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
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Taking It To The Limit: What I Learn From Bonking & Other Rides That Kicked My Butt

More than half way into 2018*, I find myself reflecting on how my resolution to bike img_7929more this year is working out. I believe this may be the first time I have actually made a true resolution and followed through on it enough to remain aware of it this far into the year. The resolution was somewhat vague; I just knew that I wanted to do more and longer rides. I kicked it off with the 50+ mile Epic Donut Ride on New Year’s Day, and soon thereafter discovered that the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC) was offering training rides that are open to anyone who wants to up their biking game. This turned out to make all the difference for me.

Group Rides Are No Fun, Right?

I long ago realized that I prefer to go solo when it comes to road biking. When I had tried riding with a group, the pressure would be on to keep up with riders who were faster than me. While I can appreciate the value of others inspiring me to ride faster, my experience was that I would spend the entire ride focused on trying to go faster, feeling like a loser because my best effort wasn’t good enough, and eventually realizing that all the joy of cycling disappears when the effort is all about trying (and failing) to keep up. The only thing that makes that worse is seeing the look on the face of a fellow rider who clearly is annoyed and disappointed that someone like me is holding them back from riding as fast as they would like.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that group rides were pointless for me. There is so much to enjoy about cycling, and why should I care about going faster? I have no desire to enter a race or to prove myself to others. I just plain love riding a bike.

But, Wait A Minute: How Do I Meet Other Cyclists If I Only Ride Solo?

bikie girl final 111618 with text and butterflyMy resistance to group rides changed when I launched Bikie Girl Bloomers. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I could not expect to sell my cute bike shorts to others without getting out there and interacting with other cyclists. But at first I made the mistake of going on a social ride with roadies. It was the Rapha 100, all about women riding together, and 100 km is a very doable distance, and they were going to ride the San Gabriel River Bike Path to Seal Beach, cut over to Long Beach, and ride back to Union Station on the LA River Path, which means a nice long, flat ride. While I very much enjoyed the ride, that turned out to be a stupid way to try to connect with the kind of women who might be interested in unpadded bike shorts for commuting to work by bicycle.

So I figured out that I should be going on low-mileage, slow-roll rides, and that’s what I started doing. After all, part of my mission in peddling bike shorts is to encourage more women to ride their bikes. But, who really wants to bike at an annoyingly slow pace of 8-10 miles per hour? How can you even stay balanced on a bike rolling that slow? What is the point? Yet I did it, and I met all kinds of interesting people (you can actually talk to people when you ride slow), and saw and learned interesting things about different parts of Los Angeles. After all, we weren’t whizzing past everything without looking. And, some of the nice people I met became Bikie Girl Bloomers customers! Success!

What Kind of Rider Am I, Anyway?

But then I started to miss road biking and being in better shape. What a dilemma! Can one person be both a slow-roller and a roadie? Can I bike in style AND climb Nichols Canyon? I spent several years trying to split the difference. I got a Dutch-style upright bike for social rides and commuting in style. I still got out my road bike for

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Biking in vintage style on my Gazelle for the Tweed Ride

the occasional solo ride, cleats and all. I had fun, I met great people, I fell more deeply in love with Los Angeles, and eventually I figured out that I can squeeze in a nice climb up to the Griffith Observatory and still participate in other desired activities on a lovely Sunday. More or less.

But the years were sliding by, and I was doing a lot more social rides at the slower pace, while the road bike adventures were just not consistent enough for me to really be in the kind of shape I’d like to be in. So I found myself in my mid-50’s, facing the reality that I was not really the cyclist I wanted to be. I wanted more adventure. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to get out and ride and ride for hours. And, for once, a true desire for a meaningful New Year’s resolution arose in me. I was determined to ride more in the coming year: more rides and longer rides. No more (or at least far fewer) Saturdays at the office catching up on work I should have done during the week.

Can I Blame It On Coffee & Donuts?

One side effect of my quest to explore all things bicycling related on Facebook (and, boy, is there a huge amount of bicycling related activity/groups/events on Facebook) was the discovery of Coffeeneuring. This “sport” of making 7 trips by bicycle to 7 different coffee shops in 7 weeks during the darkening days of Fall and documenting it in order to earn the coveted patch delighted me. Then I had to participate in the late Winter img_1364Errandonnee, a challenge to conduct a variety of errands by bicycle, covering a distinct list of categories, and documenting the exploits in exchange for yet another coveted patch. These endeavors led me to the discovery of how much fun can be had in planning and executing an urban bike adventure. This gave me excuses to bike in new places, try new coffee shops, plan new bike routes, see new parts of the Los Angeles area.

Last Fall’s Coffeeneuring ended up following a theme (for me) of visiting different donut shops. That led to the realization that there are far more donut shops worth trying than one season of Coffeeneuring could cover. So I became obsessed with the idea of planning a “donut ride” to visit a number of donut shops I hadn’t yet tried. I would invite my friends and make a full day of it, perhaps a weekend or holiday. Next thing I knew, I was organizing Bikie Girl’s Epic New Year’s Donut Ride. I rode about 67 miles that day, spread out over many hours, but this ride was a delightful mash up of the best of urban road biking and the social slow roll.

The Resolution Will Not Be Motorized

But that was just the first day of 2018. I couldn’t possibly stop there. Soon I joined the LACBC training rides, and was having fun on rides that were both social AND road rides. It was a supportive group that welcomed and accommodated a variety of skill levels, and never made me feel ashamed or burdensome because I can’t keep up with the fast riders. Well, OK, maybe once, on the Latigo Canyon ride, but that’s one of the points of this story. You see, the training ride series started out easy, as one might expect. The first one was only about 35 miles, and we climbed hills in Elysian Park I hadn’t climbed before, where the fantastic views make climbing rewarding. The next rides in the series were a little longer, and there was always some hill climbing involved, and I loved it.

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Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park, a solo adventure in January 2018

As I took on rides of increasingly greater length and challenge, I sometimes encountered a hill I couldn’t quite finish. I would try to talk myself into persevering – just a little farther, you can do it, don’t give up, just keep pedaling! Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. I figured it was just a matter of needing to train more, and get stronger. Then came the Latigo Canyon ride. By the time this one came up on the schedule, it was late April, and I knew, in fact I was certain, that I could do this one. I have a special affection for Latigo Canyon. I first discovered this gem of a ride when training for the AIDS ride back in 1998. It’s a long climb up switchbacks, gaining about 2000 feet over 9 miles, but not too terribly steep. Somewhere along that climb, you start looking out over the canyon at stunning scenery and a view of the ocean.

The last time I climbed Latigo Canyon, it was 2011, the summer I was turning 50, and I had challenged myself to get back in shape enough to be able to do that climb by my birthday. I did a lot of riding with my eldest son that summer, after he’d come back from a year in Santa Cruz, where he’d fallen in love with road biking. The day he and I took on Latigo Canyon, it was pretty hot. By the time we reached the Calabasas area, the temperature was well over 100 degrees (F), I believe as high as 114. I had gotten a little woozy, and had to stop a few times to rest on the way up, but I did it.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

This year’s attempt looked promising in that the weather was cooler (than 100+ at least), and I felt pretty confident that I was ready for it. The one thing that made it more challenging was that we started in Santa Monica, adding about 18 miles before the climbing began. I found myself torn between wanting to conserve my energy for the climbing part, and not wanting to fall too far behind the group as we rode along PCH. Adding to the pressure, a ride marshal had been assigned to stay with me, and I could tell he was disappointed with the assignment. I tried not to let that ruin my experience, but to instead turn that situation into a positive motivator. It was hard, though, to let go of the awareness that the whole rest of the group was well ahead of me, and this one guy was stuck having to ride behind me.

The group did a re-grouping at the turn off for Latigo Canyon, and so I was not alone when the climbing began. I felt pretty good on the first segment, which is a gentle, steady climb. At some point, though, I noticed I wasn’t feeling 100%. So I stopped and took a little rest, snacked on some trail mix, drank extra water, and started climbing again. It seemed I hadn’t gone much farther before I needed to stop and rest again. And then again. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. It wasn’t as hot as the last time I climbed Latigo, and I thought I was in good enough shape for this. I didn’t want to accept it, but the truth was, I was stopping to rest more and more frequently, to the point where it was ridiculous. Finally, I realized I was feeling woozy while pedaling, even right after a rest, and I was alone at this point, and I knew I still had more than a few miles of climbing left. I did not want to give up, but I decided it would be stupid to force myself to keep climbing in that condition. After all, I have responsibilities and other people to think about, and it would be so embarrassing to have some sort of medical crisis here. So, I turned around and rode down that beautiful canyon.

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Climbing up Latigo Canyon

As disappointed as I was about not being able to finish the climb, I was ecstatic to discover what a fun descent can be had on that road! I thoroughly enjoyed that downhill on the switchbacks, steeled myself for the ride back on PCH (a scary ordeal that I am always grateful to survive), and rode on to the restaurant where the group was planning to meet for lunch afterward. Over lunch with the other riders, I shared my experience of bonking, and gained some useful tips on improving my nutrition and hydration strategy. I still struggle with this notion that I even have to have a nutrition and hydration strategy. Why, back in my youth, I did triathlons and Ride the Rockies, a week-long bike tour through the Colorado mountains, and I don’t recall needing a nutrition and hydration strategy. I just drank water and snacked on bananas at the rest stops. But, OK, I’m a little older now, and I have to deal with my reality.

OK, Time to Figure Out A Strategy

This frustrating experience was also leaving me wondering if I can realistically hope to do long, arduous rides the way I used to. I love being on a bike all day, and I don’t want to have to cut my rides short or pass on the big challenging ones just because I’m older now. I’d like to spend my whole retirement doing bike tours, and I don’t want to be limited to short, easy routes.

The following weekend, I decided to do a solo ride, and take the opportunity to experiment with timing my snacks and electrolytes. I planned out a big loop of a ride that would introduce a few climbs spaced out so that one climb was near the beginning, one in the middle, and another near the end. It turned out to be a nice tour of some of my favorite spots west of downtown L.A. I made Nichols Canyon – a doable favorite climb – the first challenge. At the top of that climb, I was about 90 minutes into my ride, so I nibbled on a couple of Cliff blocks (electrolyte / nutrition chews) and took a few swigs of my electrolyte drink before rolling on to Mulholland and over to Franklin Canyon, where

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Taking a little break in Franklin Canyon

I descended into Beverly Hills. I stopped a snacked a wee bit (just one more Cliff block and some electrolyte drink) there, and then again (a couple more chews and a banana) before climbing up Mandeville Canyon over in Brentwood. I just don’t get hungry when I’m out on a bike ride, but word has it the muscles need more glycogen after 90-120 minutes of exercise (likely my problem on the Latigo ride), so I tried spreading out my snacks into smaller bits to ensure I had consumed enough before beginning the five-mile, 1000-

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My triumphant moment at the top of Mandeville

foot climb.

I was pleased with myself at how good I felt making it to the top of Mandeville at noon. From there, I sailed down with a big fat smile on my face, and continued to Palisades Park along the ocean in Santa Monica. I sat for a bit in the park and snacked on a Cliff bar (my “lunch”), drank a lot of water, and refilled my bottle. I continued on to the Ballona Creek bike path, took another, shorter snack/drink break there before heading to my last climb, Kenneth Hahn State Park. There I climbed one of the hills that had been hard for me to complete when it was part of an LACBC training ride. This time, it was after 2 pm and my third climb of the day, but I DID IT!! That success brought on a sense of glee that added to the joy of taking in some beautiful views of the city. By the time I got home, I had logged over 60 miles with over 3,600 feet of climbing. Just what I needed to restore my hope!

