Coffeeneuring 2018: The Best Intentions

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

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

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

Control No. 1: My friend’s Sukkah*

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Date: October 14, 2018

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

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

City: Westchester, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Romantic Ruby Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 48.8

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

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

Control No. 2: La Tropezienne Bakery

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Date: October 20, 2018

Beverage: Caramel Macchiato

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

City: Mid-City, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Jeweltone Bloomers

Mileage: 18

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

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

Control No. 3: Dinosaur Coffee

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Date: October 21, 2018

Beverage: Cardamom Cinnamon Cappuccino (exceptionally delicious)

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

City: Silverlake, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 39.3

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

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

Control No. 4: Coffee Commissary*

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Date: October 22, 2018

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

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

City: Palms, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Leaping Lady Leopard Bloomers

Mileage: 14.3

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

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

Control No. 5: La Colombe

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Date: October 26, 2018

Beverage: Hot Chocolate

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

City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bike: Indego Bike Share

Bloomers: Pinka Dot Black Bloomers

Mileage: 2.6

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

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

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

Control No. 6: Spoke Bicycle Cafe

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Upper right: Angel’s Flight sculpture in Elysian Park

Date: November 4, 2018

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

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

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 37.7

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

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Good times in Griffith Park

Control No. 7: Highly Likely Cafe

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Date: November 5, 2018

Beverage:

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

City: West Adams, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 7.8

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

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

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Date: November 11, 2018

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

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

City: Frogtown, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Shimmering Sapphire Thighwise Pettipants

Mileage: 22

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

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

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

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Date: November 18, 2018

Beverage: Cafe au Lait (good, solid classic)

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

City: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Pink Zebra Bloomers

Mileage: 3

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

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

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Date: November 19, 2018

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

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

City: Culver City, California

Bike: Bianchi Volpe

Bloomers: Crazy Daisy Bloomers

Mileage: 14.5

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

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

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

Date: November 25, 2018

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

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

City: Atlanta, Georgia

Bike: Relay Bike Share

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

Mileage: 5

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

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Bike Travel Weekend: Denver to Colorado Springs

El Cochinito dropped me off at LAX, and snapped this photo of me. I’m all ready for my big adventure, everything I need for the next five days and four nights is packed in these two panniers, and my bike helmet dangles from one of the straps. A few months in the planning, this trip all started with a search for flights from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs so I could attend my nephew’s wedding. When I saw that the fare to Colorado Springs from L.A. would be at least double the fare to Denver, it was not a complete surprise, and I started to think I would just fly to Denver and rent a car.

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

But wait, why rent a car? Just how far is it from Denver to Colorado Springs? Wouldn’t that be a bikeable distance? Wouldn’t that be fun?! Could I bike it in one day? As soon as I saw that the ride would be around 65-75 miles, depending on where in Denver I started from, I began looking into bike shipping and other logistics.

I checked Bike Flights, and learned that the cheapest option is $41 each way, and I would have to pack and ship my bike off the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in order for it to get to Denver in time. Plus I would need to learn how to pack the bike for shipping and re-assemble it on arrival. And again for the trip back to L.A. And I haven’t done that in over 20 years. I’d rather pay a bike shop to do that for me, but most places charge $65-$90 for that service. Yikes! Multiply that times 4, and, well, that’s ridiculous.

So then I looked into renting a bike. There are shops in Denver that rent bikes, but most are either carbon road bikes that can’t take a rack for carrying panniers, or some kind of city bike that would not be suitable for a 70-ish mile ride. And the rental cost would add up after four days, to $230. Although I’d rather spend the money on a bike rental than a car rental, I’m still not sure I want to spend that much for a bike ride that might not be comfortable when I’m going that distance.

Then I remembered that, as a grad student, Nashbar had been my savior, offering affordable bikes that were great for touring. I decided to see what they had. Holy moly! I found that Nashbar had a woman’s road bike on sale for $419, and a touring bike on sale for $699! I read through the specs and the reviews, and found them encouraging.

