Coffeeneuring 2018: The Best Intentions

Entering my fourth year of participation in the Coffeeneuring challenge, generously sponsored by the Coffeeneur in Chief of Chasing Mailboxes, I knew I needed to approach this round in a fresh way. The general idea is to bike to seven coffee shops in seven-ish weeks, each ride at least 2 miles, and no more than two rides can qualify per week. My first few years of it, I focused on using the challenge to explore new coffee shops I might never have tried and to explore different geographic locations. Last year, I extended that to a theme of exploring new donut shops. These were good aspects of the game, but I feared I might get into a rut with that approach, in which I had created my own little “rule” requiring new shops and differing cities (we have so many to choose from right here in the Los Angeles area).

The declared theme for this year’s challenge was “intention”, and that inspired me to ensure I approached each coffee ride with conscious intent – not simply doing something the way I had done my coffeeneuring planning in years past. I confess that I wasn’t quite sure what I meant by “intent” at the outset, and occasionally that intent was more apparent after the ride was over, but I continued to embrace it regardless. Because, like daily flossing, I just knew it was good for me. In addition, I approached each ride with the intention to make the most of whatever riding experience I had in store for me that particular day.

Part of my intention for this year’s season included a relaxing of any rules that might add to my stress (without, of course, compromising my intention to fully comply with the official rules of Coffeeneuring). My work life provides enough stress, thank you very much, and bicycling is supposed to be my stress-reliever. I thus gave myself permission to double up on my ride planning, by hitching a coffeeneuring ride onto another planned ride. In past years, most of my coffeeneuring rides were solo rides, which I do enjoy, but I have come to appreciate a special delight in social rides, and then there is an added joy to spreading the Coffeeneuring love around. I ended up with a mixture of social rides, solo rides, and solo coffeeneuring tacked onto the beginning or end of a social ride. What follows is my official Control Card and report for the record books. I’m rather pleased that the series does not follow some rigid theme.

Control No. 1: My friend’s Sukkah*

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Date: October 14, 2018

Beverage: Butter Coffee in a bottle purchased from Whole Foods en route

Bike-friendliness: Excellent. We parked our bikes in the hallway of her home.

City: Westchester, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Romantic Ruby Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 48.8

Observations: One of my bike friends invited me to visit her Sukkah, which was still standing in her back yard after the recent holiday. Another bike friend wanted to join me for a ride to get in some extra miles and hills. So we combined the two ideas, and I picked up some bottled coffee to bring along in order to qualify. I took this opportunity to try butter coffee, since so many have sung its praises, despite it sounding like an odd idea. I liked it well enough, but do not feel any desire to have that again. The coffee may not have been impressive, but all the rest of the adventure was superb, particularly the opportunity to see our hostess’ art. Her works in bronze are extraordinary.

*This one might not qualify, since it is not an official coffeeneuring destination. I added this note only after feeling confident I have plenty of bonus rides to spare, because I’m clever that way.

Control No. 2: La Tropezienne Bakery

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Date: October 20, 2018

Beverage: Caramel Macchiato

Bike-friendliness: Very good. In addition to bike racks on the sidewalk, the umbrellas at the outside tables provide a nice spot to lock up the bike.

City: Mid-City, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 18

Observations: I first visited this bakery as part of a visit to the three top winners of a croissant competition, and I knew it was well worth a return. This is where to go if you want a properly flaky pastry treat in the French style. And the coffee is excellent as well. It was also conveniently on my way to the start for a social ride to visit the Music Box Steps in Silverlake. Our group ride visited the stars of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (they are not near each other), learned some history about these stars of the silver screen, toured the Mack Sennett Studios, and ended at Laurel and Hardy Park, where the neighborhood hosts a party where the film, The Music Box, is screened, and Laurel and Hardy themselves make an appearance and perform a reenactment of the famous scene in which they attempt to carry a piano up a long flight of stairs.

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Top: Hollywood Walk of Fame; Biking on Hollywood Boulevard; Lower left: Mack Sennett Studios; Lower right: Laurel & Hardy reenactment of the famous scene from The Music Box, where it was originally filmed in Silverlake

Control No. 3: Dinosaur Coffee

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Date: October 21, 2018

Beverage: Cardamom Cinnamon Cappuccino (exceptionally delicious)

Bike-friendliness: Decent – there is sidewalk bike parking out front

City: Silverlake, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 39.3

Observations: Since my intention of ride number one above, to get in more miles and hills, was compromised by a late start, I took this opportunity to ride solo and explore Elysian Park, a place I’ve ridden through a number of times on group rides, but without ever feeling like I’d gotten to know the park as well as I’d like to. It’s not far from Griffith Park, where I do most of my riding, and both are treasures with plenty to explore, so this was my chance to visit both parks in one ride. Each park offers some hills to climb, rewarded with spectacular views of Los Angeles.

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Upper left is along my favorite route to Griffith Observatory (domed building at hilltop), with downtown L.A. skyline in the distance; Lower left is a completely different view of downtown from Elysian Park.

