Friday, June 29, 2012

It's All About Family Fun on Two Wheels

All photos by Avery.
There was glorious sunshine with a nice breeze. The heat wave had thankfully passed for the attendees of the Family Fun Challenge Ride. We converged at the picnic table outside Local Motion to introduce ourselves. While kids decorated helmets or bikes with stickers, I set off alone to check out a mysterious blockage on the trail. On the way to to meet the group my son and I'd been diverted around a section due to "an unattended package." 

This mom stuffed her items in her skirt.
Kids and parents figured out their own methods to attach the search list and pen. Within a few hundred feet we detoured, but it was an adventurous group. We hoofed it up a steep hill, rode sidewalk for a half mile, then I introduced an interesting single track back to the path. There were various abilities so I erred on the side of caution. Some children clearly loved it and an able dad even biked what I would consider an expert section.

That's me walking the steep dirt track back onto the paved rail trail.

Clue sheets came out.

I made sure to slow and stop at certain points, allowing ample time for families to "notice" items on the list. At this point my husband and other son caught up with us.

On the agenda was a fun stop behind an ice rink where there is often snow. One father plowed his bike into a snow bank, which brought peels of  laughter from the group. A friendly snowball fight ensued. Children mashed snow onto helmets and let them melt as we continued on our way.

But we were soon back on the trail, checking off other items. There was a brief break at the bridge, observing boats and wildlife, reading the dedication plaque for pertinent information. This was the turnaround.

One girl took her task very seriously.
To mix it up we rode more trails in the woods and set a different course around the unfortunate detour. And before long we rested at Local Motion, devouring iced pops. I solicited information from the adults, asking for feedback. As I suspected, like myself, they are continually looking for low cost ideas to get their family outside while enjoying some exercise.

This photo is mine.
I was particularly impressed with biking etiquette. These families had ridden together many times. Had there been more than ten people, it might've been dangerous; the path was very busy. I was the only leader as the Local Motion employee remained in the office due to sickness.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bike Fever

A restored Peugeot Mixte. Photo credit: Commuter Cycles

The popular Betty Foy. Photo credit: Rivendell
Someone should take my temperature. I'm often feverish, wanting a Mixte for it's classic split top tube. Old or new, it doesn't matter.

Photo credit: Breezer 
Or the practical Breezer Uptown LS for it's low cost and retro styling, all packed with commuting features. I'm all about "step through" functionality. This bike makes so much sense. I stumbled upon it's cousin (Uptown 8) in "person" the other day and I think I drooled over its frame. The only drawback to the Breezer line is its subdued color choice: grey, brown, black—navy blue is as flashy as it gets.

Photo credit: Downtube Nova
But I've got pizzazz all figured out. I'd like to own an orange bike. And what's a better choice than a folder in pumpkin? I'm intrigued by the quality, design, and price of the Downtube Nova. This company hails from Pennsylvania, specializing in selling direct to the consumer, which keeps the cost down.

What's a girl to do when she doesn't need any of these bicycles, but lusts for them anyway? I'm feeling a bit woozy so I think I'll lie down. Please, somebody call a doctor.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peak Fitness

I am often on autopilot as I crank the pedals, easily shifting as I cruise to work, climbing hills, coasting, glancing in my mirror for approaching traffic. In other words, I'm in the groove.

And I noticed that I no longer crest hills and immediately take a breather, let the heart rate quiet down—because I no longer need the break. I've given up counting the revolutions until the top, nor do I pay constant attention to the gearing. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, this point after a few months of riding when spinning wheels isn't an effort, but an extension of my everyday self. I can dream while standing in the pedals, write blog notes in my head, compile grocery lists.

I am sublime with my bike. I call it personal peak performance—not like a supremely fit Tour de France racer, but rather—when hopping on the bike is an easy thing. Earlier this spring I encountered leg fatigue when riding the heavy Ross after a 20 mile errand run. Now I barely know when I'm closing in on 25 miles.

What is your personal fitness barometer?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Czech Republic - Back in Time, Prague

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

Horse drawn wagons hauling hay.
35 Miles - Tuesday, August 30

This morning I bought a bag full of plums from a roadside vendor, handing over 3 Korun (10 cents). I felt like a criminal.

As we coasted and pumped past rolling pastures, I was amazed and intrigued. It feels like we’ve stepped back in time. Farming is done without machinery. A couple people hand pick potatoes or hack clover, filling burlap bags. Scythes are the common implement, also used in personal gardens or to cut roadside weeds. Harvesting must take weeks with such back breaking labor.

