Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Post #19: Bikeist in Hawaii

It's still, technically, Monday in the U.S., at least here in Hawaii, so this post is still on time.  However, my apologies to you loyal readers who have tuned in as a free flight to Hawaii has, unexpectedly, caused the Bikeist to take a much needed week off.  With the rental price for a decent bike quoted at $80 a day (ouch!) at The Bike Shop (ridiculous!), this is the view I expect to be enjoying the rest of the week:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Post #17: Bikeography Part XII -- A Capital Bikeist

First off:  no fewer than two loyal readers have cited this blog as an inspiration to them this week.  I apologize.  I never had any intention to inspire anybody.  The whole point of this blog is to make millions!  Can't wait for that big Holiday Bonus check from Mr. Google!  Wonder if being inspirational will add to my take . . .

OK, I lied -- it's not really about all the millions I'm about to rake in.  You guys figured me out -- the real point of this blog is, in fact, to inspire people to dust off the bikes they ALL have hanging in their garages, sheds, etc., and re-experience the closest sensation to flying without (usually) leaving the ground.  I accept and applaud your inspiration, and, in turn, am inspired to keep on inspiring . . . .  Thank you.

Speaking of inspiration, check this out:

Yes, that is, indeed, a brand new Brooks, C17 Cambium mounted on my do-everything, Red Cannondale urban assault bike.  I have always coveted a Brooks saddle, but the whole maintenance thing (tension bolts) and the need to keep the leather from ever getting wet (really folks, aren't they made in bloody England?) were major drawbacks for me.  The C17's, though -- modeled after the iconic Brooks B17, are crafted from vulcanized rubber with a waterproof, canvas, seat (and, of course, those gorgeous rivets!).  So, with a little birthday cash in hand (thanks, mom!), I couldn't resist when I walked into Holland's and, literally, saw Jacob pulling the demo models out of the crate they had just received.  A review is forthcoming, but I couldn't resist posting a teaser . . .

When we left off, I was still in the throes of my chance encounter with an errant jackrabbit (still haven't quite shaken, or figured out, that experience - and am pretty sure the rabbit feels about the same).  That collision, of course, came during my tour on USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76).  My last six months on board that magnificent ship were spent on a deployment in support of OIF where my biking was limited to the three spin bikes we had stashed in an aft compartment and a wonderful day on the east coast of Singapore spent on a nice, dedicated bike path.  The reward for that tour, though, was a year at the University of San Diego for a Navy funded advanced degree in Environmental Law.  Great school - great program, but, best of all, a great bike commute!  I was back on the ferry again every morning, and had a perfect ten miles along the Emabracadero, up Nimitz, up the San Diego River Path, and then up the STEEP hill to the main campus and the Law School.  What a great year! 

After USD, it was off to the Pentagon to utilize my new-found knowledge, and re-acquaint myself with biking in real weather.  Thankfully, Google Earth had been invented by this time, so finding a place to live was a cinch -- I just followed the Mount Vernon Trail south from the Pentagon until I found an adjacent neighborhood with a convenient elementary school for my little bikeists.  The one we found was exactly 14 miles from the Pentagon (I highly recommend the linked book - reads like an architectural/engineering thriller, if there is such a thing) -- ideal commuting distance.  What a joy to ride up and down the Potomac every day to go work in a historic, iconic, structure!  The path was maintained by the National Park Service, so it was always in fantastic condition, and I was surprised how quickly I re-adjusted to biking in cold, wet conditions.  The LL Bean XC-skiing gear came back out of the storage bins, and I actually looked forward to the shorter, colder days in fall and winter because I, pretty much, had the path to myself that time of year.  The colder it got, the clearer my path to and from work.  For icy and snowy days I pressed the old red Cannondale back into service with some Schwalbe carbide studded tires I picked up.  Those tires were awesome!  They gripped the black ice on the wooden bridges along the path and were tremendous on the handful of snowy days we had in those two years.  People thought I was crazy for biking in those conditions, but, I saw it as the equivalent exertion of going out and skiing in the same weather, which nobody would have questioned.  In fact, DC winters pretty much hover in the 40's, which is fine for biking if you're dressed right.  My biggest challenge was actually trying not to over-heat, since the resulting perspiration made me colder than the air or wind ever could.