The obvious next step was to begin the necessary justifications and rationalization. I go to Denver at least once a year, and always want a bike while I’m there. Last time I had to walk a mile (in the cold & snow!) to get from my brother’s house to the nearest bike share station. I’ve been itching to ride a bike in the Colorado Rockies again, just like in the glory days of my youth. For less than the cost of two multi-day bike rentals, I could own a bike that stays in Colorado. See? That didn’t take long! The rule of n+1 wins again!

I spent several of my evenings on Google Maps and checking Colorado biking web sites to plan my route. I ordered a kindle book on road biking in Colorado. The ride certainly looked doable, with bike trails for a good bit of the way, both heading out of Denver and again into Colorado Springs. There appeared to be this one stretch of about 10 miles in the middle of the ride where I’d have to ride on Highway 105, and I wasn’t sure what that would be like. I searched for blog posts or discussions about biking between Denver and Colorado Springs, and was disappointed to find very little on this. You would think others have done this many times. Is this a bad sign?

I came across one discussion that was not encouraging. Back in 2012, someone had put the question out there about planning to bike from Denver to Colorado Springs and back for a weekend trip. The discussion resulted in the Someone deciding to take Highway 73 into Franktown, and approach it that way. He did the ride, and posted afterward that it was not a good idea. The road was heavily trafficked with trucks and had no adequate shoulder to bike on.

I asked, in the same thread, if anyone had any updates now that several years had passed, as I was planning to follow the route Google Maps suggested, using 105 after Castle Rock and before Palmer Lake. I also found a YouTube video of a motorcyclist riding Highway 105. I could see that it is a pretty ride, and that it is, indeed a road with no shoulder.

I was happy to learn that my son, who lives in Seattle these days, would be making the trip to Colorado for the wedding. El Cochinito had to stay in L.A for graduation at the school where he teaches, and other other adult children couldn’t get away for the trip either. But my son, who bikes all the time to get where he needs to go, is not the type to be interested in a 70-ish mile bike ride, and so it became clear that I would be doing this trip solo. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about something awful happening to him on Highway 105. When you’re a mom, it’s hard not to think that way.

I then checked with my brother, who lives in Denver, to see how he felt about the idea of me keeping a bike in his garage. He was quite receptive to the idea. So that was it: I would be buying a bike, my “Colorado bike”. I contacted Cycleton, the bike shop that is closest to the Denver airport, and also not too far from my sister-in-law’s place, and made arrangements for them to receive and assemble my new bike. Then I called Nashbar and got a helpful consultation on the decision between the woman’s road bike and the touring bike. Of course, the touring bike was a better fit for my needs.

As it turned out, the weekend of my nephew’s wedding just so happens to be official Bike Travel Weekend, a creation of the Adventure Cycling Association. It’s all about encouraging folks to get out and enjoy a weekend adventure by bicycle. Bike packing is a thing, after all, and figuring out how to plan the logistics for such a trip can be understandably intimidating to one who hasn’t yet done it. Adventure Cycling encourages people to share their ride plans on the web site, and help others find rides they can join. I decided to sign up with them (there is a drawing for a free bike, after all), even though I didn’t really want to advertise that I would be a woman biking alone on this trip). And I wasn’t bikepacking to go camping or do something like that, I was just getting myself to a wedding and spending my weekend at a hotel. But, hey, they sent me a sticker!

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My nifty sticker

Because I’d signed up with Adventure Cycling, I started receiving emails encouraging me to make use of their resources to help support my trip planning. They offered “advisors”, folks in a variety of geographical regions who’d volunteered to provide guidance and answer questions for others planning their trips. I saw a woman’s name listed as an advisor in Colorado Springs, so I decided to ask her about my route plan and whether I should consider an alternative to Highway 105. Maybe I should consider passing through Larkspur instead? Debbie wrote back and said she’d ridden that stretch of Highway 105 several years ago and found the drivers to be quite considerate, but offered to check with a friend who might know more about it. She wrote back and confirmed that this was the way to go, and so I stuck with my plan.