Negotiating the maze of winding streets in Prague tested our patience and navigation skills before we settled into a nearly empty campground. Next door is a nature area and sporting complex. All the while, the distant rumble and whir of trolleys remind us of our proximity to a large population.

Photo credit: Trek Earth
Wednesday, August 31

This morning we took a trolley to the old section of Prague along the Vitava River. This city of 1 million inhabitants has the unique distinction as the only European city untouched by both World Wars. Its architecture remains intact, neither bombed nor rebuilt. The same cannot be said of romantically beautiful Paris. Prague is named “The Golden City” for its bohemian character, having over 100 gothic spires. Its skyline is mythically medieval, as if one expects knights on horses. Indeed there are 400 horse drawn carriages clip clopping over the cobbles, serenading with city hall’s church bells.

Narrow streets encompass the old town quarter with an unending series of elaborately decorated gothic statues adorning every building. A profusion of dark spires pierce the rooftops; religious sculptures lean out from doorways; storefronts sell Bohemian crystal. The aroma of coffee, pastries, sausage, apple strudel delight our senses. We eat ice cream, buy plums from market stalls, and walk until we are hungry again. The food is relatively inexpensive, though not as cheap as in small towns.

A souvenir we can carry, a miniature print. View is from
Charles Bridge, looking toward the old town.
Word is that Prague is fast becoming a tourist mecca. After standing on the Charles Bridge (built in 1300s out of stone) with the 30 black statues on guard along its entire length, it’s like standing in a spot like no other on earth. Spires surround the skyline at both ends of the bridge. The statues are replicas (originals in a museum) but they look neglected nonetheless, covered in soot and cobwebs.  The Czech Republic has working smoke stacks, polluting the air and also affecting the exhaust emissions on vehicles. The country is 5 years old, splitting from Slovakia during the peaceful Velvet Revolution – it will contend with future clean air standards, I predict, to become even more tourist friendly.

Annie enjoys Prague's beauty
By noon we’d already decided to stay another day. We originally didn’t plan to go through the Czech Republic, but it has turned out to be an amazing experience. It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

A gilded astrological clock decorates one wall of the city hall, working now for 500 years. At every hour two doors open and the figures of the 12 apostles circulate through the opening as the bells toll. It draws a crowd in intervals at Old Town Square.

Crowds gather for the hourly operation of the astrological clock.
Annie in front of 1400s astrological clock.
We stayed until 7:30 in the old district, walking, talking, eventually eating pizza at an outdoor café near the famous clock.

The only mishap occurred when we went to get on the tram, but couldn’t decide what direction we were supposed to go. I insisted on one; Andy the other. It wasn’t until Andy was totally frustrated that he asked the driver for directions. He was right. Andy gets edgy, his brows knitted when he is lost in a city, whereas I tend to laugh. He is more concerned with time:  rising early, eating lunch by noon, leaving Prague’s city life by sundown. And his concerns are legitimate as we travel through foreign lands.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lake Sojourn - Part Three & Equipment Review

Front rack stuff: ground pad, blue tarp for under tent, rain gear, handlebar bag (close to stem).
The morning was crisp again and because I would only pedal another twenty miles to the ferry I lingered in the campsite, leisurely drinking tea. Breakfast consisted of a banana and small packaged blueberry pie. My hunger was beginning to increase though; I hoped to locate a restaurant en route.

As I pedaled through downtown Plattsburgh, I noted the nice 1812 bicentennial signs. I learned later it was the battle of Plattsburgh, during this war, that turn the tide over to the Americans.

Officers Row and old military housing.
Actually it's difficult to miss all the historical signs in this part of New York state. I started reading a few of the placards, many of which are metal, but it gets ridiculous and mind numbing after a while.

I cruised on a pathway squeezed between the railroad tracks and old military barracks.

I dried my toe-dampened flats on my rear bags. 

A quick zip through a tunnel.

I liked this park because of it's solitary figure looking out to water.

And it's incredible view.

I assumed it was Samuel Champlain, the lake's namesake, and I was correct. But the native Americans lived here long before as acknowledged by the stone sculpture crouched at the base of the monument.

The edifice was erected over 100 years ago, on the 300th anniversary.

