A doable adventure for those looking for a longer ride is the trek from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, a distance of 95 miles by car or 105 by bicycle, give or take, depending on exactly where in the vast metropolis of L.A. you begin. Some ride up and take the train back, while others spend the night and ride back the next day. I was worried we were not quite up to the challenge of a century ride at this particular time. We also had no intention of taking the usual and more direct route along the coast the entire way, as the stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (“PCH” to locals) between Santa Monica and the far reaches of Malibu is a harrowing place for cyclists. It’s true that many bike along this stretch, and most do live to see another day, but the high-speed motorists, the narrow shoulder that occasionally disappears, the many surfers preoccupied with loading and unloading their gear from cars parked alongside the highway, make for a stressful experience. So we decided to split the ride into two days, and add some extra miles by routing the first half of the ride through the San Fernando Valley. This meant no need for the stress of riding on PCH.
A ride planned by a friend a few years ago inspired the plan. She invited a group of us to meet at the Amtrak train station in Chatsworth (in the San Fernando Valley) and start the ride from there, following an 85-mile route through Simi Valley and into Camarillo before hitting the coast in the Oxnard/Ventura area, and then heading north to Santa Barbara. We then took a train back to Chatsworth that same evening, where we’d left our cars. I prefer to leave cars out of it entirely, when possible, and we already know how to ride our bikes from our home to Chatsworth, so why not just append our route to Chatsworth onto my friend’s route to Santa Barbara? That brings the total mileage closer to 120, but split between two days, that’s not bad at all. We developed a 60-mile route to get us to Thousand Oaks, and it was another 60 miles from there to Santa Barbara – perfect.
Saturday morning, we fed the cats, made arrangements with our houseguests to feed them while we were away, fixed ourselves breakfast, packed our essentials into a single pannier, and off we went. Knowing we only had to cover 60 miles, we were able to leave without rushing. All we had to do was make it to our hotel in Thousands Oaks. We didn’t get out the door until 9:15 AM, but we had plenty of time to complete our task for the day, even allowing for some stops along the way.
We headed north into Hollywood, and rode over the Cahuenga Pass. It’s not the most pleasant bikeway, but it’s doable, and there just aren’t appealing options for getting over to the San Fernando Valley from central Los Angeles. If you’re willing to approach the Valley from farther east, there’s a much more pleasant route through Griffith Park or the Los Angeles River Trail, but Cahuenga is more direct and it’s not too bad going northbound in the morning. (Southbound is a completely different story: DON’T TRY IT!)
After navigating a few busy, stressful streets, like Lankershim Boulevard, we got onto Vineland Ave’s buffered bike lane to connect us with the Chandler bike path, which continues west, and then north, as the Orange Line Bikeway to Chatsworth. That got us close to the home of a friend, where we took our first rest stop. We were about 30 miles and 3 hours into our journey, so it was perfect timing. We enjoyed a pleasant social call, had a snack, and used the facilities before heading on again. From there, we were close to Box Canyon. That meant a somewhat narrow winding road and a grueling climb, but with gorgeous scenery. We pulled over a few times to catch our breath, guzzle some water, and let some traffic pass us by. The climb was steep enough that we could just manage it, but not without a few stops along the way. I kept thinking I could not recall doing a climb like this on my friend’s route to Santa Barbara a few years ago. As it turns out, we were not following my friend’s route for this part; it was just so much more convenient to go this way from the location of our friend’s house where we’d stopped. If you are planning your own trip out of Chatsworth, you can consider whether you prefer a gentler route heading straight north on Topanga Canyon Blvd to Santa Susana Pass Road, or going west and following Box Canyon Road, with it’s challenge and beauty.
After the climb, Box Canyon Road ended at Santa Susana Pass Road, which took us to Simi Valley. After a short stretch on East Los Angeles Ave, we next hopped onto the Arroyo Simi Bike Path. This is a great bike path that takes you a good 7-8 miles across Simi Valley. From there, we headed southwest on Madera Road, which took us all the way to Thousand Oaks. A little pro tip in case you decide to take this route: when you turn left to head south on Madera Road, DO NOT make a full left turn into the southbound traffic lanes! Instead, take an immediate left onto the side path that runs along the eastern side of the Road. Madera Road at this point is one of those suburban highways and it does not have a bike lane in the road. Luckily, we noticed the side path and crossed over at one of the intersections after a rather stressful stint in the rightmost traffic lane. Later on, Google maps will also guide you onto Country Club Ct, which gives a break from Madera Road and a proper bike lane for awhile. When you get back onto Madera Road, this time, DO NOT take the sidewalk, as it will come to an abrupt end. There is a proper (but unprotected) bike lane on Madera Road beginning at this point. Soon thereafter, Madera Road becomes Olsen Road, which then becomes Lynn Road. While on the Olsen Road portion, we enjoyed riding past California Lutheran University, a place we both knew was in the Thousand Oaks area, but had never seen.
From Lynn Road, we hung a right onto Hillcrest Road. After a couple miles, that brought us to our destination for the evening, the lovely Premier Inns of Thousand Oaks. Okay, maybe not exactly lovely, but perfectly adequate for our needs. They were nice enough about letting us bring our bikes into the room, which had plenty of room for them, but we couldn’t get a room on the ground floor, so had to lug our bikes up the (external) stairs and wheel them around a maze of angled breezeways to get to our room, all the while bathed in the stench of cigarette smoke. I hadn’t realized the room I had booked was a “smoking” room, but the way the whole place smelled as we made our way to the room, it seemed perhaps all of their rooms are smoking rooms. We were looking for an inexpensive place to crash for the night, and that’s what we got. We were also able to walk to a nearby strip mall that offered lots of restaurants to choose from. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Stella’s, and, along the way, spotted an IHOP that was positioned perfectly for grabbing breakfast when it would be time to head out in the morning.
Day two started out with a hearty breakfast at IHOP, which put us in position to continue west on Borchard Road. After about two and a half miles, Borchard fed us into Rancho Dos Vientos, and then to Portrero Road. There appears from the map to be a more direct option, but we liked the scenic route. And next is where the ride gets extra fun: going west on Portrero serves you up with a few gentle rollers, and then, despite not having climbed any significant hills, you get treated to a delightful descent into the coastal flatlands. A memorable thrill.
We continued through farmland, heading towards Port Hueneme (pronounced hu-NAY-mee, although it always sounds to me like folks are saying “wuh-NEE-mee”). We rode past acres of strawberry fields, which smelled delicious, and resisted the urge to stop and try to “sample” the sweet-smelling fruit.
As we entered the residential areas of Oxnard, it was interesting to see the neighborhoods and various styles of apartments and houses, imagining this is where the workers of the nearby fields are living. As we got closer to the water, the homes gradually became larger. We rode though the Channel Islands area, taking Channel Islands Boulevard, which I’d not seen before. Closely packed houses, some quite large, line the channels, with boats docked in front of each one. It’s quite picturesque, and you just can’t ride by and not take photos. From there, we turned north, following Harbor Blvd into Ventura.
Soon thereafter, we came to the entrance to the bike path along Ventura Beach, where we found ample opportunities for a restroom break, and much to our delight, an ideal place to stop for lunch. Right along the bike path, is the Jolly Oyster, which has two trailers and several picnic tables. At one trailer, you can buy fresh oysters to take home and prepare yourself. At the other, you can buy prepared oysters to eat right there. The menu offered several appealing choices. We shared one plate of raw oysters, and one of grilled, plus had some scallop ceviche. It was awesome. We felt like we’d won the lottery to have stumbled across such a perfect lunch spot at just the right time.
After our little feast, we filled up our water bottles and continued north on the beach path. Okay, well there was an odd little section shortly thereafter where we had to wangle our way on a road (not so clearly marked to guide cyclists) for a short bit before the beach path resumed, but from there on out it was quite delightful riding along the ocean, separated from the cars. We rolled along with that beautiful soul-enriching ocean view for nearly 30 miles into Santa Barbara.
We rode into town, not sure of where we wanted to hang out next, until we came across Dune Coffee Roasters, along Cota Street. We parked our bikes next to an outdoor table and enjoyed some refreshments as well as some interesting characters, making it a true Santa Barbara experience. Actually, we later took the true Santa Barbara experience to a more typical level by heading over to State Street, which is closed to cars and filled with people. There we parked our bikes again, and slurped up some margaritas. We followed that with a slow roll around town and found ourselves a little park where we could hang for a bit before heading to the train station for our ride back to L.A.
The platform at the Santa Barbara train station was quite the party scene. There were lots of folks in good spirits, many part of a large group that appeared to be celebrating an occasion together. The atmosphere was noisy and rambunctious, but luckily didn’t veer into obnoxious. Once the train arrived, we secured our bikes in the lower level of the special car for bikes, and proceeded to find us some seats on the upper level. Turns out the party from the platform was continuing in our car of the train, and we enjoyed their good humor for our ride home.
Another year, another round of coffeeneuring. Whataneuring, you ask? See my coffeeneuring reports from previous years to get the backstory. Quick answer: Coffeeneuring is a challenge put out each Fall to bike (or run) to seven different coffee shops (or coffee outside locations) over the course of seven weeks, providing documentation. There are a few more rules, but that’s the gist of it. Each year the challenge has a theme, and participants have the option of embracing the theme in their own way, or creating a theme to add to the fun. This year’s theme was “C+1”, and I decided to make that about inviting someone along for each outing. I also find myself unable to resist keeping track of which Bloomers I wore each time (because that’s my thing, as in literally, that’s my side hustle).
The following is my report:
#1: Date: October 24, 2021
Where: La Tropezienne, Mid-City Los Angeles
Distance: 23.5 miles
Bloomers: Dazzling Amethyst
My friend Angie and I sometimes ride to Griffith Park together, so when she reached out to ask if I’d like to ride together this time, I was happy to do so. Then another friend, Lynn, ended up joining us. Turns out Angie needed to skedaddle on home right after our ride through the park, but Lynn was game for a coffee run. I hold fond memories of delectable goodies from La Tropezienne, and wanted to visit them again this year. Along with my cappuccino (they do those right), I enjoyed an almond croissant that featured all the perfect flakiness and almondy goodness.
#2: Date: October 30, 2021
Where: Lot 38, Washington, D.C.
Beverage: Macchiato Caramello
Bloomers: Pinkadot Black
C+1: Spirit of Frederick Douglass
Every year, during coffeeneuring season, I make a trip to our nation’s capitol to attend a conference, where I make use of their bikeshare system and bike routes. One year I was lucky enough to meet up with one of the many coffeeneurs in the area, and share a coffeeneuring ride together, but this year I was unable to find a ride buddy who was available at the same time I was free. Through the marvels of Instagram, I had been following the development of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge (I love biking over bridges), so I decided to designate the spirit of Frederick Douglass as my C+1. We had a great time despite getting a wee bit lost on the way there (missed my turn off the Mt. Vernon Trail, so took the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River instead of crossing by way of Hains Point). Before getting to the new Frederick Douglass Bridge, however, I had to get to Lot 38, a coffee shop nearby that was going to close soon so I had to save the exploration for after my treats. The macchiato caramello and cinnamon bun were well worth the trip. Afterward, I had fun riding across the new bridge with its fantastically generous bike lane as well as exploring both sides of the Anacostia River. It was a glorious adventure, and I relished the opportunity to see some autumn colors along the way.
#3: Date: October 31, 2021
Where: Stories Books & Cafe, Echo Park
Beverage: Drip Coffee with Milk & Caramel
Bloomers: Rustica Leggings (not Bloomers!)
The very next day, I was back in L.A., and was able to join the Street Librarians for their monthly visit to re-stock some little free libraries in the Silver Lake / Echo Park / Koreatown areas. The group meets up at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park, typically enjoying goodies before the ride begins. This time I had the pleasure of meeting someone new to me, Quoc, my C+1 for this ride. It was Halloween, so we embraced a spooky theme, and I had fun dressing for the occasion.
#4: Date: November 6, 2021
Where: Sidecar Donuts, Fairfax District
Beverage: Vintage Brew Coffee
Bloomers: Conventional Black Bike Shorts (again, no Bloomers!)
C+1: El Cochinito
This was an unplanned coffeeneuring excursion of the best kind. El Cochinito and I had simply planned to ride one of my favorite routes togethers, the Nichols Canyon / Franklin Canyon Loop that features quiet roads, beautiful scenery, and just enough climbing to feel legitimate without being too taxing. As we were back on the flats and working our way home, he surprised me with a stop at Sidecar Donuts. I was delighted to try this new location, and the Dulce de Leche Churro donut I had was divine, complemented by a brewed coffee with milk and honey. Sweetness with my Sweetie!
#5: Date: November 14, 2021
Where: Mendocino Farms, Culver City
Bloomers: Party Pants
So maybe the theme this year was really figuring out how to turn each weekend’s bike ride into a coffeeneuring ride. Certainly that was the case here, as I didn’t want to miss a tour of the urban forest in Culver City, led by Patricia Bijvoet. Patricia is a local urban landscape architect whom I met through Women on Bike Culver City. I was unfamiliar with urban forestry and what that meant, and this was a fascinating educational experience. Does having lemonade with the ride leader count as coffeeneuring? I think so.
#6: Date: November 20, 2021
Where: Akasha, Culver City
Beverage: Drip Coffee with Caramel
Bloomers: Dazzling Amethyst
I found myself back in Culver City the very next weekend, this time not wanting to miss the grand opening celebration of the new mobility lanes that transform the streets through Culver City’s charming downtown from scary-insane to delightful. After all, they didn’t just add bike lanes and a bus lane, they painted pretty flourishes along the way. Afterward, Jennifer gladly joined me as my C+1 for coffee and treats at Akasha. I had a drip coffee with caramel and half & half, and a delicious pistachio croissant.
#7: Date: November 27, 2021
Where: Pailin, Hollywood
Beverage: Thai Iced Coffee
Bloomers: Red Hot Aqua Dot
Time was running out, and here I was, looking for a way to turn my next outing into a coffeeneuring ride. El Cochinito had made arrangements for us to meet up with a former student of his at a nearby Thai restaurant, so we biked there and I made sure I had me a Thai iced coffee with my lunch. I had some time hanging with the former student’s partner, Kat, while our respective dates were outside for a bit. Kat was fun to visit with, and was gracious about letting me photograph her to document my C+1.
And with that, just under the wire, another season of coffeeneuring was completed.
What’s a pair of empty nesters in Los Angeles to do when all of their adult offspring move to the northeastern United States? Especially after being cut off for a year or two by a lousy pandemic? The only logical solution: take our bikes out east and visit them.
In the Summer of 2019, our eldest and his wife moved from northern California to Chicago. I was planning to pay them a visit the following Spring, but then, along came COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, a new career opportunity arose, and they left Chicago in the Summer of 2020 for Rochester, New York. Next thing we know, our youngest decided it would be more fun to quarantine with them than to keep living at home with the old folks. Go figure. Then this summer, our middle child and her fiancée decided to move to Philadelphia. Just like that, we found ourselves without any of our kids nearby, and the summer was soon going to run out on us. So we started making our plans for the Epic Tour de Kids.
We are AirBnB hosts, renting out one of the no-longer-occupied kid’s rooms, so first we identified an 18-day stretch after the last booking and before El Cochinito had to resume his teaching duties. Then we had to consider the essential visits to include in a trip out east: friends in the DC area, and another who had recently moved to the Catskills. The routing of our adventure flowed quite easily from there: fly to DC, visit El Cochinito’s college buddy, take our bikes on the train to Philadelphia, spend a few days visiting our daughter and her fiancée, ride our bikes from Philly to West Fulton, New York, visit our friend there for a couple days, then roll on to Rochester, New York to spend a few days with our kids there before we fly home.
Next, we needed to plan the actual biking part as well as get our bikes in touring condition. El Cochinito tackled the first portion of the routing: Philadelphia to West Fulton, and I took on the West Fulton to Rochester part. Each portion was about 240 miles or so, and we decided to spread those miles over 4 days to ensure we wouldn’t be rushed or stressed about making each day’s goal. Once we had that figured out, we started booking accommodations, and with that, our daily routes could be planned out.
This was near the end of June, and the trip was planned for August 3rd-21st. That meant we had to begin our training in earnest. Not just because we had a lot of miles to prepare for, but especially because we had both encountered some unfortunate unintended contact with the pavement while biking in recent months, and we needed to make sure we were sufficiently recovered from our respective injuries and up to the task. In December, El Cochinito had taken a super bad fall after hitting an abrupt ripple in the asphalt at the intersection of Sunset Blvd & Highland in Hollywood that left him with a 3rd degree separated shoulder, then another fall in early March that caused some minor fractures and rang his bell, which was followed a few days later by yours truly having her own spill biking to the office the morning after a little rain and going down hard upon hitting some slick pavement, resulting in a fractured pelvis. It was as if we were competing to see who could have the more pitiful solo crash.
Alas, although we suffered some significant aches and pains, we both gradually recovered over the course of a few months, with the help of some physical therapy and determination. As of May, I had remained quite frustrated at what seemed then like a serious lack of progress. By June, I was feeling increasingly confident. So, on June 26th, we took our bikes to Ventura and road a 49-mile loop from Ventura to Ojai, on the Ojai Valley Trail, then on to Santa Paula, where we stopped for beer, and then a final leg back to Ventura. It was a hot day, and we covered more miles and climbed more elevation than either of us had done thus far in 2021, but we did it!
To make sure we could also handle back-to-back riding days, we got back on our bikes the following day. This ride was flat, but long, as we logged 69 miles by first riding the San Gabriel River Path down to Seal Beach, swinging through Long Beach with a stop for lunch, and then riding back on the Los Angeles River Bike Path. Our fannies felt it, but we were able to do it, and that was a big boost to our confidence.
The following weekend presented an opportunity to work on our climbing. I was not at all sure I could do this one, as the most challenging part of my recovery from the fractured pelvis was regaining the ability to ride uphill. Even the slightest inclines had been hard. But I did not want to miss the chance to ride Glendora Mountain Road / Glendora Ridge Road while it was closed to cars for the 4th of July weekend. This is one of those bucket list rides: spectacular scenery from an undulating ribbon of road that traces the crest of Glendora Ridge as you climb up to Mt. Baldy Village. I had only done this ride twice before. In 2019, I did it right after returning from my Colorado trip in which I rode from Denver to Estes Park and back, so, hey, I was definitely able to handle it that year. In 2020, I did it again, but struggled with the heat and had to stop frequently to keep from bonking, especially during that final slog to the top. I had no reason to think it would be any easier in my not-quite-fully-recovered state this year, but I did have a fancy new Bianchi Infinito carbon bike, giving me a chance to see if a lightweight bike might make it manageable. After 46 miles and 6,423 feet of climbing, I am proud to say we did it. I also PR’d the climb. Not too shabby.