Time to Get Epic

With my confidence restored, I was able to feel good going into the next LACBC training ride, the epic 74-mile ride south along the coast to San Juan Capistrano. It had

The Aurora Bridge in Seattle, May 2018

a couple of challenging stretches that weren’t easy for me, but I was able to do it, and even enjoy it. That was followed by a couple weekends of easier rides, some for social / Bikie Girl Bloomers commitments, and some because I was in Seattle for a patent attorney conference, where I enjoyed commuting into downtown Seattle from my sister’s house.

I dared not rest on my laurels too long, as I had another challenging ride in my plans for the first weekend of June. So I was happy to speak up when I learned that my friend Joni was also jonesing for a long ride on Memorial Day weekend. She and I were both going to be out of town the weekend of the L.A. River Ride, missing out on the century ride from Griffith Park to Long Beach & Seal Beach and back along the L.A. River Bike Path. I though a flat century ride was just the ticket, so we made plans to do that route together. I hadn’t ridden a century since 1998, when I did the California AIDS Ride. The 103 miles total I rode that day with Joni kicked my butt, mostly because the headwinds really got to me as we rode toward the ocean. Between about miles 80 and 90 that day, I worried that it was more than I could handle, as I fought the urge to quit. Something kicked back in for me to get me through the last 10 miles, and I was glad to have that experience before my trip to Colorado.

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Long Beach with Joni on our century ride

And Then I Bonked Again

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Top of my last climb in Colorado, passing through the Black Forest

I wrote a whole blog post just about the Colorado trip, so I will summarize here. The nearly 70 mile ride from Denver to Colorado Springs kicked my behind big time. Maybe it was the headwinds, maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the 3500 feet of climbing, but most likely the biggest factor was combining all that with a steel bike that had 25 pounds of panniers on the back. I thought the ride would take me 8 hours, but it took me 10 hours. I had to walk the bike up some of those hills, and there were times when I feared I just wasn’t going to be able to do it. Luckily, the return trip to Denver was a delightful downhill thrill, and I finished that weekend on a positive note, but I knew I still had more to learn about tackling the tough rides.

With that slice of humble pie settling in, I returned to L.A. determined to just get in as much training as I could before the next big challenge. Because I had committed myself to a very BIG challenge for later in the Summer: the Tour de Laemmle. That would be a 138 mile ride that passes by each of the movie theaters across the Los Angeles region owned by the bike-loving Laemmle family. The ride is timed to coincide with the end of the Tour de France. That means late July, in Southern California, as in HOT weather. If you manage to complete the full course, you get a special pair of socks. How exciting is that?!

My first Saturday back from Colorado, I planned for myself a 40-mile ride with over 1800 feet of climbing that coordinated with some social plans. On Sunday, I rode the COLT, the Chatsworth Orange Line Tour, which got me another 60 or so miles. The following weekend, I did a delightful 57 mile, 3000 foot elevation ride out to Pasadena and Montrose, followed the next day by a 30-mile croissant-themed ride with Joni. Some easy social rides followed on the next couple of weekends, but I made sure to squeeze in a lot of extra rides to keep my mileage up.

The weather got super hot in July. I knew I needed to do more challenging training rides, so I made the most of the 76-mile LACBC training ride to Pt. Dume. The next day after that, the LACBC group did a 71-mile ride to San Pedro. Those back-to-back high mileage rides challenged me, giving me what I knew I needed. I still had a little trouble on the San Pedro ride, feeling myself waning and even a wee bit woozy with another 15 or so miles left to go. I stopped for a Cliff bar and some extra hydration, and managed to get the energy I needed, but only just barely. The following weekend was a good test for me: the LACBC group rode out to Claremont in the heat. This tracked the hardest part of the Tour de Laemmle route, and it kicked my butt. I had enthusiastically joined a group that rode from Koreatown out to the start in Pasadena, but was unable to do the return from Pasadena back to Koreatown after barely getting through the last part of the return to Pasadena from the San Gabriel Valley. This showed me how critical the nutrition and hydration strategy becomes when riding in such high temperatures (over 100 degrees F).

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The Koreatown contingent getting ready to roll out to Pasadena
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The killer route of our training ride to Pasadena in 100 degree HEAT

That left me with only one more weekend before the big Tour de Laemmle challenge, and we were hosting a huge party and out of town guests that weekend. The only training ride I got in was a quick run up to the Griffith Observatory. Before I knew it, the big weekend was upon me, and all I could do was give it my best effort. I wore my flame print bloomers (in a nod to the heat) over my padded shorts, and I prepared myself as best I could for riding in the heat: cooling sleeves, a visor that had a special band to keep the sweat from running into my eyes, and a vented helmet instead of the stylishly covered helmet I usually ride in.

The first half of the Tour de Laemmle went very well. I had planned out a schedule of what I thought were realistic goals for getting to each of the official stops that would keep me on pace to complete the route before the time cut off. The first stretch took us from Santa Monica through mid-City and downtown to our first official stop in

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Feeling good on arrival in Claremont

Montebello. I continued to feel good as we pedaled on to Claremont, managing the heat and staying on schedule. I stuck to my plans for eating and hydrating along the way. The next segment was the part that had kicked my butt on the training ride: the ride from Claremont to Asuza, and then across the Santa Fe Dam into Duarte. I was ecstatic when I finished the Santa Fe Dam part and was still feeling good!

One woman in the group I’d been riding with, however, was not feeling so good at that point. Our group stopped to rest in some shade after coming down from the dam. The rest stop continued for quite a long time. I began to feel nervous that we would fall too far behind schedule and not be able to make up the lost time. (And I wanted my SOCKS!) When we finally got rolling again, I made a foolish decision to ramp up my effort in order to try and get back on schedule. By the time we got to Arcadia, I no longer felt able to keep giving it that extra effort. And soon after that, I started to feel kind of lousy. The ride into Pasadena, our next official stop, was seeming to take forever. I tried drinking more water, eating an energy bar, but nothing was helping me feel better. By the time we got to Pasadena, I was woozy and weak and desperate for a rest. Making matters worse, the official stop in Pasadena was closing down just as we arrived. The ride marshals began to warn riders that we had to get moving if we still wanted a chance at the socks. I knew I had to rest for quite awhile and that I probably could not finish the route.

I had ridden 95 miles by this point. I decided to take as much time as I needed to rest and eat so that I could feel clear-headed before hopping on the Metro Gold Line to work my way back to Santa Monica by train. I figured I could get off the Gold Line in Little Tokyo, and bike a few miles over to USC to catch the Expo Line train to get back to Santa Monica, allowing me to log enough miles to make it a century for the day. Which begs the question: Is it really a failure to ride 103 miles in grueling July heat? Sure I was bummed that I didn’t earn the socks, but it was still an awesome adventure.

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The Tour de Lammle route that I completed (the super-straight lines were train rides that got me back to Santa Monica after I bonked)

Two weeks later, a few friends joined me for a reprise to ride the latter part of the Tour de Laemmle route, from Pasadena to Glendale to Encino and back to Santa Monica. We started from my house, though, which added enough miles to qualify as my “birthday ride” (and then some). It was fun, but I had mixed feelings about the realization of how easy the latter part of the Tour de Laemmle was. It made me think, “I could have finished it and earned the socks!” But then I remember how wiped out and delirious I was that day, and that it would have been well past 10 PM by the time I would have made it to Santa Monica, even if I’d been able to keep going that day. Instead, I will use this realization to help me try again next year!

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Tour de Lammle Part Deux – my birthday ride

Now What?

I continued to bike a lot for the remainder of 2018. No further big, huge challenges, but enjoying whatever rides suited my fancy each week. I did leisurely social rides whenever I wanted (a seersucker ride in Pasadena, for which I wore an old-timey seersucker dress), and longer rides when the opportunity arose (67 miles to catch the gently-paced Sunday

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Scenes from the wine-tasting ride

Funday ride with LACBC when it was held in Long Beach). In September, I planned and led a wine tasting ride to the San Antonio Winery just a bit northeast of downtown L.A., and mostly, I just enjoyed riding with friends and revisiting some of my favorite places to ride in the L.A. area, like Elysian Park and the Griffith Observatory. I also continued to enjoy some exploratory rides when visiting other cities, like Seattle, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

So what did I learn from all that bonking and those tough rides that kicked my butt? I learned to respect the significance of taking on a long and/or difficult ride and the importance of minding my fuel intake, and most importantly, not to wait until I’m hungry or thirsty. I learned that I can cut a ride short if I need to, and there’s no shame in that. It leaves me with something to strive for next time.

I also learned that I can enjoy myself on a wide variety of rides. I don’t have to decide whether I’m a slow-roll social rider or a hard-core roadie. I’m just a woman who loves to ride her bike. The common theme that I see in the wide variety of rides I do is that each one feels like a rolling adventure. Sometimes I’m taking delight in an amazing view I was treated to after a grueling climb, or a thrilling descent down switchbacks. Sometimes I’m enjoying the gorgeous architecture of a city or an astounding canopy of old trees. Other times I’m enjoying the company of my bike friends, or the fun of dressing up in vintage clothing for a themed ride. As long as I’m out on my bike, I am enjoying the chance to feel most alive.

My last bike ride of 2018? A guided tour of Havana, Cuba on the Friday after Christmas. We rode to all the key sites of the city, most of which I’d seen before by car. It was such a delight to discover how each of these, the forest along the Almendares River, the Cemetery Colon, the Plaza of the Revolution, Old Havana, the Malecon, are not really that far from each other, and could be visited in one 14-mile loop. And this brought my total mileage for 2018 over 4,000 miles. Not a bad year of biking, and I can truly say I kept my New Year’s resolution.

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Biking through Parque Almendares in Havana, Cuba, my last bike ride in 2018

*OK, so it was Summer 2018 when I started writing this post. To be clear, I continued to work on it over the ensuing months, and finished this up in January 2019.

Coffeeneuring 2018: The Best Intentions

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

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

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

Control No. 1: My friend’s Sukkah*

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Date: October 14, 2018

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

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

City: Westchester, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Romantic Ruby Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 48.8

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

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

Control No. 2: La Tropezienne Bakery

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Date: October 20, 2018

Beverage: Caramel Macchiato

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

City: Mid-City, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 18

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

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

Control No. 3: Dinosaur Coffee

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Date: October 21, 2018

Beverage: Cardamom Cinnamon Cappuccino (exceptionally delicious)

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

City: Silverlake, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 39.3

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

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

Control No. 4: Coffee Commissary*

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Date: October 22, 2018

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

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

City: Palms, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Leaping Lady Leopard Bloomers

Mileage: 14.3

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

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

Control No. 5: La Colombe

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Date: October 26, 2018

Beverage: Hot Chocolate

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

City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bike: Indego Bike Share

Bloomers: Pinka Dot Black Bloomers

Mileage: 2.6

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

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

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

Control No. 6: Spoke Bicycle Cafe

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Upper right: Angel’s Flight sculpture in Elysian Park

Date: November 4, 2018

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

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

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 37.7

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

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Good times in Griffith Park

Control No. 7: Highly Likely Cafe

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Date: November 5, 2018

Beverage:

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

City: West Adams, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 7.8

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

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

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Date: November 11, 2018

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

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

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 22

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

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

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

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Date: November 18, 2018

Beverage: Cafe au Lait (good, solid classic)

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

City: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 3

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

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

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Date: November 19, 2018

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

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

City: Culver City, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 14.5

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

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

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

Date: November 25, 2018

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

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

City: Atlanta, Georgia

Bike: Relay Bike Share

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

Mileage: 5

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

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!