Control No. 4: Coffee Commissary*

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Date: October 22, 2018

Beverage: Cold Brew (a generous pour that kept me buzzing all day)

Bike-friendliness: Awesome – check out that bike corral right out front!

City: Palms, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Leaping Lady Leopard Bloomers

Mileage: 14.3

Observations: This makes three days in a row, and exceeds the maximum of two Coffeeneuring rides in a week for the challenge, hence the designation as a “bonus ride”. Over the past year, I have enjoyed getting to know the Women on Bikes Culver City group, which meets every other Monday morning at a different coffee shop. I try to go when I can, and this one was relatively close to my part of town.

*This one does not qualify since I had already done two this week, and no matter which day one declares the beginning of the week, I would end up with three in the same week if this one were to be included.

Control No. 5: La Colombe

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Date: October 26, 2018

Beverage: Hot Chocolate

Bike-friendliness: Very good, at least I know it is accessible by bike share

City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bike: Indego Bike Share

Bloomers: Pinka Dot Black Bloomers

Mileage: 2.6

Observations: I love it when I can work a bike ride into my travel plans when visiting another city. This time I was in Philadelphia for the Philly Bike Expo, where I would be pitching my Bikie Girl Bloomers at a booth shared with Sarah Canner of Vespertine NYC. I had a little free time on Friday in the late afternoon, and knew that was my one opportunity to get out for a coffee ride, as I would be busy at my booth all day Saturday and Sunday. I made use of the city’s bike share system, IndeGo, which had a docking station a few blocks from my AirBnB. I wanted to go somewhere not too far, and in the heart of the city, so settled on La Colombe, right next to City Hall and Dilworth Park and in easy reach of a docking station. I didn’t mind that I missed it the first time I passed, causing me to loop around the square a bit in the midst of a frenzy of rush hour traffic, plus zigzag some until I found the docking station. It was fun, albeit a little scary, and I knew I needed to add some extra riding to hit the minimum two miles for my trip. The hot chocolate was selected for comfort on a brisk afternoon, and to avoid caffeine so late in the day. It was served without any sweetener, and I was offered a bottle of simple syrup so I could sweeten it to my own taste. That took me a couple of tries to get it right, but the drink was delicious.

A major highlight of this trip was that I got to meet the Coffeeneur in Chief in real life at the Philly Bike Expo. That was fun!

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Yours truly, with Mary, Chief Coffeeneur, and Sarah of Vespertine NYC

Control No. 6: Spoke Bicycle Cafe

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Upper right: Angel’s Flight sculpture in Elysian Park

Date: November 4, 2018

Beverage: Orange Ginger Cubano (OMG I LOVE this drink)

Bike-friendliness: Top Notch – loads of bike parking right next to the seating area, plus bike repairs and rentals available

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 37.7

Observations: So glad I gave myself permission to visit a coffee shop that isn’t new to me. I wanted to do more with Elysian Park, and also to revisit my original intention to go from Elysian Park to Spoke Bicycle Cafe, which is along the LA River Bike Path. (I had messed up that plan on control number 3.) Besides, the meet up for this day’s Sunday Funday social ride with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition was Spoke Bicycle Cafe, so why not do my coffeeneuring there? The social ride was easy and flat, continuing north on the river path to Griffith Park, and ending at a Harvest Festival there. Some friends and I wanted to continue riding after the group ride was over, so the four of us rode up to the Griffith Observatory together. One young 73-year-old in our group had never ridden up there via Mt. Hollywood Drive, and is not big hill-climber type, but we all agreed to take it slow and stop for a rest whenever she needed one. It was a difficult climb for her, but we enjoyed taking it slow and having plenty of time to stop and snap photos. It was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed celebrating with Jennifer at her achievement once we reached the Observatory.

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Good times in Griffith Park

Control No. 7: Highly Likely Cafe

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Date: November 5, 2018

Beverage:

Bike-friendliness: Not ideal – no bike racks and staff let us know that they had experienced bike theft themselves on that street, so they let us bring our bikes inside (there is a fair amount of room for bikes in the cafe)

City: West Adams, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 7.8

Observations: Once again, the Women on Bikes Culver City group held their Monday morning meet up at a coffee shop close to my part of town – and in a completely different area this time! I was delighted to have such a short ride (no excuses about being too late to the office) and to try a new spot not far from home. I hadn’t known there were any cafes in this area, and this place is quite popular.

Control No. 8: La Colombe (Bonus ride, except I definitely need this one)

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Date: November 11, 2018

Beverage: Draft Latte (you have to try this!)

Bike-friendliness: Very good – right off the LA River Bike Path; small bike racks, but in a safe area of the patio.

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 22

Observations: Due to the Woolsey Fire raging in Malibu and Thousand Oaks, the air quality was poor, so we hesitated about whether we should pass on riding this Sunday. But my friends and I couldn’t miss our one day to ride this weekend, so we decided to keep it short and simple. We rode downtown, took the Chinatown way to the LA River Path, and checked out the new La Colombe that recently opened just south of Spoke Bicycle Cafe. We tied bandanas over our faces to minimize the particle exposure, although that may not have been sufficient filter out the problematic small particles. I was impressed with the Draft Latte, their signature drink, a tall glass that is at least half foam and has a rather heavenly texture to it – unlike any latte I’ve ever had.