With life and all that, the next few weeks’ training rides consisted of an occasional ride up to the Griffith Observatory or up Nichols Canyon, nothing too challenging. Finally, on the last day of July, we put in one last serious effort before the big trip. We rode south to San Pedro, up that steep little bugger of a hill to visit the Korean Friendship Bell, and then rode back up through Palos Verdes and along the coast, returning via the Ballona Creek Bike Path, with a final and very steep climb up to the Baldwin Hills Overlook. That gave us a total of 73 miles and 2,415 feet of climbing for a decent confirmation that we were ready to take on our big bike tour. Which is good, because that was our last opportunity to train for the tour.
Turning Our Road Bikes Into Touring Bikes
I had recently decided to put gravel tires on my Volpe, since I knew it could accommodate wider tires than the 28mm tires it came with. And with a newer, fancier, carbon Bianchi Infinito in my collection, it made sense to devote the Volpe to more adventurous riding on varied surface conditions and for touring. El Cochinito wanted to use his aluminum-frame road bike for our tour, and consulted with our local bike shop about how to adapt it for touring and riding trails paved with crushed gravel and the like. The shop was able to install a rear rack despite the lack of braze-ons, and switched out his 23mm tires with 25mm Gatorskins. They also did a bike fitting, and made several key adjustments to make long distance riding much more comfortable.
Getting our bikes to DC
We had our local bike shop tune up our bikes and box them for our flight to DC. That gave us confidence the bikes were packed right and protected for the journey. And I had planned ahead to find an airport transportation service that could handle getting two people and two bike boxes from our house to the airport, as we needed to get us to LAX very early on a Tuesday morning. I found one company that offered van service, and carefully reviewed the stated luggage capacity for their private van service. I almost booked with them, but then noticed a number of bad reviews complaining that the service did not show up for many of its customers, so I kept looking. I found another company that offered what appeared to be very similar private vans, but no explicit information about their luggage capacity. I figured a large van with no other passengers could surely handle us and our bikes, so I booked it. There was no FAQ or chat or phone number I could use to confirm that capacity, but then two days before our flight, the confirmation email did provide a phone number. I called to make sure we would be okay, and learned that, no, their vans were not big enough to meet our needs. Flummoxed, I decided to reach out to a bike friend who lives near the airport and ask if she could help. She was great about it. We drove our boxed bikes and ourselves in El Cochinito’s pick up to her house early the morning of our departure, and she rode with us to LAX. She drove the truck back to her house, and kept it there until time to come pick us up on the return. Thank you, Lynn, you’re a lifesaver!
At LAX, we donned our KN95 masks and drug our bike boxes into the terminal to get them checked in. We were flying American Airlines, whose baggage policy treats bike boxes like any other form of checked baggage – no extra charge just because it’s a bike. But, there was no clear indication as to where we should go with said bike boxes. We tried one line and then another, and when we eventually made it to the front of the line, we were told we hadn’t needed to wait in that line, but did need to take our bike boxes to a special drop off location. The check in agent was kind enough to walk us to this mysterious other location.
Our direct flight to National Airport in DC was uneventful, but all we had to eat on that flight was one Cliff bar apiece plus the cookies the airlines hands out. We were starving by the time we landed, but afraid to stop for food lest our bikes be picked up by someone else before we got to baggage claim. Once we had our bikes, we had to get to work assembling them, right there in the baggage claim area. The bikes were a little more dismantled than I had expected, and we had some work to do: reinsert the stem and tighten the handlebars so the bike steers straight, reattach the front wheel and the rear brake, replace the pedals, reinsert the seat post, and replace the bottle cages (arrgghh, why did those have to come off??). Finally, we had to reinflate the tires using my mini frame pump. Doing all of this is hard enough on a good day; doing it while sleep-deprived and hangry is a serious challenge. And that latter part, about inflating the tires, turned out to be a bit of a problem, but not right away.
DC & Maryland
We managed to get our bikes in working order, attached our panniers to the rear racks, and headed for the Metro station. We got our fare cards loaded up, a station attendant let us know that we needed to take our bikes around the side to an elevator to get to the platform, and we made our way to the Yellow Line train that would get us to Metro Center, where we could transfer to the Red Line. A lot of squeezing our two bikes and our two bodies onto elevators, but it was all doable. I was a bit confused by the DC Metro bike policy, as the center doors of each train had a “no bikes” symbol, but the center door was the only way to get to the wheelchair zone, which has enough space for the bikes. Does DC prefer that folks with bikes use the doors at the ends of each car and just stand in the aisle with their bikes? That didn’t seem to make sense, so we used the center doors. Luckily, our trains never got too terribly crowded.
We disembarked at the Grosvenor Station, and from there, rode our bikes 6 miles to Potomac, where our friends live. My bike felt a little sluggish, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I wasn’t that accustomed to my new GravelKing tires (although I did ride on them for the last few training rides), or because of the weight of my pannier and handlebar bag, or because my tires weren’t properly inflated. Or maybe I was just feeling slow in the way I often do when I can’t keep up with El Cochinito. We figured we’d borrow a floor pump from our friend to make sure the tires were adequately inflated, but then the floor pump couldn’t be found. Oh, well. We just pumped them up again as best we could with the mini pump.
Taking Our Bikes on Amtrak
After two nights and a full day spent with El Cochinito’s old college buddy, we were ready to roll out, reversing our route to the Red Line, and taking that to Union Station. There we grabbed some breakfast and tried to figure out where exactly we needed to go in order to board our train to Philadelphia with the bikes. There was no guidance at the station, but once we got to our train, each door had a bicycle symbol by it, so we figured we could board anywhere. But it was not easy lifting our bikes onto the train, as we had to go up a few steep steps. Once on board, we could not see anywhere for our bikes to go. We ended up trying to make our way through the passenger car’s narrow aisle with our bikes and panniers – not easy at all, and a bit annoying to the other passengers, also trying to make their way to an available seat.
I kept looking around for a train attendant, conductor, or someone who might be able to give us a clue as to where we were supposed to put our bikes. We’d paid an extra $20 each for the bike reservation, and yet there did not appear to be any suitable place for them. Finally, in the second or third car we tried, there was an attendant. Her reply was to “put it in the bike rack”. I asked her where the bike rack was. She pointed in the direction of a luggage rack next to the restroom at the end of the car. I asked again where the bike rack was. She explained that I needed to move the luggage off the rack, and then put the bike in. That seemed odd. The rack had lots of large suitcases on it, and I started trying to lift them off, one-by-one, without losing control of my bike. It was a bit crazy and stressful, and I was blocking the aisle that was full of folks waiting to pass by in both directions. A woman came up to me and asked me why I was moving her suitcase, and I told her I was doing what the attendant told me to do so that I could park my bike there. She seemed rather miffed. After the shelves were cleared of luggage, it was possible to lift the two shelves up, revealing a hook against the back wall and a sign that said “reserved for bicycle storage”. Sure would be nice if that sign were visible when the shelves were down. The other thing we learned is that each car of the train has storage for only one bicycle, so El Cochinito had to keep moving on down the train, looking for an available bike rack.
Next, I had to lift my bike up to get the front wheel onto the hook. That was not easy at all. The shelves kept falling back down. I needed about six hands to be able to manage this maneuver. Luckily, a nice person helped me keep the shelves from falling while I lifted my bike. Even then, it was hard to get it aligned on its end and inside the little cubby and then get the front wheel onto the hook.
Once that feat had been accomplished, I wondered where and how I might be able to find El Cochinito. I start heading down to the next car, and the next, and the next, through a dining car, and on to the next passenger car, and so on. Finally I found him. Some kind conductor/attendant person had seen him trying car after car, discovering that each bike rack was already occupied by a bike, and they’d opened up another car at the far end, where he was able to store his bike, and also find us two seats together. At last, we were able to sit down and enjoy our train ride!
The two hour ride from DC to Philadelphia was interesting. We passed through cities like Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware. I never tire of gawking at train stations and seeing the often older architecture of houses that are near the train tracks.
Our daughter and her fiancée met us at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, and guided us to the adjacent SEPTA station so we could hop onto a local train to get to our AirBnB. We had a little apartment that looked like it used to be a storefront, fluorescent tube lighting and all, that was conveniently right next to (literally right next to) the SEPTA elevated train tracks. The host had thoughtfully provided ear plugs with the apartment, for which I was grateful. The good thing about our place, besides being within walking distance of our daughter’s new digs, was that it was a street-level walk-up, making it easy to roll our bikes inside. I was most glad we wouldn’t need to heave the bikes up a skinny staircase.
Our visit to Philly included time to do some exploring by bike with our daughter and her fiancée who had just moved there. They weren’t feeling ready to bike on all the city streets, but were interested in the bike path along the Schuylkill River. So we took SEPTA to get us closer to the Philadelphia Art Museum, where we were able to rent some Indego bikes. We rode north a few miles and back, got some ice cream treats, and then walked to Dilworth Park. We switched to SEPTA for the rest of our transportation needs, up until realizing, after dinner, that I didn’t have my SEPTA card with me. But I knew we still had time left on our 24-hour Indego rental, so El Cochinito and I decided to bike back to our AirBnb that night. Ah, but we were able to get some e-bikes at the Indego station, so then we decided to extend the ride and do a little more urban exploration. We rode through the Sharswood area (no, I’d never heard of that), and saw an interesting mix of older, modest buildings, and some quite new developments, including one that looked like a Virgin Atlantic version of an apartment building, complete with neon glow.
We finished off our time in Philly by visiting Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first whoopie pie, after which we did more walking, with some brief exploration of Independence Hall and Penn’s Landing. We did get on our bikes a bit that day, riding them over to a nearby bike shop to make sure we had reassembled our bikes correctly and to purchase some CO2 cartridges. We then continued riding to make sure the bikes felt right, and it was an interesting part of Philly we ended up exploring. There were moments when I have to admit I felt a little unsafe on my Bianchi as we passed through some rather desperate-looking neighborhoods. But we made our way right back to Fishtown and our AirBnb by following under the elevated train.
And the Adventure Begins: Philly to Long Valley, NJ
Bright and early on a Sunday morning, we packed up our panniers, rolled by our daughter’s place for goodbye hugs, and began our tour. We got an early start, as we knew we had 80 miles ahead of us, and we didn’t want to be rushed or worried about getting to our Bed & Breakfast in Long Valley too late to be able to enjoy it. As we worked our way out of town, a Dunkin’ Donuts offered just what we needed: breakfast sandwiches and coffee! We dined al fresco in an adjacent parking lot to get some social distance from the peculiar guy hanging out in front of the donut shop, and soon we were well-nourished and ready to roll. As we headed northeast out of Philadelphia, El Cochinito let me know that he had a surprise in store for me. I was filled with curiosity: would it be a funky old cemetery? A famous person’s house? A historical site? Some weird public art? I kept looking around me for clues.
It was fun seeing the varying neighborhoods as we got farther out. Two-story row houses are the norm throughout this area, but the style shifted to more porches; places that made me think of classic blue collar families, like the one depicted in All In the Family back in the 70’s. Then it shifted to a more industrial setting. Then I saw my surprise: Four Seasons Total Landscaping! The iconic “Four Seasons” where Rudy Giuliani held his rather infamous post-election press conference (which, by the way, has its own Wikipedia entry). It was a delight, indeed. The green awning over the door, the parking lot where the press conference was held that is so recognizable from the TV coverage, and, yes, the adult bookstore right next to it.
We rode alongside the Delaware River, taking our first little inadvertent detour when I saw a sign for the Delaware River Trail, only to realize I was following it into a park in the wrong direction. We doubled back to see that all we needed to do was continue straight from where we’d been in order to follow the Trail in the correct direction. It didn’t go for long anyway, but, oh well. Our next detour was entirely intentional: we turned left at Tullytown to explore the historic suburb of Levittown. The planned community of look-alike homes and curving streets was built in the 1950’s to provide suburban homes for the blue collar workers of the Delaware Valley, particularly as US Steel was opening a new division in the region. We saw a lot of white picket fences.
We continued northeast, delighted to hop onto the D&L Towpath / Delaware Canal Trail, which was beautiful. I was downright giddy. The earth had a reddish hue, the canal was lined with wildflowers, and the trail was enveloped by lush greenery. I noticed my new wider gravel tires felt a little mushy on this trail of crushed stone and dirt. Was that normal for this type of tire, or did I have a flat? I stopped to check, and sure enough, I had my first flat. The tire wasn’t completely flat, so I tried to see if I could pump more air back in, and keep pumping to the max, and see how much farther that would get me. I suppose I was hoping to make it to the end of the trail and find a bike shop to help me get it right. Alas, after stopping to pump more air into it a few times, I accepted that we would just have to fix the tire right there along the trail. El Cochinito did the dirty work for me, and we continued on our way. We were planning to turn right from the trail at a road that would take us over the Lower Trenton Bridge, but when we got to it, there was just a very steep staircase up to the street, and no way to continue on the trail. Our first google maps fail of the trip. We backtracked a short way to a parking lot we’d seen for a motel, and did a little wandering. Another cyclist helped us find our way to the bridge, and that brought us to an exciting moment: crossing the Delaware! We later realized that Washington’s army had crossed the Delaware much farther north, and then approached Trenton taking a longer journey southward from there. Nevertheless, after an awkward realization that we had to cross over to a pedestrian access on the far side of the bridge, we managed to complete our crossing of the Delaware, heading in to Trenton, where we stopped at the Battle Monument, and I learned a thing or two about the significance of the Battle of Trenton in the Revolutionary War. (You learn some things when your spouse is a history buff, whose graduate studies focused on the American Revolution.)
We continued on toward Princeton, and took our next little side journey at the Princeton Battleground, where we just so happened upon a tour. We were able to listen in as a tour guide explained the critical days between December 26, 1776, and January 3, 1777, culminating in the Battle of Princeton. After a fascinating history lesson, we decided to skip our planned foray into the town of Princeton, and continue on our way north. Good thing we moved on when we did, as a couple more flat tires, this time on El Cochinito’s bike, meant we were falling a little behind schedule, not that we were on a strict schedule, but, hey, the second flat left us realizing we were out of inner tubes, and that was a problem. Luckily, El Cochinito found, through the wonders of Google, a bike shop not too far away, in Hopewell. We decided I would ride on ahead to the bike shop to get ahold of some inner tubes, and El Cochinito would start walking and also see if he could get an Uber to take him and his bike to the shop. If not, I could ride back to him with the inner tubes.
The bike shop, Sourland Cycles, was a godsend! The owner, upon hearing of our predicament, offered to hop in his car and go retrieve El Cochinito and his bike. First, he was kind enough to top off the air in my tires, and Mike confirmed my suspicion that we were riding on underinflated tires. My tires were actually even lower than I suspected, and very much in need of proper inflation. Mike pointed out that the frequent flats were a direct result of riding on the underinflated tires, especially when carrying the added weight of our panniers — likely the reason we were getting our flats in the rear tire. I browsed the store, used the restroom, and filled my water bottles while Mike went off to find El Cochinito. That was particularly good, since by the time I called El Cochinito to let him know help was on the way, he had just concluded that it was not going to be possible to put his bike into the Uber that had come to pick him up. The alternate rescue was successful, our bikes were put into good working order, and we stocked up on extra inner tubes and a few other just-in-case items before getting back on the road.
We revised our navigation to take the most direct route from Hopewell to Long Valley, our target destination for that first night. Of course, the only way to get into a valley is to go up and over whatever hills line it, right? So we were already more than 80 miles into our day’s ride when we got to the hill climbing part. That was not easy, but we did it, and we were very glad, no downright excited, when we finally arrived at the Neighbor House Bed & Breakfast in Long Valley, New Jersey! It ended up being a 91-mile day, about 13 miles longer than the original plan, and a total of 3,558′ elevation gain. Our hosts, Iris and Rafi, were most gracious, and brought us a pitcher of ice water to enjoy on their back porch while we savored some rest and recovery. We were much too tired to go out to dinner that night, and so ordered pizza for delivery. We thoroughly enjoyed that dinner!
Sixty is the New Sexy: Long Valley, NJ to Unionville, NY
The next morning, I woke up a year older, and entered a new decade: 60. This brought up memories of the summer I was turning 50, when my goal was to get back into good enough cycling shape to be able to ride up Latigo Canyon (a favorite ride of mine that is a delight when I’m in shape, and a bummer when I’m not) by my birthday. Here I am, a decade later, and I’m tackling so much more. That feels good.
We enjoyed a delicious breakfast that included hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit, and said our good byes to Iris and Rafi. Iris had given us some tips about how to access the Columbia Trail from a driveway just across the road, rather than taking the longer way per Google maps. It was a beautiful morning, and I was excited about getting onto another bike trail, but the thrill went chill real fast. The Columbia Trail, at this segment at least, is a surface of big, loose rocks, much more suitable for a mountain bike than a road bike. El Cochinito was NOT happy, especially after all the flat tire trouble we’d been through the day before. I started getting nervous that this did not bode well for the rest of our journey. I began developing a steaming case of anger in my head, directed at our local bike shop guy back home who had convinced El Cochinito he could adapt his skinny-tired-aluminum-frame road bike for bike touring on trails. As soon as we got to an intersection with a road, we got off the trail and switched to Old Route 24. I was grumpy about being on the road instead of a trail, and struggled with thoughts running in my mind like: “What if the next segment of the trail was better and less rocky? or more beautiful?” “I was so excited to be riding trails on this trip, and now we have to ride on the shoulder and hope the drivers are nice. Is this what it will be like on all the trails?” “Why didn’t El Cochinito take my suggestion to get a proper touring bike for this trip?” Not a great state of mind to be in on the 2nd day of biking with my partner! But I knew the simple reality is that the trail was really rough, regardless of what kind of bike or tires we had, and it simply didn’t make sense to stay on it. No sense grumbling over what might have been anyway. Not that I was so quick to stop grumbling.
Soon enough, we got to the turn off for Bartley Road, where we would have left the Columbia Trail by the originally planned route, and the roads were fine, and we were fine. I was able to snap out of my silly little funk and embrace the beauty that surrounded us. The valley was lush and verdant, and we knew at some point soon we would need to confront the inevitable landscape feature essential to getting out of a valley: some kind of steep-arse hill. We turned off Bartley Road, and quickly took a second turn onto Tinc Road. Just like that, it was time to get down into low gear. Make that the lowest possible gear. Thankfully, the Volpe offers very low gearing, without which, I probably couldn’t have done that climb. It was hard, I mean really hard. Looking back now at the elevation profile on Strava, I see that the grade at the beginning of that climb was 18.6%. It was a little curvy-windy, and I dreaded the thought of some car trying to come down this narrow, winding road toward us while we were struggling our way up. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I also worried that I might reach a point of not moving forward enough to keep from tipping over. I considered getting off the bike and walking the rest of the hill, but dismissed the thought as it would likely be even harder to walk my loaded bike up that steep hill, especially wearing cleats. Plus, it was hard to tell how much longer the uphill would continue, and if I stopped riding, it would be that much harder to start up again on such a steep incline. I pedaled on.