IMG_0026
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.

Oops!

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!

Errandonnee 2018: Turning Chores Into a Challenge

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

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

A patch from a prior year’s challenge

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

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

Here’s my “control card”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS ERRANDS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride on!

Bike Date Weekend in Ojai

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting on the platform at Union Station

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

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

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

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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, pulling out of the Ventura Station

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

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

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

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

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

Our favorite bridge along the route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Rancho Drive

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

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

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

Our 12-mile Sunday afternoon Tour de Ojai

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

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

Our last glimpse of the trail as we left downtown Ojai

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

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

Downtown Ventura; note the wind in the palm trees.

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

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

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

So fun, so doable. You should try it!

BikieGirl’s Epic New Year’s Donut Ride

The resolution will not be motorized! My new year’s resolution, that is; wherein I resolve to bike more miles this year. I want to do more rides, and I want to do longer rides.

I had so much fun checking out various donut shops during this past Coffeeneuring season, it left me wanting more. There were so many donut shops on that list from the L.A. Times that inspired my donut quest last Fall, and some of them rather far from home. I had particularly wanted to visit The Donut Man, and then realized that it’s in Glendora, a good 32-37 mile bike ride (one way) from my house, depending on the routing. I thought a ride of that distance would be best undertaken on a holiday, when traffic is light, and it’s easy to devote the entire day to riding. And as long as you’re devoting the whole day to riding, why not break up the ride with a couple more stops at other donut shops along the way? And biking for donuts is fun; I could invite my friends and make it a social ride, perhaps a full-fledged EVENT!

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That’s more or less how this idea was born. I imagined knocking several of the remaining donut shops off my list of places to try in one cross-metropolis sweep, starting at Blue Star in Venice, hitting one of the many options in Mid-City, swinging by Donut Friend in Highland Park, and ending at The Donut Man in Glendora. I started planning such a ride for New Year’s Day, a holiday for which I rarely have anything planned anyways. I don’t even like to party on New Year’s Eve, so getting up early for a bike ride the next day would be no problem.

Then it occurred to me that some, perhaps many, donut shops might be closed on New Year’s Day. So I figured I’d better make some phone calls. I was relieved to find out that Blue Star Donuts would indeed be opening, albeit at 9:00, on New Year’s morning. After learning that my two most appealing destinations, Donut Friend and Donut Man, would both be closed on New Year’s Day, however, more research was required. Another one on the list was Monarch Donuts in Arcadia, but they close at noon, and according to the LA Times, they can sell out even before noon. That’s too far to ride with any hope of getting there in time, even without the holiday, especially with a group. I still very much wanted to do an epic cross-metropolis donut ride on New Year’s Day, but I would have to be willing to extend my list of potential destinations beyond those listed in the LA Time article.

On further review of the LA Times article, though, I discovered The Donut Hole. It hadn’t caught my eye on the first read, as it is located in La Puente. I really didn’t know where the bleep La Puente is, but it just sounded like it must be really far away. And now, the potential distance is precisely what makes it a worthy contender. It wasn’t just written up for its good donuts, however, the LA Times calls it an “architectural landmark” that was built in 1968. It’s a drive through that passes through two giant fiberglass donuts! Who wouldn’t want to ride their bike through that?! The distance seemed about right: 38 miles from Blue Star in Venice. By this point, I was getting rather excited.

But where to stop on the way? In Mid-City, I had considered SK Donuts, a place so many have raved about, one that was on the LA Times list, and certainly one I’ve been wanting to try. I rode past it one Sunday morning while out for a spin, and noticed a very long line of waiting customers. Also on the list was Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts, recommended for a delightful variety of creative flavors that go beyond mere novelty, and actually taste good. My telephone research led to the news that SK was getting ready to close for remodeling, but Trejo’s would be open on New Year’s Day, so that made the Mid-City choice easy.

Looking at a map of the LA area, it seemed East Los Angeles would be the logical midpoint between Hollywood and La Puente. Yet nothing in East LA had appeared on the LA Times list, giving me pause. Maybe they aren’t into donuts in that part of town? I turned to the google, and read reviews. There were two shops that seemed to have fairly consistent positive reviews, although nothing that stood out as stellar. I jotted down the names and numbers on an old envelope to carry with me so I could call when I had a chance.

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Beloved and yellowed article I saved from a September 2017 issue of the L.A. Times

You see, I had been talking up this plan for an epic donut ride with my various bike friends since November, but now it was getting into the latter part of December, and I was about to leave for an 8 day trip to Cuba, returning late on the 30th. I always meant to set aside some time to get this route sorted out, but there was always something big that I had to deal with first. We had a big family trip to Orlando the week of Thanksgiving, celebrating my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. And any time I’m getting ready to go out of town for a stretch, I have to scramble and make sure all my work is done that has to be done in time for various deadlines for my clients. So the last week before a trip and the first few days after are always busy. Then we were hosting our annual pig roast party on December 9th, featuring an artist friend who comes to visit from New York and help with the party preparations the week before. Plus El Cochinito and I had a wedding anniversary to celebrate on the 10th. Next thing I knew, I was scrambling to get work done before the Cuba trip, which is extra challenging, since I know I won’t be able to get online very readily while I’m there. So that’s how I ended up planning this while on my way to the airport as I was getting ready to head to Cuba, just 10 days before the big ride, eager to post updates to the Facebook event page before I boarded my flight to Havana.

One of the two East LA shops I’d identified was not going to be open on New Year’s, but the other was, so that settled it. I was pleased with the way the route had worked out: we should be able to burn off one donut’s worth of calories (more or less) with the 12+ miles of biking between each shop. And the distance would be no problem with built-in rest stops along the way. I know it’s risky to host a group ride without first testing out the route, but I figured we’d manage if a route adjustment became necessary on the fly.

I was excited to check in with my Facebook event page as soon as I returned from Cuba. We had a nice little group forming. I had shared the event with a variety of cycling groups, because, why not? As it turned out, everyone who had decided to participate was a friend I already knew, so I didn’t have to get nervous about the possibility of someone bringing mysterious expectations or strange vibes into our ride.

I got up bright and early, making sure I had everything I would need as a responsible ride leader: cue sheets, water bottle, empty travel coffee mug that fits into my second bottle cage (because I can never finish a cup of coffee that quickly), sun screen, lights, reflective vest, jacket, leg warmers, power bank, handle bar bag, pannier basket, helmet. I had even loaded a route on my phone in both Google Maps and RideWithGPS, just in case one system worked better than the other. I wanted to be sure I left the house in plenty of time to be the first one to arrive at Blue Star Donuts, and I had an 11 mile ride to get there. This meant leaving the house by 7:45 or so, when it was still quite cold out.

Biking from Koreatown to Venice between 7:45 and 8:45 on New Year’s morning is smooth sailing! I have never seen Venice Boulevard so quiet. None of the usual bikes versus cars battle for the bike lanes to which I have, unfortunately, grown accustomed. I did see a few cars out, and expressed my gratitude with a friendly wave whenever a driver made a point of waiting for me to pass before pulling into the lane from a side street or driveway. There was one driver who was either clueless or heartless in the way he started his car in the parking lane just alongside the bike lane in Mar Vista as I rolled by, began driving slowly in parallel with me but just a ways behind me, and then made a right turn immediately in front of me, cutting me off. I watched in amazement, yelled, “HELLOOO???!!”, and was grateful that I had been able to stop before colliding with his car. If I wasn’t awake before, I certainly was now!

The gods of the traffic lights were good to me, and I made it to Blue Star in plenty good time. I snapped a bike portrait in front of the shop and posted it to Instagram. Soon others began to arrive. I got me a cinnamon donut and some coffee to fill my travel mug. The donut was divine. Blue Star gets major points for presentation; their display case is quite chic. This is a donut shop worthy of a return visit. So many flavors that beg to be tasted!

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We ended up having a nice group of 7 riders. Here’s the official start photo (minus Jennifer, who’d been last to arrive and was probably inside getting her donut when this photo taken):

Ready to roll: Francois, Lynn, Alison, me, Joni (not pictured: Jennifer & Michelle)

We rode up Venice Boulevard all the way to Cochran Ave in MidCity, where we headed north. We zigged and zagged a bit into Hollywood, arriving at the bright pink Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland. Word to the wise: Trejo’s does not have a public restroom for customer use. There is a Mobil gas station catty corner from Trejo’s, so several riders headed over there for relief. Trejo’s has a remarkable variety of donut flavors, and I couldn’t resist trying one of the more unusual ones. I bought a bottle of ginger kombucha (that I could only handle a few sips at a time – it lasted me all day and then some) and a margarita donut. It really tasted like a margarita – rather tart, but with a lovely, light donut texture. Glad I tried it, but I would not get it again. There are other flavors to try.

Jennifer flashes a peek at the Pinka Dot Black Bloomers under her jeans, while Alison flashes her nasty woman tee shirt.
Our bikes parked outside Trejo’s; my margarita donut and giant bottle of ginger kombucha wait in my basket pannier.
The full group outside Trejo’s: Lynn, Michelle, Jennifer, Alison and Francois, with Joni & me down in front.

Alison, who had started from her Santa Monica home, decided this was a satisfactory end point for her, and took advantage of the convenience of a bus she could catch right there on Santa Monica Blvd to expedite her trip home. A couple of the others who also aren’t accustomed to longer rides were thinking they would ride at least to the next shop, and I was glad folks had embraced the invitation to join for as much of the ride as they wanted. We said farewell to Alison, and ventured on toward downtown.

From downtown L.A., we took 1st Street over the L.A. River and into East Los Angeles to Sun Donut. Readers tempted to repeat our route are advised that this establishment also lacks a restroom for customer use. We had to travel a significant distance to find a public restroom. Plan accordingly!

Sun Donut is a win for value shoppers. Donuts at this cash-only shop are only 75 cents, and a bottle of water was one dollar. I had a chocolate glazed donut, which was perfectly satisfactory. The woman at the counter was the least friendly server we encountered on this day’s adventure. Not rude; just unamused and disinterested. I bought the bottle of water after she informed me that, no, she could not refill my water bottle for me. I found this donut shop to offer nothing to complain about, and nothing to rave about.

My chocolate glazed donut looked better before I got reckless carrying it in the little sack.

I was excited for the next, and longest, leg of our ride. The trip to La Puente took us along a short stretch of the Rio Hondo Bike Path, and later a few miles along the San Gabriel River Trail. I hadn’t been on these paths before, and it’s nice to be off the streets for a stretch. The longer stretch of bike path also provided an opportunity for Lynn and Francois, our strongest riders, to let loose and go for some speed.

Regrouping as we begin on the San Gabriel River Bike Path

The part after the trail was just as stressful as the river trail was peaceful. We had to ride on Valley Boulevard for two and a half miles, with high-speed traffic alongside us. Where we needed to, we took the full right lane, and sometimes rode on the sidewalk. At least on Valley Boulevard we were able to find a gas station (not the first one we tried, but another across the street) that had a restroom. By this point, all of us were in need of relief! Not too much longer after that pit stop, we made it to The Donut Hole. I have to say, as the place came into view, a wave of euphoria came over me. We had arrived at our target destination!

