The world is in turmoil right now, as we are more than two weeks in to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Not wanting to support war crimes in progress, much of the world is shunning Russian oil. Gas prices were already high, and now they’re even higher. I only know this from watching the news, as my primary vehicle has no gas tank. It doesn’t have a battery, either. I prefer biking for lots of reasons, mostly because it’s more fun than driving. The current situation, however, is bringing one advantage to the fore: I don’t have to buy gas!
Which brings me to the biggest reason why I share my biking stories, and the biggest reason why I created Bikie Girl Bloomers: I am a bikevangelist, and I want to share the bike love! I live in Los Angeles, and I remember how I felt when I first moved here back in 1996: how is it even possible to bike in a crazy car-centric city? It should not require special bravery and skill; biking should be available to everyone. Once you learn the tips and tricks, though, urban cycling is really quite delightful.
Back in 2017, I was inspired to create a handout for visitors to a New York pop-up shop I participated in for a week with several other brands that cater to urban cyclists. Some of the brands sponsored events as part of the pop-up shop experience, and Bikie Girl Bloomers offered a workshop for bike commuting. I made a handout that included tips for getting started on bike commuting as well as showcasing how each of the products offered in our pop-up could help make bike commuting more enjoyable. Afterward, I posted a version of it here on the site. Just this week, I revised my handout so I could post it to my virtual booth at the National Bike Summit coming up March 27-30, 2022. I realized that nearly five years had passed, and it was time for an update. Here’s the updated version:
Keep it simple. Establish a small goal: to bike to a nearby store for an errand, or to bike home from work one day this week. You will be going through the planning and execution logistics, and perhaps overcoming some trepidation, and that is enough for the first time at it. Make sure you are ready by thinking through the following items to ensure a positive experience. If you are new to city riding, you might start out with recreational social rides led by a bike advocacy group or a local bike shop, or you can search for a licensed cycling instructor (see Bike League Directory Search to find local resources). Riding with a group can make city riding safer, teach you city riding skills, and introduce you to others who like to ride. It’s also a great way to discover parts of your city you never knew. You can find local groups to ride with through sites such as MeetUp.com and Facebook. Look for “no drop” and beginner-friendly rides to match your riding level.
If you will ride your own bike, consider taking it to a local bike shop for a tune up and safety check. If you don’t know how to fix a flat tire, now is the time to learn and practice (you can find tutorials on youtube). The weekend before your first ride, check your ABC’s: A – air in the tires; B – brakes working; C – chain is clean and lubed. Re-check these before each ride. It’s normal for your tires to need a little more air, or for your chain to need some cleaning, about once a week or so. Checking these items regularly will also make it easy for you to notice when the brakes are getting worn, or another repair is needed.
If you will use bike share, go to the web site for your city’s bike share system and familiarize yourself with how it works, what you need to check out a bike, and where the docking stations are for your start and stop points. Download an app to make it easy to find bike share stations while out and about. Many bike share systems changed during the pandemic, so be sure to get up to date information. Google maps has a feature (select “more” to reveal the “search along this route” box and type in “bike share stations”) that will show bike share stations along a route you are considering.
The basic gear needs include: helmet, lights, and something to carry your stuff. Helmets are available in stylish designs (see those by SawakoNutcase and BikePretty), and with lights to signal braking and turning (see the Lumos helmet). If taking your own bike, you will want to carry a patch kit, extra inner tube, a pump, and bike tools, such as a multi-tool. Keep a quality lock with you, even if you can park the bike inside, as you may need it when stopping for an errand. High quality theft-resistant locks can be heavy, but TiGr offers titanium locks that are strong, light and stylish. The best way to lock a bike is to combine a strong cable with a high-quality U-lock, to ensure the wheels cannot be removed and the frame is secured to a bike rack. (See here for examples.)
Gear that makes the commute more pleasant: fenders, a chainguard, a good saddle properly adjusted, a basket and/or rack, phone holder, and a kickstand. Other gear that can be worth the investment: handlebars/bike that support upright riding position, dynamo lights, panniers, platform pedals that work well with street shoes, and a power bank to re-charge your phone or lights. An electric assist bike can be practical if the commute is long and/or hilly. Although electric assist bikes cost significantly more than regular bikes, they are a fraction of the cost of a car, and well worth it if it makes it possible to commute by bike more often or at all. There are also kits that can turn a regular bike into an electric assist.
You are likely able to ride in whatever clothes you wear to work. Exceptions are avoiding or adjusting for long, flowy items that might get caught in the spokes, or dealing with hills, distance, or weather that leaves you too sweaty or wet. For these situations, you can bring fresh clothes with you and change at work. Some work places offer shower facilities or have a gym close by. Many bike commuters keep extra clothes at work, or bring a week’s worth to the office at a time. You can also keep a kit of toiletries at work to use for freshening up. Consider a small towel, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and a comb or brush.
Experiment with different clothing to find what is most comfortable. Some prefer pants, others prefer the freedom of movement provided by a skirt or dress. BikieGirl’s Hitchable Flounce Skirt comes with the patented Skitch® skirt hitch to lift the hem out of the way while riding. Pants can easily wear out from bike riding, so consider a style designed for the durability and flexibility biking requires. Skirts and dresses can be combined with BikieGirl’s lightweight bike short or leggings for coverage and/or warmth. If needed, you can wear a padded bike short for the ride in, and switch to regular pants upon arrival. Let the bike shorts air out during the day so they are at least partly refreshed for the ride home.
Planning Your Route
The best route for biking to work is likely different from the route you would take by car or other means. Most cities provide a map of bike routes, bike paths, and bike-friendly streets. Google mapsKamoot and other bike routing software can help you figure out a suitable route (in Google maps, select “layers” to see the option to show bike-friendly streets). Test ride your route on the weekend to make sure there aren’t any unpleasant surprises and get familiar with the streets and turns when there is less traffic on the roads. Keep in mind that occasionally Google maps will direct you to cross a major street without a traffic light. If you get stuck in such a situation, consider taking the sidewalk (walk the bike if sidewalk riding is not legal in your city) to access the nearest crossing with a traffic light.
Carrying Your Stuff
Options for carrying your things include: a messenger bag (make sure it is stable while riding), backpack, basket or panniers. A bag that is against your back will create much more sweating, so many prefer a basket or a pannier that attaches to the rear rack. Po Campo provides stylish options that includes bags that hook on your bike and can also be your professional-looking briefcase or handbag. Rear-mounted bike baskets allow for a more stable weight distribution, while front baskets provide easy access while riding. Your choice will also be influenced by what you need or will have to carry with you upon arrival. Think also about whether your arrangement will be used for shopping or carrying children.
I find a pannier that clips onto the rear rack, yet looks like a suitable shoulder bag for the office, meeting with clients, or running errands is a good first choice. When I need to carry more stuff, however, I like the easy of the Nantucket pannier baskets that simply hook onto the rear rack, and can hold a sizable amount of groceries. I also keep a bungee cargo net on my rear rack for those times when I get carried away with too many extra items. When all I need to carry are my essentials, including my tablet, wallet, a snack and perhaps a few toiletries, such as when visiting a client or attending a conference, I like using a stylish trunk bag that securely attaches to the rear rack and also looks like a normal purse when slung over my shoulder.
Know your local bike laws. The most important keys to safety relate to being visible and predictable to others and being prepared for the unexpected. Ride with the flow of traffic, and take the lane when sharing the road with motorized vehicles. Riding too close to the edge of the lane makes you less visible to motorists and can encourage drivers to pass you too closely. Allow 3-5 feet between you and parked cars to avoid getting doored. Avoid weaving around parked cars, as that can catch motorists by surprise when you re-enter the traffic lane. Signal your turns, and call out or ring a bell to let others know you are approaching to pass. You can increase your skills and confidence by taking a class (see link in first paragraph). Click here to see some examples of the skills that will help you handle dicey situations that can arise on city streets.
Riding At Night
Wear reflective clothing at night, and use a white light in front and a rear light in back. Brands like Vespertine NYC provide stylish reflective vests, jackets, scarves, and dresses. Flashing lights can make it harder for others to gauge distance and are unsafe (to others) as front lights. Lights vary, so be sure you know how effective the lights you have will be. Consider also whether they will require battery replacement or can be recharged. Lights are often stolen from parked bikes, so consider lights you can easily carry with you. Alternatively, dynamo lights whose power is generated by the front wheel and integrated into the bike design are less easy to steal from a parked bike.
Multi-Modal Options & Back-Up Plan
If the distance is too great, one direction is too hilly, or you feel more comfortable knowing you don’t have to ride both ways, look into the options for public transit. Some cities allow bikes on trains, buses, and/or subways, others allow them only during non-commuting hours, or have limited space. Some commuters use public transit for part of their route, or in one direction. Others take public transit (or drive) at the beginning and end of the week to carry clothes and other items for the week, and use the bike in between. These options can also be your back-up in case of weather or an equipment mishap.
Keep It Stress-free & Fun!
When it’s unfamiliar, city riding can seem quite stressful. Finding yourself on a too-busy street, worrying about cars passing too closely, navigating around broken glass and potholes, these are challenges that will become manageable once you’re a seasoned rider, but can ruin your experience when you feel unprepared for them. If this happens to you, pull over as soon as you find a safe spot to do so. Walk your bike on the sidewalk if necessary, or find a bench where you can sit down and take a breath. Use a smart phone to look at your route and see if you can find a better option to get to your destination. Often there is a parallel street or alley that is much calmer and more enjoyable to ride on. If a major thoroughfare is the only option and it’s just not feeling safe to ride in the street, I will ride on the sidewalk. In some cities that is not legal, but depending on the circumstances, it may be your best choice. I would prefer to feel safe and get ticketed than to get hit by a car, but I’m white and female.
I have found that, over the years, it gets easier and easier to find the better, more bike-friendly streets. Wide residential streets can be pleasant and offer plenty of room for motorists to safely pass. Sometimes, however, narrow streets are better because drivers have to slow down and fewer cars will choose such streets. Roads that curve, have lots of shade trees, feature historic homes with gorgeous architecture can be great choices for creating an enjoyable biking experience. It can be fun to explore a different street each day of your commute and discover all that you’ve been missing out on when getting around by car.
Other tidbits that contribute to a more enjoyable ride include: using a bike that keeps me more upright (I feel more easily seen, and I find it easier to look around), decorating my bike with flowers, wearing a cute helmet, riding in a skirt, leaving early to give me plenty of time so I don’t get nervous about being late or sweaty from riding fast. I do sense that drivers are more courteous to me when they see me as a commuter rather than as a recreational road biker. I believe the flowers and pretty helmet soften their reaction to me. Even if I’m only imagining these things make drivers treat me better, I am certain they make me enjoy the ride more. Even fake flowers can remind us to enjoy the beautiful things in life.
What’s a pair of empty nesters in Los Angeles to do when all of their adult offspring move to the northeastern United States? Especially after being cut off for a year or two by a lousy pandemic? The only logical solution: take our bikes out east and visit them.
In the Summer of 2019, our eldest and his wife moved from northern California to Chicago. I was planning to pay them a visit the following Spring, but then, along came COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, a new career opportunity arose, and they left Chicago in the Summer of 2020 for Rochester, New York. Next thing we know, our youngest decided it would be more fun to quarantine with them than to keep living at home with the old folks. Go figure. Then this summer, our middle child and her fiancée decided to move to Philadelphia. Just like that, we found ourselves without any of our kids nearby, and the summer was soon going to run out on us. So we started making our plans for the Epic Tour de Kids.
We are AirBnB hosts, renting out one of the no-longer-occupied kid’s rooms, so first we identified an 18-day stretch after the last booking and before El Cochinito had to resume his teaching duties. Then we had to consider the essential visits to include in a trip out east: friends in the DC area, and another who had recently moved to the Catskills. The routing of our adventure flowed quite easily from there: fly to DC, visit El Cochinito’s college buddy, take our bikes on the train to Philadelphia, spend a few days visiting our daughter and her fiancée, ride our bikes from Philly to West Fulton, New York, visit our friend there for a couple days, then roll on to Rochester, New York to spend a few days with our kids there before we fly home.
Next, we needed to plan the actual biking part as well as get our bikes in touring condition. El Cochinito tackled the first portion of the routing: Philadelphia to West Fulton, and I took on the West Fulton to Rochester part. Each portion was about 240 miles or so, and we decided to spread those miles over 4 days to ensure we wouldn’t be rushed or stressed about making each day’s goal. Once we had that figured out, we started booking accommodations, and with that, our daily routes could be planned out.
This was near the end of June, and the trip was planned for August 3rd-21st. That meant we had to begin our training in earnest. Not just because we had a lot of miles to prepare for, but especially because we had both encountered some unfortunate unintended contact with the pavement while biking in recent months, and we needed to make sure we were sufficiently recovered from our respective injuries and up to the task. In December, El Cochinito had taken a super bad fall after hitting an abrupt ripple in the asphalt at the intersection of Sunset Blvd & Highland in Hollywood that left him with a 3rd degree separated shoulder, then another fall in early March that caused some minor fractures and rang his bell, which was followed a few days later by yours truly having her own spill biking to the office the morning after a little rain and going down hard upon hitting some slick pavement, resulting in a fractured pelvis. It was as if we were competing to see who could have the more pitiful solo crash.
Alas, although we suffered some significant aches and pains, we both gradually recovered over the course of a few months, with the help of some physical therapy and determination. As of May, I had remained quite frustrated at what seemed then like a serious lack of progress. By June, I was feeling increasingly confident. So, on June 26th, we took our bikes to Ventura and road a 49-mile loop from Ventura to Ojai, on the Ojai Valley Trail, then on to Santa Paula, where we stopped for beer, and then a final leg back to Ventura. It was a hot day, and we covered more miles and climbed more elevation than either of us had done thus far in 2021, but we did it!
To make sure we could also handle back-to-back riding days, we got back on our bikes the following day. This ride was flat, but long, as we logged 69 miles by first riding the San Gabriel River Path down to Seal Beach, swinging through Long Beach with a stop for lunch, and then riding back on the Los Angeles River Bike Path. Our fannies felt it, but we were able to do it, and that was a big boost to our confidence.
The following weekend presented an opportunity to work on our climbing. I was not at all sure I could do this one, as the most challenging part of my recovery from the fractured pelvis was regaining the ability to ride uphill. Even the slightest inclines had been hard. But I did not want to miss the chance to ride Glendora Mountain Road / Glendora Ridge Road while it was closed to cars for the 4th of July weekend. This is one of those bucket list rides: spectacular scenery from an undulating ribbon of road that traces the crest of Glendora Ridge as you climb up to Mt. Baldy Village. I had only done this ride twice before. In 2019, I did it right after returning from my Colorado trip in which I rode from Denver to Estes Park and back, so, hey, I was definitely able to handle it that year. In 2020, I did it again, but struggled with the heat and had to stop frequently to keep from bonking, especially during that final slog to the top. I had no reason to think it would be any easier in my not-quite-fully-recovered state this year, but I did have a fancy new Bianchi Infinito carbon bike, giving me a chance to see if a lightweight bike might make it manageable. After 46 miles and 6,423 feet of climbing, I am proud to say we did it. I also PR’d the climb. Not too shabby.
With life and all that, the next few weeks’ training rides consisted of an occasional ride up to the Griffith Observatory or up Nichols Canyon, nothing too challenging. Finally, on the last day of July, we put in one last serious effort before the big trip. We rode south to San Pedro, up that steep little bugger of a hill to visit the Korean Friendship Bell, and then rode back up through Palos Verdes and along the coast, returning via the Ballona Creek Bike Path, with a final and very steep climb up to the Baldwin Hills Overlook. That gave us a total of 73 miles and 2,415 feet of climbing for a decent confirmation that we were ready to take on our big bike tour. Which is good, because that was our last opportunity to train for the tour.
Turning Our Road Bikes Into Touring Bikes
I had recently decided to put gravel tires on my Volpe, since I knew it could accommodate wider tires than the 28mm tires it came with. And with a newer, fancier, carbon Bianchi Infinito in my collection, it made sense to devote the Volpe to more adventurous riding on varied surface conditions and for touring. El Cochinito wanted to use his aluminum-frame road bike for our tour, and consulted with our local bike shop about how to adapt it for touring and riding trails paved with crushed gravel and the like. The shop was able to install a rear rack despite the lack of braze-ons, and switched out his 23mm tires with 25mm Gatorskins. They also did a bike fitting, and made several key adjustments to make long distance riding much more comfortable.
Getting our bikes to DC
We had our local bike shop tune up our bikes and box them for our flight to DC. That gave us confidence the bikes were packed right and protected for the journey. And I had planned ahead to find an airport transportation service that could handle getting two people and two bike boxes from our house to the airport, as we needed to get us to LAX very early on a Tuesday morning. I found one company that offered van service, and carefully reviewed the stated luggage capacity for their private van service. I almost booked with them, but then noticed a number of bad reviews complaining that the service did not show up for many of its customers, so I kept looking. I found another company that offered what appeared to be very similar private vans, but no explicit information about their luggage capacity. I figured a large van with no other passengers could surely handle us and our bikes, so I booked it. There was no FAQ or chat or phone number I could use to confirm that capacity, but then two days before our flight, the confirmation email did provide a phone number. I called to make sure we would be okay, and learned that, no, their vans were not big enough to meet our needs. Flummoxed, I decided to reach out to a bike friend who lives near the airport and ask if she could help. She was great about it. We drove our boxed bikes and ourselves in El Cochinito’s pick up to her house early the morning of our departure, and she rode with us to LAX. She drove the truck back to her house, and kept it there until time to come pick us up on the return. Thank you, Lynn, you’re a lifesaver!
