Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Causeway Before the Storm

October 2012 - Beefed up surface, marble blocks as border.
It should withstand any upcoming natural disasters.
The Colchester Causeway was officially open last Friday. I bucked a headwind, but managed to get out there on Monday morning. An official announcement and festivities is forthcoming, but with Hurricane Sandy headed in later today, I took advantage of dry weather to check out the new surface.

Initial impressions? It's a huge improvement in trail surface. What used to be rough going, soft pea gravel and narrow, sometimes two lane single track weaving around obstacles, is now rolled stone dust. I can fly on the new path, especially with the wind at my back. It will appeal to those who ride skinny-tire bikes. Families can rest easy knowing their children will be less likely to lose control and crash on the rocks. The trail is now as wide as a single lane highway. Marble boulders edge the, um, "road" like guardrails—hard to call it a trail anymore.

But therein lies misgivings I have about it's reconstruction. Sure, the smooth hard-pack suits the general population. It's now double the width than it's former glory—whether that's good or bad is up to personal preference. The other odd thing: every hundred yards there are bump-outs or pull-offs. I wonder if these are a holdover from construction vehicles needing turn around space or whether they are intentional as a place for picnics or fishing. Possibly it's for road access upkeep, to load docks for the bike ferry, or even off loading the boat itself. Nonetheless, with the whole surface redone, it resembles the dirt road to my workplace; it's no longer the wild causeway of years gone by.

June 2011 - Wild daisies grace the path.
I miss the grasses and wildflowers that swished and bent in the breeze. The buffer zone—now all rock—was once a 2-3 foot border of wild plants. I would often choose the causeway as a destination to see what flowers were bursting in color. It'll take years for the natural plants to regenerate, I know, but still it's a far cry from last year's high-water devastation.

May 2011 - Lake Champlain floods and high winds destroy the surface ballast.
I'm happy that the Causeway repair is finished and we can once again enjoy the ride "onto the lake." Here's to all the volunteers, fundraisers, and contributors who helped make this possible. Thank you!

  • No worries. Hurricane Sandy left this region of Vermont unscathed. It was a minor disturbance, a soaking rain with some wind. We continue to receive periodic showers this week, puddling oak leaves on roads and sidewalks.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hungary to Switzerland - Riding the Rails

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

Interior of Budapest's eastern railway station. Photo credit: BudapestZIN
10 miles  –  Thursday, September 15

After periodic showers we packed and left for a slow ride, taking in the sights before the late afternoon departure by train.

We coasted by the grand Parliament Building. Sentries guarded all entry points. Later we pull up in front of another elaborate structure because policemen and news station equipment captured our attention. Consulting the pocket dictionary we decipher the building as a courthouse. After yesterday’s debacle, we imagine political scams, officials on the take­ – whatever might garner news coverage. Without time constraints, I enjoy stumbling upon interesting scenes.

At the train station, police aimlessly walked the platforms, overlooking the money changers and accommodation pushers that are a constant nuisance. Andy wonders if they are on the take.

I watch the bicycles, a bit nervous, while my husband sets off to figure out what to do with our bikes. It would take little to wrest control of our gear. I cling to my can of mace. Andy comes and goes. He is frustrated. There is no communication between Information and Baggage. Fortunately, a man in line behind him overhears our predicament, and speaks English. He discovers we’re supposed to load our own bikes. Finding the platform number is different than what is printed on our tickets, we hustle to another area. It’s a few minutes before departure.

We head towards the train, but an attendant halts us, waving his arms and gesturing for us to remove the panniers. The front bags are easy to detach, but the rear panniers require a tool to release the cinch strap and push the O-rings off the rack struts. Andy patiently tries to explain that it’ll take a few minute and pulls out his tool pouch. The official spouts an angry barrage of Magyar. Andy turns red-faced. He waves a wrench, and – if I didn’t know my husband well – it looked like he was ready to club the guy. Andy points at the rear rack. Only then did the employee rescind and thrust his arms at the open rail car. We took the hint. Under his leering gaze, we lug bikes and bags onto the train.