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Clockwise from top left: I Am Finley mural in downtown L.A., riding the LA River Bike Path, riding the bike lane on Sunset Blvd, and three amigas coping with smoky air from local wildfires

Control No. 9: Stir Crazy Coffee House (Bonus ride in case #1 doesn’t count)

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Date: November 18, 2018

Beverage: Cafe au Lait (good, solid classic)

Bike-friendliness: Not so much. No bike racks, but we were able to lock our bikes in pairs around the parking meters.

City: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 3

Observations: This was a ripe opportunity to recruit new Coffeeneurs. I invited fellow members of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee to join me for a short coffee run before we began our meeting. I picked a spot that was 1.5 miles from our meeting location, and that could be accessed via local bike-friendly streets in a loop, so we wouldn’t have to take the exact same route back. I was happy to find that five others joined me for the ride, and all were happy to learn about Coffeeneuring.

Control No. 10: Bar 9 (Another bonus ride, just in case)

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Date: November 19, 2018

Beverage: House Pour Over (a generous pour and so good, even I could drink it black)

Bike-friendliness: Good. There’s a bike rack on front, although one of those unfortunate designs that seems to only secure the front wheel, but they also have posts that can be used to secure the bike.

City: Culver City, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 14.5

Observations: This coffee shop is rather hard to find, and Google maps does not help much. This was another meeting of the Women on Bikes Culver City, and it was a good location for our large group, as they have a big table where we could all sit together.

Control No. 11: Caribou Coffee (OK, one more bonus ride, because.)

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Riding with El Cochinito in Atlanta’s Midtown, followed by a stop at Caribou Coffee

Date: November 25, 2018

Beverage: Turtle Mocha (a.k.a. liquid dessert)

Bike-friendliness: Must confess I didn’t really notice the bike rack situation here. It is just a block from a bike share station, and that made it an excellent choice for an out-of-town visitor arriving by bike share.

City: Atlanta, Georgia

Bike: Relay Bike Share

Bloomers: Oh, no, busted without my Bloomers! I was wearing Levi’s jeans this time! (But I always wear long pants and support socks on days I will be flying across the country.)

Mileage: 5

Observations: This is not exactly in keeping with my intentional approach to coffeeneuring. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be ready for anything, especially a chance to ride a bike. I had brought my helmet, saddle cover, and reflective vest along with me on a short weekend trip to Atlanta, knowing that I would get out for a bike ride if I could squeeze in a chance between family events. Although I had the intention to try to work in a coffeeneuring ride during this short visit, I knew it was neither necessary nor worth compromising on the plans with others for this family-oriented weekend. On Saturday, I had done so, as the rain let up and I took bike share from a station near where we were staying to the restaurant where we would meet family for lunch. I was glad to have my handy saddle cover with me, as it had been raining and the saddle was well-soaked. The 3-1/2 mile ride was gorgeous – all of it through parks on bike paths or bike lanes, the city bursting with autumn colors. It occurred to me later that, had I snapped a photo of the coffee I drank after lunch, this could have qualified as a coffeeneuring ride. Alas, on Sunday, my husband and I had a few hours free before our flight home, and he suggested we get on some bikes and explore Piedmont Park (the man knows what makes me happy). My helmet, saddle cover, and high-viz vest were packed away in my suitcase, but not really needed, so off we went. At least, I thought we were only riding in the park, so who needs a helmet for that, right? But I should have known that we would end up spending most of the ride exploring other streets, and without searching for bike-friendly roads. I am glad to report that the absence of helmets did not cause us any problems. We did enjoy a lovely 5-miles of meandering, and after docking our bikes, we were both feeling thirsty. We found a Caribou Coffee shop right nearby, a chain I only find when away from home, and which I love for their delicious turtle mochas. I’m a sucker for chocolate and caramel!

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Errandonnee 2018: Turning Chores Into a Challenge

Transportation is an essential part of how we get things done. Most of the errands we run in our regular daily lives involve short trips. Those trips can often be done more easily by bicycle, and yet, most are not. Sometimes we need a little nudge to help us see how easy it can be.

Enter the Errandonnee: a challenge organized and led by the woman behind Chasing Mailboxes and Coffeeneuring. She’s a randonneur, and loves to meld concepts to create new terms to describe her cycling challenges, which serve to encourage folks to keep biking during the off season. Errandonnee is a fun play on the combination of “errand” and “randonnee”. Like a randonnee, the errandonnee has a set of rules participants are to follow in order to successfully complete the challenge and document their achievements. For this one, participants must complete 12 errands over the course of 12 days, March 20th-31st. The errands must fall within at least 7 of 10 categories, and no one category may be used more than twice. It is permissible to carry out multiple errands in a single day, and there is no minimum mileage per errand. One need only report the total mileage for all 12 errands, and that total must be at least 30 miles. As if all that fun isn’t reward enough, you can even get a patch!

