Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Speaking of French Cyclists...

He's rather clownish. Red shoes, red bike. The following photos are from the Solo Circus in the UK, though Mr. beret man looks pretty French to me. I dig his flowers.

I'd always wanted to ride a penny farthing and this rendition appears comfortable. A mountain high wheeler?

Tall man, tall bicycle. Check out the orange globe on his rack. Rather like a flashing police light. Hmmm. Imagine using one of those at night...lots of visibility and cars might even pull over to let you pass!

I hope these images put a smile on your face.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bicycle Dreaming: France

Just so you know, it'll be a Frenchified week...

It's that time of year when the dreariness sets in; it's cold and I'm not riding my bike. Wheels turn in my mind. It's some sort of self-preservation I think, looking ahead. I crave forward momentum, to research and plan, to dream.

It's my 50th birthday this summer along with one of my best friend's. She and I go way back, an unlikely two-some that became close. Most of our adult lives have been opposite: she married and had her boys young while I played. Later we exchanged roles. Now she and her beau are outdoor fanatics, backpacking, rafting, and skiing. And through all our life changes and challenges we've kept in touch.

Five years ago I met her in Oregon for a week of bike travel. We slept outdoors without a tent while stars danced over our heads. That was her idea and I loved it. She even taught me how to build a fire.

She's game for almost anything. I suggested a 2012 cycling trip in France. She said yes.

A 10 year old copy of Fodor's France is keeping me company this winter.

And so it is that we are planning an adventure on wheels. We'll bring clothing, helmets, a small pack for hiking diversions, even a French/English dictionary, maybe tote a bit of camping gear, or not. The planning will unfold in the spring.

I'm thinking Provence. I've read so many Peter Mayle books (A Year in Provence, among others) that I've fallen in love with lavender fields, old men drinking at cafes, red wine, boules in the dirt, markets...and skinny French cyclists pumping up steep hills. I've recently tried foie gras and like it. I never imagined I'd like goose liver, for heavens sake!

Or some other region in France. After all, the country is filled with oh-so-many regions to satisfy our wanderlust.

Photo credit: SuperStock
For example: The Alps.
Photo credit: The Travels
Or exploring village bakeries. Pedal here, pedal there. Stop for wine and cheese. With my friend by my side.

Another thing, we'll be women on the loose, so-to-speak. We may stumble into Gerard Depardieu. (Let me help you with that baguette, monsieur.)

Photo credit: Rides a bike
Ahhh, it's Bicycle Dreaming...

Monday, February 27, 2012

France - Giverny and Entering Paris

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays. Click here for the Introduction.

Photo credit: Cooking Weekends

30 miles, Tuesday, August 2

Breakfast was a lengthy affair, flipping crepes on a one burner stove to satisfy two touring cyclists, but Andy was in heaven. Instead of syrup, apricot jam and camembert provided a delicious and filling topping.

On the way to Vernon we purchased two more maps, enough to round out the journey to Paris and northward to Belgium. While it’s true that beauty lies in the journey the European facet of our adventure is limited to 6 months and we’re always looking ahead. Andy and I love to pour over maps in the evenings.

Admission to Monet's Garden and the fantastic American Museum.
I am fascinated with Impressionism. For that artistic period in the late 1800s Claude Monet was one of a handful of artists who became famous in his lifetime, culminating his work with the water lily series, done at his residence. His property in Giverny covers several acres, bordering the Seine and the center of town. Rightfully, this is a busy place so we attended the artist’s grave at a church before the crowds thinned at the garden. At the pond where his famous work was done, I was euphoric. Lily pads still float like islands in the water. The willows, oaks, and flowers filter the hot summer sun. It’s easy to imagine how the serenity and light in the garden influence the colors he portrays so well on canvas. After 150 years, thanks to gardeners, the preservation is a testament to the lasting memory of an incredible French painter.
1903 Water Lilies (clouds) Photo credit: Web Museum Paris

By late afternoon we leapfrogged over the Seine again and climbed through a hot landscape with few trees, passing in and out of small villages. At 8 pm. we pulled into a campground, ready for a hot shower. In our crude French we verbally confirm the price. Andy scribbles the number on paper, disbelieving the 130 Francs (25.00 USD). The cost was twice what we expected. Disgusted, we continue on.  We ate dinner on the road and dashed off the highway after dark to try fee camping, erecting the tent on the edge of a field. We were sticky, but soon fell asleep. I worried the camping fee was indicative of more to come.

