Epic Tour de Kids 2021: Philly to Rochester via the Catskills

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.

The Planning

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.

The Training

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.

Korean Friendship Bell, San Pedro, California

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.

Bike assembly at DCA

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.

DC’s Metro Trains Aren’t Clear on Where to Go With Bikes

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.

Top left: Washington’s Union Station; lower left: that rack filled with luggage is where I was to put my bike; lower right shows what it looks like after luggage removed, shelves lifted, and bike wheel hung on 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 funky AirBnb was as close to the elevated train as you could get — the front unit of this building.

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.

Does this one really need a caption?

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.

Top row: Biking along the Schuylkill River, Father & Daughter at Penn’s Landing; Bottom Row: Daughter & fiancée; my first whoopie pie; Reading Terminal Market

And the Adventure Begins: Philly to Long Valley, NJ

Ready to roll out!

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.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping; the adjacent adult book store; the parking lot made famous by a certain Rudy Giuliani press conference

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.)

Delaware Canal Trail; first flat tire; crossing the Delaware; one of many beautiful bridges

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.

Princeton Battleground; another flat tire; rolling through rural New Jersey

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!

Typical New Jersey farmhouse; our much deserved pizza & wine dinner; the 91-mile route and elevation profile for day 1

Today’s tally: Dunkin Donuts spotted: 3; Flat tires: 3; Roadkill: 1 bird, 1 squirrel, 1 possum, 1 deer.

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.

Top right: my selfie of triumph after climbing out of Long Valley; left: beauty along the Sussex Branch Trail; lower right: one last flat tire

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!

One of the pretty churches in Unionville; the Wit’s End Tavern; route and elevation profile for day 2

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.

Today’s tally: flat tires: 1; Road kill: 1 bird, 1 possum, 1 deer.

Enjoy the Ride: Unionville to Olivebridge

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.

Enjoying the ride; Orange Heritage Trail; breakfast in Goshen

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 Wallkill Valley Trail gets skinny at times, but look at the wildflowers; stopping in New Paltz to enjoy public art, 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.

Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
The Rosendale Trestle offers amazing views of the creek below

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.

Our cozy cottage in Olivebridge

Miles: 67. Elevation gain: 2630′. Flat tires: 0. Roadkill spotted: 1 bird, 2 beavers, 2 mice, 1 bunny, 1 unseen, but quite odiferous critter, species unknown.

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.

Morning stillness of the Ashokan Reservoir; one of several distracting pieces on display outside Fabulous Furniture in Boiceville, down the road past the Bread Alone Bakery; the constant beauty of roadside flowers, dense forests, and verdant mountainsides of the Catskills

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 Schoharie Creek; bridge into Lexington; lush roadside greenery; a babbling brook; the memorable Bear Ladder Road into West Fulton

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.

Our extended route to West Fulton featured a few “peak” experiences; we were ready to take a break from riding to spend some time with Lazaro (lower left) and the waterfall

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.

Steam rising from the hills as we rolled out of West Fulton; no shortage of American flags lining the main streets of most rural towns we passed through; getting started on the Erie Canal Trail

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.

So far, great surfaces on the Erie Canal Trail; the Herkimer House

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.

Gorgeous trail and tunnel; Ilion Marina and our first sighting of Destination Blue

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.

Fascinating lock structure; Mohammed & Tekken, bike packers we met at Ilion marina; more trail beauty,

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’

Great route, except for that last part from Frankfort to Utica

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. 

A couple shots from downtown Utica; passing through Rome; a trail side swamp; a pretty bridge

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.

Trail scenery; meeting other cyclists at the locks; a very skinny bridge

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.

Having lunch on the gorgeous patio of the Pop-A-Top in Oneida; the giant hydroponic farm; pumping up our tires along the trail; cute median decor in Syracuse

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.

Camillus wins for the most charming trail side views; I was initially startled to see a car parked on the trail, but soon realized it belonged to a woman who was tending that gorgeous flower bed

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.