Leaving the Pllattsburgh environs, I easily was swept along, the northern wind once again picking up. I had to stop at the Stoneledge Sculpture Garden. Actually it's hard to miss the array of farm implements and wacky metallic abstracts. It's weirdly appealing, all the more so by the manicured lawn. There is a bench beside the sign; all are welcome to sit and ponder.

Afterwards I stopped in at a lakeside restaurant, all excited because the parking lot was full. But I was disappointed by the sign on the door "Open Father's Day Weekend". Rats, two days later! The cars probably belonged to the patrons of the marina below the restaurant. Thankfully, I still had gorp and I gobbled a couple handfuls before setting off.

A few miles later I was at the ferry dock. I called ahead to discover my dad was grilling burgers in our backyard. Hallelujah! He'd save me one for lunch.

Ah, home is in sight. After a journey about 5 years ago from Burlington to the canal at the southern outlet and up the New York side to Port Kent, now I can claim that I've completely circumnavigated Lake Champlain. Viva le bike camping!

Equipment Review:

Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight - A lightweight backpacking/bike camping tent. At 3.5 pounds it's best as a one person shelter, but can hold two. The clip system (fastening plastic hooks to poles rather than inserting poles through nylon sleeves) means easy set-up. Mesh light colored screen keeps the weight down and the inside is bright and airy. Perfect for summer. Tested on four multi-day trips, I'm sold on this product.

Inflation time: 5 long minutes.
Big Agnes Groundpad - Needing more cushion than my old standby Thermarest, last year I invested in a lighter, but lung-testing 3.5" cushion of air. Though it's not as insulating as my former camp bed, it's packability is one half in volume. I don't intend to camp on snow. It's comfort is tried and tested, better on my hips. It's a keeper.

EMS Stainless Steel Mug - Though not a necessity (we have other pots) I spent birthday money on an ample-sized mug/bowl. With flip-out pot-type handle is means you can heat the cup on the stove, then use it to eat or drink from. Simple, one pot, one person cooking and clean up. Great for my bike overnights. Bonus: stove top fits inside.

I like this simple stove with fold out burner plates. (There are numerous manufacturers.) We stumbled on this style years ago while in Europe and purchased the current one on a trip in Colorado. No need to have separate fuel bottle; stove base is fuel canister and separates when not in use. No pumping required. Turn dial and light - perfect for stove phobics like me.

Northface Cat's Meow - You can't beat the quality of this sleeping bag. After 28 years, two of which were hard on the bag (across U.S. and world trip), it still works and has been in the washing machine more times than I can count. Zippers are top-notch. It's lost its loft and only good to about 45F (initially rated to 20F.) I'm eyeballing other designs, but it would have to weigh less than 3 pounds, be synthetic, and pack smaller. (Hint-bring on the birthday money!) For frosty camping I rely on a to-die-for thick mummy bag. Off hand I don't recall the brand. It's screaming purple - that's all I care about.

I found this simple synthetic towel at the Goodwill for two dollars. It's proven invaluable. It's absorbent, wrings out well, and dries quickly. I'll bring this on other adventures.

The small panniers worked well. They have a tendency to pop off on low rider front racks, but cinched in beneath the tent and sleeping bag it became a non-issue. I came home with one pannier nearly empty. I've yet to do an overnight on the girly bike, but now that it's rack system is the same, I now know it's possible.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Family Fun Ride Challenge, Sunday June 24

On Sunday, I will be leading a leisurely ride along the waterfront bike path in conjunction with Local Motion. This promises to be a fun adventure—part treasure hunt/part scavenger hunt—all while searching by bike. It's an entertaining way to get the whole family involved. You will need to read signs and look at your surroundings in a new light, even if you've pedaled this trail a hundred times, like I have.

Bring the family for a rolling adventure, super sleuthing on the waterfront path. With a list and working in teams or as an individual, challenge your powers of observation. Learn historical facts. Listen to sounds. Watch for boats, wildflowers and waterfowl. Afterwards, return to Local Motion for a cold treat, tally and compare notes, then hang out for a raffle drawing.

Approximately 1.5 hours. Bikes and helmets required. Bring a water bottle. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012, 2:00pm
Location: Local Motion's Trailside Center

Did you know that there are information sheets, highlighting trail repair? They are posted on a couple of poles along the Island Line.

If you're lucky you may even find snow!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lake Sojourn - Part Two

Day 2 - 69 miles
The church in Highgate Springs is unusual in that the steeple is black unlike most of New England's white-topped churches. It sits apart from the few homes in this small border town and is the only public fixture.