At LAX, we donned our KN95 masks and drug our bike boxes into the terminal to get them checked in. We were flying American Airlines, whose baggage policy treats bike boxes like any other form of checked baggage – no extra charge just because it’s a bike. But, there was no clear indication as to where we should go with said bike boxes. We tried one line and then another, and when we eventually made it to the front of the line, we were told we hadn’t needed to wait in that line, but did need to take our bike boxes to a special drop off location. The check in agent was kind enough to walk us to this mysterious other location.
Our direct flight to National Airport in DC was uneventful, but all we had to eat on that flight was one Cliff bar apiece plus the cookies the airlines hands out. We were starving by the time we landed, but afraid to stop for food lest our bikes be picked up by someone else before we got to baggage claim. Once we had our bikes, we had to get to work assembling them, right there in the baggage claim area. The bikes were a little more dismantled than I had expected, and we had some work to do: reinsert the stem and tighten the handlebars so the bike steers straight, reattach the front wheel and the rear brake, replace the pedals, reinsert the seat post, and replace the bottle cages (arrgghh, why did those have to come off??). Finally, we had to reinflate the tires using my mini frame pump. Doing all of this is hard enough on a good day; doing it while sleep-deprived and hangry is a serious challenge. And that latter part, about inflating the tires, turned out to be a bit of a problem, but not right away.
DC & Maryland
We managed to get our bikes in working order, attached our panniers to the rear racks, and headed for the Metro station. We got our fare cards loaded up, a station attendant let us know that we needed to take our bikes around the side to an elevator to get to the platform, and we made our way to the Yellow Line train that would get us to Metro Center, where we could transfer to the Red Line. A lot of squeezing our two bikes and our two bodies onto elevators, but it was all doable. I was a bit confused by the DC Metro bike policy, as the center doors of each train had a “no bikes” symbol, but the center door was the only way to get to the wheelchair zone, which has enough space for the bikes. Does DC prefer that folks with bikes use the doors at the ends of each car and just stand in the aisle with their bikes? That didn’t seem to make sense, so we used the center doors. Luckily, our trains never got too terribly crowded.
We disembarked at the Grosvenor Station, and from there, rode our bikes 6 miles to Potomac, where our friends live. My bike felt a little sluggish, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I wasn’t that accustomed to my new GravelKing tires (although I did ride on them for the last few training rides), or because of the weight of my pannier and handlebar bag, or because my tires weren’t properly inflated. Or maybe I was just feeling slow in the way I often do when I can’t keep up with El Cochinito. We figured we’d borrow a floor pump from our friend to make sure the tires were adequately inflated, but then the floor pump couldn’t be found. Oh, well. We just pumped them up again as best we could with the mini pump.
Taking Our Bikes on Amtrak
After two nights and a full day spent with El Cochinito’s old college buddy, we were ready to roll out, reversing our route to the Red Line, and taking that to Union Station. There we grabbed some breakfast and tried to figure out where exactly we needed to go in order to board our train to Philadelphia with the bikes. There was no guidance at the station, but once we got to our train, each door had a bicycle symbol by it, so we figured we could board anywhere. But it was not easy lifting our bikes onto the train, as we had to go up a few steep steps. Once on board, we could not see anywhere for our bikes to go. We ended up trying to make our way through the passenger car’s narrow aisle with our bikes and panniers – not easy at all, and a bit annoying to the other passengers, also trying to make their way to an available seat.
I kept looking around for a train attendant, conductor, or someone who might be able to give us a clue as to where we were supposed to put our bikes. We’d paid an extra $20 each for the bike reservation, and yet there did not appear to be any suitable place for them. Finally, in the second or third car we tried, there was an attendant. Her reply was to “put it in the bike rack”. I asked her where the bike rack was. She pointed in the direction of a luggage rack next to the restroom at the end of the car. I asked again where the bike rack was. She explained that I needed to move the luggage off the rack, and then put the bike in. That seemed odd. The rack had lots of large suitcases on it, and I started trying to lift them off, one-by-one, without losing control of my bike. It was a bit crazy and stressful, and I was blocking the aisle that was full of folks waiting to pass by in both directions. A woman came up to me and asked me why I was moving her suitcase, and I told her I was doing what the attendant told me to do so that I could park my bike there. She seemed rather miffed. After the shelves were cleared of luggage, it was possible to lift the two shelves up, revealing a hook against the back wall and a sign that said “reserved for bicycle storage”. Sure would be nice if that sign were visible when the shelves were down. The other thing we learned is that each car of the train has storage for only one bicycle, so El Cochinito had to keep moving on down the train, looking for an available bike rack.
Next, I had to lift my bike up to get the front wheel onto the hook. That was not easy at all. The shelves kept falling back down. I needed about six hands to be able to manage this maneuver. Luckily, a nice person helped me keep the shelves from falling while I lifted my bike. Even then, it was hard to get it aligned on its end and inside the little cubby and then get the front wheel onto the hook.
Once that feat had been accomplished, I wondered where and how I might be able to find El Cochinito. I start heading down to the next car, and the next, and the next, through a dining car, and on to the next passenger car, and so on. Finally I found him. Some kind conductor/attendant person had seen him trying car after car, discovering that each bike rack was already occupied by a bike, and they’d opened up another car at the far end, where he was able to store his bike, and also find us two seats together. At last, we were able to sit down and enjoy our train ride!
The two hour ride from DC to Philadelphia was interesting. We passed through cities like Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware. I never tire of gawking at train stations and seeing the often older architecture of houses that are near the train tracks.
Our daughter and her fiancée met us at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, and guided us to the adjacent SEPTA station so we could hop onto a local train to get to our AirBnB. We had a little apartment that looked like it used to be a storefront, fluorescent tube lighting and all, that was conveniently right next to (literally right next to) the SEPTA elevated train tracks. The host had thoughtfully provided ear plugs with the apartment, for which I was grateful. The good thing about our place, besides being within walking distance of our daughter’s new digs, was that it was a street-level walk-up, making it easy to roll our bikes inside. I was most glad we wouldn’t need to heave the bikes up a skinny staircase.
Our visit to Philly included time to do some exploring by bike with our daughter and her fiancée who had just moved there. They weren’t feeling ready to bike on all the city streets, but were interested in the bike path along the Schuylkill River. So we took SEPTA to get us closer to the Philadelphia Art Museum, where we were able to rent some Indego bikes. We rode north a few miles and back, got some ice cream treats, and then walked to Dilworth Park. We switched to SEPTA for the rest of our transportation needs, up until realizing, after dinner, that I didn’t have my SEPTA card with me. But I knew we still had time left on our 24-hour Indego rental, so El Cochinito and I decided to bike back to our AirBnb that night. Ah, but we were able to get some e-bikes at the Indego station, so then we decided to extend the ride and do a little more urban exploration. We rode through the Sharswood area (no, I’d never heard of that), and saw an interesting mix of older, modest buildings, and some quite new developments, including one that looked like a Virgin Atlantic version of an apartment building, complete with neon glow.
We finished off our time in Philly by visiting Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first whoopie pie, after which we did more walking, with some brief exploration of Independence Hall and Penn’s Landing. We did get on our bikes a bit that day, riding them over to a nearby bike shop to make sure we had reassembled our bikes correctly and to purchase some CO2 cartridges. We then continued riding to make sure the bikes felt right, and it was an interesting part of Philly we ended up exploring. There were moments when I have to admit I felt a little unsafe on my Bianchi as we passed through some rather desperate-looking neighborhoods. But we made our way right back to Fishtown and our AirBnb by following under the elevated train.
And the Adventure Begins: Philly to Long Valley, NJ
Bright and early on a Sunday morning, we packed up our panniers, rolled by our daughter’s place for goodbye hugs, and began our tour. We got an early start, as we knew we had 80 miles ahead of us, and we didn’t want to be rushed or worried about getting to our Bed & Breakfast in Long Valley too late to be able to enjoy it. As we worked our way out of town, a Dunkin’ Donuts offered just what we needed: breakfast sandwiches and coffee! We dined al fresco in an adjacent parking lot to get some social distance from the peculiar guy hanging out in front of the donut shop, and soon we were well-nourished and ready to roll. As we headed northeast out of Philadelphia, El Cochinito let me know that he had a surprise in store for me. I was filled with curiosity: would it be a funky old cemetery? A famous person’s house? A historical site? Some weird public art? I kept looking around me for clues.
It was fun seeing the varying neighborhoods as we got farther out. Two-story row houses are the norm throughout this area, but the style shifted to more porches; places that made me think of classic blue collar families, like the one depicted in All In the Family back in the 70’s. Then it shifted to a more industrial setting. Then I saw my surprise: Four Seasons Total Landscaping! The iconic “Four Seasons” where Rudy Giuliani held his rather infamous post-election press conference (which, by the way, has its own Wikipedia entry). It was a delight, indeed. The green awning over the door, the parking lot where the press conference was held that is so recognizable from the TV coverage, and, yes, the adult bookstore right next to it.
We rode alongside the Delaware River, taking our first little inadvertent detour when I saw a sign for the Delaware River Trail, only to realize I was following it into a park in the wrong direction. We doubled back to see that all we needed to do was continue straight from where we’d been in order to follow the Trail in the correct direction. It didn’t go for long anyway, but, oh well. Our next detour was entirely intentional: we turned left at Tullytown to explore the historic suburb of Levittown. The planned community of look-alike homes and curving streets was built in the 1950’s to provide suburban homes for the blue collar workers of the Delaware Valley, particularly as US Steel was opening a new division in the region. We saw a lot of white picket fences.
We continued northeast, delighted to hop onto the D&L Towpath / Delaware Canal Trail, which was beautiful. I was downright giddy. The earth had a reddish hue, the canal was lined with wildflowers, and the trail was enveloped by lush greenery. I noticed my new wider gravel tires felt a little mushy on this trail of crushed stone and dirt. Was that normal for this type of tire, or did I have a flat? I stopped to check, and sure enough, I had my first flat. The tire wasn’t completely flat, so I tried to see if I could pump more air back in, and keep pumping to the max, and see how much farther that would get me. I suppose I was hoping to make it to the end of the trail and find a bike shop to help me get it right. Alas, after stopping to pump more air into it a few times, I accepted that we would just have to fix the tire right there along the trail. El Cochinito did the dirty work for me, and we continued on our way. We were planning to turn right from the trail at a road that would take us over the Lower Trenton Bridge, but when we got to it, there was just a very steep staircase up to the street, and no way to continue on the trail. Our first google maps fail of the trip. We backtracked a short way to a parking lot we’d seen for a motel, and did a little wandering. Another cyclist helped us find our way to the bridge, and that brought us to an exciting moment: crossing the Delaware! We later realized that Washington’s army had crossed the Delaware much farther north, and then approached Trenton taking a longer journey southward from there. Nevertheless, after an awkward realization that we had to cross over to a pedestrian access on the far side of the bridge, we managed to complete our crossing of the Delaware, heading in to Trenton, where we stopped at the Battle Monument, and I learned a thing or two about the significance of the Battle of Trenton in the Revolutionary War. (You learn some things when your spouse is a history buff, whose graduate studies focused on the American Revolution.)
We continued on toward Princeton, and took our next little side journey at the Princeton Battleground, where we just so happened upon a tour. We were able to listen in as a tour guide explained the critical days between December 26, 1776, and January 3, 1777, culminating in the Battle of Princeton. After a fascinating history lesson, we decided to skip our planned foray into the town of Princeton, and continue on our way north. Good thing we moved on when we did, as a couple more flat tires, this time on El Cochinito’s bike, meant we were falling a little behind schedule, not that we were on a strict schedule, but, hey, the second flat left us realizing we were out of inner tubes, and that was a problem. Luckily, El Cochinito found, through the wonders of Google, a bike shop not too far away, in Hopewell. We decided I would ride on ahead to the bike shop to get ahold of some inner tubes, and El Cochinito would start walking and also see if he could get an Uber to take him and his bike to the shop. If not, I could ride back to him with the inner tubes.
The bike shop, Sourland Cycles, was a godsend! The owner, upon hearing of our predicament, offered to hop in his car and go retrieve El Cochinito and his bike. First, he was kind enough to top off the air in my tires, and Mike confirmed my suspicion that we were riding on underinflated tires. My tires were actually even lower than I suspected, and very much in need of proper inflation. Mike pointed out that the frequent flats were a direct result of riding on the underinflated tires, especially when carrying the added weight of our panniers — likely the reason we were getting our flats in the rear tire. I browsed the store, used the restroom, and filled my water bottles while Mike went off to find El Cochinito. That was particularly good, since by the time I called El Cochinito to let him know help was on the way, he had just concluded that it was not going to be possible to put his bike into the Uber that had come to pick him up. The alternate rescue was successful, our bikes were put into good working order, and we stocked up on extra inner tubes and a few other just-in-case items before getting back on the road.
We revised our navigation to take the most direct route from Hopewell to Long Valley, our target destination for that first night. Of course, the only way to get into a valley is to go up and over whatever hills line it, right? So we were already more than 80 miles into our day’s ride when we got to the hill climbing part. That was not easy, but we did it, and we were very glad, no downright excited, when we finally arrived at the Neighbor House Bed & Breakfast in Long Valley, New Jersey! It ended up being a 91-mile day, about 13 miles longer than the original plan, and a total of 3,558′ elevation gain. Our hosts, Iris and Rafi, were most gracious, and brought us a pitcher of ice water to enjoy on their back porch while we savored some rest and recovery. We were much too tired to go out to dinner that night, and so ordered pizza for delivery. We thoroughly enjoyed that dinner!
Sixty is the New Sexy: Long Valley, NJ to Unionville, NY
The next morning, I woke up a year older, and entered a new decade: 60. This brought up memories of the summer I was turning 50, when my goal was to get back into good enough cycling shape to be able to ride up Latigo Canyon (a favorite ride of mine that is a delight when I’m in shape, and a bummer when I’m not) by my birthday. Here I am, a decade later, and I’m tackling so much more. That feels good.
We enjoyed a delicious breakfast that included hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit, and said our good byes to Iris and Rafi. Iris had given us some tips about how to access the Columbia Trail from a driveway just across the road, rather than taking the longer way per Google maps. It was a beautiful morning, and I was excited about getting onto another bike trail, but the thrill went chill real fast. The Columbia Trail, at this segment at least, is a surface of big, loose rocks, much more suitable for a mountain bike than a road bike. El Cochinito was NOT happy, especially after all the flat tire trouble we’d been through the day before. I started getting nervous that this did not bode well for the rest of our journey. I began developing a steaming case of anger in my head, directed at our local bike shop guy back home who had convinced El Cochinito he could adapt his skinny-tired-aluminum-frame road bike for bike touring on trails. As soon as we got to an intersection with a road, we got off the trail and switched to Old Route 24. I was grumpy about being on the road instead of a trail, and struggled with thoughts running in my mind like: “What if the next segment of the trail was better and less rocky? or more beautiful?” “I was so excited to be riding trails on this trip, and now we have to ride on the shoulder and hope the drivers are nice. Is this what it will be like on all the trails?” “Why didn’t El Cochinito take my suggestion to get a proper touring bike for this trip?” Not a great state of mind to be in on the 2nd day of biking with my partner! But I knew the simple reality is that the trail was really rough, regardless of what kind of bike or tires we had, and it simply didn’t make sense to stay on it. No sense grumbling over what might have been anyway. Not that I was so quick to stop grumbling.
Soon enough, we got to the turn off for Bartley Road, where we would have left the Columbia Trail by the originally planned route, and the roads were fine, and we were fine. I was able to snap out of my silly little funk and embrace the beauty that surrounded us. The valley was lush and verdant, and we knew at some point soon we would need to confront the inevitable landscape feature essential to getting out of a valley: some kind of steep-arse hill. We turned off Bartley Road, and quickly took a second turn onto Tinc Road. Just like that, it was time to get down into low gear. Make that the lowest possible gear. Thankfully, the Volpe offers very low gearing, without which, I probably couldn’t have done that climb. It was hard, I mean really hard. Looking back now at the elevation profile on Strava, I see that the grade at the beginning of that climb was 18.6%. It was a little curvy-windy, and I dreaded the thought of some car trying to come down this narrow, winding road toward us while we were struggling our way up. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I also worried that I might reach a point of not moving forward enough to keep from tipping over. I considered getting off the bike and walking the rest of the hill, but dismissed the thought as it would likely be even harder to walk my loaded bike up that steep hill, especially wearing cleats. Plus, it was hard to tell how much longer the uphill would continue, and if I stopped riding, it would be that much harder to start up again on such a steep incline. I pedaled on.
We reached a slight leveling off point and took a rest at the entrance to someone’s driveway. Sweat came gushing down my face. It took me awhile to catch my breath and mop up the sweat. We guzzled some water, slurped energy gels, and collected our strength to finish off the hill. The rest of the climb wasn’t quite as hard, and once I realized I’d made it to the top, I stopped again to savor my triumph and snap a selfie. Another gushing stream of sweat rolled down my face, but I was exhilarated. THIS is what sixty looks like!
We had a glorious ride the rest of the way. We rode the Sussex Branch Trail, which treated us with a lake visible through the trees to our left, a nice crushed gravel surface that was great for riding on, and a bright green assortment of shrubs and trees lining our path. Eventually, we had to leave the trail to head north on Ross Corner Sussex Road, which had a decent shoulder. It was deceptively smooth, however, and at some point El Cochinito hit an unexpected something while we were traveling at a good clip. Shortly thereafter, he realized he had another flat tire. At least by now, he had gotten real efficient at changing a tire, plus we were finally equipped with the know-how to use a CO2 cartridge to get a proper inflation. Soon we were back on the road and continued to enjoy decent pavement, right up until we crossed the state line and entered New York. What a night and day difference in road quality! Suddenly we were navigating potholes, cracks, and bumps in the road.