A full two months before the trip, I started making my list and thinking through all that I would need to take. I coordinated the timing of the bike purchase with the bike shop that would be receiving and assembling it. I ordered bottle cages, a saddle bag and tool kit for the new bike. I planned my outfits for the five-day trip, making sure I was minimizing the bulk and that it would all fit in my two panniers. Ah, and I remembered that I would need to take with me the special magnets that attach to the rear rack to secure my Thule panniers.

As the trip drew closer, I began to realize that so much of the joy of this trip is in the planning and looking forward to it. What if the actual ride was a let-down? But, no matter what the ride turned out to be, there was no doubt that this would be an adventure. Nothing could take that element away from my trip! I did make sure I kept up my training so that the nearly 70-mile ride, at high altitude, would be within my conditioning level. In fact, the Monday before, Memorial Day, a friend and I rode a century. It was a pretty flat ride, but we had some tough headwinds, and that turned out to be good training! By the time the trip rolled around I had been waking up each morning realizing that I had been bicycling in my dreams!

When my flight landed in Denver, my panniers and I went from the plane to the A train that connects the airport to the city. I had a patent application to file, and was able to use my time on the train to get online and take care of the filing.

Bike racks on the A train that runs from Denver airport to Union Station in downtown
Filing a patent application on the fly!

My son had already arrived earlier in the day, and was with my nephew. They picked me up at the train station nearest to the bike shop, and gave me and my panniers a ride. At the bike shop, my bike was mostly ready, although there was some concern about whether my saddle had arrived (uh-oh! But they found it.), adjustments were made to the saddle height, my bottle cages and saddle bag with tool kit were put in place, the mechanic helped me get the magnets attached to the rear rack (not so easy, as the rack has skinnier rails than my other bike), and at the last minute, I remembered that I needed to purchase a lock. Once all that was sorted out, I was able to put my panniers on and take the new bike for its first test ride!

My newly assembled bike

I had been unsure how it would feel to ride a 30 pound bike with 25 pounds worth of panniers, but it handled just fine and the load did not seem to be a problem. I had to get used to the bar-end shifters and the toe clips, as I’d never used the former before, and it had been 20 years since the last time I rode with toe clips.

More interesting about that first ride was the awareness that I was in my home town of Denver, but in an area that had been completely transformed since “my day”. The bike shop was in Stapleton, a new development where Denver’s airport used to be. From there, I passed through Lowry, another new development that used to an Air Force base. I was able to use bike paths and bike lanes most of the way, and that was nice, although a bit confusing sometimes when following Google Maps’ navigation. I managed to turn a 6.6 mile trip into 7.6 mile one with my missed turns and whatnot.

At one point, I was routed through Fairmount Cemetery, a place I have been to when visiting the mausoleum that holds my grandparents’ ashes. Apparently, I had not been through this part, though, as it was full of interesting old grave stones and a few historic above-ground tombs. I decided to stop and snap a portrait of my new bike, which I had decided to name “Rocky”. I don’t usually name my bikes, but this one seemed like it out to have one, as it was otherwise lacking a bit in personality. The name seemed like the obvious choice, as my hope for this bike is to be able to come back and explore the Colorado Rockies with it in future bike adventures.

Rocky, at Fairmount Cemetery

I spent the evening visiting with family at my sister-in-law’s place, and then got up and left for my big adventure at 8:00 a.m. I told my relatives I expected the 69-mile ride to take me 8 hours. My goal was to arrive at the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4:00, allowing plenty of time to shower and get cleaned up before family gathered for dinner at 5:30.

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

The ride started out lovely, first on the High Line Canal, and then, well, only about 15 minutes into my ride, I already missed a turn! It was sunny and warm, so I decided to stop and take off the long sleeved shirt I had on over my Nuu-Muu dress and WABA jersey. At this point, I also double-checked the directions to make sure I got back on the correct trail. It was time to cross a bridge and get on the Cherry Creek Bike Path. I love bridges, so I snapped a photo of my bike on the bridge. Thus began a cheerful meandering along the bike path. Google Maps was predicting I would get there by 3:30 p.m. I knew I needed to allow more time than that for pits stops and lunch, but it just seemed like I had gobs of time — all day, in fact — so why not enjoy the experience and take photos whenever I wanted?

