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

Last year’s bike date weekend in Ojai was so much fun, I had to plan another adventure for this President’s Day weekend. I have been drooling over posts on bike groups I see of trails all over the U.S. and beyond, making me wish I could retire now and go ride them all. Then I decided I ought to learn more about trails that are close to home. That is how I learned about the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail, an 18.5 mile trail that runs from the Laguna Hills to Rancho Santa Margarita.

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

The first thing I realized when I began my planning for the trip was that I had months before registered for the L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Ride, a fun and beautiful 40-mile ride I had done for my first time last February, and this year the ride was scheduled for Saturday morning of President’s Day weekend. No problem, however, as there is a 2:00 train on Saturday afternoon from Union Station to Orange County, so I could work with that. This would get us to Mission Viejo at 3:19, leaving plenty of daylight for the 7.3 mile ride to Aliso Viejo, where I had found a hotel I could book using two free nights from Hotels.com that were about to expire. I confidently booked the room at the non-refundable rate that meant I only had to pay about $30 in taxes for the two nights at a place that had pretty good reviews.

As the trip dates drew near, however, a few different factors had me wondering if this was such a great idea. We got an unusual (albeit welcome) amount of rainfall in California this Winter, reminding us that we can’t always count on great biking weather in February. Then, just a week before the big weekend, our oldest son calls to tell us that he and his girlfriend of 10 years are going to a courthouse in Chicago on the Saturday of President’s Day Weekend to tie the knot. I had to decide whether to cancel my various plans for the weekend, or settle for throwing them a big party later. Ultimately, I decided that the celebration with family and friends would be more important than the formalities of the event.

Then my beloved El Cochinito came down with a wicked chest cold, and it didn’t seem to be clearing up. The weather forecast wasn’t encouraging, either: Sunday would be a day of rain, cold temperatures and wind gusts. That’s not great biking weather, and it’s definitely not good weather for going outside when you’re fighting a cold. We decided to keep a flexible mindset and see how things played out.

Saturday morning had to leave the house by 7ish to get to Chinatown in time to pick up my bib number, drop off my pannier packed with all I’d need for the next few days with the much-appreciated bag check, and get in position for the Firecracker Ride set to begin at 8:00. El Cochinito got up shortly before I left, and let me know he was not feeling well. We agreed to check in with each other later and decide whether to go forward with the planned bike/train adventure, stay home, or consider a modified plan.

When I got downtown everything fell into place: the bib pick-up, the bag drop off, getting into place just as the ride began, and even meeting up with some friends to ride with. The ride was as fun as I’d remembered from last year. I had friends to ride with this time, and the ride through Pasadena, on to Sierra Madre, and back via Huntington Drive does not disappoint. When we stopped at one of the rest stops during the ride, I saw a text from my son with a picture from the courthouse taken as he slipped the ring on his bride’s finger. I showed it to my friends and proudly announced that I now have a daughter-in-law!

We got back to Chinatown at 12:30, leaving us enough time for the snack and beer that were included with our ride registration. I tried to text and call El Cochinito to see how he was feeling, but no reply. Perhaps he was he sleeping? Busy coughing? I figured it wasn’t a good sign, and resigned to enjoying the festival in Chinatown and hanging with friends. Then I got his text at 12:55: “I’m leaving in 5 minutes.” So, the trip was a “go” after all!

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

I retrieved my bike and the pannier from the valet service and rode on over to Union Station to meet El Cochinito. We bought our train tickets and headed to the platform for the southbound Orange County Line. Metrolink has a weekend fare that lets you go anywhere for $10. Since the regular fare to Mission Viejo is $12, it was still a savings for just the one-way ride. Metrolink has special bicycle cars with open bays for bike parking (and also special netted bays for surfboards) on the lower level. This train had twice as many bike bays as I’d seen on other Metrolink trains, and all the passenger seating was upstairs.

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

El Cochinito explained that the way he’d been feeling throughout the morning swung between absolutely miserable and quite optimistic. Ultimately, he decided he was OK enough to at least make the trip, and decide later about how much biking he would be up for. What he had not recalled from back when we first planned this trip was that we would need to ride 7.3 miles from the Mission Viejo Metrolink station to our hotel in Aliso Viejo. I had booked a hotel that is close to the Aliso Creek Trail, not close to the train station. He was not happy to hear that.