Three miles later is the border. I missed it on the first pass though, as I'd been following the Champlain Bikeway signage. If you take it literally, in this instance it directs the traveler onto a horseshoe loop, appropriately named "Border View Road" and dumps you back onto a frontage road heading south — exactly in the opposite direction I wanted. I backtracked and followed the "Canada" route, merging briefly with an interstate highway to check in at the border.

Phillipsburg, Quebec is a sleepy town, but boasts the most beautiful view of Missisquoi Bay, or upper reaches of Lake Champlain. North of the border it's also eerily flat. The headwind was picking up and I aimed to get to that far point on the horizon which as I swung around, hugging the shoreline, should eventually place me in a tailwind. I was banking on it. I had a ton of miles to cover so my 7:30 a.m. start was a wise move; hopefully, the third day would only be a morning ride.

Not too long later I came upon this view. It looked like someone toilet papered the asphalt!

Upon closer inspection, fresh tar was applied to the cracks with the "TP" as a sealant or preventative measure so the gooey stuff wouldn't immediately wind around vehicle tires. I was thankful too because it was quite fresh. In Vermont, the repair crew slaps down the patch; it often looks like squiggles all over the road. I avoided what I could and plowed through other areas. When I caught up to the construction workers there was no less than 20 guys with brooms, buckets of tar, and rolls of the white paper, but mostly just standing around as all crews tend to do.

I made it to the northern most point at Venise-en-Quebec. I liked the bicycle display near a public park. Indeed it's a resort town with half mile long camping ground opposite the shore. It has a bike lane, albeit tiny, and rents cruiser bikes in the height of summer. There are restaurants and ice cream shacks—a typical summer fun area, but they are still ramping up for tourists.

A few miles later in a quiet residential spot I took a break, admiring the view back towards Vermont and the Green Mountains. After living for a time in Oregon and thriving on the open landscape I've come to understand that when I need that open contemplative space, Lake Champlain fills that need.

From here on southwards the tailwind was spectacular. I flew, but stopped occasionally for snacks, to take photos, and continually apply sunscreen. I truly appreciated my light load.

As mentioned, the Canadian side is flat. Farmland is king with mostly dairy and corn fields. It's been a dry spring so crops are struggling. Some corn fields are on schedule, adhering to the old adage "knee high by the 4th of July" while others are behind.

A deep drainage ditch separates the field from the road. It's in this wetter region that wildflowers thrive, often with bouquets of daisies. All along the morning's ride cottonwood "fuzzies" flew by, a warm version of a winter blizzard.

I crossed the border back into Vermont at quiet Clarenceville, Quebec. It was so devoid of cars that I waited at this gate for several minutes before yelling over to the Canadian building beside me, but to no avail. Sure, I could've gone around the gate, but as frequent travelers to Canada I know not to provoke the authorities. There are too many high speed chases and illegal aliens and drug traffickers nabbed at these ports. I backtracked and slowly followed a sign on a sidewalk that splits the building. I looked in at the darkened glass window and still didn't see a soul so I crept slowly by until a female guard came out.  She was a bit taken aback by my entry, but eventually waved me away explaining that I wasn't as heavy as a car to automatically raise the gate.

At the East Highgate American side, it's a different story. Their patrol told me to wait, twice, until he came out. He then grilled me, even after I produced my passport, and couldn't believe that I pedaled from Burlington. Or maybe he saw what happened on the Canadian side. I wanted to be snide, because, after all they must see many bicyclists in this region, but like I said you don't mess with border guards. He most likely was trying to trip up my story to see whether I stuck with it. I presume it's part of their training to, hopefully, capture the real culprits.

By 4 p.m. I made it to Cumberland Bay State Park in New York. I wanted to stop an hour earlier—I was exhausted and had way too much sun—but one campground was overrun by RVs and another beautiful state park was only designated as day-use. Here it's spacious and only a quarter full. The beach is just over a dune and voila! I have a brand spanking new picnic table.

Another cool evening was on the forecast. I hydrated with two cups of ginger tea and spent time writing in the journal. Later, I sat upon a bench looking across the lake while talking to my husband and son on the phone. Overhead a pine tree began to dripI feared a bird at first glancebut I still moved, not wanting any sticky residue in my hair. Once again, it's pleasant with low humidity. I couldn't have chosen any better with weather. I finished my novel before nodding off, a fitting final night "on the road."

Lake Sojourn - Part Three