A patch from a prior year’s challenge

This is now my fourth year taking on the challenge. I have found that it is really quite doable, provided I set aside a little time for planning to make sure I hit a sufficient variety of categories. It’s easy to hit the “work” and “store” categories, and I have learned to let my dry cleaning (of which I tend to have very little) pile up so I can take it in as a “non-store” or “personal business” errand. Also easy is “personal care”, as I can always count a recreational ride in that category. Going to an event or meeting a friend for dinner is an easy “social call”. The category that entices and intrigues me, is the “you-carried-WHAT-on-your-bike”. Some errandonneurs have come up with remarkable feats of bicycle transport of sizable loads, and I would love to make my own mark in that category. But, no, I’ve managed nothing more than a giant load of dry cleaning, or several bottles of wine. Perhaps this year I can redeem myself. Then again, perhaps I should just concede this category to one of the cargo bike riders.

Let’s see now, what did I leave out? Other categories are: “arts & entertainment”, “wild card”, and a new one, “peaceful everyday actions”. Yesterday (March 21st) I pulled out my calendar to consider the activities already planned or under consideration, and began making a list of places I’m likely to bike to in the remaining days of March. My list was pretty easy to make. I’d had already taken care of three errands, with two in the “work” category (yesterday’s and today’s commutes), and one run to the “store” on my way home from work yesterday. I think my problem this year is going to be figuring out how to keep it interesting and not too easy.

Here’s my “control card”:

#1: March 20th; Commute to the office (work);

  • Distance: 2.3 miles round trip;
  • Bike: Gazelle Tour Populaire;
  • Bloomers: Groovy Tie Dye;
  • Observation: We don’t often get overcast skies here in Los Angeles. I noticed today how much cooler and darker the ride home feels under such skies, even when the temperature is rather warmish.

#2, #3: March 21st; Commute to the office (work); stop at store for groceries (store);

  • Distance: 2.2 miles round trip;
  • Bike: Gazelle Tour Populaire;
  • Bloomers: Wick-It Black;
  • Observation: Those ready-to-eat roast chickens available at the grocery store on my way home from the office are wonderful when you need a simple, easy dinner, plus they are easy to carry in a bike basket!

#4, #5: March 23rd: Transport several samples of Bikie Girl Bloomers to my office (personal business); take package to post office for shipment (non-store errand);

  • Distance: 3 miles total;
  • Bike: Gazelle Tour Populaire;
  • Bloomers: Blue Bandana;
  • Observation: Although the logistics involved in selecting, organizing, and sending samples out of state, plus coordinating with the recipient, are cumbersome and overwhelming, the excitement of having my Bloomers appear in a Bike Fashion Show (at the Pedal Power Bike Expo in Olympia, Washington) is exciting enough to make it all worthwhile!

#6, #7, #8: March 24th: Ride to downtown Los Angeles to attend the March For Our Lives (peaceful everyday action); stop on return at Whole Foods for groceries (store); bike date with El Cochinito to attend the 20th Anniversary celebration of Peace4Kids at Fais Do Do (arts & entertainment);

  • Distance: 18.8 miles total;
  • Bike: Gazelle Tour Populaire;
  • Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire;
  • Observations: seeing families marching together for safety gives me hope; buying fresh produce makes me want to take better care of myself; and seeing people who give their time to help those in need makes me want to be a better person; I really appreciate it when the authorities close off downtown streets from cars – what a great way to ride through downtown L.A.

#9, #10: March 25th: Bike to start and home from finish of a group training ride (personal care); Attend BUSted Storytelling’s 4th Anniversary show at Stories Books & Cafe (arts & entertainment);

  • Distance: 16.3 miles;
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe;
  • Bloomers: Crazy Daisy;
  • Observation: pushing myself (and failing) to climb longer and steeper hills than I can (on the 3rd super-climb, I had to walk the last part of the hill) is still an important part of my self-care — it tells me that I really did do my best, and gives me a goal for next time (I’m so impressed with my ride, I took a screenshot of the route as recorded on Strava); biking to Stories later that same day was still possible even though my legs were feeling it!

#11: March 26th: Women on Bikes Culver City coffee meet up (social call); plus a bonus errand, see below;

  • Distance: 12.1 miles round trip;
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe;
  • Bloomers: Pinka Dot Black;
  • Observation: every time women get together, amazing conversations and connections happen!

#12: March 28th: Camp Coffee with the coffee outside crew in Marina del Rey (social call);

  • Distance: 24.6 miles round trip;
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe;
  • Bloomers: Dazzling Amethyst;
  • Observation: getting up early and heading out on the bike when it’s still cold and dark may be painful, but the fun of riding on a car-free path (Ballona Creek Bike Path) and socializing over coffee makes it all worthwhile. Must do this more often.