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

We were both happy, however, with the presence of a separated bike path right there as soon as we disembarked. We had bike path or bike lanes the entire trip. El Cochinito was noticing that his Pedego battery is not holding charge as well as it used to, so he was a little nervous about whether he had enough juice to get the whole 7.3 miles, especially on the hilly parts. It was a bit cold as well. I was feeling aware that I had already biked 48 miles earlier that day, and especially when climbing the hill to get up from the bike path into Aliso Viejo with my loaded pannier on board.

Bike path right there at Mission Viejo train station

We rolled through the utterly neo-suburban landscape of super-wide multi-lane roads and look-alike office parks, and found our hotel, the Renaissance Club Sport, which fit the description we’d seen in some of the online reviews: a large fitness center with a hotel attached. The place is nice, though, and the clerk who checked us in was utterly welcoming and kind. We were given the green light to take our bikes up to our room. While most hotels allow that, not all do, and it’s always a relief to be assured on arrival that the bikes will be secure. We were quite happy with our room; nicely appointed, with plenty of space for our bikes. El Cochinito was pleasantly surprised that the hotel was such a nice one (sometimes I go for something more on the quaint and funky side). It was a good choice for one needing some convalescence.

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

We had no interest in going out that first night, and enjoyed some top-notch hamburgers and cocktails in the on-site restaurant, Citrus. Sunday morning, the day for which rain had been in the forecast, we woke up feeling reasonably well and aware that we had sunshine that was expected to last until about 11 or 12. That meant we had enough energy and enough time to explore the south end of the Aliso Creek Trail before the afternoon rain kicked in. We found a little donut shop at one of the nearby strip malls for breakfast, and continued on to find the trail. The Google Maps guidance for accessing the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail was rather confusing. We got to Aliso Viejo Community Park, which seemed to be near the entry point, but there were paths and sidewalks going every which way, and so we asked a local to point us in the right direction. If this confusion happens to you, just hop on any trail in the park, and it will likely lead you to the Aliso Creek Trail.

We rode a few miles on the Trail until we came to a T at a road where there didn’t seem to be any signs pointing out where the Trail resumes on the other side of the road. Turns out that we were near the entrance to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park (just turn right on that road and then you’ll see the park on the left). A park ranger was there, but bearing the disappointing news that the park’s trail was closed due to the recent heavy rains. He also pointed to El Cochinito’s Pedego and said that e-bikes aren’t allowed there any way (I believe this is no longer true, so check for updated regulations before you go, if taking an e-bike). The ranger suggested we head left instead and go to the Laguna Niguel Regional Park, just across the main road. He told us to turn right on the main road and then use the crosswalk up ahead, which would lead us to a bike trail.

We took his suggestion and hopped on the bike trail. Turned out to be a trail more suitable for a mountain bike. It was a narrow dirt path with some rather rocky bumps and not exactly flat. As the little trail started heading uphill even more, I told El Cochinito, “we’re single-tracking!” I wasn’t sure if this trail was within the capabilities of my relatively nimble Bianchi Volpe with its 28mm tires, not to mention El Cochinito’s commuter bike. I got nervous on the downhill part where it was a wee bit steep and muddy, so I walked it. Soon we found an adjacent paved road, and switched over to terra firma.

The park was a nice one. We followed the road as it wound past large grassy areas that featured picnic areas and volleyball courts. The volleyball courts looked quite beautiful, as the entire playing surface was filled with water, creating a nice, smooth pool with a net across the center, surrounded by ducks and geese accenting the rectangular pond. As we continued to follow the road, we came upon a sizable reservoir, and rode all the way around that. We then explored a road leading out of the park and used Google Maps to find a route back toward the hotel from there.

Laguna Niguel Regional Park

El Cochinito became intrigued by a curious Mayan-style structure we kept seeing in the distance. As we drew closer, he just had to find out what it was. It appeared to be an office building, and it was surrounded on all sides by a ginormous parking lot. The building itself sat atop a hill, and as we got closer, it seemed a bit strange. We continued on around to the front, and saw that it was the Chet Holifield Federal Building. We rode past some bollards to look at the building up close, and snapped a few photos. We then turned to leave, when a small car zoomed quickly up the front drive and came to an abrupt stop right in front of us. I was a bit frightened by the aggressive approach, and wondered what this guy’s problem was. I then realized this was a security vehicle, and out popped a rent-a-cop, who looked like a character out of a low-budget comedy.