An informative mural in Jordan offers a sample of Canal Law pertaining to speed limits and passing rules; more trail scenery

Today’s tally: 72 miles, 1 Dunkin Donuts, 0 flats, Roadkill: 1 skunk, 1 possum, 4 mice, 2 birds, 2 cats, 1 frog, 1 squirrel.

Rolling in to Rochester

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.

After hanging with the kids and seeing a bit of Canandaigua (including this odd establishment — is it a residence? a business?), we decided we had to take a peek at Canandaigua Lake before rolling out the next morning.

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.

You can see from that upper left photo how FAST the road was heading north to Palmyra. Lower right is the one lane bridge near Palmyra.

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.

So many bridges! Such a nice trail!

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.

That’s Destination Blue again in the upper left; more pretty trail and a party boat; our kind friend and professional trail walker; the wet arrival into Rochester

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.

Today’s tally: 44 miles, 0 flats, Roadkill: 2 mice. Plus: one sweet victory.

Epiloguing in Rochester: Rolling As a Family

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.

Watkins Glen State Park

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.

On the UR campus; statue of Frederick Douglass & grave of Susan B. Anthony at Mt. Hope Cemetery; High Falls & 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.

Who knew riding 581 miles could be so fun!

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.

Coffeeneuring 2019: Rolling Themelessly

My fifth round of participating in the Coffeeneuring challenge happens to be the eighth year since it was first launched by Coffeeneur-in-Chief of Chasing Mailboxes. She proclaimed “Eight is Great” when announcing this year’s theme. In years past, I’ve had fun working my own theme into the master theme, with themes like making sure each coffee shop is in a different city, or trying different donut shops, or showing off a different pair of Bloomers for each ride. Last year, I honored the master theme of “Best Intentions” by backing away from elaborate planning of special sub-themes, and simply focusing on intention. This year, I had zero interest in planning a theme for my rides, or carefully selecting new coffee shops to try for each ride. I decided to let myself roll through the challenge themelessly. I am quite pleased that I managed to avoid re-arranging my life around coffeeneuring. Rather, I worked the coffeeneuring into whatever was going on each week.

Here is my control card:

Control No. 1: 10/13/19 – Kaldi in Atwater Village, Los Angeles

Beverage: Iced Americano (with pumpkin scone)

Bike-friendliness: Excellent bike parking – large bike corral right in front

Mileage: 26

Outfit: Crazy Daisy Bloomers under a Mermaid Nuu-Muu dress

Notes: El Cochinito had a meeting to attend in Atwater Village and invited me to ride along. Well, what a great way to kick off coffeeneuring season, especially since I hadn’t been to any coffee shops in Atwater Village. Plus, it’s not far from Griffith Park, giving me a great opportunity to spin my wheels while he was at his meeting.

Control No. 2: 10/20/19 – The Helipad in Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Beverage: Delivered by thermos from Kettle-Glazed Doughnuts (along with some donuts!)

Bike-friendliness: Doesn’t get any friendlier than Griffith Park, especially the Helipad, where local bike friends gather regularly to take in a great view of L.A. together.

Mileage: 20

Outfit: Tealicious Nuu-Muu dress over Black Bloomers (not pictured)

Some of the gents looked so dapper, matching their outfits to their bikes.

Notes: Many Thursdays this summer, I joined a group that bikes up to the Helipad after work to watch the sunset and sip beer. As the sunsets became too early in the Fall, the group switched to Sunday mornings and coffee. An advantage to doing it in the morning is that I could then continue riding on through the park. The photo in the lower left panel is the view of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory. Lower right is a favorite mural I pass on my way home from the park.

Control No. 3: 10/26/19 – Cameron Cafe in Alexandria, Virginia

Beverage: Cafe au Lait (with an apple turnover)

Bike-friendliness: Conveniently close to the Holmes Run Trail and offers bike parking right out front. I was rolling on Capital Bikeshare that day, and there are no docking stations anywhere in that area, so I just parked it in front, next to the bike rack (with timer still running!), and kept an eye on it from my window seat inside.