Not far over the state line, we rolled into Unionville, our destination for the night. It has a cute little main street, where we noticed the Wit’s End Tavern before turning up (oh, yes, UP!) towards our AirBnb. Our host for the night, together with her young daughter and her daughter’s friend, greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm, and lots of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” greetings directed at me (I guess a little birdie told them), and a tour of their lovely historic home. There was even a bottle of wine waiting for us in our room. After showering up, El Cochinito and I walked back into town and enjoyed a birthday dinner of barbecue ribs, fries, and beer. We returned to our room and tried to enjoy the wine that awaited us, but we could only handle so much alcohol in one night. Normally, I would just save it for another day, but when you’re on a bike tour, you have to be selective about what is worth adding weight to the bike. A half (or maybe a little more) of a bottle of wine is not worth carrying along!
Day 2 of our 8 days of biking took us 51 miles and 2,462′ of elevation gain. Good that it was a little shorter today, as our tushies were feeling it. So glad we brought along the Bag Balm.
We had been so worried we might have underestimated the challenge of biking in the heat and humidity that would be typical for August in the Northeast. The forecast for this particular day included a heat advisory starting in the late morning, and in the area where we were headed. We decided to get an early start and seek out breakfast later.
That next morning, as we left Unionville, we were graced with a soft cloud cover as we rolled through farmland on gently rolling terrain. It was such a gorgeous day, and so far, so cool. One of the farmers whose home we passed must be a cyclist, or at least a supporter of cyclists. When we saw their silo, we absolutely had to stop and snap a photo. That blissful roll through farmland came to an abrupt end when we next had to manage a tense three-mile stretch on US6-E. We rode the narrow shoulder, alongside a couple of lanes of fast-moving traffic that emanated that familiar tension of impatient drivers in no mood for giving ample space to cyclists. It was stressful and miserable, but thankfully it didn’t last forever, or even for too terribly long, and despite feeling quite unsafe, we managed it without incident. Best of all, it was followed by a tranquil mile or two on the lovely Orange Heritage Trail, a freshly paved, forest-lined trail that took us into the town of Goshen. There we headed for Joe Fix Its, a bike shop, where we stocked up on CO2 cartridges and a few extra inner tubes for good measure. Conveniently, right next door was a cafe, just when we were feeling ready for a hearty meal. Howell’s Cafe has outside tables, allowing us to sit right by our bikes, and enjoy the beautiful architecture of this quaint town. As we rolled on through Goshen, we got more architectural eye candy, a feature that puts Goshen on my list of favorite towns to bike through.
We later got to ride some more nice trails. First up was the intermittent Shawangunk, Walden, and Wallkill Trail. Some segments of this trail are quite civilized, with pavement, benches, and good signage. A few spots were a little more adventurous. The beauty didn’t let up throughout. The best part of the day, however, was the 15-mile stretch on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which forms part of the Empire State Trail that covers 750 miles running the length and width of New York. We took a rest stop in New Paltz, which has a colorful and quaint pedestrian zone of shops and eateries.
The trail continues through some gorgeous scenery and several beautiful bridges, and these visual treats only got better the farther north we rode it. The most spectacular was the Rosendale Trestle, a 940′ former railroad bridge, first built in 1870, that runs 150′ above Rondout Creek. I would gladly go back and ride this trail again.
Following our rail trail thrills, we had another 10 miles of rolling hills before we got to Olivebridge, where we had booked a small fishing cottage for the night. There isn’t a whole lot of commercial activity in Olivebridge. We saw a post office, and not much else. After our 67 miles of riding, we were ready for a good dinner, but discovered there were no stores or restaurants of any kind that were open in the area. We certainly did not feel like biking another 30 miles round trip to get dinner. Oops, now what? We searched the kitchen of our little cottage. There wasn’t much in the cupboards or the refrigerator, but we scored when we looked in the freezer: a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a half a bag of curly fries, some sliced pineapple, and a little bit of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of a pint container of Ben & Jerry’s. El Cochinito found some garlic salt to season the chicken breasts that he fried up in a skillet, while I put the curly fries in the oven. Before long, dinner was served. Perhaps it would have been nice to have the rest of that bottle of wine with us from the night before, but we were just grateful we had managed to pull together a meal. I hate to think what we would have done had it not been for those freezer finds. There may have been some reference to the Donner party during our conversation that evening.
What’s a Few Extra Miles: Olivebridge to West Fulton
We split our remaining Cliff bar for a quick breakfast and got a bright and early start on another beautiful morning. We knew we were near a big butterfly-shaped lake, so the first order of business was to check out that expanse of water. Olivebridge borders the southern shore of the Ashokan Reservoir, below the lower left wing of the butterfly. This puts it at the opposite side of the reservoir from Woodstock, New York, a place of which you may have heard, positioned a tad north of the upper right butterfly wing. We had initially considered routing our trip through Woodstock, but the accommodations in that area were quite pricey. Now we know that, perhaps one feature that justifies the extra cost of accommodations in that northeastern side of the reservoir is availability of restaurants and markets, but we don’t really know.
Shortly into our ride, we veered right to explore a bridge that angles along the edge of that butterfly’s lower wing toward the middle of the reservoir. It was a tranquil morning. Scattered clouds reflected off the glassy surface of the lake. Eventually the bridge crossed well above a creek passing through a crack in the middle of a densely packed forest. We took a few minutes to savor the magic of that moment, the spiritual power of the stillness.
Our route began by tracing the left wing of the butterfly. Once we hit the northwestern wing’s tip, we turned southeast for a bit on NY-28, in search of the Bread Alone Bakery so we could get some real food for breakfast. We passed the Boiceville Inn, which didn’t appear to be open, a construction site, and then came upon Fabulous Furniture and their funky roadside display of flying saucers, rockets, and other attention-grabbing sculptures. As the detour dragged on, it became apparent we needed to double-check the google maps. Sure enough, we had flown right past the Bread Alone Bakery — it was hidden in the middle of that construction site. It turns out to be a very popular spot. The parking lot was busy, the line to place an order was steady, and the coffee and baked goods were well worth the detour.
That turned out to be just the first in a series of google maps anomalies and unintended side trips for our day. But we were riding through the Catskills, and the scenery was non-stop luscious. Pretty wildflowers lined the shoulder of NY-28. Dense forests provided a dark green backdrop for the wildflowers and tall grasses. More dark green rose up over mountains all around us as we continued north.
The road curved right, and took us a bit southeasterly to Lexington, where we crossed a bridge over Schoharie Creek, before turning left to continue our northward journey. We were out of water at this point, and I was hopeful that the town of Lexington would have a place where we could refill our bottles. Just after crossing the bridge, we noticed a couple of women sitting on a front porch. We asked if they knew where we might be able to buy some water. They offered us their garden hose, which was wonderful, especially since Lexington didn’t seem to offer a market or other amenities as I’d hoped. We got into some extended conversation with our porch-sitting friends, and learned about the challenges that community faces when the Schoharie Creek overflows. They told of a recent flood that required evacuation, of particular concern for them, as one of them uses a wheelchair. As bad as it was for their creekside home, they said the flood pretty much wiped out the town of Prattsville, farther up the road.
After filling our water bottles and learning about the local communities, we got back on our bikes and continued north. As we approached Prattsville, we could see a number of homes and buildings that looked as we’d been told–likely too damaged to be saved. The town also turned out to be a good place to get lunch, and I liked the idea of supporting this community that has been through an exceptionally rough year. The folks at the Prattsville Diner were friendly, and the food hit the spot.
The gorgeous scenery continued. Soon the Schoharie Creek widened to form the Schoharie Reservoir, and Google Maps had guided us to take a less-traveled road, 990V, along the west side of the reservoir that appeared to give us a more direct route to West Fulton, our destination. North of the reservoir, at Gilboa, the routing had us veer right onto Flat Creek Road, which fed us some hills. We then turned onto Valenti, which fed us some more hills. This led us to Power Access Road, the name of which was our first big clue. El Cochinito had raised a concern about the wisdom of a route that required using a road with such a name, but by the time we were having that conversation, we were already at the turn off to Valenti, half way into that hilly commitment. I couldn’t resist giving it a try, as this route seemed to take us on less busy roads.
Alas, at the junction with Power Access Road, we encountered a large, high-security gate, where we picked up a telephone, hoping against hope that someone on the other end of the line might mercifully let us through, or at least guide us to an alternate route. Unfortunately, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no way through, no matter that we were on bikes and needing to get through to NY-30. We proceeded to re-trace Valenti Road and Flat Creek Road, hills and all, back to 990V, which unfortunately dipped back south a bit before connecting us with NY-30. I know El Cochinito loves me because he never once said, “I told you so.”
The ride up NY-30 was okay. Sure there was some traffic, but not too bad really. We encountered some light sprinkles that never quite turned into full-on rain. We then turned off onto Bear Ladder Road, which was pretty, lined with dense, dark greenery, and featured a series of rises, like a compound hill. By this time, my knees were really feeling the Catskills. I wasn’t sure I could manage any more hills. I began to worry that I was doing some damage to my knees that could prevent me from being able to keep biking — an unacceptable possibility. I was glad to know we would be taking a couple of rest days in West Fulton, hoping that the rest would be enough to restore my knees.
Bear Ladder Road was a 5.5 mile stretch, by the end of which we were damp with the mist of a light rain. I was excited, knowing we were almost to our destination. According to Google Maps, we needed to turn left at the T intersection onto West Fulton Road, and our destination would be on our right in 0.5 miles! But as soon as we looked left, we saw the steepest hill of the day. Okay, not a hill, really, more like a WALL. If only that white house at the intersection with Bear Ladder Road was the Waterfall House we were seeking. But, recognizing there was no point in entertaining such fantasies, I mustered up my courage, dropped into my lowest gear, and reminded myself that, after this one last hill, we would be done biking for the next few days. We powered up that horrendous hill, searching for the address we had for the Waterfall House. But there were no houses and no driveways or even mailboxes on the right, none at all. Finally, El Cochinito stopped a pick up truck that was driving by, and asked the driver if he could help us find the Waterfall House. He kindly informed us that it was that white house at the bottom of the hill! Once we dropped back down the hill to have a good look at that white house we’d passed, it was obvious from the objects sitting out on the porch that this was the place where our friend Lazaro lives.
So, that made two Google Maps fails in one day. Three, if you count our overshooting past the Bread Alone Bakery that morning. With that, our planned 60-mile, 2600’ day became a 70-mile, 4600’ day. Today’s tally: 0 flats; Roadkill: 1 beaver and 1 porcupine.
Rest Days in the Catskills
The whole reason we routed our trip through the Catskills was to work in a visit to El Cochinito’s brother from another mother, Lazaro, who had moved to West Fulton this past year. The two met back in 2013, on El Cochinito’s first trip to Cuba, when he was taken by Lazaro’s artistic creations: his salsitas, formed from string, paste, and the official newspaper of the Cuban government, and which come to life as delightful creatures with big, mouse-like ears, pointy noses that curve upward, and extended arms that exude joy. Since then, we have visited Lazaro in Havana, and he has visited us in Los Angeles, including a stay of a few months just before the pandemic shut everything down. It was great to see him again, meet his boss and the pets of the house, get some laundry done, and visit the adjacent waterfall. The Waterfall House is an historic treasure that served as a Bed & Breakfast for many years, and has a magical quality to it. Part of its magic comes from its furry inhabitants: a fun dog and two cats, one of whom seems to be a dog living in a cat’s body.
The highlight of our stay was a trip to nearby Cobleskill, where the Jeff Tufano gallery was exhibiting some of Lazaro’s work. It was a delight to see his work on display there, and then to walk the cute main street of Cobleskill. On our way back to West Fulton, we stopped at the Breakabeen General Store — a real general store, as in very small, yet carries everything you need. We even filled the car’s gas tank at an old timey (pre-digital era) gas pump right outside the store. Yes, these things are thrilling after living in Los Angeles for the last 25 years.
There was some heavy rain during our two days of rest in West Fulton. The afternoon before we were to get back on the road, I gave the bikes (that had spent the last couple of days on the porch) a look-over, wiped down the grime, topped up the tire pressure, and made sure our steeds were in good working order. El Cochinito’s chain had gotten a bit rusty, so I cleaned that up a bit and applied some Tri-Flow. It felt good to acknowledge, through time with the bikes, where we’d been and where we had yet to go.
Onward to the Erie Canal Trail: West Fulton to Utica
We woke to a gorgeous morning. I was struck by the beautiful puffs of steam rising over the hills in the distance as we rolled north out of West Fulton. We’d had a choice between a longer route and a couple of shorter-but-hillier options. We chose the longer route, taking route 30A through Middleburgh, Schoharie, and Sloansville. That was an excellent choice! We rolled along, up and down gentle grades. After Sloansville, we curved onto Route 162, which angled us northwest toward the Mohawk River near the town of Spraker. Just before Canajoharie, we got onto the Erie Canal Trail. That was exciting, as we knew this was a relatively flat trail that would take us all the way to Rochester. My knees were relieved to know that we were done with hardcore hills. We stopped for a yummy breakfast in Canajoharie.
The trail was delightful and peaceful. We continued along the Mohawk River. At times the trail veered through parklands, and led us past the home of General Herkimer, where we learned a wee bit about the Battle of Oriskany, another tidbit of Revolutionary War history.
We rode through Ilion, where we encountered some other cyclists riding the Erie Canalway in the opposite direction. At Ilion, there is a substantial park area and a Marina with facilities, including restrooms and water. While stopped there, we met two enthusiastic bikepackers, Mohammed, who had started in Niagra Falls and was riding the Erie Canal Trail all the way to Albany, and Tekken, who had started his journey in Astoria, Oregon, and was riding all the way across the country, self-contained. We continue to follow each other on Instagram. We watched some boats pass through the locks, including one notable fancy boat with four engines across its stern heading westward, “Destination Blue”. We watched Destination Blue rise as water filled the lock and a woman made sure the boat stayed clear of the wall we were looking over. We chatted a bit with her, and then watched Destination Blue move on when the lock opened up on the west end.
At Frankfort, the Trail crosses over to the north side of the Mohawk River, and riders have to take the shoulder of NY-5. That last part of the ride, well, it sucked. The shoulder really wasn’t adequate, the traffic was moving fast alongside us, and it was quite unpleasant the rest of the way to Utica. We did enjoy a brief stretch “drafting” behind an Amish horse-drawn carriage, where we felt safer for awhile. It was a short-lived thrill, but we made the most of it.
At the end of our 80-mile day, we rolled in to the historic Pratt Smith House Bed & Breakfast. We arranged for a delivery of burgers and fries from Five Guys, and called it a day. Today’s tally: Dunkin Donuts: 1; flats: 0; Roadkill: 1 bird, 2 frogs, 2 unrecognizable mammals; Elevation gain: 2,055’
All Roads Lead to Rome: Utica to Syracuse
We had less miles and no hills in our route today, so we took it at a leisurely pace. We wandered a bit through downtown Utica, just to check it out. I hadn’t known before this day that Utica has its own replica of the Liberty Bell, cracked and all, on display in downtown. This little detour put us past the turn off for the designated bike trail along the water, but we enjoyed seeing the various industrial and residential neighborhoods as we headed west out of town on city streets. We rode through Yorkville, then Whitesboro, and Oriskany (as in, the battle site). We eventually got back onto a trail, and headed into Rome. Not that it was glamorous in any way. It was more like being on a trail, and then riding through a suburban stretch of strip malls and ridiculously wide roads. Then, at some point, we needed to turn left off of the over-wide, multi-lane road to get back onto the trail. A strange left turn, with no assistance from a traffic light or clear signage.
Later we met more trail riders at another of the locks along the canal. It was fun to meet people, find out where they’re from, and hear that we weren’t the only ones wondering why there weren’t more places along the trail to get water. One couple we talked to lives in Utica, and does a different part of the trail here and there, scoping it out for a future trip in which they plan to do the whole Erie Canal Trail from end to end.
We took a slight detour south from the trail to check out Oneida. It’s a quaint little town, and we found a cool place to stop for lunch and beer, called Pop-A-Top. We picked it mostly because they have an enclosed patio, which provided a perfect spot to park our bikes. It was also a colorful and festive patio, and we had it to ourselves. Then we came to realize that the regulars hanging out at the bar inside, as well as the woman tending bar, were delightful people who wanted to ask about our bike trip, and made us feel quite at home, despite our spandex and cleats. One gentleman came out to the patio to visit with us some more, and even bought El Cochinito a second beer.
After that thoroughly leisurely and enjoyable lunch break, we returned to the trail, and rolled on next through Canastota. Like in many of the towns we rode through on this trip, we saw LOTS of American flags on display, both on residences and lining the main streets through a town’s central business district. It felt like the 4th of July everywhere we went. Another interesting find along the route from Oneida to Canastota: the largest greenhouse imaginable, or maybe even larger than one could imagine. A google search reveals that the place is Green Empire Farms, a giant hydroponic farm.
We enjoyed the varying terrain and trail surfaces we encountered along the way. Spinning my pedals for all these hours gave me lots of time to let my mind wander. I know some folks like to chat while riding together, and I don’t mind that, but my primary tendency is to get lost in the meditative state induced by the rhythm of the pedal stroke. My thoughts can go just about anywhere while I’m riding. I might try to imagine the day ahead, or what it will be like to reach our destination and see the faces of our kids again after such a long gap. Sometimes I look back on all that has transpired in the previous year or two. Just two years earlier, El Cochinito and I had gone through the most challenging strain on our relationship, one that nearly broke us. One of the things that helped us as we found our way back to each other was biking together. And look where that led us! Sometimes I reflect on how amazing it is that I have a riding buddy to do this kind of trip with me, and that we can do this without getting on each other’s nerves. At times, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to do this trip. It’s incredible how all that needed to line up and fall into place for this trip did just that.