My moment of triumph!                                                                                                                               (Yes, that’s a Hitchable Flounce Skirt and Hot Pink Zebra Bloomers from Bikie Girl Bloomers.)

The giant donuts encircling the drive through shop are indeed an inviting spectacle. We rolled up the driveway and got in line behind the cars to go through and place our orders. The donut case is as long as the entire left wall of the building as you pass through. They offer a wide selection, from donut holes, to apple fritters, to conventional donuts, to giant flaky pastries. I got a giant flaky cinnamon twist and a cinnamon crumb donut and some chocolate milk! Each was entirely satisfying. The twist was so large, I was able to share it with others and still have plenty for myself.

Better than even the donuts, however, was the friendliness of the couple who served us. They were most welcoming of our group on bicycles as we came through the drive through tunnel. I told the gentleman we’d ridden our bikes all the way from Venice just to try his donuts, and he seemed duly impressed. He was also kind enough to step outside and take a group photo for us. I heartily recommend this place, and consider it well worth riding a bike from one end of Los Angeles County to the other!

Jennifer, Lynn, Joni, Francois, Michelle, and me

By this time, the sunlight was beginning to dim. We donned our jackets and/or reflective wear, and began the 7.3 mile ride north to the Irwindale Gold Line Station. By the time we got there, it was dark. This last leg of our ride brought our total mileage from the start at Blue Star Donuts to 50 miles. A half century donut ride to ring in the new year.

Note Joni’s coordination of the tee shirt with her awesome donut socks.

A special pleasure of this ride with our group was seeing the excitement on the faces of Michelle and Jennifer, both of whom had originally thought they would end their portion of the ride at Sun Donut. Neither had ever biked this far before, and on this day, they rode 50 miles! They did great, and it was fun to see them delight in the realization that they could ride farther than they thought they could.

We took the Gold Line to Union Station, and it was fun to fill the train will all our bikes. We were all glowing as we reveled in the satisfaction of a mission accomplished, and chatting with fellow passengers. From Union Station, Jennifer and Michelle transferred to trains that would get them close to home, and Joni, Lynn, Francois and I biked together from there. Joni had realized that biking the rest of the way home (or perhaps even just to the expo line) would bring her mileage for the day to 61, a personal goal of hers to mark her recent 61st birthday. I believe she ended up exceeding that goal by a few miles.

It only occurred to me much later that all seven of us donut quest riders are over 50 years in age, with several over 60. This kind of fun isn’t just for kids, or rather, it’s for kids of all ages!

We all agreed that this should be an annual tradition.

Epic, indeed.

Coffeeneuring 2017: The Donut Quest

For my third time, I took on the Coffeeneuring Challenge, which is now in its seventh year. Successful completion of the Challenge requires some reporting, which brings me to this post. I find that it’s one thing to share a few photos in near-real-time for each adventure to the Bikie Girl Bloomers Instagram account and to the Coffeeneurs Facebook group, but I’ve yet to master the art of writing up a complete blog post soon after each ride, as some of the expert Coffeeneurs do. (I tell myself they must be retired, although that’s probably not the case.) I like to use the blog to present my full report, as my social media posts often leave out one or two of the required details, and I refuse to let the reporting get in the way of the actual experience!

Coffee-whatting you may ask? Click here for more complete information on this annual 6-7 week challenge during which participants visit 7 different coffee shops (or create their own special coffee shop experience) and report back on the distance traveled (a modest 2 mile minimum per trip), the bike-friendliness of the shop visited, and the coffee-ish beverage imbibed. It’s a fun way to keep the joy of bicycling as autumn weather sets in, and a great resource for learning from fellow cyclists about places to try new coffee-ish beverages. Best of all, it’s a wonderful way to experience community with fellow lovers of cycling & coffee around the globe. Sometimes I see posts from folks living in places I once lived, and it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling of connection. Other posts make me want to add new destinations to my ever-growing bike-it list.

Each of the rides reported below was planned in accordance with my chosen theme for the 2017 challenge: The Donut Quest. Coffeeneuring is a theme unto itself, but participants are welcome to introduce a theme within a theme at their discretion. I love themes, and not much thought was required to arrive at this year’s theme. It was inspired by an article listing the best donut shops in the L.A. area that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on September 8, 2017. I knew right then and there I just had to explore these donut shops for myself.

I don’t make a regular habit of eating donuts. I’m more the type who doesn’t mind eating a donut if someone is offering one, but it’s not the sort of treat I regularly seek out. Somehow that made it appealing as a theme for my coffee rides, as it presented me with an excuse to explore something I otherwise wouldn’t. It seemed “safer” to explore donuts in conjunction with bike rides, as well, given that I would stand a better chance of burning most of the unnecessary calories one consumes when eating donuts (I figure I need to ride at least 10 miles per donut). I also like to explore different parts of the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis on my bike, and so I liked that the L.A. Times list included donut shops spread far and wide.

I know I can get a little chatty at times, so if you find my descriptions a bit much, you can get a summary of all my rides by scrolling from one bold-faced list of bullet points to the next. For me, choosing my route, encountering friends or foibles, discovering new things by bike, are all part of the joy of my urban bike adventures! Why do I include in my report which bloomers I wore? Well, you must understand that I wear them nearly every day, and this is my passion. And now, here are my 7 coffeeneuring/donut rides.

Control No. 1: October 14 

Several of the donut shops on the LA Times list are not far from my home, and Bob’s in particular is in a familiar location: the Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax. This market goes back to 1934, when some depression-era entrepreneurs thought it would be great to have a village-type experience where farmers could offer their fresh produce. The market includes a large number of permanent stalls, and includes a variety of merchants, not just farmers, where shoppers can buy everything from produce, cheese, and meats to toys, postcards, and gifts, as well as enjoy prepared foods from a large selection of restaurants. On the day I visited, I was treated to live music as well.

Since Bob’s is only a nudge under 4 miles northwest from my house, and the ride to the Farmer’s Market is rather familiar to me, I first had to consider how I might make the route a wee bit more interesting, and a nudge longer to meet my 10-mile minimum. Lately, I have been intrigued with working on a better route for riding parallel to Pico Boulevard, just a little south of me. Google maps always seems to think biking on Pico is acceptable, but trust me, it’s better to find alternatives, or at least be ready to use the sidewalk. So I zigzagged my way west and south, until the point where I needed to drop further south in order to be able to cross La Brea, a major north-south arterial that would be suicide to cross without a traffic light. For that, I had to leave the otherwise quite suitable 12th Street, and head south on Longwood to San Vicente, a street that angles northwesterly, and where a bike lane offers some protection from the fast-moving traffic. This street gave me a token hill to climb (does a ride really count if it’s completely flat?), and then carried me all the way to Cochran, a rather bike-friendly street for heading north through MidCity.

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My token hill on San Vicente

This got me to 3rd Street, a street with whom I have a conflicted love-hate relationship. Sometimes I just take the lane, because there are some places you can’t get to except via 3rd Street, and why shouldn’t I? Sometimes (especially at night) I ride on the sidewalk. Today, I took the lane, but the stress of it wore me down, and when I got to the last long block, I hopped over to take advantage of the paved path along the outside edge of Pan Pacific Park.

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Pan Pacific Park offers a nice wide path that is far more peaceful than 3rd Street

Then I faced the intersection that screams “NOBODY RIDES A BIKE TO THIS PLACE!!” It’s the access point to The Grove, the Disneyland-meets-Vegas of shopping malls, which was developed, quite intentionally, directly adjacent to the Original Farmer’s Market, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of authentic character and faux glitziness. This intersection is horrible because a continuous stream of automobiles is turning onto the very street I need to cross to access the shopping area, and they are turning from both the westbound and eastbound directions of 3rd Street. This means that, even when the light is green for bikes and pedestrians heading west to the mall and market areas, the threat of a right hook is ever-present. And it’s not as though routing yourself to the area from the north or the west would help, as all of the bordering streets are horrible.

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Would you like to bike here?

Despite all the intimidation designed to discourage biking to this place, there is a refreshing abundance of bike parking at the Farmer’s Market (and also in the parking structure for the mall, for those wondering). I locked up my Gazelle, and began strolling though the Farmer’s Market, looking for Bob’s Doughnut shop. One can easily get lost in this place. There are a couple dozen merchants in addition to over 30 restaurants in this place, and the somewhat narrow aisles between stalls can get crowded. I found Bob’s and gawked at the doughnut selection, trying to remember which one the LA Times had recommended. I asked the server what she recommended for a person trying this place for the first time. She suggested the apple fritter, or the cinnamon bun, as well as the classic glazed, but that bun looked good to me. Since it was a hot day, I went for the ice blended mocha as my beverage, and took my treats over to the other end of the market, where a live band was performing.

Between the people-watching and the music, it was a lovely place to enjoy my treats. The cinnamon bun had all the delightfully light texture and sweetness of a quality glazed donut, with just enough cinnamon to qualify as a cinnamon bun. I liked that it was not the kind that gets gooey by the time you get to the middle (although that type of cinnamon roll has its place). I tried to mark the occasion of my opening entry into this year’s Coffeeneuring series with a ceremonial dunking of my donut in my drink, but that turned out be be a bit awkward, given the size of my cinnamon bun and the thick texture of my drink. This would surely work much better with a normal donut and a normal cup of coffee. But it’s just too hot and sunny on this Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, so I could not imagine drinking a hot beverage today. Although the ice blended mocha offered an element of refreshment, the blended part was a bit too thick, and it wasn’t something I would order again. A simple iced coffee would have been a better choice.

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I took advantage of being at the market to get some necessaries for home. I don’t normally patronize butcher shops, but thought it would make for a nice treat for el Cochinito and me to get some quality goods for our dinner. He has a thing for pork chops on the bone that are sliced more thinly than the usual way they are provided at the grocery store. I asked the butcher if he could cut some to about half the thickness of the pork chops in his display case, and he obliged. I had never watched pork chops being cut before. It was a surprise for me to see the huge piece from which the chops were cut. I also got a few other choice items from the case, and then went over to the produce market, making sure I knew how much room remained in my basket before I got too carried away with the vegetables. It turned out I was able to fit quite a good bit of loot in my pannier basket.

It occurred to me that I could try avoiding the stress of biking on 3rd Street by heading north out of Pan Pacific Park, which is just across the street that borders the west edge of the Farmer’s Market and The Grove shopping mall. It was a nice day to ride through the park, passing children on the playground and men playing soccer. I enjoyed heading east on Oakwood, and adding a modest extra mile or two to my return trip.

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Soccer players at Pan Pacific Park; Hollywood Hills in the background

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this successful first ride to open Coffeeneuring season was the delicious pork chop dinner el Cochinito cooked up for us that evening.

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Control No. 2: October 15 

  • Dad’s Donuts & Bakery, Burbank
  • Beverage: Iced Mocha
  • Donuts: Buttermilk Bar and Cronut
  • Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire
  • Distance: 34.5 miles
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe
  • Bike parking: None; improvised with cable wrapped around light post

My second Coffeeneuring ride of the season took me to Dad’s Donuts & Bakery in Burbank. I was excited for this first Coffeeneuring ride on my new bike, a Bianchi Volpe I bought just a week prior as a replacement for the Specialized Dolce Comp that was stolen the month before. As painful as it was to lose my beloved Dolce – we shared a lot of great memories since I got her in 2004 – it was delightfully exciting to explore my new choice in the road bike category. I had not done any long or strenuous rides since the acquisition, and this was my first test that would really tell me whether I’d made the right choice. The Volpe did not disappoint.

