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!