 Bois de Boulogne park and camping. Photo credit: Reissen aus Leidenschaft

45 miles, Wednesday, August 3

I woke to the first glow of light. The crickets chirped softly, something I’d never noticed before. I stretched out a pain in my shoulder blades. We’d slept upon hard cracked earth, bordering a newly plowed field. We began packing, catching whiffs of something wretched. Finally, a thawed package of spinach was unearthed, something we’d originally hoped to include with dinner before plans had abruptly changed.

We loved pedaling in the cool, quiet dawn. The towns began to slowly waken. Women shuffled into the street in their bathrobes; roosters crowed; farm machinery chugged to life, and eventually automobiles sped down the narrow roads towards the city. The clear sky promised another muggy day as we cycled toward the hazy Paris skyline.

Entrance to Bois de Boulogne campground. Photo credit: Beers and Beans

A map was cinched onto Andy’s rear baggage. I followed and at crossroads had easy access to navigate the next stretch of highway. In this manner we managed to enter the west side of Paris without a hitch while cycling comfortable roads.

The Bois de Boulogne campground displayed a “full” sign and we’re initially troubled, but upon inquiry discovered they’ll take as many backpackers and cycle tourists as will fit. And, the fee fit our wallet. The site is ¾ of a mile long on the banks of the Seine River, clearly the largest campground we’d yet encountered. A supermarche, restaurant, bar, information center, and phone booths are sprinkled among the sea of campers. A literal wall to wall encampment of tents fills our corner and we squeeze in the yellow tent, nearly overlapping stakes with others. It’s a welcoming bunch of international bike riders. A profusion of languages fly on the hot air, mingling with noisy traffic. We quickly befriend Scottish and Dutch travelers, getting tips for tomorrow’s Parisian adventure.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weighty Matters

Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips. My munching habit..
It's normal for me to gain 4-5 lbs. during winter. The weight creeps up on me slowly, eventually reaching maximum poundage by February. It's not an ungody amount, of course, but noticable none-the-less. And totally within reason for anyone who exercises less but still continues to consume the same calories year-round. Ahem, like the chocolate habit I wrote about here.

But this year is pleasingly different—I'm unsure why that is. I haven't gained one pound. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I cycled 10 miles a week throughout January and February—not a huge amount in the overall scheme of warm weather cycling—but certainly more than past years where I completely stop for 3-4 months. I also walk every morning and evening, contrary to last year where I walked/jogged only at 5:30 a.m.. Either way it's the same total distance.

So, I presume it has more to do with an increased metabolism; I exercise more frequently. But whatever the reason, I'm thrilled. Especially as this aging body could have the tendency to gain weight as I enter my 50s. I'll just keep up the activity and see what happens.

Heaven help me if I have to cut back on the chocolate.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cycling for Nerf Darts

I have to laugh at the errands I accomplish while I'm out pedaling. This particular Monday morning my goal was to purchase Nerf Darts for my son. He needed a special type as a gift to his friend whose birthday was that very day. "The hard tip ones", my boy said, "not the suction cup or the black ones." What? Well, wouldn't you know I found just what he described at Kmart, an easy 3 mile ride from home.

I wait until noon before I venture out to take advantage of the warmest part of the day. And since it was lunchtime I also bought my favorite pretzels for mobile munching.

My bike wasn't the only one locked up outside Kmart on a sunshiny February day. There were all these others, confused at the lack of snow. I guess they too wanted to breathe the fresh air. If Kmart can't sell snow shovels (on sale at the entrance) then bikes are the next best thing.

Now a good mom will bring along wrapping supplies to package the gift. An organized mom would've remembered to buy the gift ahead of time, but often mothers are as forgetful as their children.

At least she had time to get it done plus ride a bike, swim laps at the YMCA, and pick up her child at school. All just in time to hand off the gift. Phew!

What is the oddest thing you've set out to get by bike?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Girly Bike Touring

There's something about growing older that lends poise to youthful competition and conformity. No longer do I wear tight jeans, starve myself to look thin (to fit in those jeans), or care about what other people think. Along with this is the appreciation for the health of my parents, my children, and the gratitude I feel every day for my husband and close friends. So yes, literally, I can finally relax, let my hair down - not caring that it's turning grey. Frankly, it's liberating.

As I age I no longer count the miles on long tours. That's a good thing. And, I've always been on the slow side of average, often bringing up the rear on organized rides. So why not embrace it?