We reached a slight leveling off point and took a rest at the entrance to someone’s driveway. Sweat came gushing down my face. It took me awhile to catch my breath and mop up the sweat. We guzzled some water, slurped energy gels, and collected our strength to finish off the hill. The rest of the climb wasn’t quite as hard, and once I realized I’d made it to the top, I stopped again to savor my triumph and snap a selfie. Another gushing stream of sweat rolled down my face, but I was exhilarated. THIS is what sixty looks like!
We had a glorious ride the rest of the way. We rode the Sussex Branch Trail, which treated us with a lake visible through the trees to our left, a nice crushed gravel surface that was great for riding on, and a bright green assortment of shrubs and trees lining our path. Eventually, we had to leave the trail to head north on Ross Corner Sussex Road, which had a decent shoulder. It was deceptively smooth, however, and at some point El Cochinito hit an unexpected something while we were traveling at a good clip. Shortly thereafter, he realized he had another flat tire. At least by now, he had gotten real efficient at changing a tire, plus we were finally equipped with the know-how to use a CO2 cartridge to get a proper inflation. Soon we were back on the road and continued to enjoy decent pavement, right up until we crossed the state line and entered New York. What a night and day difference in road quality! Suddenly we were navigating potholes, cracks, and bumps in the road.
Not far over the state line, we rolled into Unionville, our destination for the night. It has a cute little main street, where we noticed the Wit’s End Tavern before turning up (oh, yes, UP!) towards our AirBnb. Our host for the night, together with her young daughter and her daughter’s friend, greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm, and lots of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” greetings directed at me (I guess a little birdie told them), and a tour of their lovely historic home. There was even a bottle of wine waiting for us in our room. After showering up, El Cochinito and I walked back into town and enjoyed a birthday dinner of barbecue ribs, fries, and beer. We returned to our room and tried to enjoy the wine that awaited us, but we could only handle so much alcohol in one night. Normally, I would just save it for another day, but when you’re on a bike tour, you have to be selective about what is worth adding weight to the bike. A half (or maybe a little more) of a bottle of wine is not worth carrying along!
Day 2 of our 8 days of biking took us 51 miles and 2,462′ of elevation gain. Good that it was a little shorter today, as our tushies were feeling it. So glad we brought along the Bag Balm.
We had been so worried we might have underestimated the challenge of biking in the heat and humidity that would be typical for August in the Northeast. The forecast for this particular day included a heat advisory starting in the late morning, and in the area where we were headed. We decided to get an early start and seek out breakfast later.
That next morning, as we left Unionville, we were graced with a soft cloud cover as we rolled through farmland on gently rolling terrain. It was such a gorgeous day, and so far, so cool. One of the farmers whose home we passed must be a cyclist, or at least a supporter of cyclists. When we saw their silo, we absolutely had to stop and snap a photo. That blissful roll through farmland came to an abrupt end when we next had to manage a tense three-mile stretch on US6-E. We rode the narrow shoulder, alongside a couple of lanes of fast-moving traffic that emanated that familiar tension of impatient drivers in no mood for giving ample space to cyclists. It was stressful and miserable, but thankfully it didn’t last forever, or even for too terribly long, and despite feeling quite unsafe, we managed it without incident. Best of all, it was followed by a tranquil mile or two on the lovely Orange Heritage Trail, a freshly paved, forest-lined trail that took us into the town of Goshen. There we headed for Joe Fix Its, a bike shop, where we stocked up on CO2 cartridges and a few extra inner tubes for good measure. Conveniently, right next door was a cafe, just when we were feeling ready for a hearty meal. Howell’s Cafe has outside tables, allowing us to sit right by our bikes, and enjoy the beautiful architecture of this quaint town. As we rolled on through Goshen, we got more architectural eye candy, a feature that puts Goshen on my list of favorite towns to bike through.
We later got to ride some more nice trails. First up was the intermittent Shawangunk, Walden, and Wallkill Trail. Some segments of this trail are quite civilized, with pavement, benches, and good signage. A few spots were a little more adventurous. The beauty didn’t let up throughout. The best part of the day, however, was the 15-mile stretch on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which forms part of the Empire State Trail that covers 750 miles running the length and width of New York. We took a rest stop in New Paltz, which has a colorful and quaint pedestrian zone of shops and eateries.
The trail continues through some gorgeous scenery and several beautiful bridges, and these visual treats only got better the farther north we rode it. The most spectacular was the Rosendale Trestle, a 940′ former railroad bridge, first built in 1870, that runs 150′ above Rondout Creek. I would gladly go back and ride this trail again.
Following our rail trail thrills, we had another 10 miles of rolling hills before we got to Olivebridge, where we had booked a small fishing cottage for the night. There isn’t a whole lot of commercial activity in Olivebridge. We saw a post office, and not much else. After our 67 miles of riding, we were ready for a good dinner, but discovered there were no stores or restaurants of any kind that were open in the area. We certainly did not feel like biking another 30 miles round trip to get dinner. Oops, now what? We searched the kitchen of our little cottage. There wasn’t much in the cupboards or the refrigerator, but we scored when we looked in the freezer: a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a half a bag of curly fries, some sliced pineapple, and a little bit of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of a pint container of Ben & Jerry’s. El Cochinito found some garlic salt to season the chicken breasts that he fried up in a skillet, while I put the curly fries in the oven. Before long, dinner was served. Perhaps it would have been nice to have the rest of that bottle of wine with us from the night before, but we were just grateful we had managed to pull together a meal. I hate to think what we would have done had it not been for those freezer finds. There may have been some reference to the Donner party during our conversation that evening.
What’s a Few Extra Miles: Olivebridge to West Fulton
We split our remaining Cliff bar for a quick breakfast and got a bright and early start on another beautiful morning. We knew we were near a big butterfly-shaped lake, so the first order of business was to check out that expanse of water. Olivebridge borders the southern shore of the Ashokan Reservoir, below the lower left wing of the butterfly. This puts it at the opposite side of the reservoir from Woodstock, New York, a place of which you may have heard, positioned a tad north of the upper right butterfly wing. We had initially considered routing our trip through Woodstock, but the accommodations in that area were quite pricey. Now we know that, perhaps one feature that justifies the extra cost of accommodations in that northeastern side of the reservoir is availability of restaurants and markets, but we don’t really know.
Shortly into our ride, we veered right to explore a bridge that angles along the edge of that butterfly’s lower wing toward the middle of the reservoir. It was a tranquil morning. Scattered clouds reflected off the glassy surface of the lake. Eventually the bridge crossed well above a creek passing through a crack in the middle of a densely packed forest. We took a few minutes to savor the magic of that moment, the spiritual power of the stillness.
Our route began by tracing the left wing of the butterfly. Once we hit the northwestern wing’s tip, we turned southeast for a bit on NY-28, in search of the Bread Alone Bakery so we could get some real food for breakfast. We passed the Boiceville Inn, which didn’t appear to be open, a construction site, and then came upon Fabulous Furniture and their funky roadside display of flying saucers, rockets, and other attention-grabbing sculptures. As the detour dragged on, it became apparent we needed to double-check the google maps. Sure enough, we had flown right past the Bread Alone Bakery — it was hidden in the middle of that construction site. It turns out to be a very popular spot. The parking lot was busy, the line to place an order was steady, and the coffee and baked goods were well worth the detour.
That turned out to be just the first in a series of google maps anomalies and unintended side trips for our day. But we were riding through the Catskills, and the scenery was non-stop luscious. Pretty wildflowers lined the shoulder of NY-28. Dense forests provided a dark green backdrop for the wildflowers and tall grasses. More dark green rose up over mountains all around us as we continued north.
The road curved right, and took us a bit southeasterly to Lexington, where we crossed a bridge over Schoharie Creek, before turning left to continue our northward journey. We were out of water at this point, and I was hopeful that the town of Lexington would have a place where we could refill our bottles. Just after crossing the bridge, we noticed a couple of women sitting on a front porch. We asked if they knew where we might be able to buy some water. They offered us their garden hose, which was wonderful, especially since Lexington didn’t seem to offer a market or other amenities as I’d hoped. We got into some extended conversation with our porch-sitting friends, and learned about the challenges that community faces when the Schoharie Creek overflows. They told of a recent flood that required evacuation, of particular concern for them, as one of them uses a wheelchair. As bad as it was for their creekside home, they said the flood pretty much wiped out the town of Prattsville, farther up the road.
After filling our water bottles and learning about the local communities, we got back on our bikes and continued north. As we approached Prattsville, we could see a number of homes and buildings that looked as we’d been told–likely too damaged to be saved. The town also turned out to be a good place to get lunch, and I liked the idea of supporting this community that has been through an exceptionally rough year. The folks at the Prattsville Diner were friendly, and the food hit the spot.
The gorgeous scenery continued. Soon the Schoharie Creek widened to form the Schoharie Reservoir, and Google Maps had guided us to take a less-traveled road, 990V, along the west side of the reservoir that appeared to give us a more direct route to West Fulton, our destination. North of the reservoir, at Gilboa, the routing had us veer right onto Flat Creek Road, which fed us some hills. We then turned onto Valenti, which fed us some more hills. This led us to Power Access Road, the name of which was our first big clue. El Cochinito had raised a concern about the wisdom of a route that required using a road with such a name, but by the time we were having that conversation, we were already at the turn off to Valenti, half way into that hilly commitment. I couldn’t resist giving it a try, as this route seemed to take us on less busy roads.
Alas, at the junction with Power Access Road, we encountered a large, high-security gate, where we picked up a telephone, hoping against hope that someone on the other end of the line might mercifully let us through, or at least guide us to an alternate route. Unfortunately, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no way through, no matter that we were on bikes and needing to get through to NY-30. We proceeded to re-trace Valenti Road and Flat Creek Road, hills and all, back to 990V, which unfortunately dipped back south a bit before connecting us with NY-30. I know El Cochinito loves me because he never once said, “I told you so.”
The ride up NY-30 was okay. Sure there was some traffic, but not too bad really. We encountered some light sprinkles that never quite turned into full-on rain. We then turned off onto Bear Ladder Road, which was pretty, lined with dense, dark greenery, and featured a series of rises, like a compound hill. By this time, my knees were really feeling the Catskills. I wasn’t sure I could manage any more hills. I began to worry that I was doing some damage to my knees that could prevent me from being able to keep biking — an unacceptable possibility. I was glad to know we would be taking a couple of rest days in West Fulton, hoping that the rest would be enough to restore my knees.
Bear Ladder Road was a 5.5 mile stretch, by the end of which we were damp with the mist of a light rain. I was excited, knowing we were almost to our destination. According to Google Maps, we needed to turn left at the T intersection onto West Fulton Road, and our destination would be on our right in 0.5 miles! But as soon as we looked left, we saw the steepest hill of the day. Okay, not a hill, really, more like a WALL. If only that white house at the intersection with Bear Ladder Road was the Waterfall House we were seeking. But, recognizing there was no point in entertaining such fantasies, I mustered up my courage, dropped into my lowest gear, and reminded myself that, after this one last hill, we would be done biking for the next few days. We powered up that horrendous hill, searching for the address we had for the Waterfall House. But there were no houses and no driveways or even mailboxes on the right, none at all. Finally, El Cochinito stopped a pick up truck that was driving by, and asked the driver if he could help us find the Waterfall House. He kindly informed us that it was that white house at the bottom of the hill! Once we dropped back down the hill to have a good look at that white house we’d passed, it was obvious from the objects sitting out on the porch that this was the place where our friend Lazaro lives.
So, that made two Google Maps fails in one day. Three, if you count our overshooting past the Bread Alone Bakery that morning. With that, our planned 60-mile, 2600’ day became a 70-mile, 4600’ day. Today’s tally: 0 flats; Roadkill: 1 beaver and 1 porcupine.
Rest Days in the Catskills
The whole reason we routed our trip through the Catskills was to work in a visit to El Cochinito’s brother from another mother, Lazaro, who had moved to West Fulton this past year. The two met back in 2013, on El Cochinito’s first trip to Cuba, when he was taken by Lazaro’s artistic creations: his salsitas, formed from string, paste, and the official newspaper of the Cuban government, and which come to life as delightful creatures with big, mouse-like ears, pointy noses that curve upward, and extended arms that exude joy. Since then, we have visited Lazaro in Havana, and he has visited us in Los Angeles, including a stay of a few months just before the pandemic shut everything down. It was great to see him again, meet his boss and the pets of the house, get some laundry done, and visit the adjacent waterfall. The Waterfall House is an historic treasure that served as a Bed & Breakfast for many years, and has a magical quality to it. Part of its magic comes from its furry inhabitants: a fun dog and two cats, one of whom seems to be a dog living in a cat’s body.
The highlight of our stay was a trip to nearby Cobleskill, where the Jeff Tufano gallery was exhibiting some of Lazaro’s work. It was a delight to see his work on display there, and then to walk the cute main street of Cobleskill. On our way back to West Fulton, we stopped at the Breakabeen General Store — a real general store, as in very small, yet carries everything you need. We even filled the car’s gas tank at an old timey (pre-digital era) gas pump right outside the store. Yes, these things are thrilling after living in Los Angeles for the last 25 years.
There was some heavy rain during our two days of rest in West Fulton. The afternoon before we were to get back on the road, I gave the bikes (that had spent the last couple of days on the porch) a look-over, wiped down the grime, topped up the tire pressure, and made sure our steeds were in good working order. El Cochinito’s chain had gotten a bit rusty, so I cleaned that up a bit and applied some Tri-Flow. It felt good to acknowledge, through time with the bikes, where we’d been and where we had yet to go.
Onward to the Erie Canal Trail: West Fulton to Utica
We woke to a gorgeous morning. I was struck by the beautiful puffs of steam rising over the hills in the distance as we rolled north out of West Fulton. We’d had a choice between a longer route and a couple of shorter-but-hillier options. We chose the longer route, taking route 30A through Middleburgh, Schoharie, and Sloansville. That was an excellent choice! We rolled along, up and down gentle grades. After Sloansville, we curved onto Route 162, which angled us northwest toward the Mohawk River near the town of Spraker. Just before Canajoharie, we got onto the Erie Canal Trail. That was exciting, as we knew this was a relatively flat trail that would take us all the way to Rochester. My knees were relieved to know that we were done with hardcore hills. We stopped for a yummy breakfast in Canajoharie.
The trail was delightful and peaceful. We continued along the Mohawk River. At times the trail veered through parklands, and led us past the home of General Herkimer, where we learned a wee bit about the Battle of Oriskany, another tidbit of Revolutionary War history.
We rode through Ilion, where we encountered some other cyclists riding the Erie Canalway in the opposite direction. At Ilion, there is a substantial park area and a Marina with facilities, including restrooms and water. While stopped there, we met two enthusiastic bikepackers, Mohammed, who had started in Niagra Falls and was riding the Erie Canal Trail all the way to Albany, and Tekken, who had started his journey in Astoria, Oregon, and was riding all the way across the country, self-contained. We continue to follow each other on Instagram. We watched some boats pass through the locks, including one notable fancy boat with four engines across its stern heading westward, “Destination Blue”. We watched Destination Blue rise as water filled the lock and a woman made sure the boat stayed clear of the wall we were looking over. We chatted a bit with her, and then watched Destination Blue move on when the lock opened up on the west end.
At Frankfort, the Trail crosses over to the north side of the Mohawk River, and riders have to take the shoulder of NY-5. That last part of the ride, well, it sucked. The shoulder really wasn’t adequate, the traffic was moving fast alongside us, and it was quite unpleasant the rest of the way to Utica. We did enjoy a brief stretch “drafting” behind an Amish horse-drawn carriage, where we felt safer for awhile. It was a short-lived thrill, but we made the most of it.
At the end of our 80-mile day, we rolled in to the historic Pratt Smith House Bed & Breakfast. We arranged for a delivery of burgers and fries from Five Guys, and called it a day. Today’s tally: Dunkin Donuts: 1; flats: 0; Roadkill: 1 bird, 2 frogs, 2 unrecognizable mammals; Elevation gain: 2,055’
All Roads Lead to Rome: Utica to Syracuse
We had less miles and no hills in our route today, so we took it at a leisurely pace. We wandered a bit through downtown Utica, just to check it out. I hadn’t known before this day that Utica has its own replica of the Liberty Bell, cracked and all, on display in downtown. This little detour put us past the turn off for the designated bike trail along the water, but we enjoyed seeing the various industrial and residential neighborhoods as we headed west out of town on city streets. We rode through Yorkville, then Whitesboro, and Oriskany (as in, the battle site). We eventually got back onto a trail, and headed into Rome. Not that it was glamorous in any way. It was more like being on a trail, and then riding through a suburban stretch of strip malls and ridiculously wide roads. Then, at some point, we needed to turn left off of the over-wide, multi-lane road to get back onto the trail. A strange left turn, with no assistance from a traffic light or clear signage.
Later we met more trail riders at another of the locks along the canal. It was fun to meet people, find out where they’re from, and hear that we weren’t the only ones wondering why there weren’t more places along the trail to get water. One couple we talked to lives in Utica, and does a different part of the trail here and there, scoping it out for a future trip in which they plan to do the whole Erie Canal Trail from end to end.
We took a slight detour south from the trail to check out Oneida. It’s a quaint little town, and we found a cool place to stop for lunch and beer, called Pop-A-Top. We picked it mostly because they have an enclosed patio, which provided a perfect spot to park our bikes. It was also a colorful and festive patio, and we had it to ourselves. Then we came to realize that the regulars hanging out at the bar inside, as well as the woman tending bar, were delightful people who wanted to ask about our bike trip, and made us feel quite at home, despite our spandex and cleats. One gentleman came out to the patio to visit with us some more, and even bought El Cochinito a second beer.
After that thoroughly leisurely and enjoyable lunch break, we returned to the trail, and rolled on next through Canastota. Like in many of the towns we rode through on this trip, we saw LOTS of American flags on display, both on residences and lining the main streets through a town’s central business district. It felt like the 4th of July everywhere we went. Another interesting find along the route from Oneida to Canastota: the largest greenhouse imaginable, or maybe even larger than one could imagine. A google search reveals that the place is Green Empire Farms, a giant hydroponic farm.
We enjoyed the varying terrain and trail surfaces we encountered along the way. Spinning my pedals for all these hours gave me lots of time to let my mind wander. I know some folks like to chat while riding together, and I don’t mind that, but my primary tendency is to get lost in the meditative state induced by the rhythm of the pedal stroke. My thoughts can go just about anywhere while I’m riding. I might try to imagine the day ahead, or what it will be like to reach our destination and see the faces of our kids again after such a long gap. Sometimes I look back on all that has transpired in the previous year or two. Just two years earlier, El Cochinito and I had gone through the most challenging strain on our relationship, one that nearly broke us. One of the things that helped us as we found our way back to each other was biking together. And look where that led us! Sometimes I reflect on how amazing it is that I have a riding buddy to do this kind of trip with me, and that we can do this without getting on each other’s nerves. At times, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to do this trip. It’s incredible how all that needed to line up and fall into place for this trip did just that.