One donut shop that made the LA Times list was in Burbank, a city over in the San Fernando Valley (aka, “the valley”), a place I don’t visit often, and a place that it is easy to turn one’s nose up at from my side of Mulholland. In fact, my only real exploration of Burbank occurred by bicycle during my first stab at Coffeeneuring in 2015, and it gave me a nice appreciation of this suburb to my north. Yes, the valley still has its multi-lane roads that seem to do nothing more than take you from one strip mall to the next, offering little in the way of character, or inviting places to wander, but it also has some nice tree-lined residential streets, and the lovely Verdugo Hills along its northeast border. I happen to like the way you can get to Burbank by biking through Griffith Park, my go-to place for bike rides when I just want to ride without having to plan a route. So I knew where to start for this one, and I knew it would get me a ride with some decent mileage.

I love the bike lanes that await me when I head north out of Griffith Park and turn onto Riverside Drive. The road is nice and wide, and pretty, and in addition to the bike lane, there is some special infrastructure for those traveling on horseback. The north end of Griffith Park includes a horse stable, where folks can rent horses, and this is just one of the riding stables in the area. I post some pics of the special separate bike and horse lanes (and signal indicators) in my 2015 post about biking in Burbank.

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It’s not unusual to see a peloton pass by in Griffith Park – it’s a great place to ride.

I didn’t have to go far from there to get to Dad’s Donuts. Like many donut shops, it sits in an unassuming strip mall. I couldn’t find a bike rack anywhere in the vicinity, but I did find a light post secured in a large concrete base. Luckily, I had the heavy duty cable that came with my kryptonite lock, and was able to use that to secure my bike. Although it was less than ideal bike parking, I felt quite confident that my bike would be safe there.

Inside I found a wide selection of donuts to choose from, as well as a variety of baked goods, including bagels, muffins, and bread. It was difficult to choose between the Buttermilk Bar, which was recommended by the LA Times, and the cronut, so I got one of each. They were both heavy and quite filling, but anything I can’t finish is likely to be welcomed by el Cochinito when I get home. As if that weren’t enough for my sweet tooth, I once again fell for an iced mocha. This one wasn’t put through a blender, and the “mocha” part was a generous pour of chocolate syrup that coated the sides of my cup. I found it quite refreshing on yet another hot day. Both the cronut and the bar were delicious, in a super dense and rich sort of way, and I was glad I was having them on a higher mileage day.

From there, I thought it would be fun to head west on the Chandler Bike Path, a nicely-paved and manicured bike path that follows along the Orange Line Bus Route. The Orange line is Metro’s way of providing subway-like service with a dedicated bus path that is separated from the main travel lanes that other vehicles use. I have only biked this path twice before, and couldn’t resist an excuse to ride it today. I figured I could take this over to Coldwater Canyon, a road I’ve taken to descend from Mulholland into Beverly Hills many times, but one I was a wee bit nervous about from the valley side. I figured I’d just give it a shot.

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Did I mention it was a hot day? The high was 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was already noonish. I knew Coldwater Canyon would not be the most bike-friendly street, but I took to mentally preparing myself for that, and being ready to use my best urban biking skills. I was feeling the heat, and noticed an ATM, so decided to make a quick stop to get some cash and guzzle some water before I started south toward the climb. I had barely begun the climb when I realized that both the heat and the traffic were bothering me. I noticed a shady spot off to the right, so I pulled over and decided to hydrate some more, and make sure I felt ready to take on the climb. I took a good long rest, and made sure I felt up to it and ready. Although I felt quite re-energized as soon as I started pedaling again, it wasn’t long before the climb began to feel grueling. Coupled with the winding curves, narrow shoulder, and fast-moving car traffic, I was not enjoying it. This seemed notably beyond my current level of conditioning, or maybe I just can’t handle the heat. I decided to give myself permission to stop anytime I saw a space for it and felt the need to refresh myself again. I ended up stopping twice more on the climb, and after I each rest, I had the same experience of a disappointingly short burst of renewed energy. I found myself wondering why I’d chosen such a lousy route, wondering if I’d made a serious mistake, wondering if I was misjudging my ability to handle this climb, wondering if I was going to make it to the top, yet aware that I didn’t have much choice, as walking my bike up that hill would not be any safer.

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My bike, resting in the shade before tackling the big climb

When I finally got to Mulholland Drive, I was so relieved. I was also aware that I wan’t quite exactly sure how I would descend on the other side. I knew that Coldwater Canyon does a shift at Mulholland, where the northbound and southbound portions of this road don’t line up, and that I might be able to descend via Franklin Canyon by turning right somewhere near there, but I wasn’t quite sure where. I saw what looked to be that option, and I turned. I felt so thrilled to be done with that awful climb in the hot sun.

Heading down through Franklin Canyon was a welcome treat. It’s just plain beautiful. No more heavy traffic. No more grueling climb. And scenery to savor. Once I took in the beautiful surroundings, I wasn’t mad at myself for my choice of route any more. This was awesome, and tranquil, and just what I needed.

From there, I took a fairly direct route back home. I was feeling well aware that I’d done enough for the day, and remained eager to get out of the heat and be done with it. The ride left me feeling spent, but proud (and perhaps a wee bit stupid) that I’d powered through it.

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Control No. 3: October 22 

  • District Doughnut, Barracks Row, Washington, D.C.
  • Beverage: Iced Mocha
  • Donuts: Dulce de Leche, Caramel Apple Strudel, Brown Butter
  • Bloomers: Hot Pink Zebra
  • Distance: 13.6 miles
  • Bike: Capital Bikeshare
  • Bike parking: Bikeshare docking station nearby; bike parking in front of shop

The next week, I was in Washington, D.C., for the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Annual Meeting. I go to this meeting every October, and last year, while in town for the meeting, I met fellow Coffeeneur Ilga at the Women & Bicycles Coffee Club. We had tried to coordinate a Coffeeneuring ride together during that visit, but our schedules just didn’t sync up. This year, my schedule was more flexible, and so was Ilga’s, so we were able to bike together to District Doughnut in Barracks Row, an area of D.C. I’d not seen before.

Ilga’s theme was meeting someone different for coffee each time, and so I was happy to contribute to her series, and glad she was open to participating in my donut theme. The trickiest part for me was finding an available bikeshare bike on this gorgeous Sunday. I had seen all the new dockless bike share bikes out on the sidewalks during the week, and had ridden one of the Mobikes back from a brunch date in Georgetown the day before. I was excited to perhaps get a chance to try one of the other dockless bikes for this ride, but quickly noticed that none were available. I knew I could just walk a short way to get to a Capital Bikeshare dock, if necessary, but those bikes were all gone as well. I walked from Woodley Park into Adams Morgan, and docking station after docking station was empty, and none of the dockless share bikes were around either. I finally found a bike, and grabbed it, deciding I would gladly pay overage charges if necessary in order to hang onto a bike for the full adventure.

That one last bike I found, however, was in rather poor shape, and I had a little time before I was scheduled to meet Ilga, so I tried to bike to another docking station near her place that the app showed had some bikes available. The problem was, the area has a lot of one-way streets, and I kept finding myself stuck going the wrong way. After a few frustrating loops, I finally back-tracked a block on the sidewalk to get to it, and made the switch. The new bike wasn’t much better, but I pedaled on, grateful to have a bike at all!

Ilga led the way south, toward the White House, and we headed east on Pennsylvania Avenue. I love that bike lane that runs right down the middle of the street, heading towards the Capital building. I noticed also that the bike lane has received some added improvements to better protect cyclists from turning cars. That’s the biggest drawback to a bike lane in the middle of the street: you have to guard against conflicts between vehicles crossing the bike lane as they make left turns or U-turns.

Barracks Row refers to a commercial district developed in the Eastern Market area of Capitol Hill. It’s close to the Navy Yard and some old Marine barracks, and in the vicinity is a large swath of new developments built in recent years as part of a revitalization effort after the area had experienced decades of decline. The biking was fine, except for navigating around an awkward freeway that cuts through that part of town.

District Doughnut is on this cute 8th Street SE, and directly across from the Marine barracks. It’s close to the intersection with I Street, where I was able to dock my bike. There was also a bike rack directly in front of District Doughnut, so Ilga was able to park her bike there. While bike parking was easy, choosing a donut was not. There were so many intriguing choices, I ended up getting four! I had to try to Dulce de Leche donut and the Caramel Apple Strudel donut, and I thought the Brown Butter donut looked good, too. There was also an odd-looking Everything donut. It looked just like an Everything Bagel, and that was the idea. I got that one for el Cochinito, who had joined me in D.C. for the weekend, but was holed up in our B&B for the day, grading papers for his students. He doesn’t have the same sweet tooth I do, so I thought he might like the more savory Everything donut. (I thought wrong, by the way; he thought it looked disgusting, and tossed it!) I think he preferred what was left of the others I tried.

For my beverage, I had a cold brew coffee with milk. Ilga had iced tea and some donut indulgence as well. The cold brew was good, and the Dulce de Leche donut was extraordinary. The Caramel Apple Strudel donut was my second favorite. Those two were so decadent, the Brown Butter donut seemed a bit plain, but it may have been overshadowed by the richness of the other two.

We had a nice ride back, riding past lots of large new residential towers, and went farther west to check out a new development along the waterfront. There was a huge amount of bike parking in the new commercial district, which looked quite vibrant. I would have stayed and explored with Ilga, but I needed to get back to meet up with el Cochinito for our evening plans. I was nicely positioned, however, to curve up Maine Street to the Mall area, and catch 15th St NW to head north back toward Woodley Park.

Control No. 4: October 29 – Double Trouble!

  • Cofax Donuts & Coffee, Fairfax District, Los Angeles AND Birdies, Downtown Los Angeles
  • Beverages: Macchiato and Nitro Cold Brew
  • Donuts: Cornflake and Pistacchio-Lemon-Thyme
  • Bloomers: Dazzling Amethyst
  • Distance: 44.6 miles
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe
  • Bike parking: Excellent; both places had bike parking right in front of shop

Today I doubled up on the donut quest, and tried two coffee/donut shops to celebrate an enjoyable climb up Nichols Canyon. This ride also served as my redemption and reassurance that I can still climb hills, especially when it’s not 96 degrees out. I also got a nice early start this day, because I knew I would have to ride on Mulholland Drive, and the earlier I do that, the less traffic there will be. I also had plans for later in the day, and wanted to be sure I had plenty of time for my climb and my coffeeneuring stop beforehand.

Nichols Canyon is one of my favorite climbing rides, but I don’t do it that often (and I don’t do climbing rides that often, which doesn’t help my conditioning or my confidence, and hence leads to less inclination to do climbing rides). It was a nice cool morning, with a heavy marine layer keeping the air damp. I was grateful, as I was itching for a long ride, and did not want heat and sun wearing me down.