The Intriguing Federal Building

He told us we were trespassing on government property, and asked us what we were doing there. He told us we’d been seen on camera and looked suspicious. We told him we were curious about the interesting architecture of the building and that we were just riding by. He gave a us stern scolding, and then we were on our way.

Sunday’s meandering came to about 12 miles

With that excitement behind us, we completed our trip back to the hotel. The weather had held out OK for us thus far, but the rains were clearly moving in. We planned an afternoon at a nearby shopping mall that offered restaurants and a movie theater. Rather than worry about where to park our bikes for the afternoon, we just walked from our hotel the 3/4 of a mile to the mall. We had lunch followed by a movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which we thoroughly enjoyed. For the most part, we’d timed that well, missing the rain while were in the movie. It was still coming down when the movie got out, so we dashed over to a nearby Panera for some coffee until the rain had stopped.

As El Cochinito’s cold was winding down, mine was getting started. We spent the evening in our room the second night as well, and had another dinner at Citrus, the on-site restaurant. We felt grateful to have landed a hotel with a good onsite restaurant for a weekend when were weren’t interested in going out for nightlife. We ate there again for a hearty breakfast the next morning, checked out of our room, and headed for the Aliso Creek Trail again, this time heading the other direction.

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

The trail is interesting, as it passes through a variety of communities and parks. Some stretches provide a nice, off-street bike path, with occasional stretches along a road and taking some twists and turns. Unfortunately, there are parts where it just isn’t clear where the trail resumes after ending at an intersection or street. We got fooled by riding on what seemed to be the Trail as it turned a corner in front of Laguna Hills High School. It didn’t seem right in that, shortly after that right turn, the trail turned right again, heading back in the direction we’d started. A stop to consult Google Maps led me to believe we should have gone left instead of right at that first turn by the high school. We headed back to that intersection, and looked around for signs. None were apparent, so we started to take the bike lane heading in what seemed to be the correct direction. It was one of those bike lanes alongside a super-wide, multi-lane road, and it was heading uphill, arcing to the right, and it started to feel not quite right, so we stopped again to review the maps. All I could ascertain at that point was that we were off the trail and needed to head somewhat to our left to get back to it.

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

Eventually, with some additional frustration, we managed to find our way back to the trail. As we followed it though one of the parks (Sheep Hills Park) along the way, we encountered another fork in the path that did not seem clearly marked. One sign pointed left and said “Aliso Creek”, so we went left. As it turns out, that path took us to the Aliso Creek, but the trail we were on came to a dead end after about a quarter mile.

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

I had downloaded onto my phone a map of the trail through TrailLink, but it did not provide navigational guidance. I had to keep checking back and forth between Google Maps and the TrailLink map to sort it out. That’s how I noticed that the trail does deviate from the creek for awhile. So, we turned around and went back to take the other way. Not long after that detour, we encountered a place where the trail was closed at an underpass that had been flooded. We were able to get back on the trail after patiently waiting for a chance to cross another very busy, super-wide street.

Scenes from the middle section of the Aliso Creek Trail

Other than those few points of confusion, the trail is a nice one. El Cochinito was feeling ready for a rest stop where he could plug in his Pedego battery, so we got off the trail to seek a place to stop. We ended up circling back a little ways on El Toro Road, trying not to get killed (we rode the sidewalk), and found a Starbucks in the Lake Forest area. After a hot beverage break there, I looked at the map to see how much of the Aliso Creek Trail remained: 6 miles. El Cochinito was not interested in continuing, preferring to save his energy for the ride back to the Irvine train station. I realized I had just enough time to finish the trail, so he stayed put and I got back on the trail. This last part turned out to be my favorite part of the trail. After a couple more residential areas and small parks, the path got wider and became a little more rural-ish, with fewer street crossings. I enjoyed riding along as the natural setting became more natural, with foothills in the background and lots of trees along the path.