Eventually, we came across a trail side repair stand that had a pump, enabling us to top off the air in our tires. That pumped up our confidence as well as our tires. In the late afternoon, we rolled into Syracuse where our AirBnb host graciously offered use of his washer and dryer, and guided us toward a nearby street with places to get dinner. It was nice to be able to walk to dinner, and to get some clean clothes again. We were staying in a nice neighborhood near Syracuse University, and took delight in the way the medians through the center of Meadowbrook Drive are not only beautifully landscaped with flower gardens at each intersection, but also feature odd sculptures, like one of a basketball with a big “S” on it. Another had a tower of colorful bird houses.
Today’s tally: 66 miles; no roadkill; no flats; 1 Dunkin’ Donuts.
Charm, Gardens, History: Syracuse to Canandaigua
We swung by Recess Coffee, a place we’d spotted when walking back from dinner the night before, to get our morning coffee and a bite to eat. From there, we decided not to head north through town in order to get to the Erie Canal Trail, but instead to just take the most direct route west out of town. We were pleased with that decision, as we rolled through some older, industrial areas, and through some less affluent residential areas. I loved gawking at the changing architecture and neighborhoods along the way.
Somewhere between Fairmount and Camillus, we got back on the Erie Canal Trail. The trail is especially beautiful in this area. Camillus wins for the most picturesque stretch of trail, with its bridges and boathouses. We passed several areas where flower gardens were being actively cultivated along the trail. Thanks to some large murals in Jordan, we learned a bit of the history of the canal in tis area, and why within 10 years of its completion it was obsolete. The city of Jordan has an impressive aqueduct built in the 1840s as part of the Enlarged Erie Canal that was in use until 1917. It is now a park, with grass covering the surface of the aqueduct, punctuated by stone arches. We continued along the Erie Canalway through Weedsport and Port Byron until the trail started to veer north, whereas we wanted to continue west and slightly southward into the finger lakes region.
We hopped off the canal trail and rode some rolling hills, past farm after farm, enjoying an easy spin for the remaining 40 miles to our destination for this second to last day. We stopped for that night in Canandaigua, a very charming town that’s close enough to Rochester, we invited the kids to come out and join us for dinner. First we hung out in the back yard of our Airbnb to visit a bit. There aren’t words for how good it feels to see and hug your kids after such a long time apart. It was a Monday night, and finding a restaurant that was open wasn’t easy. On our third try, we got lucky, as the Bee Hive Brew Pub was open, and we were able to get a table on the patio. Turned out to be just the ticket.
We could have taken a direct route from Canandaigua to Rochester, and finished off the tour in just 27 miles. But that’s just not how we roll. For one thing, it would have meant no more riding the Erie Canal Trail. For another, 27 miles would be over in a little more than two hours. First and foremost on my mind that morning was realizing that we had gone out of our way to venture into the finger lakes region, and yet we hadn’t seen any of the lakes. People travel to Canandaigua to experience the big, beautiful lake, so we were not going to just leave town without seeing the lake! I looked at maps for a route that could have us biking alongside the lake, but that just wasn’t practical. We would have to travel pretty far south to get to a park or something to “see”. We decided to just ride by the north end of the lake so we could have a look and then be on our way. It’s an astonishing lake; you can’t see from the north end to the south. It was a cool morning, and once we’d had our look at the lake, and felt the wind blowing around, we were ready to get on with our day.
Canandaigua features a lot of gorgeous old homes that provide pleasant eye candy for the ride through town. I routed us by the famed Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion, hoping we could at least ride through the gardens, but shortly after we rode past the signs announcing that the place was closed, we saw folks zipping around in a golf cart, looking like they’d be ready to kick us off the property. We gave the place a cursory look, much like we gave to the lake, and got back on our way. No harm in saving something for our next visit.
Soon we were rolling on country roads again. By far this was our easiest day. We began with a fast, beautiful 13 mile spin through farmland heading north out of Canandaigua to Palmyra, where we stopped for a hearty meal at the Yellow Mills Diner. Then it was time to get back on the Erie Canal Trail. But first, there was a bridge that begged to be appreciated. El Cochinito had brought along his GoPro, and knowing how much I love biking over bridges, he was capturing them on video. I waited at the adjacent trailhead while he started across and got in position to ride back over the bridge. By this time, however, he realized it is a one-lane bridge, and a couple of motorized vehicles were waiting for him to finish up before taking their turn to cross. One vehicle was waiting at the north end, and another at the south end. It was a wee bit comical as the various participants in this dance tried to gesture and figure out who was going next.
Biking along the Erie Canal in this next stretch involved some exceptionally gorgeous scenery. A delightful variety of bridges, trees, and waterway alongside us. We even caught yet another sighting of Destination Blue. I gave a hearty wave and greeting, but I’m pretty sure the woman on board with whom we’d chatted at Ilion Marina a few days ago did not recognize us as familiar in the slightest.
After unbelievably great weather for each of our bike days, we finally got caught in some rain, I mean real rain this time. It was a major downpour for the last ten miles or so. It felt good, though, like a blessing as we finished up our trip. The trail got a little confusing as we got close to Rochester. Or maybe it’s not the trail, but Google Maps (I suspect both). The latter seemed to be telling us to get off the trail a bit early, at Pittsford, and take NY-31 (part of the NY State Bicycle Route 5). Looking at the map, it does appear to take one in to Rochester on a diagonal that is much more direct than continuing on the Erie Canal Trail into town, and then heading north. But NY-31 looked to be an insanely busy highway, and not the sort of road we would enjoy riding on. So we stopped to review our options. A kind gentleman asked if he could help us. We explained our confusion about whether we really should be getting on that busy street, or if we could continue on the Trail, which seemed to be hard to find at this point. He admitted he didn’t really know this area well, so he flagged down a woman in a van who apparently works for the Erie Canalway, as does he. She didn’t know how to help us either, but she sure was nice. We visited with the friendly gentleman for awhile. He gets paid to walk the trail and notice conditions, reporting back about things needing attention. Eventually, we found the resumption of the trail and decided to stay with the trail until we got to Rochester, and then head north, even if it was less direct. Along the way, we got a good soaking, and made it into Rochester thoroughly drenched.
I’m so glad we stayed on the trail for our ride into Rochester. Not just to avoid the heavy traffic on NY-31, but also because the trail experience was special. At one point, the trail had water on both sides, like we were on a long bridge over a lake. It felt magical. I wanted to record this feeling in my mind so I could call it up whenever I needed to feel this magic again. I also felt a well of emotion rising up as I reflected on our journey, how far we’d come, how lucky we had been, how fortunate we are to be able to have a vacation like this. I have long fantasized about a retirement life filled with bike adventures like this, and the success of this journey gives me confidence that my retirement dream is possible.
Particularly special to me, at this point in my life, is gratitude for being able to share this experience with El Cochinito. We have been married for almost 15 years, plus dated for a couple of years before that. Biking together was something we did often during the early years of our relationship, and along the way, that diminished to occasional bike dates (biking a few miles to see a movie or go to a restaurant) and somewhat annual bike overnights, but more and more, the bigger bike adventures had been something I did either with friends or on my own. During our separation in the midst of that major crisis in our relationship that nearly split us up two years ago, I knew he was worried about attracting new guests to join him for his next trip to Cuba, and I suggested he could find travelers to join him if he made it a bike trip. Soon he was dusting off his road bike and getting back into riding. We both did a lot of riding that year, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Then a corner was turned. Not on the bikes, but in our marriage. We made a conscious decision to scrap our old marriage and start over fresh. We each worked on ourselves and on our relationship skills. It’s an ongoing process, but much like biking, there’s no reason not to just keep going.
Two years later, El Cochinito is my best riding buddy. We just rode over 500 miles together, spent two and a half weeks in each other’s constant presence while traveling, and we managed to roll together in harmony. A few tense moments here and there, yet none of them led to conflict or resentment (okay, so maybe there was one lingering issue we had to work out after we got home, but we did it). We seem to have finally learned how not to let issues that arise between us fester and turn into stony deposits into the First Bank of Resentments. We have found a way to take a step back or take a deep breath when necessary, and turn back towards each other and keep talking until we figure it out together.
We got off the trail at Brighton Town Park in the outskirts of the Rochester area, riding a trail alongside a small lake or large pond, and soon it seemed we might be in the wrong place. Maybe it was a parking lot, but soon we found our way. Then we were on South Clinton Ave for quite a long stretch, never quite sure if it was better to be on the road or the sidewalk. It was still quite wet, and I felt like we really had to keep our eyes out for wayward motorists who might not notice the two cyclists amidst all the mistiness and gray. But then I saw the sign and, despite the rain and needing to stay well to the right and out of traffic, I just had to stop for a photo – we had officially entered Rochester!
Within a couple more miles, we rolled into the driveway of our kids’ house. We were thoroughly soaked and thoroughly exhilarated. We had made it! We were greeted with a fantastic dinner and the best company you could hope for. Finally we were getting to see where our kids have been living and meet their newest dog, Santo, in real life.
The next day was another rainy one. We returned to the finger lakes area, this time by car, and this time near Seneca Lake, where we visited Watkins Glen State Park. We gawked at the amazing waterfalls and rock formations, whose beauty is enhanced by the rain.
The following day brought better weather and we toodled around Rochester by bike. We rode along the Genesee River Trail and visited the University of Rochester campus, where we got to see the building where our oldest works. From there we ventured on to Mt. Hope Cemetery, which features some very old and some very famous graves as well as a few steep hills. After paying our respects to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, we rode through downtown to High Falls, and then our daughter-in-law led us on her secret route to the Lower Falls.
This final ride of 15 miles brought our grand total for the entire trip to 581 miles, and a total elevation gain of 20,311’ in 54 hours of riding time. Not too shabby.
It felt so fitting to end our Epic Tour de Kids biking with our kids. So glad we were able to do that in both Philly and Rochester. It warms my bike mama heart to be able to ride together as a family, and to see that each one of our kids, including the kids-in-law, is smart enough to see the genius in using bikes for both transportation and exploration. Maybe they do it because it’s cheap, maybe they do it because they know it’s one important way to slow the demise of our planet, maybe they do it because it’s an easy way to get exercise, maybe they do it because it’s often simpler and less frustrating to get around that way, maybe they do it to take in the fresh air, maybe they do it just to humor me, maybe they do it because it’s the best way to really see a city, and maybe they do it because it’s just plain fun. I like to think they see the value in all of the above.
Our final day in Rochester was spent laundering our wet and muddy clothes, cleaning up our wet and muddy bikes, and figuring out how to get our bikes disassembled and packed into boxes for the trip home. Glad we gave ourselves plenty of time for that, as figuring out just how to make it all work was rather challenging. One drawback to having had our local bike shop back home pack the bikes for the outbound trip is that we had to figure it out for ourselves now. Of course, there are youtubes aplenty to help, and we did have the tools we needed. It still seemed much more involved than what I remember from packing my bike for travel 35 years ago when I was a young’un too cheap/broke to pay for such services.
There were many amazements on this trip, but one last amazement was how our two bike boxes actually fit into the back of our son’s Honda HRV, with enough room to spare that a passenger seat remained available in the back. That meant our son was able to drive El Cochinito and me and our two bikes and our panniers to the airport. One thing (of many) we learned from this trip is that you have to figure out how to transport two people with two bike boxes to and from airports. You can’t just call a taxi or an Uber or even an airport van service for that. Believe me, I tried. On the Los Angeles side, the only way we could manage was to put the bike boxes in the back of El Cochinito’s pick up, drive over to the home of a friend who lives close to LAX, and have her drive us to and from the airport with our bikes. Thankfully, she was a good sport about having the truck at her place while we were gone and picking us up on our return.
With our hearts warm and full, our sense of adventure both sated and titillated, our bodies and our relationship strengthened, we returned home to our cats, who’d been well-cared for by a friend during our absence. Now we can start dreaming up our next bike adventure.
It’s been one heckuva year behind us, and if you’re feeling like I do, the pandemic fatigue has settled in. There’s good news for some of us, and bad news for others. Some things are sort of getting back to normal, but not really. We all need a boost, or at least a distraction, yes?
And here it is: Bike Month 2021. There are bike month events, sort of, in most locales, but many remain virtual, and it just isn’t the same as the bike months of years past. So let’s make the most of this one.
I dare you to take on the following five dares between now and May 31, 2021. Think of them as five easy pieces. They are doable. Some might be things you do all the time. Or you might have let some of these things slide, or never tried one or more of them at all. Yet each is something that is known to lift the spirits. So, whether these strike you as no big deal or feel a bit intimidating, I dare you to just do them. Do them with mindfulness and intention. And then claim your reward.
THE FIVE DARES:
1. Dress up fancy for a bike ride. You can define fancy as you like: elegant, formal, colorful, sparkly, fishnet stockings, high heeled shoes, vintage attire. Maybe even decorate your bike. Get creative!
2. Go social. Ride to visit a friend you haven’t seen in awhile, or plan a ride together.
3. Be of service. Use your bike to help someone out. Suggestions: pick up groceries for someone who needs the help, drop off a donation to a charity or collection site, clean up litter, bike to donate blood, fix somebody else’s flat tire.
4. Try something new. Have you never biked to your workplace, or to run an errand, or on a bike share bike, or with your kids/partner/friend? Have you taken your bike on a train or bus? Bike camping? I bet there’s something you’ve thought about trying — this is your nudge to just give it a go!
5. Bike to beauty. Nothing nourishes the soul like the beauty of nature, or extraordinary architecture, or the delight of public art. Bike to a beautiful place and snap a photo of your bike there.
THE DIRTY DETAILS: Each of these dares is designed to encourage you to break out of the blahs of pandemic fatigue by doing an activity that is known to lift the spirits. This should be your guiding principle: make it fun and/or inspiring! Document your dare. Remember to have a camera or phone with you so you can take a photo that shows how you met the dare, and that you did so by bike. Share your dare. Social media sharing is encouraged (remember to use the hashtag #BikieGirlDaredMe). You can email me directly with your report — letting me know the dates and what you did for your 5 dares. Get rewarded. Usually with bike month, I feel the need to offer a sale or some kind of marketing gimmick to boost sales for my side hustle, Bikie Girl Bloomers. This year I decided to offer a credit towards the purchase of your choice. The email you use to send me your report will be the basis for a $20 Gift Certificate valid at BikieGirlBloomers.com. That means you can use it toward a full price items that may have been out of your price range, or on an item already on sale — giving you a superbargain.
If you already have an account with the BikieGirl website, the email associated with that account would be the ideal one to be associated with the Gift Certificate. If you have more than one email I should know about, please tell me so the credit goes to the right place!
Complete your dares by the end of May 2021. Send me your report by June 15, 2021 (extensions can be granted upon request).
I look forward to seeing your photos and hearing your stories. Let me know if the experiences served to lift your spirits. Did you discover anything new? What was most fun?
This activity is part of BikieGirl’s mission to empower more women to experience the joy and liberation of biking — in your own style and at your own speed. If you are female-identifying and would like to join our Facebook community, Club BikieGirl, just click here.
Last year’s bike date weekend in Ojai was so much fun, I had to plan another adventure for this President’s Day weekend. I have been drooling over posts on bike groups I see of trails all over the U.S. and beyond, making me wish I could retire now and go ride them all. Then I decided I ought to learn more about trails that are close to home. That is how I learned about the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail, an 18.5 mile trail that runs from the Laguna Hills to Rancho Santa Margarita.
The first thing I realized when I began my planning for the trip was that I had months before registered for the L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Ride, a fun and beautiful 40-mile ride I had done for my first time last February, and this year the ride was scheduled for Saturday morning of President’s Day weekend. No problem, however, as there is a 2:00 train on Saturday afternoon from Union Station to Orange County, so I could work with that. This would get us to Mission Viejo at 3:19, leaving plenty of daylight for the 7.3 mile ride to Aliso Viejo, where I had found a hotel I could book using two free nights from Hotels.com that were about to expire. I confidently booked the room at the non-refundable rate that meant I only had to pay about $30 in taxes for the two nights at a place that had pretty good reviews.
As the trip dates drew near, however, a few different factors had me wondering if this was such a great idea. We got an unusual (albeit welcome) amount of rainfall in California this Winter, reminding us that we can’t always count on great biking weather in February. Then, just a week before the big weekend, our oldest son calls to tell us that he and his girlfriend of 10 years are going to a courthouse in Chicago on the Saturday of President’s Day Weekend to tie the knot. I had to decide whether to cancel my various plans for the weekend, or settle for throwing them a big party later. Ultimately, I decided that the celebration with family and friends would be more important than the formalities of the event.
Then my beloved El Cochinito came down with a wicked chest cold, and it didn’t seem to be clearing up. The weather forecast wasn’t encouraging, either: Sunday would be a day of rain, cold temperatures and wind gusts. That’s not great biking weather, and it’s definitely not good weather for going outside when you’re fighting a cold. We decided to keep a flexible mindset and see how things played out.
Saturday morning had to leave the house by 7ish to get to Chinatown in time to pick up my bib number, drop off my pannier packed with all I’d need for the next few days with the much-appreciated bag check, and get in position for the Firecracker Ride set to begin at 8:00. El Cochinito got up shortly before I left, and let me know he was not feeling well. We agreed to check in with each other later and decide whether to go forward with the planned bike/train adventure, stay home, or consider a modified plan.
When I got downtown everything fell into place: the bib pick-up, the bag drop off, getting into place just as the ride began, and even meeting up with some friends to ride with. The ride was as fun as I’d remembered from last year. I had friends to ride with this time, and the ride through Pasadena, on to Sierra Madre, and back via Huntington Drive does not disappoint. When we stopped at one of the rest stops during the ride, I saw a text from my son with a picture from the courthouse taken as he slipped the ring on his bride’s finger. I showed it to my friends and proudly announced that I now have a daughter-in-law!
We got back to Chinatown at 12:30, leaving us enough time for the snack and beer that were included with our ride registration. I tried to text and call El Cochinito to see how he was feeling, but no reply. Perhaps he was he sleeping? Busy coughing? I figured it wasn’t a good sign, and resigned to enjoying the festival in Chinatown and hanging with friends. Then I got his text at 12:55: “I’m leaving in 5 minutes.” So, the trip was a “go” after all!
I retrieved my bike and the pannier from the valet service and rode on over to Union Station to meet El Cochinito. We bought our train tickets and headed to the platform for the southbound Orange County Line. Metrolink has a weekend fare that lets you go anywhere for $10. Since the regular fare to Mission Viejo is $12, it was still a savings for just the one-way ride. Metrolink has special bicycle cars with open bays for bike parking (and also special netted bays for surfboards) on the lower level. This train had twice as many bike bays as I’d seen on other Metrolink trains, and all the passenger seating was upstairs.