Mileage: 13

Outfit: Purple Drape Neck Top over Black Hitchable Flounce Skirt & Pinstripe Bloomers (prototype for new style)

Notes: Every year in late October, I attend a conference in the Washington, D.C. area, right in the middle of Coffeeneuring season. In fact, two years ago, I was able to join a fellow coffeeneur who lives in D.C., and share a Coffeeneuring ride together! This year, I was staying in Old Town Alexandria, and thought it would be fun to explore the Holmes Run Trail and visit a coffee shop along the way. Cameron Cafe turned out to be an excellent choice. Both the coffee and the turnover were delicious. Plus I enjoyed visiting with a couple who’d also biked there and had been curious about my use of the bikeshare bike (given that we were well outside the Capital Bikeshare territory).

Control No. 4: 10/27/19 – Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park, Los Angeles

Beverage: Cappuccino (with coffee cake)

Bike-friendliness: There are bike racks on the sidewalk out front on Sunset Boulevard, but some of us like to bring our bikes into the patio area in the back, off the alley. The bookstore is always kind to the Street Librarians who gather there on the last Sunday of each month for drinks and eats, to gather some books generously offered to us from the clearance rack, as we head out on our bicycles to re-stock the local Little Free Libraries.

Mileage: 16

Outfit: Zen Nuu-Muu dress over Pinka Dot Black Bloomers

Notes: The Street Librarians Ride always has a theme. This time the theme was Day of the Dead. As we stop to do our re-stocking at each Little Free Library, we also take a moment to share a reading, usually in line with the theme. For my turn, I read from a children’s book called “What is Death?”

Control No. 5: 10/28/19 – Bar Nine in Culver City

Beverage: Mocha (with a cheese biscuit)

Bike-friendliness: Well, they got rid of the bike rack they used to have out front, but we are inclined to forgive them since there is now an electric car charging station in its place. Several of us rolled our bikes inside, and no one seemed to mind.

Mileage: 12

Outfit: Blue Toad & Co. dress over Leopard Print Bloomers

Notes: This was a meet up with the Women on Bikes Culver City group. These women have a regular tradition of meeting up at a different local coffee shop every other Monday morning. They are especially great at supporting women who are new to city biking.

Control No. 6: 11/3/19 – Blue Bottle Coffee, Downtown L.A.

Beverage: Cafe au Lait (with a maple pecan scone)

Bike-friendliness: There may be bike parking right in front, I forgot to look. I parked across the street in front of the Grand Central Market.

Mileage: 21

Outfit: Jade Nuu-Muu dress over Shimmering Sapphire Bloomers, topped off with a green Bikie Girl Bloomers Boat Neck Tee

Notes: El Cochinito had a field trip in downtown L.A., having his Economics students explore relevant principles at the Grand Central Market. He first has them walk across the street to see the beautiful Bradbury Building, often used in filming, most notably the original Bladerunner. I rode along and enjoyed my treats at Blue Bottle Coffee, right there on the corner in the Bradbury Building, while they did their field trip. Afterward, he and I continued on through Chinatown into Elysian Park to take in some iconic views of the city.

Control No. 7: 11/10/19 – Hot & Cool Cafe, Leimert Park in South Los Angeles

Beverage: Cinnful Coffee (with coffee cake)

Bike-friendliness: There is bike parking right in front and the Ride On Bike Co-op is next door, should you need any parts or repairs.

Mileage: 15

Outfit: Wildfire Nuu-Muu dress over Romantic Ruby Bloomers

Notes: El Cochinito and I will be doing a bike tour in Cuba over the upcoming holidays, and I wanted to make sure we squeezed at least one ride into this busy weekend. I also wanted to make sure we climbed some sort of hill to get some training value out of a short ride. I decided the perfect route would be to nearby Kenneth Hahn Park in the Baldwin Hills. This 400-acre park atop some sizable hills in the midst of a large metropolis offers great views. I used to think there was no way to ride a bike to this park until a group ride I was on a couple years ago took us there. I was delighted to be able to show this route to El Cochinito (who otherwise knows his way around L.A. more thoroughly than I do). He also hadn’t been to this park in well over 20 years, since before the basin at the top had been made into a grassy meadow. This was once the site of a reservoir that spilled down the hillside in 1963 when a dam broke and the ensuing disaster took five lives and damaged over 200 homes.