Eventually, we came across a trail side repair stand that had a pump, enabling us to top off the air in our tires. That pumped up our confidence as well as our tires. In the late afternoon, we rolled into Syracuse where our AirBnb host graciously offered use of his washer and dryer, and guided us toward a nearby street with places to get dinner. It was nice to be able to walk to dinner, and to get some clean clothes again. We were staying in a nice neighborhood near Syracuse University, and took delight in the way the medians through the center of Meadowbrook Drive are not only beautifully landscaped with flower gardens at each intersection, but also feature odd sculptures, like one of a basketball with a big “S” on it. Another had a tower of colorful bird houses.
Today’s tally: 66 miles; no roadkill; no flats; 1 Dunkin’ Donuts.
Charm, Gardens, History: Syracuse to Canandaigua
We swung by Recess Coffee, a place we’d spotted when walking back from dinner the night before, to get our morning coffee and a bite to eat. From there, we decided not to head north through town in order to get to the Erie Canal Trail, but instead to just take the most direct route west out of town. We were pleased with that decision, as we rolled through some older, industrial areas, and through some less affluent residential areas. I loved gawking at the changing architecture and neighborhoods along the way.
Somewhere between Fairmount and Camillus, we got back on the Erie Canal Trail. The trail is especially beautiful in this area. Camillus wins for the most picturesque stretch of trail, with its bridges and boathouses. We passed several areas where flower gardens were being actively cultivated along the trail. Thanks to some large murals in Jordan, we learned a bit of the history of the canal in tis area, and why within 10 years of its completion it was obsolete. The city of Jordan has an impressive aqueduct built in the 1840s as part of the Enlarged Erie Canal that was in use until 1917. It is now a park, with grass covering the surface of the aqueduct, punctuated by stone arches. We continued along the Erie Canalway through Weedsport and Port Byron until the trail started to veer north, whereas we wanted to continue west and slightly southward into the finger lakes region.
We hopped off the canal trail and rode some rolling hills, past farm after farm, enjoying an easy spin for the remaining 40 miles to our destination for this second to last day. We stopped for that night in Canandaigua, a very charming town that’s close enough to Rochester, we invited the kids to come out and join us for dinner. First we hung out in the back yard of our Airbnb to visit a bit. There aren’t words for how good it feels to see and hug your kids after such a long time apart. It was a Monday night, and finding a restaurant that was open wasn’t easy. On our third try, we got lucky, as the Bee Hive Brew Pub was open, and we were able to get a table on the patio. Turned out to be just the ticket.
We could have taken a direct route from Canandaigua to Rochester, and finished off the tour in just 27 miles. But that’s just not how we roll. For one thing, it would have meant no more riding the Erie Canal Trail. For another, 27 miles would be over in a little more than two hours. First and foremost on my mind that morning was realizing that we had gone out of our way to venture into the finger lakes region, and yet we hadn’t seen any of the lakes. People travel to Canandaigua to experience the big, beautiful lake, so we were not going to just leave town without seeing the lake! I looked at maps for a route that could have us biking alongside the lake, but that just wasn’t practical. We would have to travel pretty far south to get to a park or something to “see”. We decided to just ride by the north end of the lake so we could have a look and then be on our way. It’s an astonishing lake; you can’t see from the north end to the south. It was a cool morning, and once we’d had our look at the lake, and felt the wind blowing around, we were ready to get on with our day.
Canandaigua features a lot of gorgeous old homes that provide pleasant eye candy for the ride through town. I routed us by the famed Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion, hoping we could at least ride through the gardens, but shortly after we rode past the signs announcing that the place was closed, we saw folks zipping around in a golf cart, looking like they’d be ready to kick us off the property. We gave the place a cursory look, much like we gave to the lake, and got back on our way. No harm in saving something for our next visit.
Soon we were rolling on country roads again. By far this was our easiest day. We began with a fast, beautiful 13 mile spin through farmland heading north out of Canandaigua to Palmyra, where we stopped for a hearty meal at the Yellow Mills Diner. Then it was time to get back on the Erie Canal Trail. But first, there was a bridge that begged to be appreciated. El Cochinito had brought along his GoPro, and knowing how much I love biking over bridges, he was capturing them on video. I waited at the adjacent trailhead while he started across and got in position to ride back over the bridge. By this time, however, he realized it is a one-lane bridge, and a couple of motorized vehicles were waiting for him to finish up before taking their turn to cross. One vehicle was waiting at the north end, and another at the south end. It was a wee bit comical as the various participants in this dance tried to gesture and figure out who was going next.
Biking along the Erie Canal in this next stretch involved some exceptionally gorgeous scenery. A delightful variety of bridges, trees, and waterway alongside us. We even caught yet another sighting of Destination Blue. I gave a hearty wave and greeting, but I’m pretty sure the woman on board with whom we’d chatted at Ilion Marina a few days ago did not recognize us as familiar in the slightest.
After unbelievably great weather for each of our bike days, we finally got caught in some rain, I mean real rain this time. It was a major downpour for the last ten miles or so. It felt good, though, like a blessing as we finished up our trip. The trail got a little confusing as we got close to Rochester. Or maybe it’s not the trail, but Google Maps (I suspect both). The latter seemed to be telling us to get off the trail a bit early, at Pittsford, and take NY-31 (part of the NY State Bicycle Route 5). Looking at the map, it does appear to take one in to Rochester on a diagonal that is much more direct than continuing on the Erie Canal Trail into town, and then heading north. But NY-31 looked to be an insanely busy highway, and not the sort of road we would enjoy riding on. So we stopped to review our options. A kind gentleman asked if he could help us. We explained our confusion about whether we really should be getting on that busy street, or if we could continue on the Trail, which seemed to be hard to find at this point. He admitted he didn’t really know this area well, so he flagged down a woman in a van who apparently works for the Erie Canalway, as does he. She didn’t know how to help us either, but she sure was nice. We visited with the friendly gentleman for awhile. He gets paid to walk the trail and notice conditions, reporting back about things needing attention. Eventually, we found the resumption of the trail and decided to stay with the trail until we got to Rochester, and then head north, even if it was less direct. Along the way, we got a good soaking, and made it into Rochester thoroughly drenched.
I’m so glad we stayed on the trail for our ride into Rochester. Not just to avoid the heavy traffic on NY-31, but also because the trail experience was special. At one point, the trail had water on both sides, like we were on a long bridge over a lake. It felt magical. I wanted to record this feeling in my mind so I could call it up whenever I needed to feel this magic again. I also felt a well of emotion rising up as I reflected on our journey, how far we’d come, how lucky we had been, how fortunate we are to be able to have a vacation like this. I have long fantasized about a retirement life filled with bike adventures like this, and the success of this journey gives me confidence that my retirement dream is possible.
Particularly special to me, at this point in my life, is gratitude for being able to share this experience with El Cochinito. We have been married for almost 15 years, plus dated for a couple of years before that. Biking together was something we did often during the early years of our relationship, and along the way, that diminished to occasional bike dates (biking a few miles to see a movie or go to a restaurant) and somewhat annual bike overnights, but more and more, the bigger bike adventures had been something I did either with friends or on my own. During our separation in the midst of that major crisis in our relationship that nearly split us up two years ago, I knew he was worried about attracting new guests to join him for his next trip to Cuba, and I suggested he could find travelers to join him if he made it a bike trip. Soon he was dusting off his road bike and getting back into riding. We both did a lot of riding that year, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Then a corner was turned. Not on the bikes, but in our marriage. We made a conscious decision to scrap our old marriage and start over fresh. We each worked on ourselves and on our relationship skills. It’s an ongoing process, but much like biking, there’s no reason not to just keep going.
Two years later, El Cochinito is my best riding buddy. We just rode over 500 miles together, spent two and a half weeks in each other’s constant presence while traveling, and we managed to roll together in harmony. A few tense moments here and there, yet none of them led to conflict or resentment (okay, so maybe there was one lingering issue we had to work out after we got home, but we did it). We seem to have finally learned how not to let issues that arise between us fester and turn into stony deposits into the First Bank of Resentments. We have found a way to take a step back or take a deep breath when necessary, and turn back towards each other and keep talking until we figure it out together.
We got off the trail at Brighton Town Park in the outskirts of the Rochester area, riding a trail alongside a small lake or large pond, and soon it seemed we might be in the wrong place. Maybe it was a parking lot, but soon we found our way. Then we were on South Clinton Ave for quite a long stretch, never quite sure if it was better to be on the road or the sidewalk. It was still quite wet, and I felt like we really had to keep our eyes out for wayward motorists who might not notice the two cyclists amidst all the mistiness and gray. But then I saw the sign and, despite the rain and needing to stay well to the right and out of traffic, I just had to stop for a photo – we had officially entered Rochester!
Within a couple more miles, we rolled into the driveway of our kids’ house. We were thoroughly soaked and thoroughly exhilarated. We had made it! We were greeted with a fantastic dinner and the best company you could hope for. Finally we were getting to see where our kids have been living and meet their newest dog, Santo, in real life.
The next day was another rainy one. We returned to the finger lakes area, this time by car, and this time near Seneca Lake, where we visited Watkins Glen State Park. We gawked at the amazing waterfalls and rock formations, whose beauty is enhanced by the rain.
The following day brought better weather and we toodled around Rochester by bike. We rode along the Genesee River Trail and visited the University of Rochester campus, where we got to see the building where our oldest works. From there we ventured on to Mt. Hope Cemetery, which features some very old and some very famous graves as well as a few steep hills. After paying our respects to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, we rode through downtown to High Falls, and then our daughter-in-law led us on her secret route to the Lower Falls.
This final ride of 15 miles brought our grand total for the entire trip to 581 miles, and a total elevation gain of 20,311’ in 54 hours of riding time. Not too shabby.
It felt so fitting to end our Epic Tour de Kids biking with our kids. So glad we were able to do that in both Philly and Rochester. It warms my bike mama heart to be able to ride together as a family, and to see that each one of our kids, including the kids-in-law, is smart enough to see the genius in using bikes for both transportation and exploration. Maybe they do it because it’s cheap, maybe they do it because they know it’s one important way to slow the demise of our planet, maybe they do it because it’s an easy way to get exercise, maybe they do it because it’s often simpler and less frustrating to get around that way, maybe they do it to take in the fresh air, maybe they do it just to humor me, maybe they do it because it’s the best way to really see a city, and maybe they do it because it’s just plain fun. I like to think they see the value in all of the above.
Our final day in Rochester was spent laundering our wet and muddy clothes, cleaning up our wet and muddy bikes, and figuring out how to get our bikes disassembled and packed into boxes for the trip home. Glad we gave ourselves plenty of time for that, as figuring out just how to make it all work was rather challenging. One drawback to having had our local bike shop back home pack the bikes for the outbound trip is that we had to figure it out for ourselves now. Of course, there are youtubes aplenty to help, and we did have the tools we needed. It still seemed much more involved than what I remember from packing my bike for travel 35 years ago when I was a young’un too cheap/broke to pay for such services.
There were many amazements on this trip, but one last amazement was how our two bike boxes actually fit into the back of our son’s Honda HRV, with enough room to spare that a passenger seat remained available in the back. That meant our son was able to drive El Cochinito and me and our two bikes and our panniers to the airport. One thing (of many) we learned from this trip is that you have to figure out how to transport two people with two bike boxes to and from airports. You can’t just call a taxi or an Uber or even an airport van service for that. Believe me, I tried. On the Los Angeles side, the only way we could manage was to put the bike boxes in the back of El Cochinito’s pick up, drive over to the home of a friend who lives close to LAX, and have her drive us to and from the airport with our bikes. Thankfully, she was a good sport about having the truck at her place while we were gone and picking us up on our return.
With our hearts warm and full, our sense of adventure both sated and titillated, our bodies and our relationship strengthened, we returned home to our cats, who’d been well-cared for by a friend during our absence. Now we can start dreaming up our next bike adventure.
Yes, another challenge. I seem to love these things. Perhaps because they give me a sense of accomplishment without being too taxing. We’ve all been through enough this past year plus, so we don’t need to tackle Herculean tasks, but a little motivator can go a long way. Biking through the pandemic has definitely been a major factor in making these strange times more enjoyable. It keeps me active, it provides a safe way to be social, and it gets me out of the house and back in nature. I believe the structure of the challenge provides just the nudge I need to overcome that pandemic-induced inertia that imagines I’m just fine hanging out at home, even though I know better.
The Guiding Force behind the Errandonnee modified the rules a bit to fit the unusual circumstances this year, dubbing this the “Hyperlocal Edition”. The full details can be found here, but the upshot is to complete 12 errands in 12 consecutive days, and ride, run, and/or walk a total of 30 miles. In a special twist for this year, participants could pick the 12-day stretch, so long as it is be between April 15 and June 30. I was particularly grateful for this last bit, as I had to defer my participation until June due to a minor matter involving some fractures to my pelvis pursuant to a little unexpected contact with the pavement while biking to the office one morning in March. It has taken a couple months, but I’ve recovered sufficiently to be able to do bike rides again, so long as I stick to the flatter, lower mileage type.
Of course, not just any 12 errands will suffice. One must complete errands falling within at least 6 of the 9 categories, with no more than two qualifying rides in any one category. While that can seem intimidating, I found that several of the errands I was inclined to perform could quite soundly fit within multiple categories. Check out the 9 categories:
Discovery (See something new while you’re out and about!)
Helping Hand (e.g., helping a person, helping the environment)
You carried WHAT?!
Wild Card (Any trip that does not fall into any of the above categories.
Here is my report:
June 1st: Personal Care
I biked to my last of six physical therapy appointments that helped me recover from the fractured pelvis. This was my first experience of breaking a bone in my body, and I had no idea how much such an incident screws up various muscles. Some muscles had become super weak, and others were in spasm, either from the impact or from working overtime to compensate for the weakened muscles. I was grateful for the physical therapy, and eagerly embraced the daily exercises I was given to do at home. I’m still doing them, but I’m recovered enough that I walk and bike normally; I just have a limit to how much I can strain myself right now.
Took my bike to my local bike shop for a brake adjustment. I’d recently had new, wider tires put on my commuter. I had been thinking for several months about turning the Volpe into even more of an all-purpose adventure/gravel bike since I knew it could accommodate bigger tires, and I now have a fancy new road bike that I use for my hillier and longer distance non-touring rides. Since the aging tires that had been on the commuter might have been a factor in the unfortunate incident of March 11th, when I wiped out on a slick patch of pavement, I decided it was time to get the new tires. But the front wheel kept catching in the brake pads, and my attempts to adjust them myself were not successful, I just swung by the shop and they took care of it for me lickety split.
3, 4, & 5. June 3rd: Non-Store Errand + Helping Hand + Wild Card
As much as I love my fancy new road bike, a Bianchi Infinito, I was unable to love the gorgeous coordinating Fizik R7 Aliante saddle that came with it. It’s supposed to be a great saddle, but it just wasn’t a fit for me. I tried tilting the nose down, which usually is the ticket for me and that did help a bit, but I found myself no longer the who-needs-a-chamois rider, and I kept developing one troubling problem or another in my delicate regions, so it just had to go. After many hours spent reading saddle reviews, I decided to go with the Specialized Power Expert with MIMIC. The day it arrived, I put it on my bike and took her for a test ride.
I also wanted to mail a sweater I’d just finished knitting to my daughter-in-law. She had requested a big, ugly sweater to help her stay warm in Rochester, New York. That was last Fall, but I warned her it likely would not get done in time for this winter. I did have just the right yarn and pattern to knit up what she wanted. I managed to finish the sweater just in time for Summer! I’m counting this as my helping hand errand. She may not be needing it now, but it will be ready for her when the seasons change again.
Satisfied that the new saddle is so far so good, I was eager to try something wild. Although I have ridden my bike up to the Griffith Park Helipad many times, I hadn’t attempted that kind of climb since February, before the unfortunate incident of March 11th. I was eager to see if I could handle it. The other wild thing was that it had been a long time since I’d been to the helipad for the weekly happy hour meet up. Socializing has become a big, wild deal this year. El Cochinito and I decided this was the day to give it a go, and we did. I made it up that hill, albeit slowly, and it was nice to see my bike friends again. The ride also showed me, however, that I’m not quite ready for this. I was okay, but I felt it and knew this was just a bit too much too soon.
When a postmenopausal woman fractures her pelvis, the topic of osteoporosis gets raised. The orthopedist noted that the x-rays revealed a little less bone density than they like to see, and I was referred for a bone density scan. That scan confirmed the expected diagnosis: osteoporosis in the pelvis and spine. That led to an appointment with an endocrinologist, who then ordered some tests. That testing meant I needed to pick up a special “collection device” (I will spare you the graphic details) from a lab not too far from home, but in a neighborhood in which one would not want to leave their bike unattended. So I got out the Volpe and my best Pee Wee Herman bike lock & cable set and set out to fetch the device.
I was feeling a real hankering to start increasing my mileage a wee bit, and to ride a hill that wouldn’t be too much for my current state of recovery, but could help me build some strength. That called for an old familiar loop through Griffith Park along Crystal Springs Drive. I knew this ride would get me a total of 22+ miles and a couple of doable hills without overdoing it. This route passes by the Pony Rides, through the Wilson and Harding Golf Courses and continues past the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, the Zoo, Travel Town (a kid’s delight of old trains), and back around through some picnic areas. Since I started tracking my rides in Strava, I’ve done this loop at least 45 times. You’d think I’d seen whatever there is to see on this ride by now, and yet, on this day I had to stop and gawk at what was, for me, a first: three deer grazing on the golf course!