El Cochinito explained that the way he’d been feeling throughout the morning swung between absolutely miserable and quite optimistic. Ultimately, he decided he was OK enough to at least make the trip, and decide later about how much biking he would be up for. What he had not recalled from back when we first planned this trip was that we would need to ride 7.3 miles from the Mission Viejo Metrolink station to our hotel in Aliso Viejo. I had booked a hotel that is close to the Aliso Creek Trail, not close to the train station. He was not happy to hear that.
We were both happy, however, with the presence of a separated bike path right there as soon as we disembarked. We had bike path or bike lanes the entire trip. El Cochinito was noticing that his Pedego battery is not holding charge as well as it used to, so he was a little nervous about whether he had enough juice to get the whole 7.3 miles, especially on the hilly parts. It was a bit cold as well. I was feeling aware that I had already biked 48 miles earlier that day, and especially when climbing the hill to get up from the bike path into Aliso Viejo with my loaded pannier on board.
We rolled through the utterly neo-suburban landscape of super-wide multi-lane roads and look-alike office parks, and found our hotel, the Renaissance Club Sport, which fit the description we’d seen in some of the online reviews: a large fitness center with a hotel attached. The place is nice, though, and the clerk who checked us in was utterly welcoming and kind. We were given the green light to take our bikes up to our room. While most hotels allow that, not all do, and it’s always a relief to be assured on arrival that the bikes will be secure. We were quite happy with our room; nicely appointed, with plenty of space for our bikes. El Cochinito was pleasantly surprised that the hotel was such a nice one (sometimes I go for something more on the quaint and funky side). It was a good choice for one needing some convalescence.
We had no interest in going out that first night, and enjoyed some top-notch hamburgers and cocktails in the on-site restaurant, Citrus. Sunday morning, the day for which rain had been in the forecast, we woke up feeling reasonably well and aware that we had sunshine that was expected to last until about 11 or 12. That meant we had enough energy and enough time to explore the south end of the Aliso Creek Trail before the afternoon rain kicked in. We found a little donut shop at one of the nearby strip malls for breakfast, and continued on to find the trail. The Google Maps guidance for accessing the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail was rather confusing. We got to Aliso Viejo Community Park, which seemed to be near the entry point, but there were paths and sidewalks going every which way, and so we asked a local to point us in the right direction. If this confusion happens to you, just hop on any trail in the park, and it will likely lead you to the Aliso Creek Trail.
We rode a few miles on the Trail until we came to a T at a road where there didn’t seem to be any signs pointing out where the Trail resumes on the other side of the road. Turns out that we were near the entrance to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park (just turn right on that road and then you’ll see the park on the left). A park ranger was there, but bearing the disappointing news that the park’s trail was closed due to the recent heavy rains. He also pointed to El Cochinito’s Pedego and said that e-bikes aren’t allowed there any way (I believe this is no longer true, so check for updated regulations before you go, if taking an e-bike). The ranger suggested we head left instead and go to the Laguna Niguel Regional Park, just across the main road. He told us to turn right on the main road and then use the crosswalk up ahead, which would lead us to a bike trail.
We took his suggestion and hopped on the bike trail. Turned out to be a trail more suitable for a mountain bike. It was a narrow dirt path with some rather rocky bumps and not exactly flat. As the little trail started heading uphill even more, I told El Cochinito, “we’re single-tracking!” I wasn’t sure if this trail was within the capabilities of my relatively nimble Bianchi Volpe with its 28mm tires, not to mention El Cochinito’s commuter bike. I got nervous on the downhill part where it was a wee bit steep and muddy, so I walked it. Soon we found an adjacent paved road, and switched over to terra firma.
The park was a nice one. We followed the road as it wound past large grassy areas that featured picnic areas and volleyball courts. The volleyball courts looked quite beautiful, as the entire playing surface was filled with water, creating a nice, smooth pool with a net across the center, surrounded by ducks and geese accenting the rectangular pond. As we continued to follow the road, we came upon a sizable reservoir, and rode all the way around that. We then explored a road leading out of the park and used Google Maps to find a route back toward the hotel from there.
El Cochinito became intrigued by a curious Mayan-style structure we kept seeing in the distance. As we drew closer, he just had to find out what it was. It appeared to be an office building, and it was surrounded on all sides by a ginormous parking lot. The building itself sat atop a hill, and as we got closer, it seemed a bit strange. We continued on around to the front, and saw that it was the Chet Holifield Federal Building. We rode past some bollards to look at the building up close, and snapped a few photos. We then turned to leave, when a small car zoomed quickly up the front drive and came to an abrupt stop right in front of us. I was a bit frightened by the aggressive approach, and wondered what this guy’s problem was. I then realized this was a security vehicle, and out popped a rent-a-cop, who looked like a character out of a low-budget comedy.
He told us we were trespassing on government property, and asked us what we were doing there. He told us we’d been seen on camera and looked suspicious. We told him we were curious about the interesting architecture of the building and that we were just riding by. He gave a us stern scolding, and then we were on our way.
With that excitement behind us, we completed our trip back to the hotel. The weather had held out OK for us thus far, but the rains were clearly moving in. We planned an afternoon at a nearby shopping mall that offered restaurants and a movie theater. Rather than worry about where to park our bikes for the afternoon, we just walked from our hotel the 3/4 of a mile to the mall. We had lunch followed by a movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which we thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part, we’d timed that well, missing the rain while were in the movie. It was still coming down when the movie got out, so we dashed over to a nearby Panera for some coffee until the rain had stopped.
As El Cochinito’s cold was winding down, mine was getting started. We spent the evening in our room the second night as well, and had another dinner at Citrus, the on-site restaurant. We felt grateful to have landed a hotel with a good onsite restaurant for a weekend when were weren’t interested in going out for nightlife. We ate there again for a hearty breakfast the next morning, checked out of our room, and headed for the Aliso Creek Trail again, this time heading the other direction.
The trail is interesting, as it passes through a variety of communities and parks. Some stretches provide a nice, off-street bike path, with occasional stretches along a road and taking some twists and turns. Unfortunately, there are parts where it just isn’t clear where the trail resumes after ending at an intersection or street. We got fooled by riding on what seemed to be the Trail as it turned a corner in front of Laguna Hills High School. It didn’t seem right in that, shortly after that right turn, the trail turned right again, heading back in the direction we’d started. A stop to consult Google Maps led me to believe we should have gone left instead of right at that first turn by the high school. We headed back to that intersection, and looked around for signs. None were apparent, so we started to take the bike lane heading in what seemed to be the correct direction. It was one of those bike lanes alongside a super-wide, multi-lane road, and it was heading uphill, arcing to the right, and it started to feel not quite right, so we stopped again to review the maps. All I could ascertain at that point was that we were off the trail and needed to head somewhat to our left to get back to it.
Eventually, with some additional frustration, we managed to find our way back to the trail. As we followed it though one of the parks (Sheep Hills Park) along the way, we encountered another fork in the path that did not seem clearly marked. One sign pointed left and said “Aliso Creek”, so we went left. As it turns out, that path took us to the Aliso Creek, but the trail we were on came to a dead end after about a quarter mile.
I had downloaded onto my phone a map of the trail through TrailLink, but it did not provide navigational guidance. I had to keep checking back and forth between Google Maps and the TrailLink map to sort it out. That’s how I noticed that the trail does deviate from the creek for awhile. So, we turned around and went back to take the other way. Not long after that detour, we encountered a place where the trail was closed at an underpass that had been flooded. We were able to get back on the trail after patiently waiting for a chance to cross another very busy, super-wide street.
Other than those few points of confusion, the trail is a nice one. El Cochinito was feeling ready for a rest stop where he could plug in his Pedego battery, so we got off the trail to seek a place to stop. We ended up circling back a little ways on El Toro Road, trying not to get killed (we rode the sidewalk), and found a Starbucks in the Lake Forest area. After a hot beverage break there, I looked at the map to see how much of the Aliso Creek Trail remained: 6 miles. El Cochinito was not interested in continuing, preferring to save his energy for the ride back to the Irvine train station. I realized I had just enough time to finish the trail, so he stayed put and I got back on the trail. This last part turned out to be my favorite part of the trail. After a couple more residential areas and small parks, the path got wider and became a little more rural-ish, with fewer street crossings. I enjoyed riding along as the natural setting became more natural, with foothills in the background and lots of trees along the path.
I came to the end, or near the end. Again, I encountered a fork in the path where it wasn’t clear which way to go. I stayed on what seemed to be the main path, but it ended shortly thereafter at a crossing of a major road. I wondered if that was the end of the trail, or if I should have taken the other fork. I asked a mother-daughter pair I saw walking by, who’d come from that other fork in the path, if I was at the end of the trail. They told me yes (sort of), and explained that going the other way would lead to a historic building that is very interesting. I knew that was probably the way I should have gone, but if I went there, I might end up lingering too long, so I decided to save that exploration for another time, and started making my way back.
The ride back towards Lake Forest was fast and fun! The grade was in my favor this way, and before I knew it, I recognized the bridge I’d taken when first getting back on the trail after leaving Starbucks. It was getting cold and I started feeling a few rain drops. I stopped to put on my jacket and check with El Cochinito to see if we was still at the same Starbucks. We met up there, made a quick stop at a grocery store to grab some lunch (I had worked up a significant appetite by this time), and began our ride to the Irvine station, racing to beat the rain. The rain won, but at least we had an indoor waiting area to sit in while eating our lunches before the train arrived.
Not only was it cold, rainy and windy when it came time to head to the platform, but the elevator on the far side of the bridge to the platform was out of service. We were grateful we didn’t have to carry our bikes up the stairs to access the bridge, but carrying our bikes down on the other side was quite the challenge. Getting on the train was a welcome treat, and we were able to sit right next to the bike bay.
It was a trip that could have been better, but also could have been miserable. For a couple of fifty-somethings fighting colds and dodging rainstorms, we managed to make the most of our weekend. The riding, the movie, the meals, the hotel, the train ride, all worked out well, and we had a delightfully good time.
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*
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Control No. 4: Coffee Commissary*
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!
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
Date: October 26, 2018
Beverage: Hot Chocolate
Bike-friendliness: Very good, at least I know it is accessible by bike share
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!
Control No. 6: Spoke Bicycle Cafe
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
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.
Control No. 7: Highly Likely Cafe
Date: November 5, 2018
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)
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)
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.
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.
Control No. 9: Stir Crazy Coffee House (Bonus ride in case #1 doesn’t count)
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.
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)
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.
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.)
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.)
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!
El Cochinito dropped me off at LAX, and snapped this photo of me. I’m all ready for my big adventure, everything I need for the next five days and four nights is packed in these two panniers, and my bike helmet dangles from one of the straps. A few months in the planning, this trip all started with a search for flights from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs so I could attend my nephew’s wedding. When I saw that the fare to Colorado Springs from L.A. would be at least double the fare to Denver, it was not a complete surprise, and I started to think I would just fly to Denver and rent a car.
But wait, why rent a car? Just how far is it from Denver to Colorado Springs? Wouldn’t that be a bikeable distance? Wouldn’t that be fun?! Could I bike it in one day? As soon as I saw that the ride would be around 65-75 miles, depending on where in Denver I started from, I began looking into bike shipping and other logistics.
I checked Bike Flights, and learned that the cheapest option is $41 each way, and I would have to pack and ship my bike off the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in order for it to get to Denver in time. Plus I would need to learn how to pack the bike for shipping and re-assemble it on arrival. And again for the trip back to L.A. And I haven’t done that in over 20 years. I’d rather pay a bike shop to do that for me, but most places charge $65-$90 for that service. Yikes! Multiply that times 4, and, well, that’s ridiculous.
So then I looked into renting a bike. There are shops in Denver that rent bikes, but most are either carbon road bikes that can’t take a rack for carrying panniers, or some kind of city bike that would not be suitable for a 70-ish mile ride. And the rental cost would add up after four days, to $230. Although I’d rather spend the money on a bike rental than a car rental, I’m still not sure I want to spend that much for a bike ride that might not be comfortable when I’m going that distance.
Then I remembered that, as a grad student, Nashbar had been my savior, offering affordable bikes that were great for touring. I decided to see what they had. Holy moly! I found that Nashbar had a woman’s road bike on sale for $419, and a touring bike on sale for $699! I read through the specs and the reviews, and found them encouraging.
The obvious next step was to begin the necessary justifications and rationalization. I go to Denver at least once a year, and always want a bike while I’m there. Last time I had to walk a mile (in the cold & snow!) to get from my brother’s house to the nearest bike share station. I’ve been itching to ride a bike in the Colorado Rockies again, just like in the glory days of my youth. For less than the cost of two multi-day bike rentals, I could own a bike that stays in Colorado. See? That didn’t take long! The rule of n+1 wins again!
I spent several of my evenings on Google Maps and checking Colorado biking web sites to plan my route. I ordered a kindle book on road biking in Colorado. The ride certainly looked doable, with bike trails for a good bit of the way, both heading out of Denver and again into Colorado Springs. There appeared to be this one stretch of about 10 miles in the middle of the ride where I’d have to ride on Highway 105, and I wasn’t sure what that would be like. I searched for blog posts or discussions about biking between Denver and Colorado Springs, and was disappointed to find very little on this. You would think others have done this many times. Is this a bad sign?
I came across one discussion that was not encouraging. Back in 2012, someone had put the question out there about planning to bike from Denver to Colorado Springs and back for a weekend trip. The discussion resulted in the Someone deciding to take Highway 73 into Franktown, and approach it that way. He did the ride, and posted afterward that it was not a good idea. The road was heavily trafficked with trucks and had no adequate shoulder to bike on.
I asked, in the same thread, if anyone had any updates now that several years had passed, as I was planning to follow the route Google Maps suggested, using 105 after Castle Rock and before Palmer Lake. I also found a YouTube video of a motorcyclist riding Highway 105. I could see that it is a pretty ride, and that it is, indeed a road with no shoulder.
I was happy to learn that my son, who lives in Seattle these days, would be making the trip to Colorado for the wedding. El Cochinito had to stay in L.A for graduation at the school where he teaches, and other other adult children couldn’t get away for the trip either. But my son, who bikes all the time to get where he needs to go, is not the type to be interested in a 70-ish mile bike ride, and so it became clear that I would be doing this trip solo. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about something awful happening to him on Highway 105. When you’re a mom, it’s hard not to think that way.
I then checked with my brother, who lives in Denver, to see how he felt about the idea of me keeping a bike in his garage. He was quite receptive to the idea. So that was it: I would be buying a bike, my “Colorado bike”. I contacted Cycleton, the bike shop that is closest to the Denver airport, and also not too far from my sister-in-law’s place, and made arrangements for them to receive and assemble my new bike. Then I called Nashbar and got a helpful consultation on the decision between the woman’s road bike and the touring bike. Of course, the touring bike was a better fit for my needs.
As it turned out, the weekend of my nephew’s wedding just so happens to be official Bike Travel Weekend, a creation of the Adventure Cycling Association. It’s all about encouraging folks to get out and enjoy a weekend adventure by bicycle. Bike packing is a thing, after all, and figuring out how to plan the logistics for such a trip can be understandably intimidating to one who hasn’t yet done it. Adventure Cycling encourages people to share their ride plans on the web site, and help others find rides they can join. I decided to sign up with them (there is a drawing for a free bike, after all), even though I didn’t really want to advertise that I would be a woman biking alone on this trip). And I wasn’t bikepacking to go camping or do something like that, I was just getting myself to a wedding and spending my weekend at a hotel. But, hey, they sent me a sticker!
Because I’d signed up with Adventure Cycling, I started receiving emails encouraging me to make use of their resources to help support my trip planning. They offered “advisors”, folks in a variety of geographical regions who’d volunteered to provide guidance and answer questions for others planning their trips. I saw a woman’s name listed as an advisor in Colorado Springs, so I decided to ask her about my route plan and whether I should consider an alternative to Highway 105. Maybe I should consider passing through Larkspur instead? Debbie wrote back and said she’d ridden that stretch of Highway 105 several years ago and found the drivers to be quite considerate, but offered to check with a friend who might know more about it. She wrote back and confirmed that this was the way to go, and so I stuck with my plan.
A full two months before the trip, I started making my list and thinking through all that I would need to take. I coordinated the timing of the bike purchase with the bike shop that would be receiving and assembling it. I ordered bottle cages, a saddle bag and tool kit for the new bike. I planned my outfits for the five-day trip, making sure I was minimizing the bulk and that it would all fit in my two panniers. Ah, and I remembered that I would need to take with me the special magnets that attach to the rear rack to secure my Thule panniers.
As the trip drew closer, I began to realize that so much of the joy of this trip is in the planning and looking forward to it. What if the actual ride was a let-down? But, no matter what the ride turned out to be, there was no doubt that this would be an adventure. Nothing could take that element away from my trip! I did make sure I kept up my training so that the nearly 70-mile ride, at high altitude, would be within my conditioning level. In fact, the Monday before, Memorial Day, a friend and I rode a century. It was a pretty flat ride, but we had some tough headwinds, and that turned out to be good training! By the time the trip rolled around I had been waking up each morning realizing that I had been bicycling in my dreams!
When my flight landed in Denver, my panniers and I went from the plane to the A train that connects the airport to the city. I had a patent application to file, and was able to use my time on the train to get online and take care of the filing.
My son had already arrived earlier in the day, and was with my nephew. They picked me up at the train station nearest to the bike shop, and gave me and my panniers a ride. At the bike shop, my bike was mostly ready, although there was some concern about whether my saddle had arrived (uh-oh! But they found it.), adjustments were made to the saddle height, my bottle cages and saddle bag with tool kit were put in place, the mechanic helped me get the magnets attached to the rear rack (not so easy, as the rack has skinnier rails than my other bike), and at the last minute, I remembered that I needed to purchase a lock. Once all that was sorted out, I was able to put my panniers on and take the new bike for its first test ride!
I had been unsure how it would feel to ride a 30 pound bike with 25 pounds worth of panniers, but it handled just fine and the load did not seem to be a problem. I had to get used to the bar-end shifters and the toe clips, as I’d never used the former before, and it had been 20 years since the last time I rode with toe clips.
More interesting about that first ride was the awareness that I was in my home town of Denver, but in an area that had been completely transformed since “my day”. The bike shop was in Stapleton, a new development where Denver’s airport used to be. From there, I passed through Lowry, another new development that used to an Air Force base. I was able to use bike paths and bike lanes most of the way, and that was nice, although a bit confusing sometimes when following Google Maps’ navigation. I managed to turn a 6.6 mile trip into 7.6 mile one with my missed turns and whatnot.
At one point, I was routed through Fairmount Cemetery, a place I have been to when visiting the mausoleum that holds my grandparents’ ashes. Apparently, I had not been through this part, though, as it was full of interesting old grave stones and a few historic above-ground tombs. I decided to stop and snap a portrait of my new bike, which I had decided to name “Rocky”. I don’t usually name my bikes, but this one seemed like it out to have one, as it was otherwise lacking a bit in personality. The name seemed like the obvious choice, as my hope for this bike is to be able to come back and explore the Colorado Rockies with it in future bike adventures.