Along this same vein, I have an urge to tour with female companions. Load up the weighty Ross (because I've never toured with her), meet others, and preferably ride an urban rail trail or else this 40 lb. bike might not make it, or rather the woman riding the beast. I envision my partner(s) as new to touring—it's the perfect venue for initiates. Flat. I find comfort with women companions, especially ones that enjoy photo ops, garage sales (at least to browse), moving slowly, sharing dreams, coffee shops, and laughter. A girly bike tour on girly bikes.

My only quandary is who to go with. I have a few pedaling buddies, but most require the comfort of a bed or get bogged down with the equipment or fret on the weather. Heck, I know that often a duffle bag will do. I am also the bungee cord queen. I can fasten anything to a rack. I have panniers to loan and a plethora of tents, ground pads, and sleeping bags—thanks to past adventures and a penchant for collecting outdoor gear. No excuses, ladies!

Any free-spirited women who are game for a slow-rolling party on wheels?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Plum and Black

A fine day. Nary a ripple on the lake. Granite blocks line Perkins Pier.

I'm in a contemplative mood, dressed in a double layer of tights and my favorite thick fleece top.

I love the length of this coat. Hip coverage. Deep pockets. 

Not exactly fitted or stylish. High zip collar. Definitely comfy. Cozy.

And I bought this in Chamonix, France nearly 20 years ago. Plum just right.

Monday, February 20, 2012

France - Baguettes and Chateau Camping

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays. Click here for the Introduction.

48 miles, Monday, August 1

When I woke up in the tent this morning, I told Andy that I’d dreamed I was speaking fluent French. It was a profound hint to learn more of the language. Either that or I’d crammed too many words in my head in the glow of the flashlight.

After consuming couscous and fruit for breakfast Andy vowed to find out what the locals eat. My husband is a voracious breakfast eater and was spoiled with two or three plate-sized pancakes with real maple syrup each morning. After a month on the road he misses his constitution and must find a replacement.

A common sight outside boulangeries and markets. Photo credit:
It was a short jaunt to a supermarket where the variety was a delight. In the dairy aisle we spied 12 different kinds of cheese. We chose Camembert. The wheel is shaped like Brie, yet its flavor is less pungent with the same nutty taste. By lunchtime, the cheese is a pre-warmed creamy treat spread on bread. Outside the store we filled pannier pockets with groceries and watched the morning crowd exiting with arms full of unwrapped baguettes. One couple strapped 5 long loaves to the racks of their mopeds, like lumber on a truck.

A tailwind swept us along through quiet towns. We noted that city offices and banks are closed on Mondays. Andy and I have only 100 francs in cash, but I’m not worried. Food has become a priority and I’m thankful we have enough money to fill our bellies for another day.

Maps to guide our travels; also helps locate campgrounds.
By day’s end we sailed once again to the Seine River. A few miles later, as indicated on the map, we located a campground. Surprisingly this wasn’t an ordinary setup allowing space for caravans and tents. RVs occupied all the designated spots. Fortunately, the proprietor accommodates a few travelers like us, allowing access to his spacious backyard quasi miniature golf course. Andy and I chuckled and enthusiastically erected the “VW Beetle”, as we’ve nicknamed our yellow home, in between holes 4 and 11. The greens are gone; only the cement tubs remain. A white table with chairs provides a spot for eating with a view of all 18 holes plus the owners’ brown and white chateau. We couldn’t believe our luck. It was further testament to our mode of travel and the unexpected pleasures of the moment.

One of the most delightful and unexpected rewards after a long day on the road.
After dinner we ambled along the Seine’s banks. With the company of others, and fishermen on the dock, my husband and I enjoyed a bucolic sunset; downriver a castle reflected in the slow moving water, like a scene from a postcard.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bike Parking at the Hospital

This covered parking area at the hospital has always intrigued me. It is well utilized by riders at all times of the day. On Friday I went and investigated, curious about what types of bikes I might find.

I was surprised to find a lot of what I call "commuter bikes". By that I mean sturdy steel-framed bicycles, many old and retrofitted with racks and/or fenders.

Of course, I like the mustache handlebars. Some of the bikes are swimming in leaves. I imagine the air swirls around in the brick walled enclosure on Burlington's windy days.

There are lots of leather saddles and handlebar tape.

And a close-up of the second bike shows a headlight, cup holder, and interesting bottle cap message covering the stem bolt "Hated by Many, Loved by Few."

This white aluminum frame takes the prize for the cleanest looking ride.