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

I came to the end, or near the end. Again, I encountered a fork in the path where it wasn’t clear which way to go. I stayed on what seemed to be the main path, but it ended shortly thereafter at a crossing of a major road. I wondered if that was the end of the trail, or if I should have taken the other fork. I asked a mother-daughter pair I saw walking by, who’d come from that other fork in the path, if I was at the end of the trail. They told me yes (sort of), and explained that going the other way would lead to a historic building that is very interesting. I knew that was probably the way I should have gone, but if I went there, I might end up lingering too long, so I decided to save that exploration for another time, and started making my way back.

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

The ride back towards Lake Forest was fast and fun! The grade was in my favor this way, and before I knew it, I recognized the bridge I’d taken when first getting back on the trail after leaving Starbucks. It was getting cold and I started feeling a few rain drops. I stopped to put on my jacket and check with El Cochinito to see if we was still at the same Starbucks. We met up there, made a quick stop at a grocery store to grab some lunch (I had worked up a significant appetite by this time), and began our ride to the Irvine station, racing to beat the rain. The rain won, but at least we had an indoor waiting area to sit in while eating our lunches before the train arrived.

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

Not only was it cold, rainy and windy when it came time to head to the platform, but the elevator on the far side of the bridge to the platform was out of service. We were grateful we didn’t have to carry our bikes up the stairs to access the bridge, but carrying our bikes down on the other side was quite the challenge. Getting on the train was a welcome treat, and we were able to sit right next to the bike bay.

Happy to be on the train

It was a trip that could have been better, but also could have been miserable. For a couple of fifty-somethings fighting colds and dodging rainstorms, we managed to make the most of our weekend. The riding, the movie, the meals, the hotel, the train ride, all worked out well, and we had a delightfully good time.

A total of 26.9 miles for this day on the Aliso Creek Trail
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Taking It To The Limit: What I Learn From Bonking & Other Rides That Kicked My Butt

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

Group Rides Are No Fun, Right?

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

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

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

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

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

What Kind of Rider Am I, Anyway?

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

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Biking in vintage style on my Gazelle for the Tweed Ride

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

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

Can I Blame It On Coffee & Donuts?

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

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

The Resolution Will Not Be Motorized

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

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

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

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

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

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

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

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Climbing up Latigo Canyon

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

OK, Time to Figure Out A Strategy

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

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

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Taking a little break in Franklin Canyon

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

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My triumphant moment at the top of Mandeville

foot climb.

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

Time to Get Epic

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

The Aurora Bridge in Seattle, May 2018

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

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

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Long Beach with Joni on our century ride

And Then I Bonked Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feeling good on arrival in Claremont

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

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

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

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

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

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Tour de Lammle Part Deux – my birthday ride

Now What?

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

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Scenes from the wine-tasting ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Errandonnee 2018: Turning Chores Into a Challenge

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

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

A patch from a prior year’s challenge

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

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

Here’s my “control card”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS ERRANDS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride on!

BikieGirl’s Epic New Year’s Donut Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrouping as we begin on the San Gabriel River Bike Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all agreed that this should be an annual tradition.

Epic, indeed.

Minneapolis By Bike

Love the little bike symbols on the bike-friendly street signs, but apparently, it did not entice this gentlemen to ride on the street.

I recently attended a conference, and felt so lucky that it was being held in one of our nation’s top bike-friendly cities, AND during a week of fantastic weather! If you have to attend board meetings, there’s no better way to get there than by bike, except, of course, for taking the long way by bike!

For the last three years, I’ve been serving a term on the Board of Directors of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, also known as AIPLA. It has been an incredible honor and privilege to serve, and it also means that, each of the three years, I attend the 3 stated meetings plus a board retreat, held in varied locations, as well as 3 additional day-long meetings at the AIPLA headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia. This makes for quite a bit of travel, and I have been determined to make the most of these excursions by working in some bike adventures whenever I can.

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How’s this for bike-friendly infrastructure?

Last year’s AIPLA Spring Meeting just so happened to be held right here in Los Angeles, so I biked from my home to the JW Marriott in Downtown LA each day of the meeting. This year, the Spring Meeting was held in Minneapolis, a city designated as a gold level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, among other bikie accolades. Not only that, the meeting was being held right smack in the middle of Bike Week! When I realized that, I started looking into what Bike Week events I might be able to participate in while I was there.