Andy and I plop down in seats in a compartment with another man. It takes us a while to stop fuming, but gradually we succumb to the realization that we are lucky – despite the ordeal – to be on our way back to Vienna. When dusk arrives and lights do not work, our car mate offers to speak with someone about the problem. He returns, explaining the electric snag was fixed by wedging a match in the wires. Andy and I shake our heads. We are delighted he speaks English, though. During the three hour journey, he explains how the Hungarians are dissatisfied with the newly elected government. High taxes of 45% and rising have led some people to black market schemes – thus the hustlers on Vaci Utca street. The gentleman explains how his family left Hungary for Germany when he was a boy. He finished school in Germany and still lives there, but his job frequently takes him to Budapest. He shared some of his frustrations and the country’s refusal to accept tourism. It’s an interesting concept as we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, we explain, except for the train hassle. But the streets were often dirty; the locals disrespected bicycle travelers; signage was poor, often only understood by Hungarians. The business man confirms our observations.

Three hours later we disembarked in Vienna at 9:30 p.m. It’s late. Rather than dealing with accommodation and darkness, we decide to continue the overnight journey to Innsbruck, expecting to catch a few winks in the process. This time ticketing takes less than 5 minutes and they load our bikes.  For 1,400 Schilling (120.00 USD) we travel three times the distance compared with 80.00 USD in Budapest.

Friday, September 16

We arrive at 6 a.m. in Innsbruck for a 6 hour layover. It’s a chilly 50F, yet we refuse to bundle up like the locals. I walk, hands sunk deep into my pockets, head tilted skyward. Low clouds cling halfway up the valley walls, teasing us with glimpses of the snow-covered mountains. Visiting the Alps had been a dream of mine for many years, and Andy and I catch our first views.

We head to the famed ski jump, amazed at the stadium of seating lining the grassy slope. Two torches and Olympic rings are stark against the cloudy sky. We follow the winding pathway to the monument.  Medal winners of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Games are engraved on dark plaques. We scan the list for names. I’m awestruck, picturing the region covered in snow, torch flames licking the sky, cheering crowds. I recall the year when I was fourteen and glued to the television, watching ski legend Franz Klammer, U.S. skater Dorothy Hamel with her signature hair style, and fellow Vermonter, cross country ski racer, Bill Koch.

Later we buy groceries, stay warm at two bakeries, consuming coffee and apple strudel. We withdraw Swiss Francs and it’s noon. The temperature remains the same. I break down and put on black fuzzy pants and we head back to the train station. Moments of sunshine enhance our picnic of Camembert and Tuscan bread.

Photo credit: The Living Room
A sleek green and gold trimmed train quietly enters the station and comes to a halt. We marvel and stand because it’s the London to Venice Orient Express. Lacy curtains adorn the dining car with individual lamps at each table. There are no passengers exiting, but men trot to the side of the train, hooking up hoses. We presume it’s a necessary stop to refuel and expel refuse. A bit chilled still, we gawk and wonder what it’s be like to spend a week in comfort and style, riding the rails. Not likely, with our bicycle budget. I stand, still grinning, as The Orient Express, after only a few minutes, disappears down the track.

We hop on our train. The weather clears as the cars bullets up a long valley, eventually crossing the Swiss border. Border patrol men pass through, checking passports. Then it’s a pleasant ride through picture perfect Switzerland. Brown and white chalets cluster around an onion-like domed church; the steeple is always darker than church walls. Pink and red flowers spill from flower boxes. It’s green, green everywhere we look. Houses checker above village centers, contrasting, yet complimenting steep hills. The effect is cleanliness and cohesiveness. We stop at rail stations every 15 minutes; the cement platforms are freshly painted, swept clean. It’s a refreshing change. I think I’m going to like this country. Even the farmer’s haystacks are organized. Instead of one massive building-sized pile, the Swiss version is a 5 foot mushroom-like proper thing.

We arrive in Zurich, and initially have trouble locating the bikes, but eventually we head out at 7 p.m. In light rain, we roll into the nearest campground. We are cold and tired and pay the 20 Franc fee (25.00 USD.) Immaculate Switzerland will come at a cost.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2012 Halloween Bike Ride

59F, Calm and cloudy

While we are waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit the eastern seaboard, Burlington rocked its 3rd annual Halloween Bike Ride. A record 200 people showed up. What a hoot! Cloudy skies and the last vestiges of fall colors made for spectacular photos. Enjoy the show.

Congregating in City Hall Park.

I spy a pumpkin.

Would you like a catered dinner a la bike trailer...
...complete with doggie under the table?
Moose on the loose.

Check out the yellow bike frame.
Mooo to you too!

A Monty Python trio, complete with clacking coconuts, stole the show, winning the group prize.

City Hall Park was alive with costumes before setting off on the 2 mile course.

I like these two ladies' slinky skeleton costumes.

A dragon bike.

Cruising Church Street, normally open to pedestrians only.

Ending at Maglianero with bike racks open to all.