I must give credit to a new bike friend, Audrey, whom I met on the group training ride that was #9. She was eager to meet other members of the local bike community, so I had extra motivation to make #11 and #12 happen. Both of these require a certain commitment to getting up early so I can make it to a meeting that is a half hour or an hour from home. Knowing that someone else was expecting me to show up and make introductions prevented me from making excuses or backing out.

BONUS ERRANDS!

Thanks to my thoughtful advance planning for this year’s errandonnee, I knew that my 12th and final errand would be the March 28th social call to join the folks at Camp Coffee. I’ve been wanting to increase my biking miles this year, and nudging myself to get up early for Camp Coffee is a great way to add a chunk of miles int he middle of my week. So, when a few additional errands presented themselves before that day, I decided to treat them as “bonus errands”. Beside, I just wasn’t ready to be finished so soon. It’s too much fun to just tick each one off the list and stop.

BONUS #1: March 26th: Visit to my local bike shop for adjustments (wild card);

  • Distance: 2.4 miles round trip;
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe;
  • Bloomers: Pinka Dot Black;
  • Observation: I like maintaining a good relationship with the owner of the shop where I bought my Bianchi last October, and I like maintaining my bike. I’m not so good at the DIY approach with the updated technology since my youth, so I’m happy to have the mechanic make sure it’s done right. After a gentle fall on the group ride the day before, I was concerned that something might be a little off, so I had him check it for me. He said only the rear brake was in need of a little adjustment, but everything else was fine (I’m always nervous if the bike falls to the derailleur side). Since he didn’t charge me for it, I used this as an excuse to buy a spoke light so I’ll be ready for my next nighttime social ride (when all the cool kids light up their bikes).

BONUS #2, #3: March 27th: ATM (personal business), and attending the neighborhood association meeting (wild card);

  • Distance: 2.1 miles total;
  • Bike: Gazelle Tour Populaire;
  • Bloomers: Leaping Lady Leopard Print;
  • Observation: It is important to participate in civic discussions when we know there will be NIMBYs and nattering nabobs of negativity trying to shut down any change. The meeting was to discuss a proposed new development immediately adjacent to our lovely historic neighborhood. I don’t like it when developers get waivers to get around all the zoning requirements designed to preserve a neighborhood’s character (as often happens in L.A.), but I also don’t like it when new housing is perpetually blocked by NIMBYs who want it to be done elsewhere. That’s how we end up with urban housing crises. I was happy to learn that, despite all the angry neighbors complaining about the project, the developers have taken a very progressive and “green” approach to their proposal. They are including more set-back, more off-street parking, and fewer units than zoning allows, plus they will include electric car sharing and bike parking, and amenities aimed at attracting families.
  • I couldn’t bring myself to snap a photo of the actual meeting – it ran so long, and I just wanted to get the bleep out of there! My only photographic evidence shows one of the yard signs announcing the meeting that I passed as I was biking over there.

Although I listed this bonus errand under the “wild card” category, it inspired me to propose a new category for next year: “civic engagement”. Attending meetings like this, working for safe streets and bicycle infrastructure would also count. Many of this year’s errandonneurs, including myself, also participated in a public march to voice concerns about civic issues (in this case, gun violence). It seems to me, we could support a separate category for these activities.

So, TA-DA! There it is: another successful errandonnee challenge completed! Total mileage for all errands combined was 40 miles. Even if we subtract the 4.5 miles of “bonus” errands, it still easily meets the 30 mile minimum.

The question for reflection: was that a challenge? Can I call it a challenge if I had so much fun just doing activities I (mostly) would have done any way? I think so, and for two reasons. First, it was still a challenge to plan and organize how I would hit the variety of categories and fit it all in to the 12 days. Second, I know that I biked more miles and did more social activities than I would have without the errandonnee challenge influencing my decisions. I see no reason why that fact that I finished ahead of schedule and had a blast doing it should negate the accomplishment.

Once again, thank you, Mary, for the inspiration! And thank you to the fellow errandonneurs for their inspiring posts shared on Facebook and Instagram. A great way to grow my network of bike friends. I am so excited for my new patch!

Ride on!

Bike Date Weekend in Ojai

This Presidents’ Day weekend, I knocked another item off my bike-it list: El Cochinito and I took our bikes on the train to Ventura, and then rode the Ojai Valley Trail to Ojai. If you have ever had doubts about whether you could do a bike overnight trip, this is the one. Anyone can do this! You will be rewarded with fantastic scenery and a delightfully liberating car-free weekend.

The Ojai Valley Trail is a 16 mile separated bike path that runs all the way from Ventura to Ojai on what was once a railway route. The trail is nearly flat, with a very gradual incline as you head north and east into the Ojai Valley. Ever since I’d heard about this bike path, I knew I had to do it. I was particularly excited to have such a treat so close to home, and a distance that would work for both me on my road bike and El Cochinito on his Pedego electric assist bike (well within the range his battery can handle on a single charge).