I also got to work at finding the right place to stay. I am not a big fan of paying big bucks to stay at a standard, run-of-the-mill chain hotel room. A room in a Marriott or Hilton can look completely interchangeable with any other corporate chain hotel room in just about any other U.S. city. The tastefully bland decor can be a damper on the spirit, if not outright soul-killing. I prefer to book my stays at nearby bed & breakfast inns or boutique hotels. It means spending significantly less per night, plus staying in a charming place, and meeting interesting people. In most cities, I’m also able to rent a bike and see a bit of the city I’m visiting while commuting from my charming B&B to the conference site. It’s a real win-win-win. So far, I have biked to AIPLA meetings in Austin, Orlando, La Quinta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, DC, as well as L.A.

I also love trying out bike share in different cities, and I knew Minneapolis has a bike share system called Nice Ride. I was delighted to find that they offer a 30-day membership for just $18, so I signed up before my trip. Membership meant I could get a key for easier unlocking of a bike and 60 minutes of use per trip instead of 30. A great bargain. Nice Ride mailed me a code that I could use to obtain a key at a Nice Ride station once I was ready to begin using my new membership. I stowed that code in a safe place, or so I thought until I went to retrieve it and spent a few hours searching everywhere I could possibly imagine having been considered a “safe place”. Luckily, the kind folks at Nice Ride were happy enough to issue me a new code — by email this time — when I called to tell them I’d lost the code.

I stayed at LeBlanc House, a Victorian B&B just north of downtown. The house was built in 1896, and is just two blocks from a Nice Ride station. Even though I arrived in the wee hours, I got up early my first morning there, hopped on a Nice Ride bike, and rode to the south side of town for a coffee meet up. I’d reached out to various women in the Minneapolis bike community to explore the interest in a coffee meet-up, in the style I’ve written about before. I contacted people of the Minneapolis Bike Coalition, reached out via the Wheelwomen Switchboard, and emailed a blogger I found. Erin, a woman who responded on the Switchboard pointed me to a Facebook group for WTF cyclists in Minneapolis called Grease Rag Ride & Wrench, so I created an event page and invited that group. That post got lots of likes and started some conversation, but did not draw any others into the coffee plan. Both Erin and Lindsey, the blogger, participated in the coffee meet-up. Erin has lived in Washington, DC, and is already quite familiar with the Women & Bicycles Coffee Club tradition.

LeBlanc House, on bike-friendly NE 3rd Ave
Nice Ride Bike Station

Even though I’d only slept for about 4 hours due to my late-night arrival, I was able to rise and shine early enough to make the journey to Peace Coffee on Minnehaha my first experience with Nice Ride. The weather app on my phone said it was 43 degrees outside, so I bundled up with tights and a trench coat. As it turned out, the morning sun was plenty warm and I was over-bundled.I was pleased to have given myself enough time to arrive just a couple minutes ahead of the scheduled 8 a.m.meeting time. I snapped a few pics of Peace Coffee, ordered my mocha & almond croissant, and settled at a central table that made me easy to find. Erin and Lindsey joined me, and we had a great time visiting. Erin shared her comparative experiences with biking in DC and Minneapolis, and Lindsey shared her passion for spreading bike love and making her own bike-friendly clothes. Of course, I had to pull out some samples to share of my Bikie Girl Bloomers.

Over-bundled for my morning ride
Peace Coffee on Minnehaha
Hangin’ with Erin and Lindsey

After Erin headed off to work, Lindsey and I stuck around while she interviewed me about biking in Los Angeles and the Bikie Girl Bloomers story.Afterward, she walked with me back to the Nice Ride station. We stopped briefly on the way to admire her nice custom bike made locally by Handsome Cycles. Lindsey is quite a delightful tour de force, full of great ideas for helping people, and the businesses who employ them, discover how easily they can work bicycling into their lives, improve health and productivity, and find their own win-win solutions. She’s also very efficient, as she posted the interview with me on her blog the very next day!

Lindsey with her Handsome bike

From there, I enjoyed a leisurely meander on Nice Ride back to LeBlanc House, making use of the Hiawatha Light Rail Trail, one of many bike trails in and around Minneapolis. This one took me into downtown right alongside some light rail tracks.