Believe it or not, DC is a veritable Bikeist paradise.  Commuting to the Pentagon or M. Le'Enfant's master-planned metropolis on the Potomac can be easily accomplished through a substantial network of dedicated bike paths that spread out like spokes from a hub.  Besides my beloved Mount Vernon Trail, there was the Capital Crescent Trail that came in from Bethesda, the C&O towpath (explored further in my next post) that heads all the way from Georgetown, through West Virginia, to Cumberland, Maryland, and the W&OD Trail that heads west to the Leesburg countryside.  Right before I transferred, they even finished hanging a brand new path off the side of the Woodrow Wilson bridge, providing connectivity between the Southern Maryland countryside and Old Town Alexandria (and, of course, Crystal/Pentagon Cities and the Pentagon).  I, of course, missed my beloved San Diego the whole time I was there, but, thanks to NEVER having to experience Beltway rush-hour traffic, I was probably the happiest (or only happy) person in DC -- which is most likely why they made me leave . . .

Next up:  A Passage to Pittsburgh

Post #18: Bikeography Part XIII -- A Passage To Pittsburgh

Here I am starting one of the great treks of my Bikeist career --  Georgetown to Pittsburgh via the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail.  This is me dipping the back wheel of my Bad Boy (equipped with indestructible 26 x 1.5 Armadillo tires) into the Potomac before heading West . . .

I left as the days started to get longer in May, but had to contend with some tough and slippery trail conditions all along the canal -- first day of about 70 miles brought me to Harper's Ferry in West Virginia, which still looks about the same as it did in the mid-1800's:


The second day found the same conditions as I continued gradually and constantly uphill toward Cumberland:

Heading out of Harper's Ferry:

These working water pumps were handy for the long stretches through the woods where I didn't hit a town or store for forty or more miles, but my stomach paid the price on day 3:

The scenery was worth any mild discomfort endured, though --

End of the C&O Canal -- thank God. Uphill the whole way, with lots of ruts, mud, and gravel. Beautiful ride, but it took a toll.  70 miles a day in those conditions was exponentially more difficult than my 60 - 80 mile training rides on pavement.  I strongly recommend keeping it to 50 or less for the C&O portion of this journey.

Progress!  Best part of completing the C&O was the shift to a well-maintained crushed limestone surface on the GAP Trail.  Many prefer to go Pittsburgh to DC, but I liked getting the tougher trail out of the way first and then breezing to Pittsburgh.

Turtles --the only wildlife slow enough for me to catch on camera while trying to cover 70 miles every day. Wish I could have caught the wild turkeys, great blue heron, owl, goldfinch, blue-birds, deer, fox, cardinals, beavers, turkey vulture, hawks, snakes, one red crossbill, and lots of butterflies as well.

This is me with Harry Beale, a member of the Navy's first SEAL Team (had the ring and card to prove it). He was waiting for me at the overlook just before the Continental Divide. He's 83, and used to run the 15 mile round-trip from his PA house every day until his knees started bothering him two years before. Now he bikes it. Yes, that is a holster on his right hip, and yes, it holds a large revolver. He said he started carrying it when a dog got after him on the bike. As I was pedaling off, I said I'd keep my eye out for the dog. Harry: "You ain't gonna have to worry about that dog, Commander . . ."

Big Savage Tunnel -- previously abandoned and impassable, it's renovation, complete with lighting was the final step connecting DC and Pittsburgh by trail --

Hill profile for Day 4.  Should have pointed my bike the other way -- I came up from the left side of the graphic on morning 4, and rode down the other side in the afernoon, to Ohiopyle. Next time, I'm going the sane way.  It was all downhill from the Divide to Pittsburgh, though . . .

