubilant ride across the bridge. Once I could cycle without impediment, I was a free spirit on two wheels – whether riding into the wind or enjoying it at my back. Riding a bike cures many ills.

Golden Gate park

I returned the bike after three happy hours and decided to walk to the BART stop at 16th and Mission – where I planned to enjoy a taco before returning to my hotel. I walked east on Haight Street, glancing south now and then to find the flattest route. Suddenly I realized I was walking along the San Francisco “wiggle” – a route I biked last year. It’s a clearly marked east-west bike route designed to help cyclists avoid SF’s infamous hills. Riders (or pedestrians) travel through the valleys. The wiggle is equally great for walking as it is for cycling!

Black line shows my approximate bike route - about 16 miles

By the time I reached the Mission district, I was ready for my taco. It was just a quarter to five, but when I saw a line snaking out the door at Pancho Villa Taqueria I knew it was the place to go. Delicious pureed red beans, grilled vegetables, salsa, and guacamole atop two fresh tortillas, plus a basket of chips and a choice of about 15 salsas – I devoured it all. I had worked hard and my body felt it: a good physical exhaustion. At one point I realized I had dozed off on the BART, but I’m sure there was a smile on my face.