I spent the evening visiting with family at my sister-in-law’s place, and then got up and left for my big adventure at 8:00 a.m. I told my relatives I expected the 69-mile ride to take me 8 hours. My goal was to arrive at the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4:00, allowing plenty of time to shower and get cleaned up before family gathered for dinner at 5:30.
The ride started out lovely, first on the High Line Canal, and then, well, only about 15 minutes into my ride, I already missed a turn! It was sunny and warm, so I decided to stop and take off the long sleeved shirt I had on over my Nuu-Muu dress and WABA jersey. At this point, I also double-checked the directions to make sure I got back on the correct trail. It was time to cross a bridge and get on the Cherry Creek Bike Path. I love bridges, so I snapped a photo of my bike on the bridge. Thus began a cheerful meandering along the bike path. Google Maps was predicting I would get there by 3:30 p.m. I knew I needed to allow more time than that for pits stops and lunch, but it just seemed like I had gobs of time — all day, in fact — so why not enjoy the experience and take photos whenever I wanted?
I marveled at the bike route. I took delight in how long I kept going, still continuing on bike paths. How lucky! How beautiful! And there was a full on rest stop and picnic area at the Arapahoe Trailhead, right along the bike path, so I took the opportunity to use the rest room. It was one of those nice ones, with toilet rooms big enough I could roll my bike right on in. No need to lock it up and worry about my panniers.
I continued on more and more trails, continuing to marvel at the beauty and how nice it was to be able to ride without car traffic like this. I stopped and snapped photos along the way. It was getting warmer still, so about 90 minutes into my ride, I stopped again at one of the many shaded benches along the trail so I could take off another layer.
Eventually, I came to the turn off from the Cherry Creek Trail to take Crowfoot Valley Road, which angles over toward Castle Rock. I was on this road for about six miles, and it seemed to be a slow and gradual incline into a strong headwind. It started out feeling a bit challenging, but I’m the type that is content to just use a low gear and keep at it, knowing I will get there eventually. But it began to feel like a never ending drudgery. I kept at it. I told myself this would not be forever. I looked forward to taking a good lunch break in Castle Rock. I was getting tired, and beginning to feel like I wasn’t making much progress. I kept at it. Finally, I got to my next turn, and soon I could see Castle Rock ahead of me, and a downhill stretch! I was excited again, and looking forward to lunch, and feeling hopeful that, after a good lunch, I’d find some renewed energy for whatever awaited me in the second half of my ride.
Riding into Castle Rock, I enjoyed being routed via an odd mixture of busy high-traffic streets (rode the sidewalk at one point) and pretty, off-road bike paths. I rode through the center of town, ever on the lookout for the right place to stop for lunch. The main street passed quickly, as did an interesting riverfront-ish area, and pretty soon I was worried I’d missed my chance. Soon I was in semi-suburbanish terrain again, but spotted a Dairy Queen that even had an adjacent outdoor play area surrounded by a metal railing. In other words, my perfect lunch stop, complete with bike parking! I suspect my food choices were influenced by how wiped out I was feeling from the long, slow climb into headwinds. I had a cheeseburger and a blizzard (ice cream treat blended with pieces of Heath candy bar).
I knew the first five miles heading south out of Castle Rock would be on a frontage road that runs alongside Interstate 25, and I had imagined the frontage road would be a relatively calm stretch before heading over to Highway 105, the 10-mile stretch of narrow road with no shoulder. Little did I know, that frontage road is the most insane and unsafe place for a cyclist I can imagine! Traffic along the frontage road was heavy and constant, there was absolutely no shoulder whatsoever, and the cars where flying past much faster than the traffic on the nearby interstate. I was scared and stressed and could not wait for it to be over. I would have walked my bike on the shoulder, but there wasn’t even a place for that. When I finally got to my turnoff for Tomah Road, I pulled off to the side and took a little break, just to collect my senses and breathe a bit.
The next four miles, I was on Tomah Road, which connected me to Highway 105. Tomah Road was better than the frontage road, but still had a lot of traffic, and not much of a shoulder. It also involved about 600 feet of climbing, and, well, I quickly regained the feeling of drudgery that characterized my experience of Crowfoot Valley Road. I felt like I had to stop several times on the way up. I began to fantasize about waving down a pickup truck and asking for a ride. I started to walk my bike on the shoulder, but the shoulder was soft, and it wasn’t working out. Finally, I crossed over to the left shoulder, where my feet were walking on the soft part, and the wheels of my bike were rolling on the edge of the pavement. I could see when cars were coming toward me, and pull farther over onto the shoulder if necessary as they passed. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked to get me to the top of that hill.
I kept hoping things would be better once I got to Highway 105. As it turned out, Highway 105 was as described: little traffic, courteous drivers, no shoulder, and pretty scenery. I saw other cyclists along this part, although none carrying panniers. Under other circumstances, I think I might have loved this ride. But the rolling hills got old. It seemed like a lot more uphill and rarely any downhill. Looking at an elevation profile of that road suggests that’s exactly right. It was another 1500 or so feet of climbing, and I had to stop a lot. I drank lots of water and my electrolyte drink. I chewed on some Cliff blocks. I kept wishing I felt stronger, but it was just plain slow going. Sometimes I would walk the last part of a hill, never sure which was slower, riding or walking. I couldn’t help but notice the time. I’d told my family I planned to get to the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4 PM. But it was past 4, and I still had at least an hour and a half to go. I texted my son to let him know I was running late. He gave me the details on where we’d be meeting for dinner, a family gathering with the wedding party that had been scheduled for 5:30.
I reached a point where I just didn’t know if I could take another hill. And then there was yet another hill. I stopped in some shade at this point, noticed a little shaking in my legs, and called El Cochinito for moral support. I got his voicemail, but just describing how I was feeling seemed to help in some small way. I got back on the bike and started pedaling again, reminding myself to just focus on the next small stretch of road, and stop worrying about the entire hill or what might lay ahead after this hill. At some point on that climb, I saw a text come in from El Cochinito: “You got this!” I knew he was right. I was miserable, but I was going to make it.
Luckily, that did turn out to be my last climb on Highway 105. I got to Spruce Mountain Road, and soon was getting on to the New Santa Fe Regional Trail. Just when I was nervous about being out of water, there was a park with a rest room and drinking fountain. Phew! And, wow, was that trail ever fun! A beautiful red gravel trail, with gorgeous scenery, and what must have been a slight downhill. I was rolling fast, and my 32 mm tires were just wide enough to handle the gravel. Occasionally, I could feel the tires shift a bit in a looser patch of gravel, but I just kept my focus and my speed, and never took a spill. After all the drudgery that preceded this part, the ride was now exhilarating! I found a new wave of energy. The latter part of the trail was rather rocky. I wasn’t sure I had the right bike for rocks this big, but again, it was kind of exciting, and I was having a blast!
The trail was about 6.5 miles, then I had to do the last 6 miles on suburban roads. There were bike lanes for most of it, and some hills here and there. Every time I had to go up hill, it felt pretty tough, but I was close enough to the end, and none of those hills was as bad as what I’d already done that day, so I was able to get through it. I was feeling the thrill of realizing that, for all it’s challenges, I was going to complete this ride!
By the time I got to the hotel, it was already 6:00! I took a quick shower and got a Lyft ride over to the restaurant. My family was relieved to see that I’d made it. I was certainly relieved that it was over! I knew one thing for sure: I was not going to take the same route back to Denver. I wasn’t 100% sure I would even ride back, especially if I couldn’t identify a suitable route that would avoid the I-25 frontage road. I figured I would give myself some time to think about it, and just enjoy the weekend with family.
Saturday we had time to go visit the Garden of the Gods. We did some hiking, went out to lunch, and then got ready for the big wedding, which was being held Saturday evening at a barn in Peyton, out in the farmlands northeast of Colorado Springs. Originally, I had thought it might be fun to bike to the wedding, but it would have been a two hour ride each way, and not on pleasant roads for cycling. Given how late we stayed at the wedding, and how drunk many of the guests were, I was especially glad I did not take my bike!
Before I could go to sleep Saturday night, however, I just had to study the maps and make my decision about my route for the ride back to Denver on Sunday. I considered just riding on the nice wide shoulder on I-25 until I got to Castle Rock. It would suck to ride alongside freeway traffic for hours, but at least I would have plenty of room. Yet I just couldn’t see doing that. I decided to take Highway 83 north out of Colorado Springs, and then take Russelville Road to Franktown. Highway 83 might be a bit trafficky, but I’d only be on it for 19 miles, and then Russelville Road would be quiet farmland, and once I got to Franktown, the rest of the way would be on the Cherry Creek Trail.
Even though I really should have gone to sleep sooner, I slept well knowing that I had my route figured out. Sunday morning, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with extended family, we said our goodbyes, I gave one of my panniers to my sister-in-law to take in her car, and began my journey.
Highway 83 was definitely more trafficked than Highway 105, but not too bad, and most drivers did pass with care. The good news was that, although the shoulder was narrow, there was a shoulder – always at least 8 inches of pavement to the right of the fog line, and sometimes more. Even better news: there was just one significant hill, shortly after coming out of Colorado Springs, and it seemed I’d climbed it in no time. I stopped near the top for a light snack and to snap a couple photos, and then the fun began. Part of what I liked about taking this route back was that it took me through the Black Forest area.
It felt like I was flying downhill almost the whole way to the intersection with Russelville Road, and I was so excited when I saw that sign! It seemed like I got there in no time at all. Russelville Road was peaceful and beautiful. Riding those gentle rolling hills reminded me of cycling the rolling hills around Forest Grove, Oregon, where I’d gone to college and first fell in love with cycling.
I passed through Franktown in the blink of an eye (I think it consists of one gas station and one cafe), turned onto a gravel road that connected me with the Cherry Creek Trail, and ta da! I was ecstatic, knowing that it would be easy riding on trails the rest of the day.
I rolled along with a happy smile on my face, even when I encountered some confusion when the trail crossed a road without clear marking as to where it resumed on the other side. I started to realize I must have missed the trail entrance on the other side of the road, so I stopped to consult Google maps. That was not helpful! I decided instead to just turn back and scan the roadside for the entrance.
Not long after rejoining the trail, I came upon another obstacle.
Not only was the trail closed, there was no information provided to help me figure out where it resumes. I wandered through the nearby residential neighborhood and found some other access points to the trail, but it was still closed. In fact, it appeared to be a vast construction site. So, I ended up back on Highway 83 for awhile. Although it had lots of high speed traffic, the shoulder was huge, and I felt safe, if not entirely at peace.
Luckily, I was successful on my third attempt to find where the trail resumes. From there on, I had no more problems with routing, and soon was back on the part of the trail I’d ridden the previous Friday. Since I had passed the one diner in Franktown so quickly before realizing that was it, I decided to have a lunch stop at the lovely rest area at the beginning of the bike trail. Since the ride was going so quickly, I was fine dining on a Cliff bar, a banana, and trail mix.
With time on my side, I stopped to snap photos whenever the urge hit me. Before I knew it, I was rolling into Denver! Seeing the familiar sights, especially the Rockies framing the cityscape, made me feel so good. It was great to end the ride on such a high note!
The next morning, I rode “Rocky” over to my brother’s house, where the bike would stay in his garage until my next trip to Denver. As I rode those six miles, I realized there were beautiful parts of my hometown, not far from places I’d been many times, that I still didn’t know. There is always so much more to discover when you see a city by bicycle.
As it turns out, I rode a total of 147 miles in Colorado that weekend. Strava didn’t record all of it, but I think the total elevation gain for the round trip was just over 5000 feet. Thank you, Rocky, for a fantastic adventure!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For my third time, I took on the Coffeeneuring Challenge, which is now in its seventh year. Successful completion of the Challenge requires some reporting, which brings me to this post. I find that it’s one thing to share a few photos in near-real-time for each adventure to the Bikie Girl Bloomers Instagram account and to the Coffeeneurs Facebook group, but I’ve yet to master the art of writing up a complete blog post soon after each ride, as some of the expert Coffeeneurs do. (I tell myself they must be retired, although that’s probably not the case.) I like to use the blog to present my full report, as my social media posts often leave out one or two of the required details, and I refuse to let the reporting get in the way of the actual experience!
Coffee-whatting you may ask? Click here for more complete information on this annual 6-7 week challenge during which participants visit 7 different coffee shops (or create their own special coffee shop experience) and report back on the distance traveled (a modest 2 mile minimum per trip), the bike-friendliness of the shop visited, and the coffee-ish beverage imbibed. It’s a fun way to keep the joy of bicycling as autumn weather sets in, and a great resource for learning from fellow cyclists about places to try new coffee-ish beverages. Best of all, it’s a wonderful way to experience community with fellow lovers of cycling & coffee around the globe. Sometimes I see posts from folks living in places I once lived, and it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling of connection. Other posts make me want to add new destinations to my ever-growing bike-it list.
Each of the rides reported below was planned in accordance with my chosen theme for the 2017 challenge: The Donut Quest. Coffeeneuring is a theme unto itself, but participants are welcome to introduce a theme within a theme at their discretion. I love themes, and not much thought was required to arrive at this year’s theme. It was inspired by an article listing the best donut shops in the L.A. area that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on September 8, 2017. I knew right then and there I just had to explore these donut shops for myself.
I don’t make a regular habit of eating donuts. I’m more the type who doesn’t mind eating a donut if someone is offering one, but it’s not the sort of treat I regularly seek out. Somehow that made it appealing as a theme for my coffee rides, as it presented me with an excuse to explore something I otherwise wouldn’t. It seemed “safer” to explore donuts in conjunction with bike rides, as well, given that I would stand a better chance of burning most of the unnecessary calories one consumes when eating donuts (I figure I need to ride at least 10 miles per donut). I also like to explore different parts of the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis on my bike, and so I liked that the L.A. Times list included donut shops spread far and wide.
I know I can get a little chatty at times, so if you find my descriptions a bit much, you can get a summary of all my rides by scrolling from one bold-faced list of bullet points to the next. For me, choosing my route, encountering friends or foibles, discovering new things by bike, are all part of the joy of my urban bike adventures! Why do I include in my report which bloomers I wore? Well, you must understand that I wear them nearly every day, and this is my passion. And now, here are my 7 coffeeneuring/donut rides.
Several of the donut shops on the LA Times list are not far from my home, and Bob’s in particular is in a familiar location: the Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax. This market goes back to 1934, when some depression-era entrepreneurs thought it would be great to have a village-type experience where farmers could offer their fresh produce. The market includes a large number of permanent stalls, and includes a variety of merchants, not just farmers, where shoppers can buy everything from produce, cheese, and meats to toys, postcards, and gifts, as well as enjoy prepared foods from a large selection of restaurants. On the day I visited, I was treated to live music as well.
Since Bob’s is only a nudge under 4 miles northwest from my house, and the ride to the Farmer’s Market is rather familiar to me, I first had to consider how I might make the route a wee bit more interesting, and a nudge longer to meet my 10-mile minimum. Lately, I have been intrigued with working on a better route for riding parallel to Pico Boulevard, just a little south of me. Google maps always seems to think biking on Pico is acceptable, but trust me, it’s better to find alternatives, or at least be ready to use the sidewalk. So I zigzagged my way west and south, until the point where I needed to drop further south in order to be able to cross La Brea, a major north-south arterial that would be suicide to cross without a traffic light. For that, I had to leave the otherwise quite suitable 12th Street, and head south on Longwood to San Vicente, a street that angles northwesterly, and where a bike lane offers some protection from the fast-moving traffic. This street gave me a token hill to climb (does a ride really count if it’s completely flat?), and then carried me all the way to Cochran, a rather bike-friendly street for heading north through MidCity.
This got me to 3rd Street, a street with whom I have a conflicted love-hate relationship. Sometimes I just take the lane, because there are some places you can’t get to except via 3rd Street, and why shouldn’t I? Sometimes (especially at night) I ride on the sidewalk. Today, I took the lane, but the stress of it wore me down, and when I got to the last long block, I hopped over to take advantage of the paved path along the outside edge of Pan Pacific Park.
Then I faced the intersection that screams “NOBODY RIDES A BIKE TO THIS PLACE!!” It’s the access point to The Grove, the Disneyland-meets-Vegas of shopping malls, which was developed, quite intentionally, directly adjacent to the Original Farmer’s Market, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of authentic character and faux glitziness. This intersection is horrible because a continuous stream of automobiles is turning onto the very street I need to cross to access the shopping area, and they are turning from both the westbound and eastbound directions of 3rd Street. This means that, even when the light is green for bikes and pedestrians heading west to the mall and market areas, the threat of a right hook is ever-present. And it’s not as though routing yourself to the area from the north or the west would help, as all of the bordering streets are horrible.
Despite all the intimidation designed to discourage biking to this place, there is a refreshing abundance of bike parking at the Farmer’s Market (and also in the parking structure for the mall, for those wondering). I locked up my Gazelle, and began strolling though the Farmer’s Market, looking for Bob’s Doughnut shop. One can easily get lost in this place. There are a couple dozen merchants in addition to over 30 restaurants in this place, and the somewhat narrow aisles between stalls can get crowded. I found Bob’s and gawked at the doughnut selection, trying to remember which one the LA Times had recommended. I asked the server what she recommended for a person trying this place for the first time. She suggested the apple fritter, or the cinnamon bun, as well as the classic glazed, but that bun looked good to me. Since it was a hot day, I went for the ice blended mocha as my beverage, and took my treats over to the other end of the market, where a live band was performing.
Between the people-watching and the music, it was a lovely place to enjoy my treats. The cinnamon bun had all the delightfully light texture and sweetness of a quality glazed donut, with just enough cinnamon to qualify as a cinnamon bun. I liked that it was not the kind that gets gooey by the time you get to the middle (although that type of cinnamon roll has its place). I tried to mark the occasion of my opening entry into this year’s Coffeeneuring series with a ceremonial dunking of my donut in my drink, but that turned out be be a bit awkward, given the size of my cinnamon bun and the thick texture of my drink. This would surely work much better with a normal donut and a normal cup of coffee. But it’s just too hot and sunny on this Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, so I could not imagine drinking a hot beverage today. Although the ice blended mocha offered an element of refreshment, the blended part was a bit too thick, and it wasn’t something I would order again. A simple iced coffee would have been a better choice.
I took advantage of being at the market to get some necessaries for home. I don’t normally patronize butcher shops, but thought it would make for a nice treat for el Cochinito and me to get some quality goods for our dinner. He has a thing for pork chops on the bone that are sliced more thinly than the usual way they are provided at the grocery store. I asked the butcher if he could cut some to about half the thickness of the pork chops in his display case, and he obliged. I had never watched pork chops being cut before. It was a surprise for me to see the huge piece from which the chops were cut. I also got a few other choice items from the case, and then went over to the produce market, making sure I knew how much room remained in my basket before I got too carried away with the vegetables. It turned out I was able to fit quite a good bit of loot in my pannier basket.