We then descended gleefully down into Leimert Park to enjoy one of my favorite local cafes. If you like some flavor and a hint of spice in your coffee like I do, I strongly recommend the Cinnful Coffee. Their coffee cake is a delicious accompaniment.

What looks like a dead-end street actually goes through via a small bridge for pedestrians & bikes.

Control No. 8: 11/17/19 – The Free Cafe in Leimert Park in South Los Angeles

Beverage: Iced Coffee

Bike-friendliness: It doesn’t get any friendlier than this – the host is a bicyclist who sets up the cafe in his backyard. Bikes are welcome, and can be leaned against the fence along the driveway.

Mileage: 7

Outfit: Sirena Nuu-Muu dress over Shimmering Sapphire Bloomers

Approaching the bridge from the south is much prettier.

Notes: The Free Cafe is a friend’s project intended to cultivate community. He invites all his neighbors to come to his yard for coffee and conversation about once a month. Occasionally, he sets up the Free Cafe at other locations, such as parks or other host homes. I enjoy riding there, as it’s only 3 miles from home, and it takes me on some bike-friendly streets through pretty neighborhoods, and over a small bridge that crosses the freeway. I love going over this bridge, because it is a hidden delight.

Originally this was to be my celebratory “Eight is Great” ride, but I completely forgot to snap a photo of my bike or my coffee! I don’t think that made it any less great. In fact, it was a great way to cap another great season of coffeeneuring.

The following week, I was able to sport my new socks!

Bike Date Weekend in the OC: Exploring the Aliso Creek Trail

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 full 18.5-mile Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail (map from TrailLink)

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!

At the finish of the Chinatown Firecracker Ride with my bike friends

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.

Metrolink’s Bike Car; inset shows our bikes in the bay

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.

The 7.3 miles from the Mission Viejo Station to our Hotel in Aliso Viejo

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.

Bike path right there at Mission Viejo train station

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.

Our suburban hotel; plenty of room for our bikes in our room

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.

Laguna Niguel Regional Park

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.

The Intriguing Federal Building

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.

Sunday’s meandering came to about 12 miles

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.

After starting out on the super-wide suburban streets, the Aliso Creek Trail was a welcome respite.

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.

Some underpasses were still muddy from the recent rains; mostly the path runs through parks

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.

One fork took us to a trail that seemed right up until this dead end at a wall.

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.

Scenes from the middle section of the Aliso Creek Trail

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.

The latter part of the trail transitions from suburban to a more rural and natural setting

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.

Making it to the end of the trail, and a fast, beautiful return

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.

The cold, windy wait for our train at the Irvine Station

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.

Happy to be on the train

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.

A total of 26.9 miles for this day on the Aliso Creek Trail

Bike Travel Weekend: Denver to Colorado Springs

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.

All I needed for 4 nights & 5 days was in these panniers.

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!

My nifty 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.

Bike racks on the A train that runs from Denver airport to Union Station in downtown

Filing a patent application on the fly!

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!

My newly assembled bike

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.

Rocky, at Fairmount Cemetery

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.

Fresh and excited, as I start out on the High Line Canal bike path

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?

One of many bridges I crossed

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.

Tall grasses, trees, and the Rocky Mountains in the distance

Miles of nice bike path

This map shows the full 42-mile bike path linking Denver to Franktown

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.

The welcome downhill into Castle Rock

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).

Pretty bike path ride heading into Castle Rock

My lunch at Dairy Queen, plus crushed ice for my water bottles

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.

Tomah Road

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!

Scenery snapped on the fly while riding the New Santa Fe Regional Trail

Loved the red gravel

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.

Friends & family of the groom at this table

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!

With my son at Garden of the Gods

The barn where Michael & Katie tied the knot

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.

Bye, bye, Colorado Springs!

The crest of my only significant hill on the trip back to Denver

Climbing is easier with a lighter load & some cool cloud cover

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.