The climb was immensely satisfying. I was pleased with both my stamina and my new Bianchi Volpe. I wanted this new bike to be suitable for challenging rides and also sufficiently comfortable for longer touring rides (of which I hope to do more). My last road bike was so nimble, and allowed me to feel strong on climbs. I wasn’t sure yet if the Volpe would give me that same feeling. I’d felt so weak on the Coldwater Canyon ride a couple weeks earlier, I needed to try another climbing ride, and one that I could compare to previous climbs up the same road on my old bike.

I was pleased to find myself spinning comfortably up the switchbacks, and glad that I never felt strained until I got to that last block up Woodrow Wilson, which connects Nichols Canyon Road with Mulholland Drive. That block is super steep, but short enough that I’ve always been able to muster what I needed to get up it. I was so excited when I got to that point, I just kept my focus on the nearest bit of ground before me, knowing that soon I would be at the top. Once I got there, I was certainly very winded and in need of a rest, but thrilling in the triumph.

I rode along Mulholland, grateful for a clean shoulder to ride on and a fairly low traffic morning. I’d noticed my rear brake was still squeaking as it had when I first brought it home from the bike shop, so I decided to stop at one of the pull-outs and adjust it before I get to the downhill part of my ride. The place where I pulled off had some pretty cacti, so I made that the backdrop for my proud-moment-bike-portrait. Normally, I would snap a photo with the view of the valley, but the marine layer was still thick enough to completely block that view.

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I was able to get rid of the squeak from my brake and get on my way. I like to descend from Mulholland on Coldwater Canyon. This drops down into Beverly Hills, which has nice, wide streets lined with big trees and mansions to gawk at, a part of the ride I always enjoy.

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From there, I made my way to the Fairfax district, to visit Cofax Coffee and taste their cornflake donut. It tastes better than it sounds. It was actually light and fluffy, compared to some of the densely rich donuts I tried on other rides. The cornflake topping is not overdone, nor is it overly sweet. It was a light, delicate donut with a little sweet, crunchy topping, rather than being all about the cornflake idea. The macchiato I had with it was good, and it was nice to have a warm coffee drink on a Coffeeneuring ride for once. Somehow that feels more legitimate.

Cofax is a tiny shop, and I felt very lucky that I was able to get one of the two seats at the window, facing the street. The place has very little seating, and most of it is in the midst of the line of folks waiting to place their orders. Fairfax is not a bike-friendly street, but I was able to ride on the sidewalk as needed, and to park my bike at a good rack right in front of Cofax Coffee.

I had kept my plans fluid, not knowing how I would feel after the Nichols Canyon ride, and whether I might need to stop at home afterward. But I was feeling good, and so I decided to extend my ride so I could sync up with my friend, Joni, when she would be arriving in downtown LA., a good 8 miles away. Riding in to downtown would also give me a chance to check out Birdies, another donut shop on the LA Times list.

I began to realize my timing was off, and that I would get to downtown far too early, so I figured I could head south a bit before heading east. This seemed like a good time to explore the east end of the Expo Line Bike Path, which opened last year. Although I’ve ridden it many times, I had only taken it from La Cienega west to Santa Monica. When I got to the La Cienega Expo Line Station, I was dismayed to realize that the skinny little bike lane I had seen on Jefferson Blvd IS the east end of the Expo Line Bike Path. The part of the new bike path I’d been on is a paved and mostly-off-street path as it follows the Expo Line through Culver City, west L.A. and Santa Monica, but apparently they were not able to make it as nice for the rest of the route.

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The Expo Line “Bike Path” is that skinny little bike lane alongside the tracks.

So I took that skinny little bike lane all the way to the University of Southern California (USC), cut through the USC campus, and on into downtown. Once I got to Birdies, I was pleased to see that, once again, I was able to lock my bike to a good rack right in front of the donut shop.

At Birdies, I wanted to try the pistachio-lemon-thyme donut that was mentioned in the LA Times. I also got a cute panda donut that I figured I could deliver to Joni when I met her, or perhaps take home to el Cochinito. Joni had mentioned not wanting to be late for a 4 pm concert, so I figured I could bring her a donut, in case she did not have time for a donut run. The pistachio lemon thyme donut was a bit disappointing for me, as it tasted very strongly of lemon, and I could not really taste the pistachio or the thyme. I would have preferred more balance to the strong lemon flavor. The mocha I had to drink with it, however, was quite good.

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I thought I had a little extra time before meeting Joni, so I planned out a little loop around downtown. As I headed northeast on the Olive Street bike lane, however, I heard a little plop sound. I turned around and saw that, sure enough, my box with the panda donut had fallen off my rear rack. My bungee cord was not holding it securely enough. So, I turned around and walked my bike back to where the box was sitting in the middle of the bike lane. Then a Prius pulled into the bike lane, heading straight for my donut box! I waved my arms, then put my hand up out in front of me, and screamed to the driver, “STOP!!” The driver initially stopped, and looked at me quizzically. I glanced under her car and was relieved to see that she had not run over my box; it was pretty much under the center of her car. I started to walk toward the car, intending to lean down and try to get the box, except I wouldn’t be able to reach it. I tried to tell the driver to please wait while I retrieve the box, but she never opened her window, and I suspect she just thought I was insane. Perhaps she was frightened by the hysterical cyclist walking up to her car, or maybe she just didn’t get it. She started driving again, and promptly ran over the donut box with her rear tire. I screamed at her as she drove on, seemingly obvious to the damage she’d done, and apparently also oblivious to (or unconcerned about) the illegality of driving in the bike lane.

I picked up the partly smushed box and peeked inside. The panda donut was rather disfigured, but not squished. It didn’t look like much of a panda any more. It hadn’t gotten dirty, though, so I figured I’d still keep it, if only to help me tell the story. I secured it back on the rear rack, or so I thought. One block later, I heard the plop of the box hitting the pavement yet again. This time I was able to retrieve it without incident, although it was beginning to seem like a pointless effort. Just as I was fumbling with the bungee cord and the donut box and my jacket and the bag with the bloomers, a nice woman, who’d apparently been watching from the sidewalk, walked over and handed me a plastic shopping bag. I put all of the items inside the bag, and that made it easier to get everything secured under the bungee cord. She not only helped solve my luggage problem, she restored my faith in humanity. I thanked her profusely.

As I proceeded on, I noticed the time, and decided I had better drop my planned loop and head over to the Pico station where the Expo Line train was bringing Joni into downtown. As it turned out, she had more time before the concert than I thought, so we decided to make it a triple and check out Astro Doughnuts, another shop on my list.

Alas, our hopes were dashed when we realized that Astro closes at 3 PM, so it was back to Birdies. Joni wanted to try something else from their menu other than the chocolate cake donut that I had offered to her in the form of a cute little panda. She chose an adorable horchata dulce de leche glazed donut. We visited while Joni got her donut fix, and then parted ways afterward, Joni off to her concert, and me tired and ready to go home.

Control No. 5: November 5 

Control #5 was sandwiched between a planned social ride and a screening of short films about adventure cycling. My friend Jennifer was doing both the social ride and the film screening, and agreed to join me for the in-between trip to Astro Donughts & Fried Chicken in downtown LA.

The social ride was part of a monthly series offered by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) called Sunday Funday rides, each a themed ride exploring a different part of Los Angles County. This one started at Exposition Park, near the University of Southern California (USC) campus, and took us to and along the Expo Line Bike Path that opened in 2016, with a stop in Culver City, and our final stop in Cheviot Hills. Several of us opted for the full route, which meant riding back to Expo Park from there.

By this time, I’d ridden about 25 miles, and worked up a serious appetite. But we weren’t that far from downtown, so Jennifer and I continued on to Astro Doughnuts. They had great bike parking right in front, so we locked up and got inside just before closing time. Luckily, they still had both donuts and chicken available, and Carlos and Eddy served us with a smile. I had an excellent nitro cold brew with my unbelievably divine creme brûlée donut as well as some fried chicken. I was very hungry when we got there and quite stuffed when we left!

We rode on from there to the Filmed By Bike adventure shorts being presented by Bicycle Culture Institute at Boomtown Brewery in the arts district. Despite being full, we were still able to enjoy some beer, as well as some inspiring films.

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Control No. 6: November 11 

  • Sidecar Donuts & Bakery, Santa Monica, California
  • Beverage: Steamed Milk
  • Donuts: Huckleberry, Carrot Cake, Cinnamon Crumb, Butter
  • Bloomers: Crazy Daisy
  • Distance: 13.5 miles
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe
  • Bike parking: Excellent; right in front of shop

Control #6 was also sandwiched between a social ride and an evening event, but this time I did not include the 14.6 miles of the social ride in my coffeeneuring mileage, since I took a short break at home in between rides, and changed to a different bike. But I did once again bring along a friend from the social ride to join me for the coffeeneuring ride. Joni (the same one who went to Birdies with me as part of Control #4) had been on the Flower Power Ride that morning, which took place in downtown Los Angeles, and featured a visit to the L.A. Flower Market, followed by lunch at the Bread Lounge. In keeping with the theme of the ride, I wore my Crazy Daisy Bloomers.

Joni is familiar with the donut shop I was planning to visit, Sidecar Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica, and was interested in joining me. She wanted to visit a market near my house, and I wanted to stop at home to switch bikes, drop off the flowers I’d purchased, and coordinate my evening plans with el Cochinito. We then took a fairly direct route west, first along the Venice Boulevard bike lane, and then hopping onto the Expo Line Bike Path into Santa Monica.

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Sidecar Donuts also has bike racks right out in front. Once we went inside, I again faced too many good-looking donuts to choose from, so I bought a box of four. I knew I had to try the huckleberry donut, which was highlighted in the LA Times article, and is unique to this donut shop. I also got the carrot cake, butter, and cinnamon crumb donuts to take home for breakfast the next day. Joni got the pumpkin spice donut, in large part because she caught one that had just been cooked. Since it was getting close to 6 pm, I didn’t want coffee, and opted for a steamed milk, which went nicely with the donut.

From there, Joni went on home, and I rode over to the nearby Ingo’s Tasty Diner, and met up with el Cochinito for dinner before the two of us headed on to hear a panel discussion on racial justice at the UU church in Santa Monica. Afterward, we put my bike in the back of his truck and drove home together.

Control No. 7: November 12 

  • Kettle Glazed Doughnuts, Hollywood, California
  • Beverage: Coffee
  • Donut: Croissant-style (“cronut”) with creme filling
  • Bloomers: Pinkadot Black Bloomers
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Bike: Bianchi Volpe
  • Bike parking: None; brought it inside

For my final ride of the 2017 Coffeeneuring season, I rode to Kettle Glazed Doughnuts in Hollywood. This one was a bit disappointing, mostly because I don’t like biking in Hollywood, and the donut experience wasn’t good enough to compensate for that.

There’s something about Hollywood that makes me want to like biking there. Perhaps it’s the landmarks, or maybe knowing that it has that rough quality that reminds you of all the people struggling to get by in this area and makes you think it should be bike-friendly, or maybe just because there are plenty of otherwise worthy destinations within a reasonable biking distance from my home that make the idea recur on a regular basis. It’s not all bad, either. I’ve had reasonably pleasant experiences biking to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, and that is close to the Arclight Cinema there, where el Chochinito and I like to see movies from time to time. But anything outside that zone seems to be hard to access without having to venture on streets that leave a cyclist feeling quite exposed.