Now that folks around here are vaccinated, some social events are coming back. One that I missed was the biweekly coffee meetups with Women on Bike Culver City. Every other Monday (in prepandemic times), they would pick a different coffee shop and invite others to either meet at the coffee shop, or join up for a ride together. It’s a friendly, welcoming group that makes a point of supporting and encouraging women who might not be seasoned riders to venture out and get more comfortable biking around town. Although they’d had some socially distanced meet ups at parks during the pandemic, those meetups had not lined up well with my working-from-home schedule. But here was a Monday when they were back to meeting at a coffee shop (one with outdoor seating), and I was free that morning. It was a small group, but a delight to see two familiar friends and meet a new one. The downside was, it had been a long time since I’d last biked the Venice Boulevard bike lanes during morning rush hour, and that was stressful and miserable. Drivers have always been bad on that street, but they gotten worse during the pandemic: driving much too fast and passing bicyclists much too closely as we navigate the door zone bike lane.
9 & 10. June 9th: Non-Store Errand + You Carried What?
While commuting to work is not part of this year’s Errandonnee, it surely counts as a Non-Store Errand. I’m self-employed, and I’ve been paying rent for an office I haven’t been using except as a place to receive mail these last 15 months. Now that the COVID-19 case rates are down in Los Angeles, and the vaccination levels are up, I am gradually going back to the office a little more each week. The only part that worries me is that darn ramp down into the parking garage, which is where I wiped out that ill-fated morning in March. I’d biked down it a jillion times before, and I know what got me was a slick patch where oil from idling cars must have built up on the surface and had been wetted by the rain we’d had the night before. It’s not like I’m expecting that same thing to happen to me again, but I find myself anxious about how fast it feels I am going as I descend the ramp now. But I’m okay, really (or so I tell myself each time).
I had a couple of BikieGirl orders to ship out that day for two of my best customers. One reason for going to the office was because I needed a product that was not available in the stash of inventory I keep at home. Plus I knew I had a bigger shipping box at the office that would be just right for the larger order. While the mail carrier does pick up outgoing packages from the office building, I prefer to take them directly to the post office when I can, as it is more reliable. The office pick up sometimes appears to result in an extra day before the package actually is officially “accepted” into the USPS system, and that annoys me. I feel better putting the packages directly onto the “ready to ship” counter at the post office. Plus, there is a post office near by that is well-suited for rolling the bike inside, so I don’t have to fuss with locking up the bike.
So, I figured I could use my bungee net to secure the packages to my rear rack for the short ride to the post office on my way home that afternoon. Except I also needed to carry my pannier with my computer and other necessary commuter items, plus I wanted to take a six pack of soda cans home since I now use those more at home than at the office. As I went to pack it all on the bike, I realized I’d put myself in a “you-carried-what” situation. Luckily, I was able to fit the six pack into my handlebar bag (phew, as I don’t always have that bag mounted on my handlebars for regular commuting). The handlebar bag wouldn’t close with the six pack inside, but I was able to use a disposable medical mask to create a strap that would secure the lid of the handlebar bag to the mount for my smartphone.
Next I tried to stack the boxes onto my rear rack, but the bungee net wasn’t big enough to accommodate both boxes. The smaller box could almost fit into the pannier, and by snapping the handles of the pannier bag together, I was able to secure the box there. Finally, with a bit of scooching and nudging, I was able to get the bungee net to secure the larger box onto the rack. Off to the post office I went!
The “Wild Card” category is defined as any trip that does not fall into any of the other 11 categories. Well, the lawyer in me wants to argue both sides here. You see, I biked to the office on this day. Now, this year’s errandonnee does not have a commuting to work or school category like we’ve seen in years past, so that means a ride to the office qualifies for the Wild Card. On the other hand, I managed to submit a previous trip to the office just two days earlier as a “Non-Store Errand”. So how can I argue that my trip to the office does not fall into any of the other categories when I just logged a trip to the office under another category? Ah, but wait a minute: wouldn’t ANY trip that did not involve going to a store fall under the “Non-Store Errand” category? If so, then the Wild Card category would be rendered meaningless. Under the Errandonnee Rules of Statutory Construction, therefore, I proclaim it improper to construe a rule in such a manner as to render it meaningless. Besides, per Rule 9 of the Errandonnee Official Rules Blog Post, we must have fun, and I am having so much fun ruling on the rules here.
And if that doesn’t sound like a “Wild Card” ride, what about my Hot Pink Zebra Bloomers, worn under a tropical floral print dress? If that isn’t wild, what is?
Don’t laugh, but I planned this ride by opening Google Maps and typing in “public art”. I know there is public art hiding in plain sight everywhere, so I figured this might be one way to discover something worthy of a bike trip. Sure enough, at the top of my results list was a piece of public art that I did not recognize (by name or by photo) that is in a location I know I have passed by dozens of times, both in a car and on a bike. And it had an interesting story. And I had a pretty good guess that my bike friend Jennifer would be interested in exploring it with me.
“The Freedom Sculpture” or “Freedom: A Shared Dream” (2017) by Cecil Balmond is a 20,400-pound, 15-foot high by 20-foot by 9-foot sculpture of water jet-cut powder-coated stainless steel double cylinders, supported by two 15-foot diameter high-polish stainless steel gold and silver half-rings, mounted on an approx. 10-foot by 18-foot by 4-inch travertine stone platform, and has internal LED lighting at night. The sculpture is modeled on the Cyrus Cylinder, and has been referred to as one of the Best Public Art in Los Angeles. It sits in the median of Santa Monica Boulevard at the intersection with Century Park East.
Along the way, we rode the bike lane on Santa Monica Blvd as it passes through Beverly Hills, and were delighted to notice a beautiful garden of cacti and succulents. [Surprise!] We just had to stop. I was so taken with the agave in bloom that bordered the bike lane. We wandered around the garden, took lots of pictures, and marveled that we hadn’t known of this place.
We took Charleville, a favorite bike-friendly street through Beverly Hills, for the return trip, and stopped for coffee along the way. All in all, a perfect outing for the twelfth and final day of my Hyperlocal Errandonnee run.
So how did that go? “That” being my attempt to lift some spirits by nudging folks to take on a doable challenge to finish off a strange bike month, the second year in a row that our month of May was overshadowed by a pandemic. The doable challenge is described in this prior post. In short, the Challenge involves 5 different ways to incorporate an activity that lifts the spirits into a bike ride, which bike ride, of course, is enough to lift one’s spirits by itself. Sometimes, though, we need an extra nudge to get out there and ride. The 5 ways: 1. Dress up Fancy; 2. Go Social; 3. Be of Service; 4. Try something new; and 5. Bike to Beauty.
I was most excited about #1. There’s something about riding a bike in style that feels so fantabulous. To feel the breezy freedom that I always feel while riding a bike, and to do so while dressed up, especially in a skirt or dress, well, that brings on a nirvana all its own. I love also how clearly it proves that a simple bike ride does not require a pair of padded shorts and a pocketed jersey. Not every bike ride is the Tour de France (not that there’s anything wrong with the Tour de France, except for the exclusion of women). I also love the romantic imagery of a Tweed Ride, or that elegance depicted in those old timey pictures of women in full-length skirts, high collars, and bloomers flouting convention as they rode through the late 1800’s.
In the pursuit of elegance for our fancy bike ride, I invited my husband to join me for a ride to Beverly Hills. It’s just a few miles from our home, and offers over-the-top mansions and beautifully manicured gardens worth gawking at, on streets that are wide and quiet. I pulled up Google maps and started scanning for good streets and places to explore. A few key spots caught my eye, and I proceeded to plan a little loop for our tour de Beverly Hills.
It was easy to choose my outfit, as I had purchased a pair of dresses in anticipation of a local Tweed Ride a few years ago, one being my first choice dress (adorable, but I was nervous about the somewhat mermaid-style shape), and the second a backup in case the first choice dress didn’t allow enough room for pedaling. I’d assumed the backup dress could be saved for the following year’s Tweed Ride. But there hadn’t been a second Tweed Ride, so that backup dress was still waiting its turn. The bright red of that yet-to-be-worn dress, and it’s 40’s era vintage styling, meant the perfect choice of matching Bloomers was obvious: the Red Hot Aqua Dot Bloomers. I completed the look with some red earrings and a matching necklace I’d inherited from my mother, and a comfy yet cute pair of red Jambu Mary Janes. Oh, and the brightest red lipstick I could find.
We rode past the architecturally notable Beverly Hills City Hall, making our way to the Virginia Robinson Gardens. The Gardens were closed that Sunday, but it was fun to get a glimpse and see enough to know it would be worth a return trip when it’s open. From there, I wanted to check out the “Hillhaven Lodge” that Google maps indicated was just a little ways farther up Benedict Canyon, but alas, it’s one of those things on the map that isn’t really a place you can visit. Our next stop was the Spadena House, also known as the “witch house”. We rounded out the tour with a pass by the Wave House. And since I’d never before biked to these Beverly Hills sites, I decided this ride also ticked the box for #4.
Oh, did you think the Challenge required 5 separate bike rides? Ah, don’t read anything more into the rules than necessary! (Forgive me, I’m a lawyer.)
#5 was super easy, as biking to beauty can be done just about anywhere, especially if you are on the lookout for nature’s treasures and/or public art. One street I use frequently to traverse the mid-city area of Los Angeles is 6th Street, as it passes along the back side of the La Brea Tar Pits and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s the less stressful alternative to busy Wilshire Blvd to the south and hectic 3rd Street to the north (despite Google maps always suggesting 3rd Street instead — don’t do it!). I’ve ridden 6th Street so many times, it’s easy to forget to take in the treasures. One fine day, riding home after a medical appointment, I noticed lots of colorful flowers peeking through the wrought iron fencing that surrounds the La Brea Tar Pits.
In between these rides, I did work in a bonus ride, that could be stretched to fit a few categories. I rode to my favorite bike shop to get some new tires for my commuter/adventure bike. This Bianchi Volpe had come equipped with 28mm tires that served me well for the last 2+ years, but those tires had worn down quite a bit, and after a bad wipe out on slick pavement one March morning that left me with a fractured pelvis, I had decided it was time for not just new tires, but something wider and grippier. Especially now that I have a newer, fancier Bianchi for road riding, it makes sense to turn my trusty steel Volpe into a gravel bike. I figure visiting my local bike shop counts as a social experience that helps someone, and I’ve never bought 35mm tires before, so there’s 3 categories right there! But since it’s a bit of a stretch, I’m treating this as a bonus ride.
On the last day of May, I got in #2 and #3 by inviting a friend who had no quarantine buddy for the whole 15 months of pandemic restrictions out for a ride and to treat her to a goodie. Riding a bike is fun, and socializing is fun, but social riding is even better, especially with a friend who can appreciate a leisurely pace. Enjoying goodies together is all the more fun, which is what we did as we swung by California Donuts. I love this place because, in addition to good donuts, they serve from a window you can roll your bike up to — no locking up required. Having just watched The Donut King, I was eager for some local donuts, so I bought a box of 6: horchata, cinnamon crumb, M&M’s, Reese’s, chocolate glazed, and a cronut. Jennifer and I sampled a bit of the horchata donut, and I took the rest home to share with my hubby. Jennifer was more interested in a Thai Iced Coffee than a donut, so that was her treat. Over the next few days, my husband and I sampled the donuts. In my opinion, the cronut was the best.
I gave folks who opted to take the BikieGirl Bike Month Challenge until June 15th to turn in their ride reports, but so far, I’ve only seen one. Joni shared her 5 dares completed on the Club BikieGirl Facebook page: hooray for Joni! Some others indicated that they’d done a few, or had thought about it, so I’m thinking maybe we don’t have to limit this to Bike Month. If you’re still toying with the idea, well, it’s not that hard, and I will give you the summer to finish it up. We’ll leave the Challenge open through the end of August. Now, I double-dog-dare you!
My first few years participating in the Coffeeneuring challenge were heavily-planned exploits with carefully crafted themes. Last year, things had devolved into a matter of simply ticking the essentials off the list. Then, along comes 2020, a year that will go down in infamy for so many things, most notably a global pandemic that has thrown a monkey wrench into just about everything. Enter the official theme for this year’s challenge: One Good Thing. An excellent way to ground and focus us on an attitude of gratitude, key to managing during crazy times.
Since the challenge requires seven rides over seven weeks, the extent of my overall planning consisted of deciding I would come up with something each week that would qualify, including being open to whether or which coffee shop I might visit when I headed out on my bike. I let myself off the hook from past notions that involved extensive planning and placed greater value on only visiting coffee shops that were new to me, or making sure I ventured to different cities or parts of town with each ride. With all that is disrupted this year, and so much time spent at home, just getting out for a bike ride is a super important thing, and there’s no value in ruining it with pressure to push special rules.
So this blog post is my control card, a full report of my sixth year completing the Coffeeneuring challenge. It is presented here so that I can link to it for my formal submission to the Chief Coffeeneur, enabling me to claim my prize. If anyone actually reads this, well, then, bless your sweet heart. If you want to check my submission against the rules, you can find those rules here.
Beverage: Cortado for me & Cappuccino for him (with croissants)
Bike ride: My beloved, also referred to as El Cochinito, had invited some of his students to meet him at the Baldwin Hills Overlook, one of L.A.’s treasures that many overlook (pun intended). More accurately, many Angelenos haven’t heard of it. It was an easy ride, except for the one steep hill, a necessary element when one seeks to ride to a view point. I knew this outing would put us in a good position to head east on Jefferson to visit Highly Likely on our return to home, one of those cafes I want to support, as I hope they can make it though the pandemic.
Bike ride: A group of bike friends has a summer tradition of meeting once a week at the helipad in Griffith Park to watch the sun set while enjoying a beverage and the good company. This year, someone had the bright idea to shift it to Sundays after the sunsets start coming too early for weekday work schedules. This was the first such re-scheduled Helipad Happy Hour. An easy way to socialize outdoors and while maintaining social distance.
One Good Thing: We may not be able to participate in the same organized group rides and events as in the past, but we can still find ways to hang with our bike friends. The helipad provides a great space for safely distanced social interactions.
Bike ride: I have ridden up to the Griffith Park Observatory so many times, it would be impossible to count. This is my go-to ride. Most times, I ride up to the Observatory via the Crystal Springs loop to Mt. Hollywood Drive (aka Trash Truck), and sometimes I ride up Western Canyon from the Fern Dell entrance. Either way, I descend via Vermont Canyon. It’s been bugging me that I had never ascended via Vermont Canyon. It’s so fun to come down (you can hit some sweet speed on that one), that I’d assumed it must be a steep climb to go up that way. Of course, this was a deficiency I had to address: what is it really like to ride up the Vermont Canyon way? That’s what I did, and guess what? It’s not such a hard climb. Yeah, there’s a steep part, but it’s not that bad. According to Strava, there’s a 3/4 mile ascent with a grade of 7.6%. There’s a little more to it than that, but that just means you start climbing (with a lesser grade) before you get to that part. The advantage, I realized, is that by going up this stretch, instead of down, I noticed a lot more as I rode past the Greek Theater. For example, after riding past it dozens of times, I discovered a cafe that I’d never noticed before because it had always been on the opposite side of the road while I was flying downhill, with all my attention focused on the road. So that’s where I just had to get my coffee this time.
One Good Thing: Griffith Park is so amazing, there’s always more to discover. I’m so lucky to have this gem in my neighborhood.
Control No. 4: Zia Valentina, Fairfax Farmer’s Market, Los Angeles, California
Beverage: Waffleshot (an affogato in a chocolate dipped edible cup)
Bike ride: My beloved was going to teach his classes (over Zoom) from the crepe stand at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market, a place I love to visit, and it was Election Day (who can concentrate on work during this crazy election?), so I offered to meet up with him when he was done teaching, and take this opportunity to make up for having skipped a weekend of coffeeneuring. I knew there had to be a coffee shop there I hadn’t yet tried, so I did some research. That quickly led me to the discovery of Zia Valentina and their Waffleshots. It’s a shot of espresso served in an edible waffle cone in the shape of an espresso cup. I was tempted to get the hot chocolate in the edible cup, since it was already afternoon, but the affogato (espresso over ice cream) was irresistible. By the way, those dipped cones in the shape of an espresso cup can be ordered online, in case you’re eager to give it a try at home.
One Good Thing: Another treasured gem of Los Angeles is the Original Farmer’s Market, a collection of shops and restaurants that has been there since 1934. I’m so glad it’s there, and I hope these small businesses are getting enough to get them through the pandemic. I’m grateful it’s a pleasant bike ride away, even if there are no bike-friendly streets to get you there (they do have bike parking, and I just ride the sidewalks when the street traffic is too wild).
Bike ride: I reached out to a couple of bike friends I used to ride with all the time, but hadn’t seen lately, to see if they’d like to help me celebrate the election of our first female Vice President. I was curious to try a new coffee shop that was on a list of black-owned coffee shops in L.A. The Echo Park location was appealing, and leant itself to serve as the beginning or ending to a ride to Elysian Park, which I proposed to my friends. I’d mistakenly pitched Bloom & Plume to them as black-women-owned, thinking it was a great way to celebrate our black female VP-elect, only to later realize I’d confused this one, owned by a black male floral designer named Maurice Harris. So at least we can like the idea that the owner shares the new VP’s last name. We loved the place as soon as we laid eyes on it. Clearly someone with a real sense of design and color is responsible for the whole look, and I ate it up. Had to take a lot of photos here. We started out with treats and drinks here, and then meandered our way through Echo Park, alongside the Echo Park lake (but on the street because the path inside the park says “no bikes”). At the north end of the park, Lynn noted that we were close to Aimee Semple McPherson’s architecturally interesting church and, well, we just had to swing by. I enjoyed hearing Lynn’s telling of the story, as I had only had an impression that McPherson was a bit nutty and had developed a bit of a cult following and had some story involving a potentially staged death/kidnapping. Lynn described her as the founder of the Four Square Church and someone who had intentionally started her ministry in what had been a neighborhood of the poor and destitute, and who reached illiterate followers through the use of drama and theatrics. From there, we moseyed our way to Elysian Park, stopping to take in the view from Angel’s Point before riding around to the exit onto Broadway and then taking the Spring Street Bridge to Los Angeles State Historic Park, on through Chinatown and downtown L.A. on our way home.