So happy to see this sign!

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.

The gravel road between Franktown and the Cherry Creek Trail

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.

Really, Google? I don’t think so!

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.

Nice rest stop

This rest stop even had a bike repair stand

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!

A beautiful spot along the trail, in Cottonwood

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!

The Thrilla in Manilla, a Bike Date to Remember

Hubby and I borrowed some bikes from friends one day during our recent visit to Manilla, California. It was a delightful rural bike adventure that served as the highlight of our mini-vacation. We pedaled north out of Manilla, a cute little town along the dunes between the Pacific Ocean and Arcata Bay in Humboldt County (that’s in way-northern California). Where the main road arcs east toward Arcata, we turned left and continued north through farmland to Mad River Road. That took us to the Hammond Trail, which took us on mostly bike path more or less along the river, and then to the coast. It was a very doable ride and featured great scenery.

Rob crossing over the Mad River Bridge to the southern trailhead of the Hammond Trail

I admired the bike infrastructure in McKinleyville while Rob reviewed the route guide.

Good signs helped us along the way.

Down this gravel path through the trees, and to the water’s edge.

A beautiful destination, Clam Beach, where we hung out for a bit before heading back.

Aren’t we cute?!

One of my favorite stretches of the trail.

The trail passes through varied terrain. In some places, we were winding through tall evergreens, in others we were along or over the Mad River, and in some we were on a bike lane going through residential communities. I especially enjoyed the part shown in the above photo – a variety of trees, bushes, and ferns, accented by bright orange flowers. After crossing back over the Mad River Bridge, we retraced our route through the farm land.

Heading back through the farms & barns.

Best house & tree combo of the ride.

Naked Ladies in bloom!

Friendly horses.

Stopping on the bridge along Arcata Bay as we head back into Manilla.

Our 26.2 mile (round trip) route.

Biking the Mt. Vernon Trail

I have been traveling to the Washington, DC area every year for almost 20 years. In my day job, I’m a mild-mannered patent attorney, and the DC area is home to the United States Patent & Trademark Office, as well as the headquarters of the premier professional organization for patent geeks, the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA). I have visited several times a year for the past three years, while serving on the Board of Directors of AIPLA. Many of the Board meetings are held in Crystal City, and I have enjoyed staying in different places (downtown DC, Arlington, Alexandria) and using Capital Bikeshare to get to the meetings. Those trips have almost always taken me onto the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail, which passes right through Crystal City. It was starting to bug me that I’d biked on the Mt. Vernon Trail several times, yet hadn’t once come close to exploring Mt. Vernon. With the realization that this summer’s board meeting would be my last one at the Crystal City location, I just had to work in a trip to Mt. Vernon.

View of the Washington Monument from the bike trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac. This was taken in March, while commuting from the Rosslyn area to Crystal City.
This time I stayed  with my friend, Debbie, who lives in Alexandria. I flew in on a red eye flight, took a nap at Debbie’s, tended to some work matters, and devoted my afternoon to the bike adventure. Debbie was kind enough to loan me her bike and point me in the right direction.

Of course, rather than simply follow Debbie’s guidance, I entered my destination into google maps on my phone, and figured the app would keep me from losing my way.

How wrong I was about that!

After struggling a bit to climb a steep hill in Debbie’s neighborhood using an unfamiliar bike, it dawned on me that I may have gone right where Debbie had told me to go left. Having just climbed that hill, though, I decided to just take the google route. Then I realized the streets it was taking me on were not exactly bike-friendly. I double-checked my google maps settings, and realized that I had it on the automobile setting instead of the bike setting. oops.

I changed the settings to bike mode, and took a good look at where I was on the map. Instead of going through Alexandria to the intended bike trail, Google had me heading south on a more direct route. Although I occasionally found myself on a road much too busy to be comfortable on a bicycle, I went with it, just to see where it took me and to embrace the adventure.

Once I turned off of the busy road onto the “Old Mt. Vernon Highway”, I felt reassured. Aftter all the frequent stops to be sure I was on the correct road, and occasionally to back-track after making a wrong turn, the actual arrival at Mt. Vernon was a welcome relief!