I knew enough not to take the first route suggested by Google maps – straight up Vine. I think the only reason Vine street is considered “bike-friendly” is because it has sharrows and it’s the best north-south street for getting through Hollywood. Unfortunately, it’s also what most motor vehicles use for north-south travel through Hollywood. Instead, I much prefer to take Rosewood west a wee bit, and follow it as it turns north and becomes Wilcox. But today, my destination was on Franklin, which is way north into Hollywood. I used Yucca to go east from Wilcox to Argyle, passing the iconic Capitol Records Building. Sure, there were sharrows and signs asserting that this is a bike route, but it sure didn’t feel like it! It doesn’t help that Yucca is plenty wide, and invites speeding cars to do their thing. Argyle then crosses under the 101 freeway to Franklin, and there sits the strip mall that is home to Kettle Glazed Doughnuts.

I got to Kettle Glazed after having to navigate a left turn mid-block, crossing heavy traffic in both directions. I scanned the parking lot of the little strip mall, and realized that, even if there were a bike rack around, I probably would not want to use it. A homeless guy was busy retrieving items from the dumpster, and had an air about him that made me think he considers himself the owner of the parking lot. There really wasn’t anything that looked like I might be able to lock my bike to it, anyway. I decided to see if I could take my bike inside. The shop is small, and another bike was leaning against the one area of open wall space. I decided to lean my bike against the trash cans by the door, but locked it and took my pannier with me, since it was so close to the entrance.

There was a nice variety of donuts that looked worth trying. I like a classic old fashioned donut, and theirs looked good, but I wanted to try their specialty, the kettle glazed croissant style donut. They offered their cronut with either cinnamon or chocolate on top. How was I supposed to choose between those two? Once again, I had to get one of each, and take the second half of each home to el Cochinito. To go with it, I had a cup of coffee, which was entirely unspectacular. They pointed to an insulated pump dispenser. At least this time, the last of my seven rides, I finally remembered to bring along my own coffee cup, rather than use another throw-away cup. This environmentally friendly idea had been suggested to the group by a fellow Coffeeneur, but I had trouble remembering to bring a cup along for each of the preceding trips.

Since I was so close to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, the biggest and best in L.A., and close to the Bed Bath & Beyond store, where I wanted to pick up a few things for the house, I headed south on Vine and turned it into an errandonnee trip as well. I ended up getting so much at Bed Bath & Beyond (that beyond part always gets me!), there wasn’t room on my bike to add anything more from the farmer’s market. So I headed on home from there, at first trying to make peace with Vine Street, but eventually turning off onto side streets and cutting over to Van Ness, another street I find much more bike-friendly (and pretty) than Vine.

And with that, my seven coffee (and donut) stops by bike were completed. Of course, the LA Times article listed 29 donut shops, flung far and wide across the extended Los Angeles area. I only made it to seven of them, and I’m still curious to try several more. I’ve had so much fun with biking for donuts, and I particularly enjoyed doing these adventures with friends, that I’m now planning an epic donut ride for New Year’s Day. My tentative plan is to start in Venice at Blue Star donuts, and work my way east, all the way to The Donut Man in Glendora, nearly 50 miles from Blue Star. It just so happens that 3 more of the donut shops on my list are positioned in between these two, each about 10 miles apart. We (that’s including anyone who cares to join me for this adventure) can bike the whole way, and then be full enough to require no more fuel stops for the ride back, which can start out along the San Gabriel River Trail, and the Duarte Trail, providing some variety for the return trip. Those not interested in biking more than 50 miles, can hop on the Gold Line at the Azusa Metro Station, which will get them to Union Station in downtown, providing access to the Venice bus, which runs all the way from downtown back to Blue Star, if needed.

As is apparent, the Donut Quest is never ending! If  you’re ever in Los Angeles, and want to bike for donuts, message me and we will take it from there.

P.S. Interested in outfitting yourself (or a friend) with something from the Bikie Girl Bloomers collection: Treat yourself to the special discount for Coffeeneurs: use code COFFEENEUR to get 15% off an order of $50 or more.

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Joni, Vannessa, and yours truly flash our bloomers on the Flower Power Ride

 

Bike Date: Hollywood Bowl

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

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

All dressed up for date night

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

Am I the follower or the leader here?!

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

Stopping by a fruit cart on a summery evening

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

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


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

Mango michelada at Spitz

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

Dining in style at Cleo’s

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

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

Looks like a bike rack to me!

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

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

Would I do this again? YES!

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

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

Biking the Big Easy

As I write this, I am on my flight to New Orleans (I started writing this post on June 19th; it’s now halfway through July). This is an exciting trip for me for two reasons. First, I have been itching to ride a bike in New Orleans ever since El Cochinito and I spent a weekend in the Big Easy last September. I hadn’t been there since 2001 (post 9/11, pre-Katrina), and it was just enough fun to make me want more. I also saw lots of folks biking around town, which I hadn’t seen before, and many of them were women – in dresses no less! (All hail the skirt rider!) Second, I’m bringing my Bikie Girl Bloomers skirts, tops and shorts with me. I’m going to be one of the vendors in the Exhibit Hall at the Convention Center, where my fellow Unitarian Universalists (“UUs”) are holding their annual General Assembly. I know how much UUs care about taking care of the planet (see Principal 7 of their statement of values), and this is the ideal crowd for my mission to encourage more women to use bikes for transportation. If I can’t inspire UUs, who can I inspire?!

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Public art in front of the Convention Center
A poster I made to display at my booth for the UU event
Here’s my plan for my free day before the event begins: first I will have a Lyft driver deliver me and my luggage full of Bikie Girl Bloomers merchandise to the Convention Center so I can set up my booth. Then I’ll walk a mile to the nearest bike shop, A Musing Bikes, where I have reserved a bike rental for the week. I can then have the rest of Tuesday to explore the city by bike, perhaps check out a shop I love to follow on Instagram: Dashing Bicycles, and then use the bike to commute between my hotel in the Marigny neighborhood and the Convention Center, which means riding through the French Quarter each day.

So that was the idea, until I realized that a tropical storm by the name of Cindy would be dumping rain on New Orleans all day. I decided to hunker down in my hotel room and wait for a break in the storm, and then give it a try in the afternoon. I was waiting for a large box of additional merchandise to arrive that day, so why not wait until it arrives, and then everything goes at once. Well, afternoon came, my package had arrived, and the originally anticipated break in the storm vanished from the hourly forecast on my weather app. I went ahead with my plan, got my inventory and display set up at the Convention Center, and started walking toward the bike shop. It was warm, so I wore my Crazy Daisy Bloomers with a blue tank top, and figured I’d be fine if I got a little wet on the walk. img_1687Just as the rain was starting to come down harder, I found myself walking past an intriguing food place: The Fatboy Pantry. I hadn’t had any lunch, so, heck, why not wait out the downpour in here and grab a bite?

Cuban coffee affogato with donut ice cream & caramel sauce
Fried lobster po boy with more fries than anyone can eat in the same meal as a sandwich like that!
 

 

 

 I had the specialty of the house: a fried lobster po boy. They also had a delectable selection of coffee drinks, so I indulged in an affogato made with Cuban coffee and donut ice cream (hey, my server recommended it), topped off with some caramel syrup. It was divine. And the lobster po boy? Holy moly, it was delicious! I ate as much of it as I could.

Well, the rain was still pouring down, but I realized I had better get a move on, as the bike shop would be closing soon. Gustavo was there, and set me up with a cute orange cruiser bike. I could have opted for a hybrid, with gears and hand brakes, but I thought a cruiser might be fun, and it’s not as though New Orleans has hills to worry about.

A Musing Bikes in the lower Garden District, a one mile walk from the Convention Center
They have LOTS of bikes to rent, including both cruisers and hybrids
 

 

 

 

 

 

When I ventured out on the bike, the rain didn’t seem too bad, so I thought I’d still route myself past Dashing Bicycles on my way to my hotel, and perhaps be on the lookout for a drug store where I might be able to purchase a rain poncho. First, I got a wee bit lost in the Garden District, but it’s so beautiful, it’s hard to object. By the time I was riding through the Central Business District, the rain was really coming down hard, and heavy winds were adding to the challenge. I had not found a poncho, and I was getting quite thoroughly soaked. I knew I needed to just go straight to my hotel, and that was more than enough. By the time I arrived, I was so wet I craved a hot bath. Unfortunately, my room had a shower stall only, no tub. I changed out of my wet clothes and found myself regretting the failure to pack socks for this trip.

The storm continued all night. I woke several times during the night, wondering if there was an earthquake (so L.A. of me), before realizing that it was the storm that was making the house shake. Wednesday morning, the weather forecast showed a respite from the heavy wind and rain, at least until about 10:00. I decided this would be my chance to ride out to Metarie Cemetery, a destination I had originally planned for my free day on Tuesday. I didn’t have to be at the Convention Center until about 11:00, so I got me an early start, with my first stop planned for a nearby Walgreen’s to purchase that poncho I knew I would be needing.

The ride was delightful. I enjoyed bike lanes much of the way, and stopped to snap photos and post on Instagram along my route. So many big, beautiful trees providing canopies over the streets, and the gorgeous artchitecture revealing the intriguing history and culture unique to New Orleans left me agog. Shortly before I got to Metarie Cemetary, I passed a few others, including a Masonic Cemetery and a Catholic one. Such a vast expanse of real estate devoted to the dead. I had a bit of trouble figuring out where exactly Google Maps was telling me I was supposed to ride when it came to the very last little stretch. As it turned out, I had to ride on a busy street that serves as an on-ramp to the freeway. It was a bit scary to ride a bike on Ponchartrain, as it seemed all the other vehicles were large pickup trucks travelling at rather high speeds.

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Riding to the cemetery in my rain poncho
But I made it to the cemetery intact, and began my quest. The last (and only other) time I was at Metarie Cemetery was when my late husband’s brother had passed away in November 2001. Bill and I had flown back to Bills’ home town of New Orleans from Los Angeles to attend to his brother’s final arrangements. His brother’s casket was entombed in a family crypt. Yes, one of those fascinating above-ground crypts. I kind of remembered the crypt being near a rotunda or circular something or other, and could visualize in my memory where that area was with respect to the building where we’d met with the mortician. The night before, I’d also done some looking online and noted the location of section 103 where the Tebault family crypt was located.

I toodled around the cemetery for awhile, snapped a few photos and posted them to Instagram, and then noticed I was in the familiar area near the Tebault crypt. I found the intersection of Avenues D and H, which should have put me right near Section 103, but I couldn’t find it.

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When the rain lightened up, I took a break from the poncho, glad that I had sense enough not to wear the skirt for my bike ride.
I started doubting my internet info, and decided to ride to the building and then head from there to the area that I recalled from 15 years ago. I discovered some fascinating extended areas, and the more I explored them, the more certain I became that I was not getting any closer to my target. After wandering all over the cemetery, the magic hour of 10:00 arrived, and pretty soon, as forecast, the rain was becoming more than just a manageable drizzle. The thought of just leaving without finding the crypt bothered me, so I searched again using my phone, and decided that the intersection of Avenues D and H should have been right. I studied the map of the sections more carefully, and searched in earnest for Section 103. It didn’t help that the sections are not in numerical order. When I finally found Section 103, the rain was really coming down. I checked each and every crypt, and none said Tebault, even though I distinctly remember the crypt had been labeled with that family name. Finally, I parked the bike and carefully stepped between the forming rivers that separated each plot, and at last I found the Tebault site. No wonder I had not been able to spot it on my first several passes; it was no longer an above-ground crypt. Perhaps Katrina or another major storm had destroyed it. What remained was the stone outline and the tombstones engraved with the names of those who had been entombed there.