It occurred to me that I could try avoiding the stress of biking on 3rd Street by heading north out of Pan Pacific Park, which is just across the street that borders the west edge of the Farmer’s Market and The Grove shopping mall. It was a nice day to ride through the park, passing children on the playground and men playing soccer. I enjoyed heading east on Oakwood, and adding a modest extra mile or two to my return trip.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of this successful first ride to open Coffeeneuring season was the delicious pork chop dinner el Cochinito cooked up for us that evening.
Bike parking: None; improvised with cable wrapped around light post
My second Coffeeneuring ride of the season took me to Dad’s Donuts & Bakery in Burbank. I was excited for this first Coffeeneuring ride on my new bike, a Bianchi Volpe I bought just a week prior as a replacement for the Specialized Dolce Comp that was stolen the month before. As painful as it was to lose my beloved Dolce – we shared a lot of great memories since I got her in 2004 – it was delightfully exciting to explore my new choice in the road bike category. I had not done any long or strenuous rides since the acquisition, and this was my first test that would really tell me whether I’d made the right choice. The Volpe did not disappoint.
One donut shop that made the LA Times list was in Burbank, a city over in the San Fernando Valley (aka, “the valley”), a place I don’t visit often, and a place that it is easy to turn one’s nose up at from my side of Mulholland. In fact, my only real exploration of Burbank occurred by bicycle during my first stab at Coffeeneuring in 2015, and it gave me a nice appreciation of this suburb to my north. Yes, the valley still has its multi-lane roads that seem to do nothing more than take you from one strip mall to the next, offering little in the way of character, or inviting places to wander, but it also has some nice tree-lined residential streets, and the lovely Verdugo Hills along its northeast border. I happen to like the way you can get to Burbank by biking through Griffith Park, my go-to place for bike rides when I just want to ride without having to plan a route. So I knew where to start for this one, and I knew it would get me a ride with some decent mileage.
I love the bike lanes that await me when I head north out of Griffith Park and turn onto Riverside Drive. The road is nice and wide, and pretty, and in addition to the bike lane, there is some special infrastructure for those traveling on horseback. The north end of Griffith Park includes a horse stable, where folks can rent horses, and this is just one of the riding stables in the area. I post some pics of the special separate bike and horse lanes (and signal indicators) in my 2015 post about biking in Burbank.
I didn’t have to go far from there to get to Dad’s Donuts. Like many donut shops, it sits in an unassuming strip mall. I couldn’t find a bike rack anywhere in the vicinity, but I did find a light post secured in a large concrete base. Luckily, I had the heavy duty cable that came with my kryptonite lock, and was able to use that to secure my bike. Although it was less than ideal bike parking, I felt quite confident that my bike would be safe there.
Inside I found a wide selection of donuts to choose from, as well as a variety of baked goods, including bagels, muffins, and bread. It was difficult to choose between the Buttermilk Bar, which was recommended by the LA Times, and the cronut, so I got one of each. They were both heavy and quite filling, but anything I can’t finish is likely to be welcomed by el Cochinito when I get home. As if that weren’t enough for my sweet tooth, I once again fell for an iced mocha. This one wasn’t put through a blender, and the “mocha” part was a generous pour of chocolate syrup that coated the sides of my cup. I found it quite refreshing on yet another hot day. Both the cronut and the bar were delicious, in a super dense and rich sort of way, and I was glad I was having them on a higher mileage day.
From there, I thought it would be fun to head west on the Chandler Bike Path, a nicely-paved and manicured bike path that follows along the Orange Line Bus Route. The Orange line is Metro’s way of providing subway-like service with a dedicated bus path that is separated from the main travel lanes that other vehicles use. I have only biked this path twice before, and couldn’t resist an excuse to ride it today. I figured I could take this over to Coldwater Canyon, a road I’ve taken to descend from Mulholland into Beverly Hills many times, but one I was a wee bit nervous about from the valley side. I figured I’d just give it a shot.
Did I mention it was a hot day? The high was 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was already noonish. I knew Coldwater Canyon would not be the most bike-friendly street, but I took to mentally preparing myself for that, and being ready to use my best urban biking skills. I was feeling the heat, and noticed an ATM, so decided to make a quick stop to get some cash and guzzle some water before I started south toward the climb. I had barely begun the climb when I realized that both the heat and the traffic were bothering me. I noticed a shady spot off to the right, so I pulled over and decided to hydrate some more, and make sure I felt ready to take on the climb. I took a good long rest, and made sure I felt up to it and ready. Although I felt quite re-energized as soon as I started pedaling again, it wasn’t long before the climb began to feel grueling. Coupled with the winding curves, narrow shoulder, and fast-moving car traffic, I was not enjoying it. This seemed notably beyond my current level of conditioning, or maybe I just can’t handle the heat. I decided to give myself permission to stop anytime I saw a space for it and felt the need to refresh myself again. I ended up stopping twice more on the climb, and after I each rest, I had the same experience of a disappointingly short burst of renewed energy. I found myself wondering why I’d chosen such a lousy route, wondering if I’d made a serious mistake, wondering if I was misjudging my ability to handle this climb, wondering if I was going to make it to the top, yet aware that I didn’t have much choice, as walking my bike up that hill would not be any safer.
When I finally got to Mulholland Drive, I was so relieved. I was also aware that I wan’t quite exactly sure how I would descend on the other side. I knew that Coldwater Canyon does a shift at Mulholland, where the northbound and southbound portions of this road don’t line up, and that I might be able to descend via Franklin Canyon by turning right somewhere near there, but I wasn’t quite sure where. I saw what looked to be that option, and I turned. I felt so thrilled to be done with that awful climb in the hot sun.
Heading down through Franklin Canyon was a welcome treat. It’s just plain beautiful. No more heavy traffic. No more grueling climb. And scenery to savor. Once I took in the beautiful surroundings, I wasn’t mad at myself for my choice of route any more. This was awesome, and tranquil, and just what I needed.
From there, I took a fairly direct route back home. I was feeling well aware that I’d done enough for the day, and remained eager to get out of the heat and be done with it. The ride left me feeling spent, but proud (and perhaps a wee bit stupid) that I’d powered through it.
Bike parking: Bikeshare docking station nearby; bike parking in front of shop
The next week, I was in Washington, D.C., for the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Annual Meeting. I go to this meeting every October, and last year, while in town for the meeting, I met fellow Coffeeneur Ilga at the Women & Bicycles Coffee Club. We had tried to coordinate a Coffeeneuring ride together during that visit, but our schedules just didn’t sync up. This year, my schedule was more flexible, and so was Ilga’s, so we were able to bike together to District Doughnut in Barracks Row, an area of D.C. I’d not seen before.
Ilga’s theme was meeting someone different for coffee each time, and so I was happy to contribute to her series, and glad she was open to participating in my donut theme. The trickiest part for me was finding an available bikeshare bike on this gorgeous Sunday. I had seen all the new dockless bike share bikes out on the sidewalks during the week, and had ridden one of the Mobikes back from a brunch date in Georgetown the day before. I was excited to perhaps get a chance to try one of the other dockless bikes for this ride, but quickly noticed that none were available. I knew I could just walk a short way to get to a Capital Bikeshare dock, if necessary, but those bikes were all gone as well. I walked from Woodley Park into Adams Morgan, and docking station after docking station was empty, and none of the dockless share bikes were around either. I finally found a bike, and grabbed it, deciding I would gladly pay overage charges if necessary in order to hang onto a bike for the full adventure.
That one last bike I found, however, was in rather poor shape, and I had a little time before I was scheduled to meet Ilga, so I tried to bike to another docking station near her place that the app showed had some bikes available. The problem was, the area has a lot of one-way streets, and I kept finding myself stuck going the wrong way. After a few frustrating loops, I finally back-tracked a block on the sidewalk to get to it, and made the switch. The new bike wasn’t much better, but I pedaled on, grateful to have a bike at all!
Ilga led the way south, toward the White House, and we headed east on Pennsylvania Avenue. I love that bike lane that runs right down the middle of the street, heading towards the Capital building. I noticed also that the bike lane has received some added improvements to better protect cyclists from turning cars. That’s the biggest drawback to a bike lane in the middle of the street: you have to guard against conflicts between vehicles crossing the bike lane as they make left turns or U-turns.
Barracks Row refers to a commercial district developed in the Eastern Market area of Capitol Hill. It’s close to the Navy Yard and some old Marine barracks, and in the vicinity is a large swath of new developments built in recent years as part of a revitalization effort after the area had experienced decades of decline. The biking was fine, except for navigating around an awkward freeway that cuts through that part of town.
District Doughnut is on this cute 8th Street SE, and directly across from the Marine barracks. It’s close to the intersection with I Street, where I was able to dock my bike. There was also a bike rack directly in front of District Doughnut, so Ilga was able to park her bike there. While bike parking was easy, choosing a donut was not. There were so many intriguing choices, I ended up getting four! I had to try to Dulce de Leche donut and the Caramel Apple Strudel donut, and I thought the Brown Butter donut looked good, too. There was also an odd-looking Everything donut. It looked just like an Everything Bagel, and that was the idea. I got that one for el Cochinito, who had joined me in D.C. for the weekend, but was holed up in our B&B for the day, grading papers for his students. He doesn’t have the same sweet tooth I do, so I thought he might like the more savory Everything donut. (I thought wrong, by the way; he thought it looked disgusting, and tossed it!) I think he preferred what was left of the others I tried.
For my beverage, I had a cold brew coffee with milk. Ilga had iced tea and some donut indulgence as well. The cold brew was good, and the Dulce de Leche donut was extraordinary. The Caramel Apple Strudel donut was my second favorite. Those two were so decadent, the Brown Butter donut seemed a bit plain, but it may have been overshadowed by the richness of the other two.
We had a nice ride back, riding past lots of large new residential towers, and went farther west to check out a new development along the waterfront. There was a huge amount of bike parking in the new commercial district, which looked quite vibrant. I would have stayed and explored with Ilga, but I needed to get back to meet up with el Cochinito for our evening plans. I was nicely positioned, however, to curve up Maine Street to the Mall area, and catch 15th St NW to head north back toward Woodley Park.
Bike parking: Excellent; both places had bike parking right in front of shop
Today I doubled up on the donut quest, and tried two coffee/donut shops to celebrate an enjoyable climb up Nichols Canyon. This ride also served as my redemption and reassurance that I can still climb hills, especially when it’s not 96 degrees out. I also got a nice early start this day, because I knew I would have to ride on Mulholland Drive, and the earlier I do that, the less traffic there will be. I also had plans for later in the day, and wanted to be sure I had plenty of time for my climb and my coffeeneuring stop beforehand.
Nichols Canyon is one of my favorite climbing rides, but I don’t do it that often (and I don’t do climbing rides that often, which doesn’t help my conditioning or my confidence, and hence leads to less inclination to do climbing rides). It was a nice cool morning, with a heavy marine layer keeping the air damp. I was grateful, as I was itching for a long ride, and did not want heat and sun wearing me down.
The climb was immensely satisfying. I was pleased with both my stamina and my new Bianchi Volpe. I wanted this new bike to be suitable for challenging rides and also sufficiently comfortable for longer touring rides (of which I hope to do more). My last road bike was so nimble, and allowed me to feel strong on climbs. I wasn’t sure yet if the Volpe would give me that same feeling. I’d felt so weak on the Coldwater Canyon ride a couple weeks earlier, I needed to try another climbing ride, and one that I could compare to previous climbs up the same road on my old bike.
I was pleased to find myself spinning comfortably up the switchbacks, and glad that I never felt strained until I got to that last block up Woodrow Wilson, which connects Nichols Canyon Road with Mulholland Drive. That block is super steep, but short enough that I’ve always been able to muster what I needed to get up it. I was so excited when I got to that point, I just kept my focus on the nearest bit of ground before me, knowing that soon I would be at the top. Once I got there, I was certainly very winded and in need of a rest, but thrilling in the triumph.
I rode along Mulholland, grateful for a clean shoulder to ride on and a fairly low traffic morning. I’d noticed my rear brake was still squeaking as it had when I first brought it home from the bike shop, so I decided to stop at one of the pull-outs and adjust it before I get to the downhill part of my ride. The place where I pulled off had some pretty cacti, so I made that the backdrop for my proud-moment-bike-portrait. Normally, I would snap a photo with the view of the valley, but the marine layer was still thick enough to completely block that view.
I was able to get rid of the squeak from my brake and get on my way. I like to descend from Mulholland on Coldwater Canyon. This drops down into Beverly Hills, which has nice, wide streets lined with big trees and mansions to gawk at, a part of the ride I always enjoy.
From there, I made my way to the Fairfax district, to visit Cofax Coffee and taste their cornflake donut. It tastes better than it sounds. It was actually light and fluffy, compared to some of the densely rich donuts I tried on other rides. The cornflake topping is not overdone, nor is it overly sweet. It was a light, delicate donut with a little sweet, crunchy topping, rather than being all about the cornflake idea. The macchiato I had with it was good, and it was nice to have a warm coffee drink on a Coffeeneuring ride for once. Somehow that feels more legitimate.
Cofax is a tiny shop, and I felt very lucky that I was able to get one of the two seats at the window, facing the street. The place has very little seating, and most of it is in the midst of the line of folks waiting to place their orders. Fairfax is not a bike-friendly street, but I was able to ride on the sidewalk as needed, and to park my bike at a good rack right in front of Cofax Coffee.
I had kept my plans fluid, not knowing how I would feel after the Nichols Canyon ride, and whether I might need to stop at home afterward. But I was feeling good, and so I decided to extend my ride so I could sync up with my friend, Joni, when she would be arriving in downtown LA., a good 8 miles away. Riding in to downtown would also give me a chance to check out Birdies, another donut shop on the LA Times list.
I began to realize my timing was off, and that I would get to downtown far too early, so I figured I could head south a bit before heading east. This seemed like a good time to explore the east end of the Expo Line Bike Path, which opened last year. Although I’ve ridden it many times, I had only taken it from La Cienega west to Santa Monica. When I got to the La Cienega Expo Line Station, I was dismayed to realize that the skinny little bike lane I had seen on Jefferson Blvd IS the east end of the Expo Line Bike Path. The part of the new bike path I’d been on is a paved and mostly-off-street path as it follows the Expo Line through Culver City, west L.A. and Santa Monica, but apparently they were not able to make it as nice for the rest of the route.
So I took that skinny little bike lane all the way to the University of Southern California (USC), cut through the USC campus, and on into downtown. Once I got to Birdies, I was pleased to see that, once again, I was able to lock my bike to a good rack right in front of the donut shop.
At Birdies, I wanted to try the pistachio-lemon-thyme donut that was mentioned in the LA Times. I also got a cute panda donut that I figured I could deliver to Joni when I met her, or perhaps take home to el Cochinito. Joni had mentioned not wanting to be late for a 4 pm concert, so I figured I could bring her a donut, in case she did not have time for a donut run. The pistachio lemon thyme donut was a bit disappointing for me, as it tasted very strongly of lemon, and I could not really taste the pistachio or the thyme. I would have preferred more balance to the strong lemon flavor. The mocha I had to drink with it, however, was quite good.
I thought I had a little extra time before meeting Joni, so I planned out a little loop around downtown. As I headed northeast on the Olive Street bike lane, however, I heard a little plop sound. I turned around and saw that, sure enough, my box with the panda donut had fallen off my rear rack. My bungee cord was not holding it securely enough. So, I turned around and walked my bike back to where the box was sitting in the middle of the bike lane. Then a Prius pulled into the bike lane, heading straight for my donut box! I waved my arms, then put my hand up out in front of me, and screamed to the driver, “STOP!!” The driver initially stopped, and looked at me quizzically. I glanced under her car and was relieved to see that she had not run over my box; it was pretty much under the center of her car. I started to walk toward the car, intending to lean down and try to get the box, except I wouldn’t be able to reach it. I tried to tell the driver to please wait while I retrieve the box, but she never opened her window, and I suspect she just thought I was insane. Perhaps she was frightened by the hysterical cyclist walking up to her car, or maybe she just didn’t get it. She started driving again, and promptly ran over the donut box with her rear tire. I screamed at her as she drove on, seemingly obvious to the damage she’d done, and apparently also oblivious to (or unconcerned about) the illegality of driving in the bike lane.
I picked up the partly smushed box and peeked inside. The panda donut was rather disfigured, but not squished. It didn’t look like much of a panda any more. It hadn’t gotten dirty, though, so I figured I’d still keep it, if only to help me tell the story. I secured it back on the rear rack, or so I thought. One block later, I heard the plop of the box hitting the pavement yet again. This time I was able to retrieve it without incident, although it was beginning to seem like a pointless effort. Just as I was fumbling with the bungee cord and the donut box and my jacket and the bag with the bloomers, a nice woman, who’d apparently been watching from the sidewalk, walked over and handed me a plastic shopping bag. I put all of the items inside the bag, and that made it easier to get everything secured under the bungee cord. She not only helped solve my luggage problem, she restored my faith in humanity. I thanked her profusely.
As I proceeded on, I noticed the time, and decided I had better drop my planned loop and head over to the Pico station where the Expo Line train was bringing Joni into downtown. As it turned out, she had more time before the concert than I thought, so we decided to make it a triple and check out Astro Doughnuts, another shop on my list.
Alas, our hopes were dashed when we realized that Astro closes at 3 PM, so it was back to Birdies. Joni wanted to try something else from their menu other than the chocolate cake donut that I had offered to her in the form of a cute little panda. She chose an adorable horchata dulce de leche glazed donut. We visited while Joni got her donut fix, and then parted ways afterward, Joni off to her concert, and me tired and ready to go home.
Control #5 was sandwiched between a planned social ride and a screening of short films about adventure cycling. My friend Jennifer was doing both the social ride and the film screening, and agreed to join me for the in-between trip to Astro Donughts & Fried Chicken in downtown LA.
The social ride was part of a monthly series offered by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) called Sunday Funday rides, each a themed ride exploring a different part of Los Angles County. This one started at Exposition Park, near the University of Southern California (USC) campus, and took us to and along the Expo Line Bike Path that opened in 2016, with a stop in Culver City, and our final stop in Cheviot Hills. Several of us opted for the full route, which meant riding back to Expo Park from there.
By this time, I’d ridden about 25 miles, and worked up a serious appetite. But we weren’t that far from downtown, so Jennifer and I continued on to Astro Doughnuts. They had great bike parking right in front, so we locked up and got inside just before closing time. Luckily, they still had both donuts and chicken available, and Carlos and Eddy served us with a smile. I had an excellent nitro cold brew with my unbelievably divine creme brûlée donut as well as some fried chicken. I was very hungry when we got there and quite stuffed when we left!