Panniers packed. I’m ready to roll!
El Cochinito and his steed

First, we checked the Amtrak schedule, and made a reservation for the Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Ventura. Amtrak makes it very easy to roll your bike onto the train. There’s a car that has six spaces for securing a bike on the train; all you have to do is reserve a spot for your bike. This influenced our schedule, as some of the trains had already been maxed out for bike reservations. Luckily, even though we were planning our trip on fairly short notice, we had a schedule that worked quite well. We took the 9:11 train on Saturday morning, and a 5:30 train for the return Monday evening. Round trip fare was $43 each.

From our place in Koreatown, we can either take the purple line subway from the Western/Wilshire Station one mile from home, or simply bike the six miles to Union Station. I find it takes about the same amount of time, when you allow for working around the train schedule, so I prefer to just ride my bike downtown. It was brisk, but not too cold.

We got to the designated train platform at the recommended 30 minutes before our train, but I’d say that’s about 10 minutes sooner than necessary. That did give El Cochinito time to grab some breakfast while I waited with our bikes. There was a very nice and helpful Amtrak employee on the platform who cheerfully pointed us to the right spot to wait for the train and be ready to load our bikes on to the appropriate car.

Waiting on the platform at Union Station

Rolling our bikes onto the train was easy (easier than with Metrolink), and the lower level of the bike car has six spots with straps to hold the bikes in place. We found seats on the upper level, just above our bikes. The train stopped at Glendale, Burbank airport, Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Camarillo, and Oxnard on the way to Ventura. The scenery along the route is just what you’d expect for this mix of suburbia and industrial parks. Perhaps not what you imagine for a scenic train ride, but I took pictures anyway.

Velcro straps make it easy to secure one wheel of the bike to the wall in the train’s bike car

Getting off the train at Ventura was also easy, and we had just a short ride to the Ojai Valley Trail bike path, which at this end, is called the Ventura River Trail.

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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, pulling out of the Ventura Station

The first portion of the trail is a little less impressive on the scenery side, but features some curious markers along the way. Perhaps next time I do this ride, I will stop at each one (there were several) and pay a little more attention to see if I can pick up on a theme. You can read a little about them on this trail description here.

Some of the semi-industrial scenery along the Ventura River Trail

Making the ride even more fun was the soundtrack provided by El Cochinito, courtesy of the Bose speaker he brought along in his bike basket. We listened to everything from the old crooners to Lady Gaga.

The trail is paved the whole way, transitioning to more natural beauty as you head north into the Ojai Valley

After about 6 miles on the trail, it becomes the Ojai Valley Trail, and the scenery becomes more pleasing. We rode alongside a park, some pretty fencing, over a couple of bridges, past many beautiful trees, and looked out at mountains in the distance. We took a brief detour at Oak View, where we headed into town to get some lunch. We had some perfectly acceptable Mexican food at Casa de Lago, and then returned to the trail to complete our trip into Ojai. Our total mileage from Ventura to Ojai, including the side trip to Oak View, was 19.2 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,022 feet.

Our favorite bridge along the route

Making all of our travel plans just two weeks before the holiday weekend limited our choice of accommodations. I would have liked to try staying at the bike-friendly Ojai Rancho Inn that was recommended in this piece from The Path Less Pedaled, but they were already booked. As it turned out, we did alright with the Topa Vista Inn in Meiners Oaks. Perhaps because it’s not right in the center of town, it was very reasonably priced, plus it turned out to be a charming area in which to stay. We had a beautiful view, some cute amenities close by, and an easy enough ride into town. It was also fun to explore the variety of ways we could route our bike rides from where we were staying each time we rode into Ojai.

The Topa Vista Inn is located at the junction of Highway 33 & Cuyama Road
Posing in front of our room. I kept my wardrobe simple: Nuu-Muu dresses & Bloomers. Easy to carry in my panniers.
Plenty of room for our bikes inside the room

We arrived a little too early for check in, so we rolled on into Ojai, taking a pretty route to Bart’s Books. This bookstore is a must for any visit to Ojai. Bart’s is a delightful outdoor bookstore that’s been around awhile. I was happy to see that the place looked freshly painted and cheery. (You never know when an old beloved bookstore is going to fade away.) A special perk of this bookstore is that they allow you to bring your bike inside. We browsed, got some cold drinks (they do offer refreshments), and sat awhile reading what we’d found.

We rolled back to the Topa Vista to drop off our things and rest a bit before dinner. It was a bit frustrating to pick a place to go out for dinner in Ojai. There are restaurants, of course, but nothing that satisfies what you might expect for a tourist destination. Even the places with the better ratings have mixed reviews, and we weren’t able to make reservations on such short notice. I made us a reservation for Sunday night, and El Cochinito picked a place for our first night.

His choice turned out to be an excellent one. We went to Nest, a casual place where you order from a window and seat yourself on an outdoor patio. This meant not having to worry too much about where we parked our bikes, as we could sort of see them from our table. The atmosphere was pleasant, the vibe relaxed, and the food did not disappoint. Of the various meals we had in Ojai, I think I liked this one best. But maybe that’s because we also got a full carafe of a very drinkable red wine to go with it.