Bike ride: I know, I just rode Elysian Park last weekend, but this time I was riding with El Cochinito, and he had a hankering to ride into Elysian Park via this hilly street near our friend’s house, and he needed to first drop something off with a colleague in downtown. Thus, it made sense to enter the park from the Chinatown/Broadway side. That appealed to me as an opportunity to explore the reverse route to what I rode last week. So off we went. But no sooner had we entered the road into the park off of Broadway when we noticed the road ahead (beyond where we would turn left to follow the usual route into the park) seemed to offer a nice view, plus there was another road veering off to the left up ahead, behind a gate. I’ve never been on that road; might that need to be explored? So we explored. I imagined it might be a back road that leads to the Buena Vista viewpoint, which I don’t believe I’ve visited. We saw a lot of trash along this little road, and a few interesting characters here and there, who seemed like they might not have a typical reason to be hanging out in the park. This was definitely not a main park road, and certainly not the road to Buena Vista I’d been thinking of. I began to think about the fact that I was riding my flashy new Celeste green Bianchi and the fact that this might make me a target for bike thieves. But we just kept on riding and no one disturbed us. And then we saw the end of the road at a fence separating us from the 110 freeway. But there was a dirt walking path that paralleled the freeway, so we walked our bikes along it. And then we saw a hole in the fence that gave us access to a pedestrian walkway that runs alongside the freeway. So we rode that and continued on. And that led to a spiral stairway. We carried our bikes down that and landed at the interchange between the 110 freeway and the 5 (that’s L.A.-speak for Interstate 5). We rode further, now on a pedestrian path on the opposite side of the 110, that took us to a trashy looking stairway that led to San Fernando Road near the roundabout that offers an access point to the L.A. River Bike Path. So we rode the river path north until we found an inviting exit point that allowed us to explore a cute residential neighborhood sandwiched between the river and Riverside Drive (an area I believe is referred to as Frogtown). We came across an intriguing lot filled with rows and rows of some kind of futuristic looking sanitation vehicles we’d never seen before. A large fleet of them —- might those be called upon in the event of a chemical spill? Inquiring minds want to know. We then continued on Riverside Drive until it led us back into Elysian Park from Stadium Way. We made our way through the park and came out on Academy Road. This is where the steep road up to our friend’s house can be found. And up we went, or so we tried. Neither of us was able to bike the entire hill. We made it a little over halfway before having to walk the rest. We circled around and dropped back into the business district of Echo Park and took a right onto Sunset Blvd. At Alvarado, I noticed the Tierra Mia coffee shop, and realized this was our perfect coffeeneuring stop. And so it was.
One Good Thing: That road that intrigues you, calls to you, leads you on a new adventure: Take it!
Control No. 7: Undergrind, Castle Heights/Beverlywood, Los Angeles, California
Beverage: Dutch (dark chocolate/milk/espresso) plus shrimp & grits
Bike ride: I reached out to Lynn and Jennifer to see if they would like to join me on a ride to rectify the tribute to our new VP-elect by visiting a black woman-owned coffee shop. Of course, they were game. We met up at the Culver City Expo Line station and rolled over to South Robertson (or “SoRo”), just a bit north of Hamilton High School. As we rolled up, my eye caught sight of a red pick up truck painted colorfully. Then we came upon a gorgeous mural on the side of the building at the corner of Robertson & Gibson. Jennifer started exclaiming that she knew this building; that this is the building our friend (another bike person) Aubrey owns, and that this is the gallery of an artist she has met. We drooled over the mural, took pictures of our bikes in front of it, and then proceeded to Undergrind. If you like chocolate with your coffee, then you must try their Dutch, which features dark chocolate and a shot of espresso plus your favorite kind of milk. It was decadent and delicious. I’d also seen from the reviews that Undergrind is known for its shrimp & grits, and I was hungry. Those were the tastiest shrimp & grits ever, and I will definitely be going back again for more. While enjoying our goodies, Jennifer called Aubrey, and by the time we’d finished eating and drinking, along came Aubrey and his wife, Melba, the owners of the building that houses their own direct mail business and also the Barbara Mendes Art Gallery. So we got a tour of the gallery, some stories about its history, a preview of some Haitian art that was about to have an opening in the adjacent gallery space when Covid-19 came along and put those plans in limbo. Then Barbara Mendes, the artist herself, showed up and we got to learn a lot more about her amazing work. Most remarkable is a giant mural she painted that depicts, with both detailed images and Hebrew script, every verse of Leviticus. After that visit, we got back on our bikes and toured the curvy streets and beautiful homes of the Beverlywood/Castle Heights neighborhood, then circled back on the Expo bike path toward the Culver City Station where we’d met up.
One Good Thing: Nothing lifts one’s spirits like stumbling across some colorful and expressive art!
And, with that, Coffeeneuring 2020 is a wrap. I hope the good folks at Coffeeneuring Central will forgive me for not using a reusable cup at most of my controls. Under COVID protocols, our local places will not fill the customer’s cup (I even remembered to bring it!), and most are using only disposable cups. As for a theme within the theme, I’d say more than one theme emerged upon reflection. Besides managing to do each ride in a different Bloomers/Nuu-muu Dress combo (I do love me some bike style), I found myself living a theme of using each coffeeneuring ride to embrace what my world offers: wonderful bike friends, a city of never-ending fascination, and delightful small businesses doing their best to endure in the face of unprecedented challenge. They are so worthy of our support.
Little tidbit: I did 6 of the 7 rides all on my gorgeous new Bianchi. Can you spot the one exception, when I rode a different bike? Extra credit if you can identify the make & model.
Obviously, there was so much more to savor about each ride than just “one good thing”. What a great way to focus on all that is good during a time when so much is not. May we hold all of it dear, remembering those who are suffering, and remind ourselves to keep doing one good thing to support someone, while also embracing one good thing we are lucky to have in our lives.
Final tidbit: here’s a photo of the interesting vehicles spotted in Frogtown. According to Google Maps, this is the location of Los Angeles Sewer Maintenance.
Last year’s bike date weekend in Ojai was so much fun, I had to plan another adventure for this President’s Day weekend. I have been drooling over posts on bike groups I see of trails all over the U.S. and beyond, making me wish I could retire now and go ride them all. Then I decided I ought to learn more about trails that are close to home. That is how I learned about the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail, an 18.5 mile trail that runs from the Laguna Hills to Rancho Santa Margarita.
The first thing I realized when I began my planning for the trip was that I had months before registered for the L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Ride, a fun and beautiful 40-mile ride I had done for my first time last February, and this year the ride was scheduled for Saturday morning of President’s Day weekend. No problem, however, as there is a 2:00 train on Saturday afternoon from Union Station to Orange County, so I could work with that. This would get us to Mission Viejo at 3:19, leaving plenty of daylight for the 7.3 mile ride to Aliso Viejo, where I had found a hotel I could book using two free nights from Hotels.com that were about to expire. I confidently booked the room at the non-refundable rate that meant I only had to pay about $30 in taxes for the two nights at a place that had pretty good reviews.
As the trip dates drew near, however, a few different factors had me wondering if this was such a great idea. We got an unusual (albeit welcome) amount of rainfall in California this Winter, reminding us that we can’t always count on great biking weather in February. Then, just a week before the big weekend, our oldest son calls to tell us that he and his girlfriend of 10 years are going to a courthouse in Chicago on the Saturday of President’s Day Weekend to tie the knot. I had to decide whether to cancel my various plans for the weekend, or settle for throwing them a big party later. Ultimately, I decided that the celebration with family and friends would be more important than the formalities of the event.
Then my beloved El Cochinito came down with a wicked chest cold, and it didn’t seem to be clearing up. The weather forecast wasn’t encouraging, either: Sunday would be a day of rain, cold temperatures and wind gusts. That’s not great biking weather, and it’s definitely not good weather for going outside when you’re fighting a cold. We decided to keep a flexible mindset and see how things played out.
Saturday morning had to leave the house by 7ish to get to Chinatown in time to pick up my bib number, drop off my pannier packed with all I’d need for the next few days with the much-appreciated bag check, and get in position for the Firecracker Ride set to begin at 8:00. El Cochinito got up shortly before I left, and let me know he was not feeling well. We agreed to check in with each other later and decide whether to go forward with the planned bike/train adventure, stay home, or consider a modified plan.
When I got downtown everything fell into place: the bib pick-up, the bag drop off, getting into place just as the ride began, and even meeting up with some friends to ride with. The ride was as fun as I’d remembered from last year. I had friends to ride with this time, and the ride through Pasadena, on to Sierra Madre, and back via Huntington Drive does not disappoint. When we stopped at one of the rest stops during the ride, I saw a text from my son with a picture from the courthouse taken as he slipped the ring on his bride’s finger. I showed it to my friends and proudly announced that I now have a daughter-in-law!
We got back to Chinatown at 12:30, leaving us enough time for the snack and beer that were included with our ride registration. I tried to text and call El Cochinito to see how he was feeling, but no reply. Perhaps he was he sleeping? Busy coughing? I figured it wasn’t a good sign, and resigned to enjoying the festival in Chinatown and hanging with friends. Then I got his text at 12:55: “I’m leaving in 5 minutes.” So, the trip was a “go” after all!
I retrieved my bike and the pannier from the valet service and rode on over to Union Station to meet El Cochinito. We bought our train tickets and headed to the platform for the southbound Orange County Line. Metrolink has a weekend fare that lets you go anywhere for $10. Since the regular fare to Mission Viejo is $12, it was still a savings for just the one-way ride. Metrolink has special bicycle cars with open bays for bike parking (and also special netted bays for surfboards) on the lower level. This train had twice as many bike bays as I’d seen on other Metrolink trains, and all the passenger seating was upstairs.
El Cochinito explained that the way he’d been feeling throughout the morning swung between absolutely miserable and quite optimistic. Ultimately, he decided he was OK enough to at least make the trip, and decide later about how much biking he would be up for. What he had not recalled from back when we first planned this trip was that we would need to ride 7.3 miles from the Mission Viejo Metrolink station to our hotel in Aliso Viejo. I had booked a hotel that is close to the Aliso Creek Trail, not close to the train station. He was not happy to hear that.
We were both happy, however, with the presence of a separated bike path right there as soon as we disembarked. We had bike path or bike lanes the entire trip. El Cochinito was noticing that his Pedego battery is not holding charge as well as it used to, so he was a little nervous about whether he had enough juice to get the whole 7.3 miles, especially on the hilly parts. It was a bit cold as well. I was feeling aware that I had already biked 48 miles earlier that day, and especially when climbing the hill to get up from the bike path into Aliso Viejo with my loaded pannier on board.
We rolled through the utterly neo-suburban landscape of super-wide multi-lane roads and look-alike office parks, and found our hotel, the Renaissance Club Sport, which fit the description we’d seen in some of the online reviews: a large fitness center with a hotel attached. The place is nice, though, and the clerk who checked us in was utterly welcoming and kind. We were given the green light to take our bikes up to our room. While most hotels allow that, not all do, and it’s always a relief to be assured on arrival that the bikes will be secure. We were quite happy with our room; nicely appointed, with plenty of space for our bikes. El Cochinito was pleasantly surprised that the hotel was such a nice one (sometimes I go for something more on the quaint and funky side). It was a good choice for one needing some convalescence.
We had no interest in going out that first night, and enjoyed some top-notch hamburgers and cocktails in the on-site restaurant, Citrus. Sunday morning, the day for which rain had been in the forecast, we woke up feeling reasonably well and aware that we had sunshine that was expected to last until about 11 or 12. That meant we had enough energy and enough time to explore the south end of the Aliso Creek Trail before the afternoon rain kicked in. We found a little donut shop at one of the nearby strip malls for breakfast, and continued on to find the trail. The Google Maps guidance for accessing the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail was rather confusing. We got to Aliso Viejo Community Park, which seemed to be near the entry point, but there were paths and sidewalks going every which way, and so we asked a local to point us in the right direction. If this confusion happens to you, just hop on any trail in the park, and it will likely lead you to the Aliso Creek Trail.
We rode a few miles on the Trail until we came to a T at a road where there didn’t seem to be any signs pointing out where the Trail resumes on the other side of the road. Turns out that we were near the entrance to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park (just turn right on that road and then you’ll see the park on the left). A park ranger was there, but bearing the disappointing news that the park’s trail was closed due to the recent heavy rains. He also pointed to El Cochinito’s Pedego and said that e-bikes aren’t allowed there any way (I believe this is no longer true, so check for updated regulations before you go, if taking an e-bike). The ranger suggested we head left instead and go to the Laguna Niguel Regional Park, just across the main road. He told us to turn right on the main road and then use the crosswalk up ahead, which would lead us to a bike trail.
We took his suggestion and hopped on the bike trail. Turned out to be a trail more suitable for a mountain bike. It was a narrow dirt path with some rather rocky bumps and not exactly flat. As the little trail started heading uphill even more, I told El Cochinito, “we’re single-tracking!” I wasn’t sure if this trail was within the capabilities of my relatively nimble Bianchi Volpe with its 28mm tires, not to mention El Cochinito’s commuter bike. I got nervous on the downhill part where it was a wee bit steep and muddy, so I walked it. Soon we found an adjacent paved road, and switched over to terra firma.
The park was a nice one. We followed the road as it wound past large grassy areas that featured picnic areas and volleyball courts. The volleyball courts looked quite beautiful, as the entire playing surface was filled with water, creating a nice, smooth pool with a net across the center, surrounded by ducks and geese accenting the rectangular pond. As we continued to follow the road, we came upon a sizable reservoir, and rode all the way around that. We then explored a road leading out of the park and used Google Maps to find a route back toward the hotel from there.
El Cochinito became intrigued by a curious Mayan-style structure we kept seeing in the distance. As we drew closer, he just had to find out what it was. It appeared to be an office building, and it was surrounded on all sides by a ginormous parking lot. The building itself sat atop a hill, and as we got closer, it seemed a bit strange. We continued on around to the front, and saw that it was the Chet Holifield Federal Building. We rode past some bollards to look at the building up close, and snapped a few photos. We then turned to leave, when a small car zoomed quickly up the front drive and came to an abrupt stop right in front of us. I was a bit frightened by the aggressive approach, and wondered what this guy’s problem was. I then realized this was a security vehicle, and out popped a rent-a-cop, who looked like a character out of a low-budget comedy.
He told us we were trespassing on government property, and asked us what we were doing there. He told us we’d been seen on camera and looked suspicious. We told him we were curious about the interesting architecture of the building and that we were just riding by. He gave a us stern scolding, and then we were on our way.
With that excitement behind us, we completed our trip back to the hotel. The weather had held out OK for us thus far, but the rains were clearly moving in. We planned an afternoon at a nearby shopping mall that offered restaurants and a movie theater. Rather than worry about where to park our bikes for the afternoon, we just walked from our hotel the 3/4 of a mile to the mall. We had lunch followed by a movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which we thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part, we’d timed that well, missing the rain while were in the movie. It was still coming down when the movie got out, so we dashed over to a nearby Panera for some coffee until the rain had stopped.
As El Cochinito’s cold was winding down, mine was getting started. We spent the evening in our room the second night as well, and had another dinner at Citrus, the on-site restaurant. We felt grateful to have landed a hotel with a good onsite restaurant for a weekend when were weren’t interested in going out for nightlife. We ate there again for a hearty breakfast the next morning, checked out of our room, and headed for the Aliso Creek Trail again, this time heading the other direction.
The trail is interesting, as it passes through a variety of communities and parks. Some stretches provide a nice, off-street bike path, with occasional stretches along a road and taking some twists and turns. Unfortunately, there are parts where it just isn’t clear where the trail resumes after ending at an intersection or street. We got fooled by riding on what seemed to be the Trail as it turned a corner in front of Laguna Hills High School. It didn’t seem right in that, shortly after that right turn, the trail turned right again, heading back in the direction we’d started. A stop to consult Google Maps led me to believe we should have gone left instead of right at that first turn by the high school. We headed back to that intersection, and looked around for signs. None were apparent, so we started to take the bike lane heading in what seemed to be the correct direction. It was one of those bike lanes alongside a super-wide, multi-lane road, and it was heading uphill, arcing to the right, and it started to feel not quite right, so we stopped again to review the maps. All I could ascertain at that point was that we were off the trail and needed to head somewhat to our left to get back to it.
Eventually, with some additional frustration, we managed to find our way back to the trail. As we followed it though one of the parks (Sheep Hills Park) along the way, we encountered another fork in the path that did not seem clearly marked. One sign pointed left and said “Aliso Creek”, so we went left. As it turns out, that path took us to the Aliso Creek, but the trail we were on came to a dead end after about a quarter mile.
I had downloaded onto my phone a map of the trail through TrailLink, but it did not provide navigational guidance. I had to keep checking back and forth between Google Maps and the TrailLink map to sort it out. That’s how I noticed that the trail does deviate from the creek for awhile. So, we turned around and went back to take the other way. Not long after that detour, we encountered a place where the trail was closed at an underpass that had been flooded. We were able to get back on the trail after patiently waiting for a chance to cross another very busy, super-wide street.