We rode on from there to the Filmed By Bike adventure shorts being presented by Bicycle Culture Institute at Boomtown Brewery in the arts district. Despite being full, we were still able to enjoy some beer, as well as some inspiring films.
Control #6 was also sandwiched between a social ride and an evening event, but this time I did not include the 14.6 miles of the social ride in my coffeeneuring mileage, since I took a short break at home in between rides, and changed to a different bike. But I did once again bring along a friend from the social ride to join me for the coffeeneuring ride. Joni (the same one who went to Birdies with me as part of Control #4) had been on the Flower Power Ride that morning, which took place in downtown Los Angeles, and featured a visit to the L.A. Flower Market, followed by lunch at the Bread Lounge. In keeping with the theme of the ride, I wore my Crazy Daisy Bloomers.
Joni is familiar with the donut shop I was planning to visit, Sidecar Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, and was interested in joining me. She wanted to visit a market near my house, and I wanted to stop at home to switch bikes, drop off the flowers I’d purchased, and coordinate my evening plans with el Cochinito. We then took a fairly direct route west, first along the Venice Boulevard bike lane, and then hopping onto the Expo Line Bike Path into Santa Monica.
Sidecar Donuts also has bike racks right out in front. Once we went inside, I again faced too many good-looking donuts to choose from, so I bought a box of four. I knew I had to try the huckleberry donut, which was highlighted in the LA Times article, and is unique to this donut shop. I also got the carrot cake, butter, and cinnamon crumb donuts to take home for breakfast the next day. Joni got the pumpkin spice donut, in large part because she caught one that had just been cooked. Since it was getting close to 6 pm, I didn’t want coffee, and opted for a steamed milk, which went nicely with the donut.
From there, Joni went on home, and I rode over to the nearby Ingo’s Tasty Diner, and met up with el Cochinito for dinner before the two of us headed on to hear a panel discussion on racial justice at the UU church in Santa Monica. Afterward, we put my bike in the back of his truck and drove home together.
For my final ride of the 2017 Coffeeneuring season, I rode to Kettle Glazed Doughnuts in Hollywood. This one was a bit disappointing, mostly because I don’t like biking in Hollywood, and the donut experience wasn’t good enough to compensate for that.
There’s something about Hollywood that makes me want to like biking there. Perhaps it’s the landmarks, or maybe knowing that it has that rough quality that reminds you of all the people struggling to get by in this area and makes you think it should be bike-friendly, or maybe just because there are plenty of otherwise worthy destinations within a reasonable biking distance from my home that make the idea recur on a regular basis. It’s not all bad, either. I’ve had reasonably pleasant experiences biking to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, and that is close to the Arclight Cinema there, where el Chochinito and I like to see movies from time to time. But anything outside that zone seems to be hard to access without having to venture on streets that leave a cyclist feeling quite exposed.
I knew enough not to take the first route suggested by Google maps – straight up Vine. I think the only reason Vine street is considered “bike-friendly” is because it has sharrows and it’s the best north-south street for getting through Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s also what most motor vehicles use for north-south travel through Hollywood. Instead, I much prefer to take Rosewood west a wee bit, and follow it as it turns north and becomes Wilcox. But today, my destination was on Franklin, which is way north into Hollywood. I used Yucca to go east from Wilcox to Argyle, passing the iconic Capitol Records Building. Sure, there were sharrows and signs asserting that this is a bike route, but it sure didn’t feel like it! It doesn’t help that Yucca is plenty wide, and invites speeding cars to do their thing. Argyle then crosses under the 101 freeway to Franklin, and there sits the strip mall that is home to Kettle Glazed Doughnuts.
I got to Kettle Glazed after having to navigate a left turn mid-block, crossing heavy traffic in both directions. I scanned the parking lot of the little strip mall, and realized that, even if there were a bike rack around, I probably would not want to use it. A homeless guy was busy retrieving items from the dumpster, and had an air about him that made me think he considers himself the owner of the parking lot. There really wasn’t anything that looked like I might be able to lock my bike to it, anyway. I decided to see if I could take my bike inside. The shop is small, and another bike was leaning against the one area of open wall space. I decided to lean my bike against the trash cans by the door, but locked it and took my pannier with me, since it was so close to the entrance.
There was a nice variety of donuts that looked worth trying. I like a classic old fashioned donut, and theirs looked good, but I wanted to try their specialty, the kettle glazed croissant style donut. They offered their cronut with either cinnamon or chocolate on top. How was I supposed to choose between those two? Once again, I had to get one of each, and take the second half of each home to el Cochinito. To go with it, I had a cup of coffee, which was entirely unspectacular. They pointed to an insulated pump dispenser. At least this time, the last of my seven rides, I finally remembered to bring along my own coffee cup, rather than use another throw-away cup. This environmentally friendly idea had been suggested to the group by a fellow Coffeeneur, but I had trouble remembering to bring a cup along for each of the preceding trips.
Since I was so close to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, the biggest and best in L.A., and close to the Bed Bath & Beyond store, where I wanted to pick up a few things for the house, I headed south on Vine and turned it into an errandonnee trip as well. I ended up getting so much at Bed Bath & Beyond (that beyond part always gets me!), there wasn’t room on my bike to add anything more from the farmer’s market. So I headed on home from there, at first trying to make peace with Vine Street, but eventually turning off onto side streets and cutting over to Van Ness, another street I find much more bike-friendly (and pretty) than Vine.
Full pannier & rack
Some streets are pretty!
And with that, my seven coffee (and donut) stops by bike were completed. Of course, the LA Times article listed 29 donut shops, flung far and wide across the extended Los Angeles area. I only made it to seven of them, and I’m still curious to try several more. I’ve had so much fun with biking for donuts, and I particularly enjoyed doing these adventures with friends, that I’m now planning an epic donut ride for New Year’s Day. My tentative plan is to start in Venice at Blue Star donuts, and work my way east, all the way to The Donut Man in Glendora, nearly 50 miles from Blue Star. It just so happens that 3 more of the donut shops on my list are positioned in between these two, each about 10 miles apart. We (that’s including anyone who cares to join me for this adventure) can bike the whole way, and then be full enough to require no more fuel stops for the ride back, which can start out along the San Gabriel River Trail, and the Duarte Trail, providing some variety for the return trip. Those not interested in biking more than 50 miles, can hop on the Gold Line at the Azusa Metro Station, which will get them to Union Station in downtown, providing access to the Venice bus, which runs all the way from downtown back to Blue Star, if needed.
As is apparent, the Donut Quest is never ending! If you’re ever in Los Angeles, and want to bike for donuts, message me and we will take it from there.
P.S. Interested in outfitting yourself (or a friend) with something from the Bikie Girl Bloomers collection: Treat yourself to the special discount for Coffeeneurs: use code COFFEENEUR to get 15% off an order of $50 or more.
Back in 2012 I attended the National Women’s Bike Summit in Long Beach, California. I really didn’t know what such a summit would look like, but the mere fact that it existed, and so close to Los Angeles, compelled me to register and check it out. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by so many women who are as excited about bicycling as I am. One of the women I met there is Maria Contreras Tebbutt from Davis in Northern California. Maria told me about the work she does in Davis and nearby Woodland, helping people in the community with access to bicycles and repairs. It was through her that I first learned that Davis is an incredible bike city with a remarkable history exemplifying how a US city can be designed to work for bicycles. Ever since then, a visit to Davis has been on my bike-it list. Every now and then, I would look online to see if there were any bike events coming up in Davis that might give me an excuse to go there and perhaps sell my bloomers. Finally, in August, I discovered just what I’d hoped to find, a great excuse to go to Davis.
I stumbled across an announcement about the International Cycling Safety Conference that was going to be held in Davis. The Conference was being held in conjunction with the celebration of 50 years since the first bike lane was installed in Davis. This was also the first time the International Cycling Safety Conference was being held in the United States. I checked the conference website to see if there might be an opportunity for vendors there. They did have some sponsorship opportunities, although it was a little pricey for my micro business budget. I decided it was worth inquiring to see if there was a sponsorship level that I could afford and that would allow me to at least display my product, if not sell it. I was figuring there would be people coming to this conference, not only from all over the states, but also from other countries, all of them enthusiastic about transportation cycling — just my kind of people. I also looked at the program, and saw that many of the speakers were women, giving me hope that this wouldn’t be one of those bicycling events dominated by males. The response from the conference organizers was favorable, so I decided to just do it. I booked a hotel, paid my sponsorship and registration fees, and started thinking about how I would present my product to this audience. I was also excited to see that the program included an opportunity to participate in the Davis Bike Party on Friday evening, and also to get a tour of the bicycle infrastructure of Davis on Saturday.
Never having attended a conference of this nature, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But, that Wednesday, I packed my car with all my Bikie Girl Bloomers product and display set-up, and drove up to Davis. As it turned out I arrived just in time to catch the last part of the opening night reception. I didn’t have a name tag yet, and although I recognized Maria among the attendees, she is obviously a popular celebrity in this social circle, and I never did get a chance to talk to her. But I met a nice couple who lives in Davis: Steve Tracy, and his wife, Susan. Susan was not part of the conference and seemed happy to talk to someone who also felt like a little bit of an outsider. She is a retired schoolteacher, and he is a retired Davis city planner. I learned that Steve would be leading one of the five tours on Saturday, and decided that I would sign up to join his tour, since he obviously has extensive scoop on the history of Davis’ bike infrastructure.
Thursday morning I drove to the campus and set up my display. It turned out I was one of only two sponsors with display tables at the event, and they had put us at the opposite end of the conference building lobby from where all the attendees were congregating, an unfortunate arrangement. I then was able to walk over to the campus Bike Barn that I’d heard about, a facility started by Maria Tebbutt to provide an on-campus service for all student bike needs, including sales service, rentals, and accessories. The conference organizers had made arrangements so that registrants could borrow a bicycle from the Bike Barn to use during our stay. So I picked up my bike, and enjoyed exploring the campus on two wheels.
It quickly became apparent that this was unlike other college campuses I’ve seen, in that it was clearly designed to facilitate moving around campus by bicycle. There were bike paths and traffic circles everywhere. I had fun marveling at the vast arrays of bike racks, the many bike repair stands, and thoughtful infrastructure details designed especially for cyclists.
At the end of the day, I was able to pick up my bike from the friendly bike valets provided for the conference attendees, and bike on over to a downtown restaurant for one of the scheduled group dinners. The organizers had offered dinner group sign-ups, with each group having a stated topic for discussion over dinner, and each attendee could sign up to join a group of 12 or so to have dinner together at one of the local restaurants. I signed up for a group led by Susan Handy of UC Davis and Director of the Sustainable Transportation Center, where the topic would be “How do we get more women cycling?”
I loved my table of bike nerds. We had folks from Vancouver, Toronto, Atlanta, Davis, Iowa, North Carolina, and, well, you get the idea: cities of varying sizes and cultures. It was helpful to think about how the cultural context influences the factors that affect women’s interest and comfort with cycling. I shared my hope to get more women cycling by expanding the notion of what we wear while biking (it’s not only OK, but fun and comfortable to bike in a skirt, plus you don’t have to change clothes when you arrive at your destination). Others talked about women who worry about helmet hair, or safety. Certainly one takeaway is the appreciation that no one approach will get more people cycling everywhere, and such efforts must take into account the local culture and conditions, and also provide a variety of ways to draw folks in.
The locals gave me pointers on the best bike route back to my hotel that night. I’m so glad, as Google Maps was directing me toward a very high traffic route, when a much more pleasant, low stress route was available. It got a bit odd at one point, though, when I realized I wasn’t on a road any more. I had missed a right turn, and suddenly, in the dark, found myself riding through a parking lot, which wasn’t so bad, but then I found myself riding across what seemed to be a grassy, bumpy field. I managed to find my way back to a road eventually, and all ended up fine, but in the light of day the next morning, I could see my folly. Then I missed a turn on my way into campus that morning, and ended up at a dead end before realizing I needed to turn back about a quarter of a mile to catch the bike path that leads to the campus. All part of the bike adventure!
Although I spent most of the time at my display table, I was able to attend some of the presentations. It got pretty exciting at a couple of the talks, when the speaker called out the absurdity of the road designs fostered by the long-clung-to American notion of “vehicular cycling“. This term refers to a theory that bicyclists don’t require any special infrastructure; instead they should just obey all the same rules of the road as any other vehicle, and use the same lanes. This view was promoted heavily by a man by the name of John Forester, who unfortunately had a tremendous influence on how road design standards in the United States treated bicyclists. Not one, but two of the three keynote speakers of the conference let it be known that the notion of vehicular cycling had failed us. It was a treat to be in the room for these moments, including watching Mr. Forester raising his hand, eager to speak as soon as the talk ended. Of course, vehicular cycling has its place, but the shame of it all is that the vehicular cycling movement was a movement against cycle tracks and other infrastructure designed to make cycling safe and inviting for everyone, not just the daredevils. I would look at Mr. Forester and think to myself: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
In my view, we should design all of our roads with the intent that our children can bike to school safely on them. Have you ever noticed how much traffic congestion worsens when school is in session? So many parents are chauffeuring their children to school, with individualized door-to-door service, it adds tremendously to the number of trips taken by car each morning and afternoon (not to mention creating a chaotic traffic nightmare in front of school buildings). Meanwhile, the children are kept dependent on their parents for transportation, and fail to learn their way around their own city. Studies have shown that children who bike to school perform and learn better than their car-bound classmates. We can all benefit from a safety-oriented road design.
Friday evening was the big night of celebration. First, we had a reception at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in downtown Davis. We were greeted with beer and an opportunity to tour the museum, including a chance to sit on a high-wheel bicycle.
Here’s a slide show with a few samples of what’s on display at the museum:
Awards were presented to the best presentations of the conference, and we got to hear from the mayor of Davis. Dinner was provided by a local taco truck, and afterward, we got to join Bike Party Davis for their monthly party on wheels. We rolled around Davis by night, with colorful lights flashing, and reggae music blaring (each month, the ride has a different theme, this one was “One Love. One Life.”). Part of the tradition is to holler out to folks you see as you roll by, “BIKE PARTY!” That was an easy one for newbies to embrace, so we did. We took a fairly leisurely pace, and ended our ride in West Davis, at a pizza place that was offering a donation to the charity of the month (the Youth Education Branch of the Sacramento Food Bank) with any pizza purchased by the revelers. I was still full of tacos, but enjoyed a beer and was able to give a little cash directly to the cause.
Saturday morning was the tour of Davis’ bike infrastructure. We started out from the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, with our first highlight the “bike lane of shame” (the pathetic thing is only 26 inches wide). We then rode to campus to see the first bicycle traffic circle in the U.S. We also saw the city’s first bike tunnel (Davis now has 23 of them – so bikes can pass under a busy street, rather then confront a busy intersection full of cars). In addition to showing off the city’s best bike infrastructure, Steve pointed out some road designs that were flawed, and explained how they would be fixed. He talked about the importance of observing how people behave at intersections, and then designing the infrastructure to encourage safer behavior and avoid collisions.
Steve explained, as he led us through a series of residential neighborhoods, that the city requires each development to provide access to a greenway. We rode bike path after bike path that was positioned in a greenway that traveled behind rows of homes. We saw many cul-de-sacs that fed directly onto the bike path running through the greenways, and greenways would lead to playgrounds, soccer fields, and schools. Children in Davis can bike to school (or to a playground, or a soccer game) without encountering very many street crossings. It is amazing, and brilliant! And in places where they did need to cross a street, the crossings were designed with safety in mind. One example had a median, so the bicyclist only has to cross one direction of traffic at a time. And in the median, the crossing is angled, positioning the cyclist so they are facing diagonally toward the oncoming traffic, making it easier for drivers and crossing cyclists to see each other.
We also visited a development built in the 70’s/80’s called Village Homes, a community designed to facilitate community and energy-efficient living. We got our first taste of the community as we entered a path that runs through a bee-friendly garden. There were a number of people busy weeding, and they explained that they all live in the community and that was their monthly weeding party to maintain the plants that support bees. As we moved through the development, we saw almost no roads, lots of greenery, and attractive homes, most with solar panels. Steve explained that it was a major struggle for the developers to get permits for their plans, as they needed a number of variances. They intentionally put the homes closer together than we normally see, because they wanted to have a large common area rather than lots of individual yards. They have a huge grassy area in the common space, as well as an orchard and community garden. It’s a beautiful space, and a great place to live, if you like living in community.
One of our featured stops was at what Steve calls the “Faux Dutch Junction”, which was supposed to be an embrace of a Dutch style of intersection, but ended up an unfortunate hybrid of US and Dutch styles of intersection design. The junction was initially designed by Dutch experts. Then some local traffic engineers looked at the plan and thought it needed some revisions. They added an extra bike lane that creates confusion with the special side ramps designed to position bikes where turning motorists could more easily see them. They also added right turn lanes for motor vehicles. The modifications added considerable width to the roadway, and were believed necessary to meet “level of service” requirements (code for maximizing the number of vehicles passing through an intersection over a set period of time). Ironically, these modifications made the road so much wider, they required increased time to be allotted for pedestrian crossings, which, in turn, defeated the level of service objectives. Unfortunately, it isn’t just ironic, it also creates significant safety hazards that will require expensive corrections.
I loved all the bike tunnels we saw around Davis. I made much use of a bike tunnel that passes under I-80 to get to the UC Davis campus from my hotel. On our tour, we went through one tunnel that was rather modern-looking, and surrounded by a new residential development. Steve told us that the tunnel itself had been there for 25 years, even though the development just went in a few years ago. Turns out that, when the major road the tunnel passes under was being built, the engineers recognized that this was an area likely to be developed in the future, so they figured it would be smarter to put a culvert in place when the road was being built, rather than have to deal with the greater costs involved to add a tunnel later.
Another significant piece of bike infrastructure that shows Davis’ commitment to cycling is the $12 million bridge that crosses over I-80, including over 6 lanes of freeway, two frontage roads, a railroad track, and a bike path. The Dave Pelz Bike Overcrossing is named after the man who served 36 years as Public Works Director for Davis. This bridge connects east Davis and south Davis, and is used by many junior and senior high school students. It also represents the highest “hill” in Davis.
We ended our tour with a look at an example of the new street standards and lane widths. The old standard was 11feet for a vehicle lane, 5 feet for a bike lane, and 8 feet for a parking lane. The new standard changes that to 10 feet for the vehicle lane, and 7 feet each for the bike lane and parking. It works, and I love it!
After the tour, I enjoyed a cup of coffee with Steve, Susan, and Arend Schwab, a professor at Delft University of Technology, who’d been at the conference as well. They shared stories from a recent trip to the Netherlands. Afterwards, I rode my rental bike back to the Bike Barn, and, while walking back to my car, I snapped photos of the many bike racks waiting for the returning students. The walk was a chance to reflect on my visit to America’s best bicycling city. Quite the velotopia!