One of many bridges I crossed

I marveled at the bike route. I took delight in how long I kept going, still continuing on bike paths. How lucky! How beautiful! And there was a full on rest stop and picnic area at the Arapahoe Trailhead, right along the bike path, so I took the opportunity to use the rest room. It was one of those nice ones, with toilet rooms big enough I could roll my bike right on in. No need to lock it up and worry about my panniers.

I continued on more and more trails, continuing to marvel at the beauty and how nice it was to be able to ride without car traffic like this. I stopped and snapped photos along the way. It was getting warmer still, so about 90 minutes into my ride, I stopped again at one of the many shaded benches along the trail so I could take off another layer.

Tall grasses, trees, and the Rocky Mountains in the distance
Miles of nice bike path
This map shows the full 42-mile bike path linking Denver to Franktown

Eventually, I came to the turn off from the Cherry Creek Trail to take Crowfoot Valley Road, which angles over toward Castle Rock. I was on this road for about six miles, and it seemed to be a slow and gradual incline into a strong headwind. It started out feeling a bit challenging, but I’m the type that is content to just use a low gear and keep at it, knowing I will get there eventually. But it began to feel like a never ending drudgery. I kept at it. I told myself this would not be forever. I looked forward to taking a good lunch break in Castle Rock. I was getting tired, and beginning to feel like I wasn’t making much progress. I kept at it. Finally, I got to my next turn, and soon I could see Castle Rock ahead of me, and a downhill stretch! I was excited again, and looking forward to lunch, and feeling hopeful that, after a good lunch, I’d find some renewed energy for whatever awaited me in the second half of my ride.

The welcome downhill into Castle Rock

Riding into Castle Rock, I enjoyed being routed via an odd mixture of busy high-traffic streets (rode the sidewalk at one point) and pretty, off-road bike paths. I rode through the center of town, ever on the lookout for the right place to stop for lunch. The main street passed quickly, as did an interesting riverfront-ish area, and pretty soon I was worried I’d missed my chance. Soon I was in semi-suburbanish terrain again, but spotted a Dairy Queen that even had an adjacent outdoor play area surrounded by a metal railing. In other words, my perfect lunch stop, complete with bike parking! I suspect my food choices were influenced by how wiped out I was feeling from the long, slow climb into headwinds. I had a cheeseburger and a blizzard (ice cream treat blended with pieces of Heath candy bar).

Pretty bike path ride heading into Castle Rock
My lunch at Dairy Queen, plus crushed ice for my water bottles

I knew the first five miles heading south out of Castle Rock would be on a frontage road that runs alongside Interstate 25, and I had imagined the frontage road would be a relatively calm stretch before heading over to Highway 105, the 10-mile stretch of narrow road with no shoulder. Little did I know, that frontage road is the most insane and unsafe place for a cyclist I can imagine! Traffic along the frontage road was heavy and constant, there was absolutely no shoulder whatsoever, and the cars where flying past much faster than the traffic on the nearby interstate. I was scared and stressed and could not wait for it to be over. I would have walked my bike on the shoulder, but there wasn’t even a place for that. When I finally got to my turnoff for Tomah Road, I pulled off to the side and took a little break, just to collect my senses and breathe a bit.

The next four miles, I was on Tomah Road, which connected me to Highway 105. Tomah Road was better than the frontage road, but still had a lot of traffic, and not much of a shoulder. It also involved about 600 feet of climbing, and, well, I quickly regained the feeling of drudgery that characterized my experience of Crowfoot Valley Road. I felt like I had to stop several times on the way up. I began to fantasize about waving down a pickup truck and asking for a ride. I started to walk my bike on the shoulder, but the shoulder was soft, and it wasn’t working out. Finally, I crossed over to the left shoulder, where my feet were walking on the soft part, and the wheels of my bike were rolling on the edge of the pavement. I could see when cars were coming toward me, and pull farther over onto the shoulder if necessary as they passed. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked to get me to the top of that hill.