Other than those few points of confusion, the trail is a nice one. El Cochinito was feeling ready for a rest stop where he could plug in his Pedego battery, so we got off the trail to seek a place to stop. We ended up circling back a little ways on El Toro Road, trying not to get killed (we rode the sidewalk), and found a Starbucks in the Lake Forest area. After a hot beverage break there, I looked at the map to see how much of the Aliso Creek Trail remained: 6 miles. El Cochinito was not interested in continuing, preferring to save his energy for the ride back to the Irvine train station. I realized I had just enough time to finish the trail, so he stayed put and I got back on the trail. This last part turned out to be my favorite part of the trail. After a couple more residential areas and small parks, the path got wider and became a little more rural-ish, with fewer street crossings. I enjoyed riding along as the natural setting became more natural, with foothills in the background and lots of trees along the path.
I came to the end, or near the end. Again, I encountered a fork in the path where it wasn’t clear which way to go. I stayed on what seemed to be the main path, but it ended shortly thereafter at a crossing of a major road. I wondered if that was the end of the trail, or if I should have taken the other fork. I asked a mother-daughter pair I saw walking by, who’d come from that other fork in the path, if I was at the end of the trail. They told me yes (sort of), and explained that going the other way would lead to a historic building that is very interesting. I knew that was probably the way I should have gone, but if I went there, I might end up lingering too long, so I decided to save that exploration for another time, and started making my way back.
The ride back towards Lake Forest was fast and fun! The grade was in my favor this way, and before I knew it, I recognized the bridge I’d taken when first getting back on the trail after leaving Starbucks. It was getting cold and I started feeling a few rain drops. I stopped to put on my jacket and check with El Cochinito to see if we was still at the same Starbucks. We met up there, made a quick stop at a grocery store to grab some lunch (I had worked up a significant appetite by this time), and began our ride to the Irvine station, racing to beat the rain. The rain won, but at least we had an indoor waiting area to sit in while eating our lunches before the train arrived.
Not only was it cold, rainy and windy when it came time to head to the platform, but the elevator on the far side of the bridge to the platform was out of service. We were grateful we didn’t have to carry our bikes up the stairs to access the bridge, but carrying our bikes down on the other side was quite the challenge. Getting on the train was a welcome treat, and we were able to sit right next to the bike bay.
It was a trip that could have been better, but also could have been miserable. For a couple of fifty-somethings fighting colds and dodging rainstorms, we managed to make the most of our weekend. The riding, the movie, the meals, the hotel, the train ride, all worked out well, and we had a delightfully good time.
More than half way into 2018*, I find myself reflecting on how my resolution to bike more 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?
My 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
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 Errandonnee, 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.
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.
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
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-
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
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.
And Then I Bonked Again
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).
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
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.
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!
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
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.
*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.
Entering my fourth year of participation in the Coffeeneuring challenge, generously sponsored by the Coffeeneur in Chief of Chasing Mailboxes, I knew I needed to approach this round in a fresh way. The general idea is to bike to seven coffee shops in seven-ish weeks, each ride at least 2 miles, and no more than two rides can qualify per week. My first few years of it, I focused on using the challenge to explore new coffee shops I might never have tried and to explore different geographic locations. Last year, I extended that to a theme of exploring new donut shops. These were good aspects of the game, but I feared I might get into a rut with that approach, in which I had created my own little “rule” requiring new shops and differing cities (we have so many to choose from right here in the Los Angeles area).
The declared theme for this year’s challenge was “intention”, and that inspired me to ensure I approached each coffee ride with conscious intent – not simply doing something the way I had done my coffeeneuring planning in years past. I confess that I wasn’t quite sure what I meant by “intent” at the outset, and occasionally that intent was more apparent after the ride was over, but I continued to embrace it regardless. Because, like daily flossing, I just knew it was good for me. In addition, I approached each ride with the intention to make the most of whatever riding experience I had in store for me that particular day.
Part of my intention for this year’s season included a relaxing of any rules that might add to my stress (without, of course, compromising my intention to fully comply with the official rules of Coffeeneuring). My work life provides enough stress, thank you very much, and bicycling is supposed to be my stress-reliever. I thus gave myself permission to double up on my ride planning, by hitching a coffeeneuring ride onto another planned ride. In past years, most of my coffeeneuring rides were solo rides, which I do enjoy, but I have come to appreciate a special delight in social rides, and then there is an added joy to spreading the Coffeeneuring love around. I ended up with a mixture of social rides, solo rides, and solo coffeeneuring tacked onto the beginning or end of a social ride. What follows is my official Control Card and report for the record books. I’m rather pleased that the series does not follow some rigid theme.
Control No. 1: My friend’s Sukkah*
Date: October 14, 2018
Beverage: Butter Coffee in a bottle purchased from Whole Foods en route
Bike-friendliness: Excellent. We parked our bikes in the hallway of her home.
Observations: One of my bike friends invited me to visit her Sukkah, which was still standing in her back yard after the recent holiday. Another bike friend wanted to join me for a ride to get in some extra miles and hills. So we combined the two ideas, and I picked up some bottled coffee to bring along in order to qualify. I took this opportunity to try butter coffee, since so many have sung its praises, despite it sounding like an odd idea. I liked it well enough, but do not feel any desire to have that again. The coffee may not have been impressive, but all the rest of the adventure was superb, particularly the opportunity to see our hostess’ art. Her works in bronze are extraordinary.
*This one might not qualify, since it is not an official coffeeneuring destination. I added this note only after feeling confident I have plenty of bonus rides to spare, because I’m clever that way.
Control No. 2: La Tropezienne Bakery
Date: October 20, 2018
Beverage: Caramel Macchiato
Bike-friendliness: Very good. In addition to bike racks on the sidewalk, the umbrellas at the outside tables provide a nice spot to lock up the bike.
Observations: I first visited this bakery as part of a visit to the three top winners of a croissant competition, and I knew it was well worth a return. This is where to go if you want a properly flaky pastry treat in the French style. And the coffee is excellent as well. It was also conveniently on my way to the start for a social ride to visit the Music Box Steps in Silverlake. Our group ride visited the stars of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (they are not near each other), learned some history about these stars of the silver screen, toured the Mack Sennett Studios, and ended at Laurel and Hardy Park, where the neighborhood hosts a party where the film, The Music Box, is screened, and Laurel and Hardy themselves make an appearance and perform a reenactment of the famous scene in which they attempt to carry a piano up a long flight of stairs.
Observations: Since my intention of ride number one above, to get in more miles and hills, was compromised by a late start, I took this opportunity to ride solo and explore Elysian Park, a place I’ve ridden through a number of times on group rides, but without ever feeling like I’d gotten to know the park as well as I’d like to. It’s not far from Griffith Park, where I do most of my riding, and both are treasures with plenty to explore, so this was my chance to visit both parks in one ride. Each park offers some hills to climb, rewarded with spectacular views of Los Angeles.
Control No. 4: Coffee Commissary*
Date: October 22, 2018
Beverage: Cold Brew (a generous pour that kept me buzzing all day)
Bike-friendliness: Awesome – check out that bike corral right out front!
Observations: This makes three days in a row, and exceeds the maximum of two Coffeeneuring rides in a week for the challenge, hence the designation as a “bonus ride”. Over the past year, I have enjoyed getting to know the Women on Bikes Culver City group, which meets every other Monday morning at a different coffee shop. I try to go when I can, and this one was relatively close to my part of town.
*This one does not qualify since I had already done two this week, and no matter which day one declares the beginning of the week, I would end up with three in the same week if this one were to be included.
Control No. 5: La Colombe
Date: October 26, 2018
Beverage: Hot Chocolate
Bike-friendliness: Very good, at least I know it is accessible by bike share
Observations: I love it when I can work a bike ride into my travel plans when visiting another city. This time I was in Philadelphia for the Philly Bike Expo, where I would be pitching my Bikie Girl Bloomers at a booth shared with Sarah Canner of Vespertine NYC. I had a little free time on Friday in the late afternoon, and knew that was my one opportunity to get out for a coffee ride, as I would be busy at my booth all day Saturday and Sunday. I made use of the city’s bike share system, IndeGo, which had a docking station a few blocks from my AirBnB. I wanted to go somewhere not too far, and in the heart of the city, so settled on La Colombe, right next to City Hall and Dilworth Park and in easy reach of a docking station. I didn’t mind that I missed it the first time I passed, causing me to loop around the square a bit in the midst of a frenzy of rush hour traffic, plus zigzag some until I found the docking station. It was fun, albeit a little scary, and I knew I needed to add some extra riding to hit the minimum two miles for my trip. The hot chocolate was selected for comfort on a brisk afternoon, and to avoid caffeine so late in the day. It was served without any sweetener, and I was offered a bottle of simple syrup so I could sweeten it to my own taste. That took me a couple of tries to get it right, but the drink was delicious.
A major highlight of this trip was that I got to meet the Coffeeneur in Chief in real life at the Philly Bike Expo. That was fun!
Control No. 6: Spoke Bicycle Cafe
Date: November 4, 2018
Beverage: Orange Ginger Cubano (OMG I LOVE this drink)
Bike-friendliness: Top Notch – loads of bike parking right next to the seating area, plus bike repairs and rentals available
Observations: So glad I gave myself permission to visit a coffee shop that isn’t new to me. I wanted to do more with Elysian Park, and also to revisit my original intention to go from Elysian Park to Spoke Bicycle Cafe, which is along the LA River Bike Path. (I had messed up that plan on control number 3.) Besides, the meet up for this day’s Sunday Funday social ride with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition was Spoke Bicycle Cafe, so why not do my coffeeneuring there? The social ride was easy and flat, continuing north on the river path to Griffith Park, and ending at a Harvest Festival there. Some friends and I wanted to continue riding after the group ride was over, so the four of us rode up to the Griffith Observatory together. One young 73-year-old in our group had never ridden up there via Mt. Hollywood Drive, and is not big hill-climber type, but we all agreed to take it slow and stop for a rest whenever she needed one. It was a difficult climb for her, but we enjoyed taking it slow and having plenty of time to stop and snap photos. It was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed celebrating with Jennifer at her achievement once we reached the Observatory.
Control No. 7: Highly Likely Cafe
Date: November 5, 2018
Bike-friendliness: Not ideal – no bike racks and staff let us know that they had experienced bike theft themselves on that street, so they let us bring our bikes inside (there is a fair amount of room for bikes in the cafe)
Observations: Once again, the Women on Bikes Culver City group held their Monday morning meet up at a coffee shop close to my part of town – and in a completely different area this time! I was delighted to have such a short ride (no excuses about being too late to the office) and to try a new spot not far from home. I hadn’t known there were any cafes in this area, and this place is quite popular.
Control No. 8: La Colombe (Bonus ride, except I definitely need this one)
Date: November 11, 2018
Beverage: Draft Latte (you have to try this!)
Bike-friendliness: Very good – right off the LA River Bike Path; small bike racks, but in a safe area of the patio.
Observations: Due to the Woolsey Fire raging in Malibu and Thousand Oaks, the air quality was poor, so we hesitated about whether we should pass on riding this Sunday. But my friends and I couldn’t miss our one day to ride this weekend, so we decided to keep it short and simple. We rode downtown, took the Chinatown way to the LA River Path, and checked out the new La Colombe that recently opened just south of Spoke Bicycle Cafe. We tied bandanas over our faces to minimize the particle exposure, although that may not have been sufficient filter out the problematic small particles. I was impressed with the Draft Latte, their signature drink, a tall glass that is at least half foam and has a rather heavenly texture to it – unlike any latte I’ve ever had.
Control No. 9: Stir Crazy Coffee House (Bonus ride in case #1 doesn’t count)
Date: November 18, 2018
Beverage: Cafe au Lait (good, solid classic)
Bike-friendliness: Not so much. No bike racks, but we were able to lock our bikes in pairs around the parking meters.
Observations: This was a ripe opportunity to recruit new Coffeeneurs. I invited fellow members of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee to join me for a short coffee run before we began our meeting. I picked a spot that was 1.5 miles from our meeting location, and that could be accessed via local bike-friendly streets in a loop, so we wouldn’t have to take the exact same route back. I was happy to find that five others joined me for the ride, and all were happy to learn about Coffeeneuring.
Control No. 10: Bar 9 (Another bonus ride, just in case)
Date: November 19, 2018
Beverage: House Pour Over (a generous pour and so good, even I could drink it black)
Bike-friendliness: Good. There’s a bike rack on front, although one of those unfortunate designs that seems to only secure the front wheel, but they also have posts that can be used to secure the bike.
Observations: This coffee shop is rather hard to find, and Google maps does not help much. This was another meeting of the Women on Bikes Culver City, and it was a good location for our large group, as they have a big table where we could all sit together.
Control No. 11: Caribou Coffee (OK, one more bonus ride, because.)
Date: November 25, 2018
Beverage: Turtle Mocha (a.k.a. liquid dessert)
Bike-friendliness: Must confess I didn’t really notice the bike rack situation here. It is just a block from a bike share station, and that made it an excellent choice for an out-of-town visitor arriving by bike share.
City: Atlanta, Georgia
Bike: Relay Bike Share
Bloomers: Oh, no, busted without my Bloomers! I was wearing Levi’s jeans this time! (But I always wear long pants and support socks on days I will be flying across the country.)
Observations: This is not exactly in keeping with my intentional approach to coffeeneuring. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be ready for anything, especially a chance to ride a bike. I had brought my helmet, saddle cover, and reflective vest along with me on a short weekend trip to Atlanta, knowing that I would get out for a bike ride if I could squeeze in a chance between family events. Although I had the intention to try to work in a coffeeneuring ride during this short visit, I knew it was neither necessary nor worth compromising on the plans with others for this family-oriented weekend. On Saturday, I had done so, as the rain let up and I took bike share from a station near where we were staying to the restaurant where we would meet family for lunch. I was glad to have my handy saddle cover with me, as it had been raining and the saddle was well-soaked. The 3-1/2 mile ride was gorgeous – all of it through parks on bike paths or bike lanes, the city bursting with autumn colors. It occurred to me later that, had I snapped a photo of the coffee I drank after lunch, this could have qualified as a coffeeneuring ride. Alas, on Sunday, my husband and I had a few hours free before our flight home, and he suggested we get on some bikes and explore Piedmont Park (the man knows what makes me happy). My helmet, saddle cover, and high-viz vest were packed away in my suitcase, but not really needed, so off we went. At least, I thought we were only riding in the park, so who needs a helmet for that, right? But I should have known that we would end up spending most of the ride exploring other streets, and without searching for bike-friendly roads. I am glad to report that the absence of helmets did not cause us any problems. We did enjoy a lovely 5-miles of meandering, and after docking our bikes, we were both feeling thirsty. We found a Caribou Coffee shop right nearby, a chain I only find when away from home, and which I love for their delicious turtle mochas. I’m a sucker for chocolate and caramel!
El Cochinito dropped me off at LAX, and snapped this photo of me. I’m all ready for my big adventure, everything I need for the next five days and four nights is packed in these two panniers, and my bike helmet dangles from one of the straps. A few months in the planning, this trip all started with a search for flights from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs so I could attend my nephew’s wedding. When I saw that the fare to Colorado Springs from L.A. would be at least double the fare to Denver, it was not a complete surprise, and I started to think I would just fly to Denver and rent a car.
But wait, why rent a car? Just how far is it from Denver to Colorado Springs? Wouldn’t that be a bikeable distance? Wouldn’t that be fun?! Could I bike it in one day? As soon as I saw that the ride would be around 65-75 miles, depending on where in Denver I started from, I began looking into bike shipping and other logistics.
I checked Bike Flights, and learned that the cheapest option is $41 each way, and I would have to pack and ship my bike off the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in order for it to get to Denver in time. Plus I would need to learn how to pack the bike for shipping and re-assemble it on arrival. And again for the trip back to L.A. And I haven’t done that in over 20 years. I’d rather pay a bike shop to do that for me, but most places charge $65-$90 for that service. Yikes! Multiply that times 4, and, well, that’s ridiculous.
So then I looked into renting a bike. There are shops in Denver that rent bikes, but most are either carbon road bikes that can’t take a rack for carrying panniers, or some kind of city bike that would not be suitable for a 70-ish mile ride. And the rental cost would add up after four days, to $230. Although I’d rather spend the money on a bike rental than a car rental, I’m still not sure I want to spend that much for a bike ride that might not be comfortable when I’m going that distance.
Then I remembered that, as a grad student, Nashbar had been my savior, offering affordable bikes that were great for touring. I decided to see what they had. Holy moly! I found that Nashbar had a woman’s road bike on sale for $419, and a touring bike on sale for $699! I read through the specs and the reviews, and found them encouraging.
The obvious next step was to begin the necessary justifications and rationalization. I go to Denver at least once a year, and always want a bike while I’m there. Last time I had to walk a mile (in the cold & snow!) to get from my brother’s house to the nearest bike share station. I’ve been itching to ride a bike in the Colorado Rockies again, just like in the glory days of my youth. For less than the cost of two multi-day bike rentals, I could own a bike that stays in Colorado. See? That didn’t take long! The rule of n+1 wins again!
I spent several of my evenings on Google Maps and checking Colorado biking web sites to plan my route. I ordered a kindle book on road biking in Colorado. The ride certainly looked doable, with bike trails for a good bit of the way, both heading out of Denver and again into Colorado Springs. There appeared to be this one stretch of about 10 miles in the middle of the ride where I’d have to ride on Highway 105, and I wasn’t sure what that would be like. I searched for blog posts or discussions about biking between Denver and Colorado Springs, and was disappointed to find very little on this. You would think others have done this many times. Is this a bad sign?