Love, love, love biking across old railroad bridges!

Last stop before Pittsburgh!

Heading out of Ohiopyle on Day 5 --

After five days in the woods, it was going to be weird to be back in a big city --

Connellsville likes Bikeists!

My reward for 340 miles of biking through the DC, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania woods -- an evening enjoying one of my other big passions at one of my favorite Stadiums -- PNC Park.  Pretty much had the place to myself as the Pens were playing a Playoff game and the Bucs still stunk.  However, they did manage to beat the Cards that night.

Completing this ride was the culmination of a dream I had since college when I rode portions of the GAP trail in and around Ohiopyle, reading about the plans to connect the trail to the C&O Canal, making the DC to Pittsburgh through-ride a reality.  My present fixation is completing the entire Pacific Coast Bike Route, but it's hard to beat the GAP and C&O for the car-free wilderness experience they provide.  Here's a good place to start in planning your own through-ride:  http://www.thegreatalleghenypassage.com/GAP_TRAIL_PLAN_YOUR_RIDE.html.

Do it -- you won't regret it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Post #16: Bikeography Part XI: Of Jackrabbits And Jets

After three years riding the ferry and circumnavigating the bay a couple of times a week to get to and from work, I was transferred to the Aircraft Carrier USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76), meeting her the day she pulled into her new homeport at Naval Air Station North Island, and riding her through work-ups and her maiden deployment to the Arabian Gulf. 

With my floating legal office parked right here in Coronado, the bike commute became easier than ever - a little over two miles from front door to brow.  With the short commute, and the need to leave the bike on the pier all day, I switched back to my faithful red Cannondale and its fat Armadillo tires (useful for navigating the railroad tracks scattered along the way to the ship).  For so many reasons, this was the best job I have ever had or ever will have.  It was also the toughest and most challenging, but so rewarding to see our efforts contribute to the smooth running of this floating city and airfield.  So, after a tough day of dealing with the surprises that a crew of thousands of 18-22 year-olds can throw at a ship's legal department, it was always nice to hop onto my bike and let the day start to melt away.  Even on my short commute, there was something about getting into the rhythm of my pedaling cadence that immediately put me into "the zone."

It was on a Summer evening, as the sun was starting to set and I was just getting into my rhythm, when I had one of the oddest encounters I have had on a bike (or anywhere else for that matter).  I was just getting up to cruising speed along carrier row when my peripheral vision detected a blurred projectile flying through the air in my direction.  Its trajectory put it directly in my path, striking a direct hit on the 'T" in my handlebars, with the substantial "thump" bringing me to an immediate halt.  I had just passed a Sailor on foot, so I wondered if he had thrown something into my path for some reason.  So, my head snapped toward him with my face in shock and dismay.  All he did was point out toward the road.  Sitting, in a clump, a few yards off to my left in the road was a HUGE jackrabbit!

I was afraid that I had killed it, but he started to twitch a little, shook his whiskers, shook his whole body, then just stood there, frozen, even more stunned than I was.  We stared at each other, both, I think, wondering if that had really just happened.  He then disengaged from my gaze, and hopped, slowly, the rest of the way to the other side of the road (where he must have been trying to get when he leaped into my path).  Since I couldn't ask the rabbit, I turned to the Sailor and asked if that had been for real.  He just nodded his head.  For some odd reason (or, more likely, no reason at all), with all the space on this planet and in this universe, that rabbit and my handlebar stem needed to occupy the same exact cubic foot or so at the same exact moment.  What are the odds?