Tomah Road

I kept hoping things would be better once I got to Highway 105. As it turned out, Highway 105 was as described: little traffic, courteous drivers, no shoulder, and pretty scenery. I saw other cyclists along this part, although none carrying panniers. Under other circumstances, I think I might have loved this ride. But the rolling hills got old. It seemed like a lot more uphill and rarely any downhill. Looking at an elevation profile of that road suggests that’s exactly right. It was another 1500 or so feet of climbing, and I had to stop a lot. I drank lots of water and my electrolyte drink. I chewed on some Cliff blocks. I kept wishing I felt stronger, but it was just plain slow going. Sometimes I would walk the last part of a hill, never sure which was slower, riding or walking. I couldn’t help but notice the time. I’d told my family I planned to get to the hotel in Colorado Springs by 4 PM. But it was past 4, and I still had at least an hour and a half to go. I texted my son to let him know I was running late. He gave me the details on where we’d be meeting for dinner, a family gathering with the wedding party that had been scheduled for 5:30.

I reached a point where I just didn’t know if I could take another hill. And then there was yet another hill. I stopped in some shade at this point, noticed a little shaking in my legs, and called El Cochinito for moral support. I got his voicemail, but just describing how I was feeling seemed to help in some small way. I got back on the bike and started pedaling again, reminding myself to just focus on the next small stretch of road, and stop worrying about the entire hill or what might lay ahead after this hill. At some point on that climb, I saw a text come in from El Cochinito: “You got this!” I knew he was right. I was miserable, but I was going to make it.

Luckily, that did turn out to be my last climb on Highway 105. I got to Spruce Mountain Road, and soon was getting on to the New Santa Fe Regional Trail. Just when I was nervous about being out of water, there was a park with a rest room and drinking fountain. Phew! And, wow, was that trail ever fun! A beautiful red gravel trail, with gorgeous scenery, and what must have been a slight downhill. I was rolling fast, and my 32 mm tires were just wide enough to handle the gravel. Occasionally, I could feel the tires shift a bit in a looser patch of gravel, but I just kept my focus and my speed, and never took a spill. After all the drudgery that preceded this part, the ride was now exhilarating! I found a new wave of energy. The latter part of the trail was rather rocky. I wasn’t sure I had the right bike for rocks this big, but again, it was kind of exciting, and I was having a blast!

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

The trail was about 6.5 miles, then I had to do the last 6 miles on suburban roads. There were bike lanes for most of it, and some hills here and there. Every time I had to go up hill, it felt pretty tough, but I was close enough to the end, and none of those hills was as bad as what I’d already done that day, so I was able to get through it. I was feeling the thrill of realizing that, for all it’s challenges, I was going to complete this ride!

By the time I got to the hotel, it was already 6:00! I took a quick shower and got a Lyft ride over to the restaurant. My family was relieved to see that I’d made it. I was certainly relieved that it was over! I knew one thing for sure: I was not going to take the same route back to Denver. I wasn’t 100% sure I would even ride back, especially if I couldn’t identify a suitable route that would avoid the I-25 frontage road. I figured I would give myself some time to think about it, and just enjoy the weekend with family.

Friends & family of the groom at this table

Saturday we had time to go visit the Garden of the Gods. We did some hiking, went out to lunch, and then got ready for the big wedding, which was being held Saturday evening at a barn in Peyton, out in the farmlands northeast of Colorado Springs. Originally, I had thought it might be fun to bike to the wedding, but it would have been a two hour ride each way, and not on pleasant roads for cycling. Given how late we stayed at the wedding, and how drunk many of the guests were, I was especially glad I did not take my bike!

With my son at Garden of the Gods
The barn where Michael & Katie tied the knot

Before I could go to sleep Saturday night, however, I just had to study the maps and make my decision about my route for the ride back to Denver on Sunday. I considered just riding on the nice wide shoulder on I-25 until I got to Castle Rock. It would suck to ride alongside freeway traffic for hours, but at least I would have plenty of room. Yet I just couldn’t see doing that. I decided to take Highway 83 north out of Colorado Springs, and then take Russelville Road to Franktown. Highway 83 might be a bit trafficky, but I’d only be on it for 19 miles, and then Russelville Road would be quiet farmland, and once I got to Franktown, the rest of the way would be on the Cherry Creek Trail.