I spent a few minutes contemplating the end of the Tebault/Passera family line. Bill’s father had died when Bill was a baby, and his mother had died in 2000, followed by his brother, Phillip in 2001. When my Bill died in 2003, no one was left. No parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, as neither Bill nor his brother had had any children. And then a hurricane (presumably) came along and wiped away the family tomb. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

Speaking of storms, the rain was really coming down hard, and I needed to move along. I rode over to the Funeral Home, where a covered driveway allowed me to take a break from the storm and refuel with a snack bar before biking on to the Convention Center. My hopes that the storm would give me a break for the six mile ride ahead of me were dashed, as the winds only got more intense. I couldn’t wait any longer, as I had to get to my booth in time to finish the set up before the Exhibit Hall opened at noon.

So, with my poncho over me, and a plastic bag over the tote bag in my bike basket, I headed out of the cemetery. My shoes and feet were already soaking wet from the puddles around the tombs, but I wasn’t really thinking about my wet feet once I started pedaling.  It was one heck of an adventure biking in the storm. I felt like I was working so hard just to move forward. At times, the rain was coming down so hard, I could barely see out my glasses. I worried that I might not know the difference between an exciting adventure and taking stupid risks, especially when the winds were strong enough to blow both me and the bike around on the road!

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This tree did not survive the storm
I made it to the convention center, but it sure seemed like it took me a long time to ride those six miles. I arrived soaking wet, but so many others had been caught in the storm just walking in from their parked cars, I don’t think anyone thought much of my wet hair. I was so glad I didn’t wear my skirt for the morning ride – it was safely rolled up inside my tote bag, and had stayed dry. I just wished I had a dry pair of shoes. My feet sloshed with every step. 

I ended up venturing out again that afternoon. An order had come in to the online store for something I had with me, and I thought it best if I just get it into the mail, and I wanted to get it to the post office by 5:00. The storm was still going, but it was much more mild at this point. It was a short ride, and I was happy to get back outside for a few minutes.  Mostly, I just enjoyed experiencing a few new streets by bike.

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Bike parking across the street from the Post Office
Unfortunately, the errand wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped, mostly because the post office was inside a federal building, and it took quite awhile to get through the security screening before I could go inside and get in line to mail the package.

We vendors had to stay at the Exhibit Hall until 7:00 that evening. By the time I biked back over to my hotel in Marigny, I was thoroughly exhausted. I didn’t even have the energy to go out and get some dinner. I walked two blocks from my hotel to a funky food co-op and enjoyed browsing the aisles. I selected a few intriguing healthy snacks, plus some chocolate (so comforting!), and a ginger beer.

More orders came in to the store that evening, including a repeat customer ordering 3 pairs of Bloomers from our clearance special. Since I knew the clearance Bloomers would do well at the UU event, I had brought all of them with me. This meant I couldn’t arrange to have my assistant back in Los Angeles ship out the order for me, and I did not want my customer to have to wait until the next week before the order shipped. I was so glad I had brought a few mailers with me. I packed up the order and found another post office not far from the convention center that looked like it might have a self-service machine and perhaps not require a security screen to enter.

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Commuting through the French Quarter
It was fun to commute through the French Quarter, and the weather was quite agreeable now that the storm had passed. Even then, as soon as I crossed Canal Street, I found myself struggling against tremendously forceful winds. I pedaled that cruiser bike as hard as I could, but I swear I wasn’t moving forward at all! It got a little scary at one point, as it was hard to maintain my position on the road, and a streetcar needed to pass me. I decided to pull over and wait a bit, although that only solved the streetcar passing problem, not the strong headwind challenge. It was such a relief when I got to the street where I needed to turn and head north to the post office, as I no longer had to fight the wind.

I made a little slide show of some of the interesting buildings I saw on today’s variant of my commute – this time heading a little into the Bywater area before turning toward the French Quarter:

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By Friday, I was feeling like I had my routine down, and I was excited that we vendors were free to leave at 5:00, significantly earlier than the first two nights. This meant a little extra freedom to do what I wished with my evening, instead of just collapsing in exhaustion from a long day on my feet, and perhaps also from biking into gale force winds. My neighbor in the exhibit hall had asked if I’d like to go out and get a bite or a drink that evening. I told her I was planning to pay a quick visit to a bike shop, and then catch a jazz show. She wasn’t interested in seeing a show, but she had never explored New Orleans’ French Quarter and wanted to check it out. I couldn’t believe she had never visited the French Quarter on her past trips to New Orleans! We agreed to meet up after my bike shop visit and after she had tended to some business.

The ride from the Convention Center to Dashing Bicycles was pleasant, with a simple 3.4 mile route of bike-friendly streets getting there. I went inside to check out the shop, and visited a bit with the mechanic on duty. I told him I was visiting from L.A., and that I’m a fan who enjoys following their shop on Instagram. He said the owner wasn’t in, and shared a bit of the store’s history with me (has relocated from a small shop closer to the French Quarter to allow for more space). I told him how much I love the way they post a picture of a customer with their new bike in front of that gorgeous wall, and asked if I could take a picture of my rental bike there. I was so pleased with how well my orange cruiser paired with the bright colors of their wall. I also love their big sign at the roof line, and snapped a photo of that as well.

I started heading towards my hotel in Marigny (MARE-in-EE; just east of the French Quarter), thinking I’d have time to drop off my big tote bag and lighten my load for the evening. The route Google maps set me on seemed like a great one, until a few blocks into it, the street was closed off for police activity. That was a frustrating disappointment, as I had been on a street that cut across diagonally towards my destination, and there weren’t any similar alternatives. But I managed to get almost back to my hotel when Minda contacted me to make our plans. 

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Our pedicab driver
We met at the entrance to Cafe du Monde, at which point I learned that Minda had never been there, nor had she heard of it. I couldn’t allow her status to stay that way, so we started our outing with beignets. We then used yelp to search for a place close by to grab a little dinner. She’d landed this great parking spot, and had limited mobility, so we decided on a place about a quarter of a mile away. We were a couple blocks from the destination, when she expressed dismay at the length of the walk, and just then, we happened on one of those pedicab drivers who offered to help. He pointed out the location of the restaurant we sought, but did not have a very enthusiastic recommendation for it. Of course, we was glad to recommend a place some distance away, but his sincerity (and the offer to pay what we like for the ride) won us over. We took the pedicab ride all the way back near the convention center (!) and had charbroiled oysters at Drago’s. They were quite good. The pedicab ride back over to Cafe du Monde was in the dark, which made it fun. From there, I decided it was a little too late to catch the jazz show I had in mind, but I was satisfied with my evening On the town.

Enjoying our pedicab ride
Enjoying our pedicab ride
Saturday morning, I had my act together such that I was able to leave early enough to stop for breakfast at one of the interesting coffee shops I pass in the neighborhood where I was staying. For my first “coffeeneuring” of the trip, I went to Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop. My first delight was the ginormous pile of bicycles locked up at the rather large bike rack out front. My second delight was the dozens (or perhaps hundreds?) of masks on display and covering all of the wall space that wasn’t already covered with paintings or architectural oddities. My third delight was the friendly guy at the counter and what appeared to be a parade of locals getting their morning fix.

Biking around the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods of New Orleans is interesting in that, on the one hand, it’s an easier way to get around those narrow, old streets than in a car, and there are plenty of bike-friendly routes.

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Pothole extravaganza
On the other hand, many of those bike-friendly streets are in a sad state of disrepair, making it necessary for cyclists to be extra attentive to cracks, potholes, and other obstacles. Of course, that’s all part of the urban bike adventure!

Some of the houses there are so cute, I can’t help but stop and snap a photo. This one I had to snap quickly, as a van was backing into a parking spot that would have ruined my shot.

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Saturday night, I took myself out to dinner. I had grabbed a late dinner on Thursday night at a fantastic restaurant, The Franklin, just a short block from my hotel, and it had reminded me how much it is possible to enjoy going out for a good dinner even when traveling alone. But for Saturday night, I didn’t have to start late, and it was my last chance of this trip to try out a place my friend who knows New Orleans quite well had recommended, Mariza. This meant biking over to the next neighborhood to the east, Bywater, and past more interesting architecture. 2017-06-24 18.03.10On my way, I stopped to gawk at the Marigny Opera House, which appears to be quite old, and perhaps undergoing some needed restoration.

The dinner was one of those excellent experiences that can be had when you sit at the bar at the beginning of dinner time, before the crowds have arrived, and chat with the bartender. This bartender mixed me a great cocktail, made some excellent food recommendations, and told me a bit of the history of the neighborhood. The Bywater/Marigny has gone from a low-rent, rather run-down neighborhood, to a hip area of opportunity. Beautiful buildings are being fixed up, but long-time residents have had to move to the other side of the river to find affordable housing.

Sunday morning, I tackled my logistics quite well, if I may say so myself. I had left all of my luggage at the convention center (hiding under the table), and had kept only a backpack at my hotel. I packed all my clothes into the backpack, checked out, and was on 2017-06-25 08.47.36my way, able to bike with all my things either on my back or in the front basket. I stopped for breakfast at EnVie Espresso Bar and Cafe in the French Quarter, passing more potholes on the way. I made it a hearty breakfast to last me until the event closing at 2:30 p.m. Note the interesting clientele at this establishment.

Going into the convention center for this last day was exciting. I had already sold enough to pay for my travel expenses and the booth rental, and this last day, although shorter, the event is open to the public, not just those attending the UU General Assembly. I had been running Facebook ads during the week, hoping to draw in some local women bicyclists. Alas, I did have one customer who had seen my ad and decided to come in, since it was close to where she’d been at the gym. She bought a pair of Bloomers (she went for the Leopard print), and that sale paid for the Facebook ad (!), but no others from the general public came by. I had a couple other sales, but it ended up being the lowest sales day of the week. Although that was disappointing, I was still thrilled to have come out just a nudge ahead of even!

After the show closed, I packed up my merchandise, took one bundle of product I just couldn’t fit into my luggage (still less than the large box I shipped to New Orleans in advance) to the FedEx Office store across the street, and hopped on my rental bike for my one final ride to return the rental bike to A Musing Bikes. Although I had enough time to walk the mile back to the Convention Center to collect my luggage, it was raining again, and I just didn’t have it in me to walk another mile in the rain. I gave my rain poncho to the folks at A Musing Bikes, in case they’d like to offer it to the next crazy person to rent a bike on a rainy day, and summoned a Lyft to get me back to the Convention Center and on to the airport. Still a very satisfying logistical accomplishment.

On reflection, I have to admit that it may not make much business sense to take a week off from work (I do have my patent clients to attend to, an important element of making my living) in order to spend 5 straight days selling clothing for bike commuting at a gathering of UUs. However, as an excuse to experience biking in New Orleans, it was absolutely worth it! And I loved visiting with the people who came to my booth. A couple of times, I even remembered to snap a photo of customers who bought bloomers:

And here is what I wore each day (not counting the first two days when I got drenched!). I have fun styling the Bike It Or Not Two Piece Dress in various ways. You can tell which is from the last day by the backpack on my back.

And last, but not least, here’s an example of what the UUs were up to all week. This is a mural that grew a bit each day, based on input from attendees, and reflecting the social justice goals of the organization.

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