I have tried to read some meaning into this encounter ever since, with no success.  You'd think that I, at least, might have gained some rabbit-like super-powers, but no such luck.  A couple of days later, I spotted an ad on Craigslist for concert tickets to a show I really wanted to attend, and the poster wrote that she'd give the tickets away for free to the person who wrote her with the most compelling story of why they deserved the tickets.  So, I e-mailed her, detailing the story above, explaining that something like that has to happen for a reason and, clearly, the reason in this case was that the powers that be wanted me to go to this show.  She e-mailed me back the next day to say that she loved the story, but still gave the tickets to somebody else.  It's a cruel, cold-hearted universe we inhabit people.  But we, at least, have our bikes, and that rabbit lived to hop another day . . .

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Post #15: Bikeography Part X -- Hello San Diego!

Special Veterans Day greetings to all my fellow service members and Veterans out there -- THANK YOU for your service.  While I am proud to have deployed to both the Gulf and Afghanistan since 2001, one of the tougher parts of deploying, for me at least, was the bike deprivation that came with it.  Stationary bikes on ships and in camp gyms are simply no substitute for the thrill and freedom of whizzing around on two wheels.  My Afghanistan deployment required lots of ground movement, and, to my surprise - despite the bad roads and deadly traffic - this is a sight I frequently saw out my window during our travels:

Bikes (and donkeys) were ubiquitous in Afghanistan and the skill of the riders never ceased to amaze me.  They entered traffic circles, that I was nervous to approach in an armored vehicle, with the utmost calm and composure.  You think your urban commute is tough?  You haven't seen anything until you've seen Kabul . . .

Of course, the exact opposite of the conditions endured by the Afghan Bikeist pictured above, would be the commute I had upon moving from Spain to San Diego in 2001.  Every morning, I left the ocean-view condo we rented in the Coronado Cays (chosen for its immediate proximity to the Silver Strand Bikepath), hopped on my Bad Boy and headed due north, with the Pacific to my left and San Diego Bay to my right, then followed the golf course to the portion of the Bayshore Bikeway crossing underneath the Coronado Bay Bridge to get to the free commuter ferry to my office in downtown San Diego.  Repeating the trip in the evening was sheer bliss, especially at sunset, and was something I frequently envisioned and used as motivation during the tougher parts of my deployments.

That commute lasted only a year, though, as my long-suffering wife was more interested in being able to walk to play dates with our little bikeists than in facilitating my splendid commute.  So, we moved into Coronado "Village" where I biked a mere mile to the ferry, but took every opportunity to bike all the way around the bay in the morning on the aforementioned Bayshore Bikeway.  Back in 2002, it was a 25 mile ride, requiring some harrowing riding through Imperial Beach and National City as the route did not yet have the portions that now hug the bay through IB, parallel the I-5 and, most importantly, the Gordy Shields Bridge over the Sweetwater River.  I actually got so sick of taking my life into my hands during the morning commute in National City that I threw some fat Armadillos on the Bad Boy and started following an abandoned railroad bed, crossing the river by portaging the bike across the beams of two railroad bridges.  Fun commute, but so much better now with the substantial improvements to the Bikeway (which still isn't complete, unfortunately).

On weekends, when I wasn't pulling my little bikeists up and down the Strand in the Burley bike trailer I picked up at the veritable institution that is Holland's Bicycles, I was exploring the bicycling paradise that is San Diego.   A quick trip across the Bay and I was soon headed up to Cabrillo National Monument, and its famous Tidepools:

Other favorite rides took me through and around Balboa Park and out to Mission Hills or up and down the coast on Historic Route 101.  Future posts will explore my favorites in depth, but a great place for a San Diego newcomer to start is at Philip Erdelsky's website:  http://www.efgh.com/bike/routes.htm.   He does an excellent job of listing some of the more popular routes and includes a good compilation of dedicated bike paths.