Arrival at Mt Vernon – a beautiful garden in front of the restaurant.
There is a large, circular drive near the front entrance. After snapping the above bike portrait, I looked for the bike parking sure to be available at a large attraction at the end of a bike trail. When I finally found the bike parking, I was underwhelmed. It was one of those little bike racks that seems designed to only allow you to lock the front wheel.

Surprisingly lame bike parking for a popular attraction positioned on a well-known bike trail.
It was a hot day, and I was grateful for the blast of air conditioning that greeted me upon initial arrival. Soon I realized that this was only going to be available at the beginning and end of my visit. The Mt. Vernon estate is humongous, and I had to walk from site to site in the hot sun. I carried my water bottle and filled it at every drinking fountain.

Grand entrance to George & Martha’s crib.
I was lucky to arrive just in time for the last tour of the mansion for that day.

Nice back porch!

That back porch faces this view of the Potomac.
I only took a few pictures of the mansion, but I checked out the outbuildings, the slaves quarters, the gardens, the slave memorial, and walked about as much of the grounds as I could handle for a hot afternoon. Then I stopped at the air conditioned tourist building for a snack before getting back on the bike and heading for that trail.

One of many pretty wooden bridges along the Mt. Vernon Trail.
I was so grateful for the shade and the beauty of the Mt. Vernon Trail, especially after having had my fill of the hot sun. It was also a wonderful relief to not have to worry about car traffic beyond a few places where the trail intersects with regular roads.

Style shot: sporting my pink zebra bloomers under the Hitchable Flounce Skirt.
Of course, I wore a fun pair of bloomers for the excursion. Sizzling hot zebra stripes for a sizzling hot day.

View of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac.
To ride along the Potomac River, over cute bridges and through pretty trees for such an extended stretch was wonderful. The only bummer was what seemed like a long slog to get through Alexandria and complete my return to Debbie’s house. Although my total trip was just a bit over 25 miles, I felt pretty spent by the time I made it back. I was glad, though, that my mistaken start had resulted in a nice loop. That’s always more fun than a simple out-and-back route.

My complete route: 25.4 miles.
The following morning, I needed to get from Alexandria to Crystal City for my Board meeting, and then from there on to the airport for my return trip. Debbie dropped me and my luggage off near the King Street station, and I had fun figuring out how to secure my luggage onto a Captial Bikeshare bike. Luckily, my luggage for this short trip consisted of a tote bag and my briefcase. I don’t think I could get a suitcase of any kind on one of those bikeshare bikes.

On a normal day, I could have just hopped on Metro with my bags, and taken the yellow or blue line a couple of stops to Crystal City. But this was not a normal day. Metro had shut down part of that route for some critical maintenance work. But I didn’t mind – it was an excuse to explore another bike path!

Balancing my luggage on the bike share was a little tricky.
I found what looked to be a fairly new bike path, the Potomac Yard Bike Trail, which featured some work-out stations along the way.

Style shot: one of my favorite combos is the pinka dot bloomers under my pink & black striped dress.
The dress code for my Board meeting was, thankfully, “business casual”. I decided my comfortable pink & black striped knit dress was reasonable, especially given the warm weather. And I love pairing that dress with my Pinka Dot Black Bloomers.

Nice protected bike lane for much of my one-mile ride to get from Crystal City to Pentagon City.
Once the meeting was over, I needed to make my way to BWI, the Baltimore airport. With the Crystal City Metro Station closed, I first had to get to the next stop, Pentagon City, about a mile away. Capital Bikeshare to the rescue! This was also a fun treat, as I had not biked in that direction before, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality bike lanes available for most of that trip.

Bike station at Pentagon City Metro.
It was rather satisfying to pull up to the bike dock in front of the huge crowd waiting for Metro shuttle buses when I got to Pentagon City. Using bikeshare to get around the Metro closures was definitely more convenient. From Pentagon City, I took Metro to Union Station, where I caught the MARC train to BWI.

All in all, a delightfully successful bike adventure!