Nice golden butt. Curious George and the man with the yellow hat.

Me and the Hub. Photo credit: Charlene Wallace at Local Motion.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ride, Ladies, Ride

Did you know that only 24% of women ride bikes, down from 30% ten years ago? In general, ridership has increased—and we should celebrate that—but guys overwhelmingly rule the road.

Enter Charlene Wallace, Director of Operations at Local Motion. She recently attended the National Women's Bike Summit in California. Inspired and moved, she vowed to get more women on bikes. The theory is that women need to be introduced to biking. Here along Champlain's shores, Charlene provided two safe opportunities; the October events took advantage of Burlington's and South Burlington's recreation paths.

The premise of these women-only gatherings—for novice and experienced riders—is to support and enrich their overall experience. Charlene advertised that she'd conduct a simple flat repair clinic, if there was interest.

While October isn't an ideal time of year to recruit new riders, the energy was there. Weather for the first ride was nasty: chilly and windy, with light rain. I was coming down with a cold so I stayed home. No one showed up. Undaunted, Charlene tried again.

On Saturday morning's ride, a pretty fog cloaked the waterfront. One lady arrives. There are four total, perfect for riding in pairs. Leaving the golden trees in front of Local Motion's office, we head north, entering a surreal landscape. Geese are honking. We laugh because we can't see them, but their presence is comforting nonetheless. I am beside myself with the fall colors; this is the last hurrah at lake level before stick season claims its gloomy grip.

Charlene and Karen.
Conversation flows. Karen is drawn by the companionship. Her husband doesn't ride much anymore. Interestingly, she's encountered a similar experience to my own, hooking up with a local club ride. It was billed as a "tour", but the pace was more race-like, leaving slower folks behind. I recall that it felt like I was riding alone. 

All too soon we stop on the Winooski River bridge, original turnaround. The fog swirls. We are game to go farther. More talk. We try the Causeway Trail, but the surface is still covered in coarse rocks, allowing heavy equipment operators the ability to make final repairs. A quick jaunt around Mills Point then we swing back. The ladies humor me while I stop for a lawn sale. I bring home a stuffed monkey for my son's collection. Another woman buys little cars for a work display. We chat about how fun sales are by bike; little space equals little purchases.

Riding with women can be relaxing and social. I follow Let's Go Ride a Bike's Women Who Bike Brunch series, wondering if I should organize a similar outing.

Repair stand, pump, and tools outside Local Motion's offices.
By the time we head back over the bridge, the fog has lifted. Sunshine warms the morning. More cyclists cruise the waterfront path.

Karen, who's never had a flat and is now without her husband's mechanical know how, wishes to learn the repair basics. Charlene obliges.

Karen and Leah inspect the work station.
Charlene is excited to continue the events in the Spring. These organized ladies-only rides are in their infancy, of course, but the possibilities are promising. Want to come along for the ride?

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Shoe/Show Time!

Shoes appear on frosty mornings. Wool socks. Gloves. Headband.

I wear a fleece top snuggled beneath a windbreaker.

Because of our proximity to Lake Champlain, which moderates temperatures in autumn, foliage arrives later.

Imagine the Champlain Valley as a basin that absorbs color.

Maybe our region retains foliage the longest. There are red sumac, golden lindens, yellow leafed cherry trees.

Who can forget our famous maples? Every morning I pedal by the state Maple Research Lab, appropriately landscaped with, what else? Oodles of maples. All golden, every tree, at the same time. We take our maple products pretty seriously here, of course. Enough to warrant intensive research.

I love it when the late sun is just right, spreading a puddle of sunshine on the trees and field.

This is one of my favorite parts of my commute. I've mentioned this shag bark hickory before.

Evening skies sport moody cloud cover, perfect for photographing the changing trees.

This might be my favorite picture of the year.

What about a quilt of leaves? I made this after collecting photos of single trees for a silly contest, which almost seems like a shame when scenes make for better examples of foliage. We take pride in our Autumn, so much so, that Vermonters can be overheard saying "reds are good this year" or "too muted, not enough red". The "season" revolves around how much crimson is on a hillside, which in turn determines whether it's a good or bad year.

If I could only dance on my bike...or ditch it, roll in the leaves, wiggle barefoot under the raining kaleidoscope of color like some goddess welcoming the changing season. Well, I suppose I could actually do these things, but maybe under the cloak of darkness...

A unique slant on fall color with all shades represented: ivy! I discovered this on a brick building in downtown Burlington.
A luscious maple in front of Waterman building, University of Vermont.

Commute home...