As a regular on the Ferry, filled with fellow bike-commuters, I quickly made connections with locals that have led to life-long friendships.  Several of my new "ferry friends" were members of Crown City Cyclists (Coronado's incredibly welcoming Cycling Club) who invited me to join them on Saturday mornings for the now "World-Famous Donut Ride" -- departing from Margarita at precisely 0700 for a social ride down the Strand to IB and a sprint back to Margarita for coffee, donuts, bagels and tall tales of exploits along the way.  Started by a small group of friends living on Margarita, the group is now 50 - 75 strong as its peloton heads up and down the Strand on Saturdays.  In true Bikeist fashion, they welcome riders of all abilities, bike-types, and attire -- with serious racers, mere enthusiasts, and raw beginners all in the mix heading south, until the peloton divides by "ability" for the sprint back.  I learned more about group riding, and riding in general, from these riders than I could from a pile of books or magazines.   Besides the lessons to be learned from mixing with experienced riders, though, the real draw to doing these rides has got to be the thrill and exhilaration of all those bikes and riders moving as one unit.  As long as you don't fall off the back of the pack, it's amazing how easy it is to go fast when you have a peloton full of drafters and the sheer inertia of the group to pull you along.  Don't believe me?  Come out some Saturday morning and find out for yourself . . .

Next up:  Jets and a Jack Rabbit . . .

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Post #14: #Kitties!

You should be ashamed of yourselves!  Admit it, the only reason you followed the link to this post is because of the thumbnail featuring this adorable #kitten "hiding" behind the front wheel of my Secteur.  I found her and her siblings playing on and around my bike the morning I set out from Klamath the second day of my epic Oregon to San Fran bike trip this past summer.

You should probably be doubly ashamed of yourselves because it is extremely likely that you are amongst those responsible for my Halloween post drawing more than twice as many views as any other post in this series thanks to it featuring this amazing #Unicorn Bike:

Face it, you are what is wrong with the Interwebs.  An amazing technological advance that was supposed to spread knowledge like wildfire, draw the peoples and nations of the world closer together, and push scientific innovation forward at light speed, has, instead, been dominated by #kitty videos, #unicorns, pictures of people's meals, #rainbows, bike-blogs and, of course, porn. 

Given your penchant for #kitties and #unicorns, I am going to make an educated guess -- you will not be able to resist the following threat:  if you do not forward a link to my blog to every one of your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, e-mail contacts, co-workers, congregations, classmates, and at least 50 random strangers, something terrible will happen to you and everyone dear to you -- if you do not immediately contract an exotic, tropical, incurable skin rash, then you are more than certain to be trampled by a herd of rabid llamas in your sleep.  Ignore this warning at your peril!

That's right -- if I can't beat you, then I am left with no choice but to leverage your affliction for the greater good of this blog.  I can't reward your bad behavior, though, so you will all have to wait until Monday for the next installment of the neverending Bikeography.  Believe me, this will hurt me way more than it hurts you . . .

Until then, you will just have to make do with this:

I hope you are all proud of what you have reduced me to --

Monday, November 4, 2013

Post #13: Bikeography Part IX -- The "Bad Boy"

So, like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes, or Daenerys Targaryen emerging from the funeral pyre of her betrothed with baby dragons in tow, I set forth from the charred remains of our Chevy Celebrity as a full-fledged, fully committed, Bikeist.  With my long-suffering-wife taking our only car to New Haven every day, my only option to get to work was my good old red Cannondale.  If you really want to become one with your bike, and biking, commit to it as your primary form of transportation.  While knobby tires were fine for my occasional bike-commute sojourns, they quickly became unacceptable for 120+ miles per week in the saddle.  Friction was the enemy!  So, I headed to my local bike shop and picked up a pair of "slicks."  Pretty sure they were Specialized "Fat Boys"  -- no tread, fat, tires designed for 26" mountain bike rims.  They rolled nice and smoothly, but a better name would have been "Flat Boys."  Those tires never met a thorn, pebble, small glass shard, or anything remotely pointy that couldn't penetrate their entirely permeable skin.  Thus, I quickly became the master of the roadside quick patch repair -- a crucial skill for bikeists everywhere.  Regardless of how good one gets at patching a tube, though, we never cease to be shocked and aghast at every single flat.  Still am -- probably even more so these days given the wonderful advances in bike tire technology.