Sunday morning, we ventured out into Meiners Oaks. We stopped for breakfast just a short ride down the street from the Topa Vista Inn at the Farmer and the Cook. This is a cute, folksy market and cafe that offers an impressive selection (for its size) of very good for you foods in the market, and some tasty options for a cooked breakfast. El Cochinito had their huevos rancheros, and I had a classic breakfast of eggs and toast, and an unusual drink whose intriguing name now escapes me. You have to allow a bit of a wait for it, and I can only say that it tasted like it probably had ingredients that were good for me, but I’m not likely to order one again. Next time, I’ll just have coffee!

From there, we continued west to explore Meiners Oaks. We were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the valley. We continued on north-ish from there, and ended up going down into an area that had an avocado orchard at the end of the road. Across the road from the orchard was a yard with an odd variety of items, some of which appeared to have been burned in the recent Thomas Fire. We returned back up that road, then found a way to turn our ride into a loop that took us back to the Topa Vista Inn.

We saw some burnt debris, likely damaged in the recent Thomas Fire
Avocado trees behind the fence

Later, we ventured out again on our bikes, this time heading east-ish and exploring an alternative road we hadn’t yet tried. We worked our way over to Foothills Road, and got a little bit of hill work in, although nothing too challenging. We then found a way to arc back toward downtown.

Exploring Rancho Drive

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After stopping for lunch, we continued our meander. I was curious to see the part of the bike trail that runs alongside downtown, so we headed there. That was nice, but ended soon. From there, we decided to continue east on the main drag (Hwy 150; Ojai Ave). Along the way, we stumbled across a pottery show, so we stopped there. We ended up meeting a woman who had recently sold her business and moved to Ojai. She had bought a house and set up a pottery studio to create a space for local artists to work and show their creations. There were several artists showing their work that day, accompanied by refreshments and live music.

El Cochinito enjoyed extended conversation with Oxnard-based potter Jacqueline Biaggi

From there we went a wee bit further east, then a smidge north into the farmland areas, and looped back on Grand Ave, which took us all the way back into town. We completed the entire “Tour de Ojai” for a total Sunday afternoon ride of 12 miles.

Our 12-mile Sunday afternoon Tour de Ojai

For dinner, we had our reservation at Azu, a funky restaurant that is connected to the Ojai Valley Brewery. The place happens to be at the far end of the same block as Nest, where we’d eaten the night before. Our experience at Azu was, well, consistent with the mixed reviews we’d seen online. Luckily, we enjoy each other’s company and had sufficiently low expectations that it wasn’t too serious a disappointment. It’s a charming enough place, but nothing to get excited about.

By Monday morning, we had run out of the coffee supplied for our room at the Topa Vista, and we were ready to try the coffee shop just across the street. The Coffee Connection is a good find, and I heartily recommend it. After relaxing back in our room for a bit, we started packing up our things, checked out of the Topa Vista, and rode into town for an early lunch. Feeling we had seen all there was to see in Ojai by this time, we started looking into what we might be able to do in Ventura before our 5:26 train back to Los Angeles. We had been thinking of seeing a movie, and saw that there was a 1:10 showing of Black Panther, which had just come out. It occurred to me that, if we left immediately, we just might be able to make that show.

Our last glimpse of the trail as we left downtown Ojai

We hopped on our bikes and began riding the trail back to Ventura. The ride back, with its gradual downhill, was fast and fun! We did not stop to snap photos on this trip. According to Strava, we did this 17-mile ride in one hour and eight minutes.

We managed to get to the theater in Ventura at 1:05 pm, but alas, the 1:10 showing of Black Panther was sold out! We decided to see The Post instead. A good movie, with excellent performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Downtown Ventura; note the wind in the palm trees.

We still had some time to spare after the movie, so we wandered down the main drag in Ventura, and browsed a charming bookstore, the Calico Cat Bookshop. That was a treasure. El Cochinito found a book he wanted there, and we got to “bookend” our trip with visits to cool bookstores.

Bundled up for the ride home from Union Station, visibly pleased with our bike adventure!

Having logged each of our rides on Strava, I can tell you that our total mileage for the 3-day weekend was 72.4 miles (total elevation gain 2,567 feet), spread out over more than a dozen small trips.

So fun, so doable. You should try it!

Bike Date: Hollywood Bowl

My hubby sure knows how to make me happy. Some folks are real good at taking lemons and making lemonade. El Cochinito excels at taking a pitcher of lemonade, and making it into a party!

It all started innocently enough. In July, our friend Angie had offered me a pair of tickets to a performance at the Hollywood Bowl on August 9th. That date just so happens to be my birthday (I suspect she knew that), and no plans had yet been made for how the occasion would be celebrated, so I immediately said, “YES!” to the offer. El Cochinito took it from there.