Even though I really should have gone to sleep sooner, I slept well knowing that I had my route figured out. Sunday morning, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with extended family, we said our goodbyes, I gave one of my panniers to my sister-in-law to take in her car, and began my journey.

Highway 83 was definitely more trafficked than Highway 105, but not too bad, and most drivers did pass with care. The good news was that, although the shoulder was narrow, there was a shoulder – always at least 8 inches of pavement to the right of the fog line, and sometimes more. Even better news: there was just one significant hill, shortly after coming out of Colorado Springs, and it seemed I’d climbed it in no time. I stopped near the top for a light snack and to snap a couple photos, and then the fun began. Part of what I liked about taking this route back was that it took me through the Black Forest area.

Bye, bye, Colorado Springs!
The crest of my only significant hill on the trip back to Denver
Climbing is easier with a lighter load & some cool cloud cover

It felt like I was flying downhill almost the whole way to the intersection with Russelville Road, and I was so excited when I saw that sign! It seemed like I got there in no time at all. Russelville Road was peaceful and beautiful. Riding those gentle rolling hills reminded me of cycling the rolling hills around Forest Grove, Oregon, where I’d gone to college and first fell in love with cycling.

So happy to see this sign!

I passed through Franktown in the blink of an eye (I think it consists of one gas station and one cafe), turned onto a gravel road that connected me with the Cherry Creek Trail, and ta da! I was ecstatic, knowing that it would be easy riding on trails the rest of the day.

The gravel road between Franktown and the Cherry Creek Trail

I rolled along with a happy smile on my face, even when I encountered some confusion when the trail crossed a road without clear marking as to where it resumed on the other side. I started to realize I must have missed the trail entrance on the other side of the road, so I stopped to consult Google maps. That was not helpful! I decided instead to just turn back and scan the roadside for the entrance.

Really, Google? I don’t think so!

Not long after rejoining the trail, I came upon another obstacle.

Oops!

Not only was the trail closed, there was no information provided to help me figure out where it resumes. I wandered through the nearby residential neighborhood and found some other access points to the trail, but it was still closed. In fact, it appeared to be a vast construction site. So, I ended up back on Highway 83 for awhile. Although it had lots of high speed traffic, the shoulder was huge, and I felt safe, if not entirely at peace.

Luckily, I was successful on my third attempt to find where the trail resumes. From there on, I had no more problems with routing, and soon was back on the part of the trail I’d ridden the previous Friday. Since I had passed the one diner in Franktown so quickly before realizing that was it, I decided to have a lunch stop at the lovely rest area at the beginning of the bike trail. Since the ride was going so quickly, I was fine dining on a Cliff bar, a banana, and trail mix.

Nice rest stop
This rest stop even had a bike repair stand

With time on my side, I stopped to snap photos whenever the urge hit me. Before I knew it, I was rolling into Denver! Seeing the familiar sights, especially the Rockies framing the cityscape, made me feel so good. It was great to end the ride on such a high note!

A beautiful spot along the trail, in Cottonwood

The next morning, I rode “Rocky” over to my brother’s house, where the bike would stay in his garage until my next trip to Denver. As I rode those six miles, I realized there were beautiful parts of my hometown, not far from places I’d been many times, that I still didn’t know. There is always so much more to discover when you see a city by bicycle.

As it turns out, I rode a total of 147 miles in Colorado that weekend. Strava didn’t record all of it, but I think the total elevation gain for the round trip was just over 5000 feet. Thank you, Rocky, for a fantastic adventure!

Bike Date Weekend in Ojai

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting on the platform at Union Station

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

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

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

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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, pulling out of the Ventura Station

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

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

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

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

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

Our favorite bridge along the route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Rancho Drive

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

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

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

Our 12-mile Sunday afternoon Tour de Ojai

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

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

Our last glimpse of the trail as we left downtown Ojai

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

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

Downtown Ventura; note the wind in the palm trees.

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

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

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

So fun, so doable. You should try it!