Weather was my other big nemesis.  Where a little rain, or plummeting mercury, drove me to the Celebrity previously, now I had no choice but to brave the elements.  Luckily, my years playing baseball in the Northeast in March (and soccer in November) had hardened me to the experience of exercising in icy conditions.  Most useful, though, was my experience with cross-country skiing in Syracuse and Northeast Connecticut.  Biking and nordic skiing seemed to be remarkably similar in level of effort, and the same clothing/gear that enabled me to ski comfortably in winter, came in handy for winter bike commutes in Connecticut  (thanks LL Bean!).

Luckily, though, I was rescued from the very notion of Winter within the first year after the Celebrity's demise.  The Navy had the good sense to transfer us to Southern Spain, and it's fabulous, Mediterranean, bike-friendly climate.  We lived within view of the coast, exactly seven miles from my office on base.  Again, my long-suffering-wife got our sole means of combustion-engine driven transportation (an '81 Buick Skylark I got from a Navy buddy for $475 because he was getting out and too embarrassed to drive it to work at the firm he was joining as he left the Navy).  I had a dedicated path that took me the two miles to the "Puerto" gate, and then it was five miles along a wide shoulder inside the base.  Wonderful commute in perpetually perfect, San Diego-like weather!  With ten miles less on the road each day, I was left with lots of energy on weekends to explore the country and coastal roads that surrounded our village of El Puerto de Santa Maria.  While driving windy Spanish roads and avoiding the matador-inspired Spanish drivers was often harrowing for American transplants, I was always impressed at the wide berth they always gave to cyclists.  Little known to most Americans is the fact that Futbol-mad Spain actually considers cycling to be its national sport.  Thus, it was many a worry-free weekend mile I spent with hombres like this exploring the hills of Andalucia for my three and a half years in Spain:

Yes -- every cyclist in Spain dresses as if they are on a professional cycling team -- regardless of their fitness level.  While I, personally, found it to be quite endearing, it definitely reinforced my personal aversion to spandex/lycra.  What looks wonderful on 135 pound world-class athletes, looks ridiculous on the rest of us.

As explored above, once one commits one's self to getting into the saddle each and every day, one starts to become a bit more finicky about some of the smaller nuances of riding.  Thus, my old Cannondale, which had seemed like the perfect commuter, was starting to feel a bit clunky to me, especially on longer weekend rides.  So, it was back to the catalogs for me, where I discovered the ultimate commuter, street, do-everything bike:

Cannondale invented a whole new genre of bike with its "Bad Boy" released in 1999.  It was marketed heavily in Europe, with images of bike messengers navigating city streets on the sleek matte-black frame with black decals.  I drove all the way to Sevilla to get mine and was thrilled with it.  So nimble, so tough, so beautiful!  Except when it was in the shop (pressing the old Red Bomber back into action) every commute, ride and trek I did for the next thirteen years was on my indestructible (except for the original, cheap, Hutchinson "Top Slick" tires which I quickly ditched for Gatorskins) Bad Boy.  The 26" rims accommodated my mountain bike tires, and the Bad Boy performed as admirably off road as it did on.  My only mistake was that, with my mountain-biker mentality, I got the bike a little small for my size, favoring the clearance desired for mountain biking.  This took its toll as I transitioned to longer treks later on -- leading to me, ultimately, getting a full-fledged, properly sized road bike.

There were so many great rides, treks and commutes on the Bad Boy, that I can't even begin to detail them here.  So, loyal reader, you will have to bottle your anticipation until Thursday when I'll thrill you with some of my greatest moments in the saddle on my Cannondale Bad Boy.  Lucky you!

Next up:  The Bikeist comes to San Diego!