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My route back from Peace Coffee

 

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Hiawatha Light Rail Trail
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Coming in to the City Center from the south.

 

 

 

Once in the city’s center, I soon found myself near the Old Mill Ruins, riding over wood planks. This area is right along the riverfront, with a view of the beautiful Stone Arch Bridge, one of the highlights listed on the Bike Bridges tour. Of course, I had to cross it! It’s a beauty and fed me right into a beautiful neighborhood greenway. I took great pleasure in all the bike-friendly features along my way.

 

Stone Arch Bridge
Riding the wooden planks by the Old Mill Ruins
Looking back over the Stone Arch Bridge from the north
Cute bike signs
Beautiful greenway

I was able to get in a much-needed nap before it was time to head to the downtown hotel for my first meeting associated with the conference. What would be my regular commute for the next four days took me into downtown via the picturesque Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Continuing on Hennepin Avenue into downtown was only moderately hectic, as the bike lane gives way to a lane with sharrows and lots of city buses. Shortly before my turn onto 10th Street, I passed State Theatre, whose marquis was advertising an upcoming opportunity to see a final performance of A Prairie Home Companion – so Minnesota!

Hennepin Ave Bridge
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State Theater Marquis
Feelin’ floral in my Crazy Daisy Bloomers under the purple Hitchable Flounce Skirt

After an evening event at Hell’s Kitchen, I went to retrieve a Nice Bike from the docking station right across the street from the Hilton where the conference was being held. I’d switched bags for the ride back and realized I’d left my Nice Ride key in the other bag back at LeBlanc House. No problem, though, as I knew I could just swipe my credit card and get a bike through my membership that way. Except that the kiosk wasn’t responding – not to my credit card swipe or to any attempts to press the touch screen. No problem, though, as I knew there was another Nice Ride dock just around the corner. Except that kiosk had an unresponsive touch screen as well. I began to wonder if Nice Ride doesn’t operate after 10 pm. I called their number for assistance, and got a recording telling me it was after hours for customer service, but inviting me to leave a message. I let them know I was rather concerned about not being able to get out of downtown after 10 pm. I figured I would just start walking back toward LeBlanc House, and keep an eye out for another Nice Ride station. I did find another, but had the same problem at the kiosk.

Suzannah and Angie enjoying the reception at Hell’s Kitchen

I looked up and saw what I thought was the Hennepin Ave Bridge I’d come into town on, so figured I’d just walk the rest of the way. Except at some point, halfway over the bridge, I knew that was not the Hennepin Ave Bridge. I was not going over a river; I was going over a freeway. The neighborhood did not look very residential. In fact, it seemed like a rather creepy place for a woman to be walking alone at night without knowing where she was or how to get where she was headed. I was glad I’d already installed the Lyft app on my phone, and requested a ride. I immediately called the driver who was on his way to let him know I did not feel safe standing in place to wait for him — that I was going to keep walking, and we identified a good place ahead of me to meet. I made it back to LeBlanc House fine, but a bit miffed that Nice Ride had let me down.

The good folks at Nice Ride called me back the next day, terribly sorry for my troubles, and reassuring me that it was supposed to work any time of day or night. They did point out that, if I’d had my key with me, I wouldn’t have been limited by a malfunctioning touchscreen, so I made sure I always had it with me the rest of the week. While on the phone with me, they also noticed that I’d had a significant overage from the morning before and asked if I’d had a bike out for 3 hours. I told them I’d discovered my bike was still loose at the docking station where I’d parked it before my morning meeting when I returned to get another bike. They kindly credited my account to remove the overage charges, and advised me to be sure the bike was completely locked back into the dock whenever returning a bike to a dock.