I came across one discussion that was not encouraging. Back in 2012, someone had put the question out there about planning to bike from Denver to Colorado Springs and back for a weekend trip. The discussion resulted in the Someone deciding to take Highway 73 into Franktown, and approach it that way. He did the ride, and posted afterward that it was not a good idea. The road was heavily trafficked with trucks and had no adequate shoulder to bike on.
I asked, in the same thread, if anyone had any updates now that several years had passed, as I was planning to follow the route Google Maps suggested, using 105 after Castle Rock and before Palmer Lake. I also found a YouTube video of a motorcyclist riding Highway 105. I could see that it is a pretty ride, and that it is, indeed a road with no shoulder.
I was happy to learn that my son, who lives in Seattle these days, would be making the trip to Colorado for the wedding. El Cochinito had to stay in L.A for graduation at the school where he teaches, and other other adult children couldn’t get away for the trip either. But my son, who bikes all the time to get where he needs to go, is not the type to be interested in a 70-ish mile bike ride, and so it became clear that I would be doing this trip solo. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about something awful happening to him on Highway 105. When you’re a mom, it’s hard not to think that way.
I then checked with my brother, who lives in Denver, to see how he felt about the idea of me keeping a bike in his garage. He was quite receptive to the idea. So that was it: I would be buying a bike, my “Colorado bike”. I contacted Cycleton, the bike shop that is closest to the Denver airport, and also not too far from my sister-in-law’s place, and made arrangements for them to receive and assemble my new bike. Then I called Nashbar and got a helpful consultation on the decision between the woman’s road bike and the touring bike. Of course, the touring bike was a better fit for my needs.
As it turned out, the weekend of my nephew’s wedding just so happens to be official Bike Travel Weekend, a creation of the Adventure Cycling Association. It’s all about encouraging folks to get out and enjoy a weekend adventure by bicycle. Bike packing is a thing, after all, and figuring out how to plan the logistics for such a trip can be understandably intimidating to one who hasn’t yet done it. Adventure Cycling encourages people to share their ride plans on the web site, and help others find rides they can join. I decided to sign up with them (there is a drawing for a free bike, after all), even though I didn’t really want to advertise that I would be a woman biking alone on this trip). And I wasn’t bikepacking to go camping or do something like that, I was just getting myself to a wedding and spending my weekend at a hotel. But, hey, they sent me a sticker!
Because I’d signed up with Adventure Cycling, I started receiving emails encouraging me to make use of their resources to help support my trip planning. They offered “advisors”, folks in a variety of geographical regions who’d volunteered to provide guidance and answer questions for others planning their trips. I saw a woman’s name listed as an advisor in Colorado Springs, so I decided to ask her about my route plan and whether I should consider an alternative to Highway 105. Maybe I should consider passing through Larkspur instead? Debbie wrote back and said she’d ridden that stretch of Highway 105 several years ago and found the drivers to be quite considerate, but offered to check with a friend who might know more about it. She wrote back and confirmed that this was the way to go, and so I stuck with my plan.
A full two months before the trip, I started making my list and thinking through all that I would need to take. I coordinated the timing of the bike purchase with the bike shop that would be receiving and assembling it. I ordered bottle cages, a saddle bag and tool kit for the new bike. I planned my outfits for the five-day trip, making sure I was minimizing the bulk and that it would all fit in my two panniers. Ah, and I remembered that I would need to take with me the special magnets that attach to the rear rack to secure my Thule panniers.
As the trip drew closer, I began to realize that so much of the joy of this trip is in the planning and looking forward to it. What if the actual ride was a let-down? But, no matter what the ride turned out to be, there was no doubt that this would be an adventure. Nothing could take that element away from my trip! I did make sure I kept up my training so that the nearly 70-mile ride, at high altitude, would be within my conditioning level. In fact, the Monday before, Memorial Day, a friend and I rode a century. It was a pretty flat ride, but we had some tough headwinds, and that turned out to be good training! By the time the trip rolled around I had been waking up each morning realizing that I had been bicycling in my dreams!
When my flight landed in Denver, my panniers and I went from the plane to the A train that connects the airport to the city. I had a patent application to file, and was able to use my time on the train to get online and take care of the filing.
My son had already arrived earlier in the day, and was with my nephew. They picked me up at the train station nearest to the bike shop, and gave me and my panniers a ride. At the bike shop, my bike was mostly ready, although there was some concern about whether my saddle had arrived (uh-oh! But they found it.), adjustments were made to the saddle height, my bottle cages and saddle bag with tool kit were put in place, the mechanic helped me get the magnets attached to the rear rack (not so easy, as the rack has skinnier rails than my other bike), and at the last minute, I remembered that I needed to purchase a lock. Once all that was sorted out, I was able to put my panniers on and take the new bike for its first test ride!
I had been unsure how it would feel to ride a 30 pound bike with 25 pounds worth of panniers, but it handled just fine and the load did not seem to be a problem. I had to get used to the bar-end shifters and the toe clips, as I’d never used the former before, and it had been 20 years since the last time I rode with toe clips.
More interesting about that first ride was the awareness that I was in my home town of Denver, but in an area that had been completely transformed since “my day”. The bike shop was in Stapleton, a new development where Denver’s airport used to be. From there, I passed through Lowry, another new development that used to an Air Force base. I was able to use bike paths and bike lanes most of the way, and that was nice, although a bit confusing sometimes when following Google Maps’ navigation. I managed to turn a 6.6 mile trip into 7.6 mile one with my missed turns and whatnot.
At one point, I was routed through Fairmount Cemetery, a place I have been to when visiting the mausoleum that holds my grandparents’ ashes. Apparently, I had not been through this part, though, as it was full of interesting old grave stones and a few historic above-ground tombs. I decided to stop and snap a portrait of my new bike, which I had decided to name “Rocky”. I don’t usually name my bikes, but this one seemed like it out to have one, as it was otherwise lacking a bit in personality. The name seemed like the obvious choice, as my hope for this bike is to be able to come back and explore the Colorado Rockies with it in future bike adventures.
I spent the evening visiting with family at my sister-in-law’s place, and then got up and left for my big adventure at 8:00 a.m. I told my relatives I expected the 69-mile ride to take me 8 hours. My goal was to arrive at the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4:00, allowing plenty of time to shower and get cleaned up before family gathered for dinner at 5:30.
The ride started out lovely, first on the High Line Canal, and then, well, only about 15 minutes into my ride, I already missed a turn! It was sunny and warm, so I decided to stop and take off the long sleeved shirt I had on over my Nuu-Muu dress and WABA jersey. At this point, I also double-checked the directions to make sure I got back on the correct trail. It was time to cross a bridge and get on the Cherry Creek Bike Path. I love bridges, so I snapped a photo of my bike on the bridge. Thus began a cheerful meandering along the bike path. Google Maps was predicting I would get there by 3:30 p.m. I knew I needed to allow more time than that for pits stops and lunch, but it just seemed like I had gobs of time — all day, in fact — so why not enjoy the experience and take photos whenever I wanted?
I marveled at the bike route. I took delight in how long I kept going, still continuing on bike paths. How lucky! How beautiful! And there was a full on rest stop and picnic area at the Arapahoe Trailhead, right along the bike path, so I took the opportunity to use the rest room. It was one of those nice ones, with toilet rooms big enough I could roll my bike right on in. No need to lock it up and worry about my panniers.
I continued on more and more trails, continuing to marvel at the beauty and how nice it was to be able to ride without car traffic like this. I stopped and snapped photos along the way. It was getting warmer still, so about 90 minutes into my ride, I stopped again at one of the many shaded benches along the trail so I could take off another layer.
Eventually, I came to the turn off from the Cherry Creek Trail to take Crowfoot Valley Road, which angles over toward Castle Rock. I was on this road for about six miles, and it seemed to be a slow and gradual incline into a strong headwind. It started out feeling a bit challenging, but I’m the type that is content to just use a low gear and keep at it, knowing I will get there eventually. But it began to feel like a never ending drudgery. I kept at it. I told myself this would not be forever. I looked forward to taking a good lunch break in Castle Rock. I was getting tired, and beginning to feel like I wasn’t making much progress. I kept at it. Finally, I got to my next turn, and soon I could see Castle Rock ahead of me, and a downhill stretch! I was excited again, and looking forward to lunch, and feeling hopeful that, after a good lunch, I’d find some renewed energy for whatever awaited me in the second half of my ride.
Riding into Castle Rock, I enjoyed being routed via an odd mixture of busy high-traffic streets (rode the sidewalk at one point) and pretty, off-road bike paths. I rode through the center of town, ever on the lookout for the right place to stop for lunch. The main street passed quickly, as did an interesting riverfront-ish area, and pretty soon I was worried I’d missed my chance. Soon I was in semi-suburbanish terrain again, but spotted a Dairy Queen that even had an adjacent outdoor play area surrounded by a metal railing. In other words, my perfect lunch stop, complete with bike parking! I suspect my food choices were influenced by how wiped out I was feeling from the long, slow climb into headwinds. I had a cheeseburger and a blizzard (ice cream treat blended with pieces of Heath candy bar).
I knew the first five miles heading south out of Castle Rock would be on a frontage road that runs alongside Interstate 25, and I had imagined the frontage road would be a relatively calm stretch before heading over to Highway 105, the 10-mile stretch of narrow road with no shoulder. Little did I know, that frontage road is the most insane and unsafe place for a cyclist I can imagine! Traffic along the frontage road was heavy and constant, there was absolutely no shoulder whatsoever, and the cars where flying past much faster than the traffic on the nearby interstate. I was scared and stressed and could not wait for it to be over. I would have walked my bike on the shoulder, but there wasn’t even a place for that. When I finally got to my turnoff for Tomah Road, I pulled off to the side and took a little break, just to collect my senses and breathe a bit.
The next four miles, I was on Tomah Road, which connected me to Highway 105. Tomah Road was better than the frontage road, but still had a lot of traffic, and not much of a shoulder. It also involved about 600 feet of climbing, and, well, I quickly regained the feeling of drudgery that characterized my experience of Crowfoot Valley Road. I felt like I had to stop several times on the way up. I began to fantasize about waving down a pickup truck and asking for a ride. I started to walk my bike on the shoulder, but the shoulder was soft, and it wasn’t working out. Finally, I crossed over to the left shoulder, where my feet were walking on the soft part, and the wheels of my bike were rolling on the edge of the pavement. I could see when cars were coming toward me, and pull farther over onto the shoulder if necessary as they passed. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked to get me to the top of that hill.
I kept hoping things would be better once I got to Highway 105. As it turned out, Highway 105 was as described: little traffic, courteous drivers, no shoulder, and pretty scenery. I saw other cyclists along this part, although none carrying panniers. Under other circumstances, I think I might have loved this ride. But the rolling hills got old. It seemed like a lot more uphill and rarely any downhill. Looking at an elevation profile of that road suggests that’s exactly right. It was another 1500 or so feet of climbing, and I had to stop a lot. I drank lots of water and my electrolyte drink. I chewed on some Cliff blocks. I kept wishing I felt stronger, but it was just plain slow going. Sometimes I would walk the last part of a hill, never sure which was slower, riding or walking. I couldn’t help but notice the time. I’d told my family I planned to get to the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4 PM. But it was past 4, and I still had at least an hour and a half to go. I texted my son to let him know I was running late. He gave me the details on where we’d be meeting for dinner, a family gathering with the wedding party that had been scheduled for 5:30.
I reached a point where I just didn’t know if I could take another hill. And then there was yet another hill. I stopped in some shade at this point, noticed a little shaking in my legs, and called El Cochinito for moral support. I got his voicemail, but just describing how I was feeling seemed to help in some small way. I got back on the bike and started pedaling again, reminding myself to just focus on the next small stretch of road, and stop worrying about the entire hill or what might lay ahead after this hill. At some point on that climb, I saw a text come in from El Cochinito: “You got this!” I knew he was right. I was miserable, but I was going to make it.
Luckily, that did turn out to be my last climb on Highway 105. I got to Spruce Mountain Road, and soon was getting on to the New Santa Fe Regional Trail. Just when I was nervous about being out of water, there was a park with a rest room and drinking fountain. Phew! And, wow, was that trail ever fun! A beautiful red gravel trail, with gorgeous scenery, and what must have been a slight downhill. I was rolling fast, and my 32 mm tires were just wide enough to handle the gravel. Occasionally, I could feel the tires shift a bit in a looser patch of gravel, but I just kept my focus and my speed, and never took a spill. After all the drudgery that preceded this part, the ride was now exhilarating! I found a new wave of energy. The latter part of the trail was rather rocky. I wasn’t sure I had the right bike for rocks this big, but again, it was kind of exciting, and I was having a blast!
The trail was about 6.5 miles, then I had to do the last 6 miles on suburban roads. There were bike lanes for most of it, and some hills here and there. Every time I had to go up hill, it felt pretty tough, but I was close enough to the end, and none of those hills was as bad as what I’d already done that day, so I was able to get through it. I was feeling the thrill of realizing that, for all it’s challenges, I was going to complete this ride!
By the time I got to the hotel, it was already 6:00! I took a quick shower and got a Lyft ride over to the restaurant. My family was relieved to see that I’d made it. I was certainly relieved that it was over! I knew one thing for sure: I was not going to take the same route back to Denver. I wasn’t 100% sure I would even ride back, especially if I couldn’t identify a suitable route that would avoid the I-25 frontage road. I figured I would give myself some time to think about it, and just enjoy the weekend with family.
Saturday we had time to go visit the Garden of the Gods. We did some hiking, went out to lunch, and then got ready for the big wedding, which was being held Saturday evening at a barn in Peyton, out in the farmlands northeast of Colorado Springs. Originally, I had thought it might be fun to bike to the wedding, but it would have been a two hour ride each way, and not on pleasant roads for cycling. Given how late we stayed at the wedding, and how drunk many of the guests were, I was especially glad I did not take my bike!
Before I could go to sleep Saturday night, however, I just had to study the maps and make my decision about my route for the ride back to Denver on Sunday. I considered just riding on the nice wide shoulder on I-25 until I got to Castle Rock. It would suck to ride alongside freeway traffic for hours, but at least I would have plenty of room. Yet I just couldn’t see doing that. I decided to take Highway 83 north out of Colorado Springs, and then take Russelville Road to Franktown. Highway 83 might be a bit trafficky, but I’d only be on it for 19 miles, and then Russelville Road would be quiet farmland, and once I got to Franktown, the rest of the way would be on the Cherry Creek Trail.
Even though I really should have gone to sleep sooner, I slept well knowing that I had my route figured out. Sunday morning, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with extended family, we said our goodbyes, I gave one of my panniers to my sister-in-law to take in her car, and began my journey.
Highway 83 was definitely more trafficked than Highway 105, but not too bad, and most drivers did pass with care. The good news was that, although the shoulder was narrow, there was a shoulder – always at least 8 inches of pavement to the right of the fog line, and sometimes more. Even better news: there was just one significant hill, shortly after coming out of Colorado Springs, and it seemed I’d climbed it in no time. I stopped near the top for a light snack and to snap a couple photos, and then the fun began. Part of what I liked about taking this route back was that it took me through the Black Forest area.
It felt like I was flying downhill almost the whole way to the intersection with Russelville Road, and I was so excited when I saw that sign! It seemed like I got there in no time at all. Russelville Road was peaceful and beautiful. Riding those gentle rolling hills reminded me of cycling the rolling hills around Forest Grove, Oregon, where I’d gone to college and first fell in love with cycling.
I passed through Franktown in the blink of an eye (I think it consists of one gas station and one cafe), turned onto a gravel road that connected me with the Cherry Creek Trail, and ta da! I was ecstatic, knowing that it would be easy riding on trails the rest of the day.
I rolled along with a happy smile on my face, even when I encountered some confusion when the trail crossed a road without clear marking as to where it resumed on the other side. I started to realize I must have missed the trail entrance on the other side of the road, so I stopped to consult Google maps. That was not helpful! I decided instead to just turn back and scan the roadside for the entrance.
Not long after rejoining the trail, I came upon another obstacle.
Not only was the trail closed, there was no information provided to help me figure out where it resumes. I wandered through the nearby residential neighborhood and found some other access points to the trail, but it was still closed. In fact, it appeared to be a vast construction site. So, I ended up back on Highway 83 for awhile. Although it had lots of high speed traffic, the shoulder was huge, and I felt safe, if not entirely at peace.
Luckily, I was successful on my third attempt to find where the trail resumes. From there on, I had no more problems with routing, and soon was back on the part of the trail I’d ridden the previous Friday. Since I had passed the one diner in Franktown so quickly before realizing that was it, I decided to have a lunch stop at the lovely rest area at the beginning of the bike trail. Since the ride was going so quickly, I was fine dining on a Cliff bar, a banana, and trail mix.
With time on my side, I stopped to snap photos whenever the urge hit me. Before I knew it, I was rolling into Denver! Seeing the familiar sights, especially the Rockies framing the cityscape, made me feel so good. It was great to end the ride on such a high note!
The next morning, I rode “Rocky” over to my brother’s house, where the bike would stay in his garage until my next trip to Denver. As I rode those six miles, I realized there were beautiful parts of my hometown, not far from places I’d been many times, that I still didn’t know. There is always so much more to discover when you see a city by bicycle.
As it turns out, I rode a total of 147 miles in Colorado that weekend. Strava didn’t record all of it, but I think the total elevation gain for the round trip was just over 5000 feet. Thank you, Rocky, for a fantastic adventure!
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!
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.
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);
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);
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);
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;
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.
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);
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);
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!