I have a soft spot for well-used old mountain bikes without suspension. They make a perfect companion for just about anyone, including a commuter.

I dig this Raleigh with curved bars and thumbshifters.

This beater Raleigh is scuffed and scratched, but I appreciate its usefulness. Obviously, someone else does too.

There were a couple department store bikes, but for the most part all were older bikes and nothing worth more than 1000.00. I find this aspect satisfying as I've long thought that to own an expensive bike and park it at work was not worth the worry. Better off to buy or recondition something old—which is exactly what I'd encountered within the hospital lot. Go commuters!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cyclopedia Review

I recently bought this interesting A to Z account of everything related to the bicycle by William Fotheringham. It's hardcover, though without a book jacket. The imprinting reminds me of letterpress. Simple and unpolished.
The endpapers are a lovely assortment of bikes, cogs, seats, and helmets. This print would be nice as fabric.

Inside, the layout resembles The Farmer's Almanac. It's set up in multiple columns and is designed with easy to read short quips, just enough to whet your appetite for a particular subject.

There are no photos, but old style etchings graphs, and maps. Condensed type highlights each title with bold initial capitals starting each section of the alphabet.

Can you tell that I like the design?

The content is a vast array of facts on history, bike design, racing, books, commentators, and famous people associated with the sport. I thought I would be able to read this as a novel, but it's an overwhelming amount of information, better absorbed in snippets. My book resides in the bathroom (ha!), but with post-it notes to mark items of interest.

My favorite page, so far, is a chart of the Alps prestigious ascents, complete with altitude, length of climb, and height gain. I like how the author presents their unique features. For example, did you know that on L'Alpe d'Huez there are TDF winners' names on each of the 21 hairpins turns?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Biker's Troll

This sweet little girl keeps me company during the long winter.

She sits on the window sill at my work place. With magenta-colored hair and salmon tank top, she is a bright spot against the snow and bare trees (though it's not so white this year). I like her happy message: I LOVE BIKING. I expect she'll let me know, with her birds-eye view of the outdoors, when it's time to start commuting again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Winter Fest Ice Sculptures

Heiferweissen. It'a convoluted amalgam of a heifer, a piano bar and beer.

Every February Burlington holds a Winter Festival, complete with ice sculptures. As a family we went for a walk to investigate the contestants.

No title for this one, but I like the penguins' view.

The Last Snowflake. That may be an apt title this year.

My son and I sat on some rocks and counted ducks. I love the riotous quacking and bottoms-up view of the hungry ones.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thoughts on Recreation and Transportation Cycling

While I was out pedaling, enjoying this February sunshine, my thoughts wrestled with the current lack of federal encouragement for pedestrian and cycling in this country. And it seems to be getting worse.

For years support for cycling and pedestrian safety has been viewed by congress as discretionary spending, much like music programs in city schools. As parents we plead and prod and vote on a school budget each year. It is often a gut wrenching decision to cut programs, or vote NO, but we speak through our wallets. Sometimes a second language class is cut, sometimes the arts. Some people do not view these programs as necessary curriculum. Much like congress cannot automatically fund bike and walking infrastructure as a requirement when there are roads to maintain, wars to fight, social security, and unemployment programs to fund.

It's a sad reality that just as cycling for transportation is growing, it's still a widely-held view that bicycles are strictly for recreation. I think that's the crux of this issue. Sure, we all love bike paths. They were pushed through and funded by partial federal dollars, but promoted for health and recreation. And now many Americans are beginning to ride to work and for short errands, using these paths. The cycling as transportation movement is expanding. Look around.

Yet, year after year we are approached by Adventure Cycling, Rails-to-Trails, and League of American Bicyclists (not to mention our local advocates) to write letters and e-mail our representatives to support the current rehash of the transportation bill. In light of this year's politics, it feels like an uphill battle. And frankly, I'm growing tired of all the contact from these groups. Would it make an impact if our congressional representatives were required to pedal to their office?

I don't have a solution nor am I politically savvy to this particular bill. I am a pedestrian and cyclist trying to make my way with less impact on the planet. But it strikes me as odd the way walk and bike advocates have to fight for what should be an inherent part of the transportation budget.  And clearly, this bill has come at a time when every program in this country will be highly debated to cut "unnecessary" waste. With our country's debt at an all-time high and ever-shifting world-wide crises, I believe there will eventually be a new norm for Americans. The middle class is struggling. There is less money, period, for us all. Will the future include a pared down existence with more bikes and buses? Maybe. We can only hope.