All dressed up for date night

He let me know that afternoon that I should try to be home by 4 p.m., as we would be heading out early for our pre-Bowl activities. He didn’t give any details, keeping the pre-party a surprise, except to let me know we would be biking to the Hollywood Bowl – something he knew I’ve been wanting to do. I planned ahead, wore my date-night-dress to the office, and rode to work on my road bike instead of the Dutch bike I usually take for commuting and errands. I didn’t know how much of a challenge it might be to bike up to the Hollywood Bowl, but I was quite sure I did not want to try that on the heavy upright 8-speed Gazelle I normally use for commuting.

Am I the follower or the leader here?!

It was a wee bit interesting getting started, as el Cochinito was in charge of the itinerary, but asking me to lead the way on our bikes. Not wanting to reveal our destination, he would tell me things like “ride to the UU church” and then, at some point, tell me, okay, now we need to go up Rampart. And off we went!

Stopping by a fruit cart on a summery evening

We ended up in Los Feliz, which necessitated climbing some hills that were nothing to sneeze at, especially on a hot August afternoon. Finally he announced that we had arrived at our first stop, and we locked our bikes to a railing in a small corner strip mall at Hillhurst & Franklin. Although we didn’t exactly take the most direct route to get here,  we avoided the nasty traffic streets during the late afternoon commute, and what’s an extra mile or so when you’re out having fun, right? I was grateful for the quieter streets, and considered that well worth any extra distance.

Our first stop turned out to be Lou Wine Shop, where we were greeted by Lou himself. He asked us what we were looking for, but then took a good look at my deep red and very sweaty face, and suggested perhaps I would like to start with a cold glass of water – just what I needed! Of course, el Cochinito was appearing all refreshed and sweat-free, having made the ride on his electric-assist Pedego bike. (Harumph!) Lou helped us select a nice bottle to take with us to the Hollywood Bowl. It was apparent that we could learn a lot about wine from Lou, and we both agreed we will have to return for more one day.


El Cochinito had hoped we could partake in one of Lou’s wine tastings, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Being a master at last-minute plan revisions, he quickly found a place nearby to grab some pre-dinner drinks. We toodled over to a nearby establishment, Spitz, that had some refreshments to offer. Hubby had a beer, and I tried my first mango michelada (a beer with mango puree mixed in, and some spice). It was just the ticket after getting all sweaty on the uphill ride.

Mango michelada at Spitz

From there we headed west into Hollywood, for a delicious dinner el Cochinito had booked for us at Cleo’s. It appeared the parking valets at Cleo’s were not accustomed to diners arriving by bike, but they were nice enough about helping us identify a suitable place to park in their garage. The restaurant is elegant, without being over the top – lots of photos and decor celebrating Cleopatra. They have an enticing menu of craft cocktails to choose from, and a delectable selection of food to cover just about any appetite or palate. I had a fancy-schmancy cocktail and some seriously delicious roast lamb with lebaneh and Israeli couscous. I felt like I was getting quite the royal treatment, and it was wonderful.

Dining in style at Cleo’s

We retrieved our bikes and headed up (really UP) to the Bowl. It wasn’t a bad route, and we were able to do some of the first part off of the busiest streets. But one of those cute little streets took a super steep incline for about 1/4 of a block as we made our way from Yucca to Franklin. Even in my lowest gear, and weaving side to side, I found myself beginning to fall over, rather than continue up that nasty little hill. So I stepped off the bike and walked it up that last little bit, where el Cochinito was waiting for me. I had imagined the hill up Highland to the Bowl would be a hearty climb, but it didn’t seem that hard. Not sure if that’s in comparison to the earlier climb, when it was hotter out, or because I was still buzzing from my killer cocktail!

I loved the feeling as the parking guides waved us on in at the Bowl entrance, and breezing past all the poor suckers stuck in their cars. Moments like this help make up for all the times we feel like the bottom of the traffic food chain. We entered the event space, and began the quest for where exactly one goes to park their bike at the Hollywood Bowl. We asked one of the Bowl employees who was guiding folks in, but he had no idea. Luckily, a pair of modest bike racks caught my eye, and we locked up there.

Looks like a bike rack to me!

We found our seats. Angie had done quite nicely by us with these tickets. I’ve never sat so close at the Hollywood Bowl before. Angie stopped by to visit us at a couple of points, and introduced a friend she and her hubby had brought along – they were sitting even closer to the front. The music was a delight. A Latin jazz group led by Pedrito Martinez opened, followed by the lively Angélique Kidjo. And then we heard the popular (VERY popular in Cuba) group Gente de Zona. The wine was great, the music was great, and we were fortunate to be sitting with folks who like to get up and dance!

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Afterward, we found our bikes, put on our lights, I donned my reflective vest, cued up some music on my combination headlight/bluetooth speaker, and off we rode. I loved, absolutely loved, riding down the hill in the crisp evening air. The ride alone was fun, but of course, it was made sweeter knowing that we had bypassed the whole misery of trying to leave the Bowl in a car along with thousands of others.

Would I do this again? YES!

Thanks to el Cochinito for a wonderful night on the town!

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Our full 16.6 mile round trip (with only 795 feet of climbing)