I commuted back and forth between LeBlanc and the Hilton twice each day, finding that I always needed a nap in the early afternoon in order to recharge and get through the evening receptions. On Thursday, which was Women/Trans/Femme Day of Minneapolis Bike Week, I wanted to try to catch an event listed as part of that day’s schedule that would fit my free gap in the middle of the day. At the downtown farmer’s market, there was to be a free bike check and zap-tagging event running from 10-1. I got out of the Hilton around 12:15 and walked over to the market, except I had a heckuva time trying to find it and follow my Google maps walking directions. After wandering in a big circle for a half hour, I got real hungry and stopped at one of the many food trucks parked along 2nd Avenue. After enjoying the best brussels sprouts ever, I finally found the farmer’s market. The bike “event” was just one booth in the park where an occasional passerby would stop and inquire about zap tagging (used to count bicyclists). There was nothing about this event that was connected with the Women/Trans/Femme theme of the day, so I shrugged it off and went back to LeBlanc to attend to some work matters and grab me a power nap.

Free bike checks & ZAP tagging at the Farmer’s Market downtown.

Friday was great because I didn’t have any early meetings to attend. Finally, on my fourth morning at the bed and breakfast, I was able to take advantage of the breakfast offered and get to meet some other guests at LeBlanc. After dining with a couple in town from Ohio to attend their kid’s graduation and visit with old friends, the hostess was kind enough to give me and my suitcase a ride to the Hilton. I stowed my luggage at the hotel, and then took off on my much-anticipated bike adventure.

The Walker Art Center had been recommended to me, and wasn’t too far away, so I headed in that direction. I knew it likely wouldn’t be open when I got there, but figured I could at least explore the sculpture garden. The ride through Loring Park to get there was absolutely gorgeous. Ponds, bridges, gardens, park benches, all right there on either side of the bike path.

Loring Park
Loring Park
Walker Art Center

Then I found my way onto a bike path that runs along a very busy part of Hennepin Avenue, with Walker Art Center visible on the other side of many lanes of fast-moving traffic. Google maps wanted me to do something else, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what, but I saw a bridge up ahead and had to explore that. It was a fantastical contraption, a bit awkward to go up the ramp to get to the bridge, but a fun challenge to tackle with the clunky Nice Ride bike. I got up and over and found my way to the sculpture garden. Except the sculpture garden was fenced off and closed for renovation.

So I continued onward, knowing there were lakes off in the beyond somewhere, lakes completely encircled with bike paths. I saw a sign that announced Kenwood Parkway, an area that was lush and green, so I kept right on pedaling. Soon thereafter, I came upon a crossroads of bike paths to choose from. I saw that I could head left to take the Cedar Lake Trail, so I headed that way. After enjoying that trail for some good while, it dawned on me that I had best figure out where there might be a docking station, as soon my 60 minutes would be up. I consulted the Spotcyle app’s station map, and realized that going around Cedar Lake was not a practical option. Of course, going over the 60 minutes would simply mean incurring a surcharge, but I was a bit uneasy that I would underestimate just how long it would take to go all the way around Cedar Lake. I did have to get back to the Hilton for a meeting at noon!

Kenwood Parkway

Instead, I headed toward Wirth Lake, where I was able to dock the bike at a Nice Ride station and take a little break. There was a playground and a building next to the bike station, so I got real hopeful that there would be a place to get some desperately needed water. Whatever facilities beyond restrooms that the building is used for appeared to be shut down, perhaps waiting for the official start of Summer. At least there was a drinking fountain and a lovely shaded seating area.

Wirth Lake

From Wirth Lake, I continued north alongside the lake and then through a golf course to Plymouth Ave, a nice bike-friendly street that took me back toward the Mississippi River, north of the city center. I had a bike lane most of my way along Plymouth Avenue, and even a protected lane for part of it, with a well-marked zone to guide the transitional zone where cars must cross the bike lane to make a right turn. When I got to the river, I turned right and rode along the waterfront. So many bridges – it really was beautiful.

Protected bike lane on Plymouth Ave
Riding along the riverfront
Styleshot for Friday’s adventure: Pinka Dot Bloomers under black Hitchable Flounce Skirt
Friday adventure: Part One
Friday adventure: Part Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to arc in a big circle around downtown and then head back to the Hilton from the east. At one point, I missed a turn and went a little too far south, but was able to course-correct quickly enough to get back just in time for my meeting. Maybe not as epic an adventure as I’d hope to squeeze into my morning, but enough to give me a taste of how much there is to explore by bike in the Twin Cities area!

 

Took the light rail from downtown to the airport – got there at the same time as a group who’d left the hotel at the same time as me, but went by car.