Friday, November 30, 2012

A Stretchy Gadget

In the summer, my son loves chucking rocks in the lake. He's a mover, never content to sit still. So am I, it seems. My habit is to walk the shoreline, with one watchful eye on my offspring, the other searching for beach glass and the like (if only we really could do that like a bird). I'm one of those resourceful people, picking up items in gutters, haunting church sales, finding things washed up on the beach. Such is the case with this interesting, bungee-type thing.

So, because of it's fine shape and strong stretchy strength (sorry, love the alliteration) I've put it to good use. It resides in my front bag, ready to be used on a moment's notice, securing clothing, small items, and possibly Christmas gifts this coming weekend on my rounds of the local shops.

If someone knows what this object was originally used for, do tell.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Identity and Perception

On one of my last work commuting days I photographed this long-shadowed image of myself. I started thinking about my posture and whether I still retained a flat back stance while pedaling. As so often happens while cycling, one train of thought leads to another. I could see my front panniers, long hair, even the shape of my helmet in the silhouette. I wondered how regular commuters recognized me from a distance. Is it the shape of my body, my bike, pedaling style, clothing colors? If I ride my touring bike, which I swap out every now and then, would I still be identified?

I can distinguish my husband from far away. I first notice his rapid cadence. He also holds his torso very still. Then, of course, his grey mustache and beard is a giveaway. And though he always rides a mountain bike, I'd still place him on another bike.

There's one rider I often pass who is not easy to determine until I get close. If he's hauling his BOB trailer, well, that's pretty obvious, but once in a while he rides his Surly solo. He helmet is non-descript; his clothing and body shape are ubiquitous. No facial hair. It is only when he waves and says "hello" that I can tell it's him; his voice is distinctive.

How do you observe others? Or, what's remarkable/recognizable about yourself?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

1973 Schwinn Super Sport

Like the Ladies' model that I acquired two years ago, I am again the recipient of a old Schwinn. It's the companion to the previous bike from the same owners, I presume stored in a barn because of similar rusty condition and rotted tires. When my husband saw the bike he said, "What, are you crazy?"

I intended to pass it on to Bike Recycle...

I don't want to fix up an old bike, nor do I need to add another one to our fleet. But...there are many things that I find attractive about this model. It has a Brooks saddle, albeit in terrible shape. There's a one inch cut near the holes.

The head badge is sweet. The frame is made in Chicago, one of the many fillet-brazed models fabricated from 1938-1978. I like the lines of this bike. It's a step up from the Varsity and Continental that I had as a teenager.

I'm such a softy.

I really like the red color. Red speaks classy, though there are several rust spots on the frame.

Ugh, big pie plate. I would definitely remove that heavy thing. The freewheel has some life, though every thing would need to be taken apart. I'm not sure I'm up to the task.

Yes, lots of rust.

The bike is in original condition. Original poor condition. But, dig the stem shifters! I love this and downtube shifting, primarily because it frees up handlebar real estate. The "S" detail on the lever is lovely.

The fork is gorgeous. I see potential in this bike, to be a single speed, a second bike for my husband, growing boys (like they'd want an antique) etc. But, I'm grasping for straws, for a reason to fix this thing up. Emotion is running high.

The downside of this model is this heavy crank, which puts the bike in the 34-35 lb. range. I have an old Peugeot crankset. It's anyone's guess whether it would fit, the French being French, with their unique threading in the 70's—the reason my husband got rid of his frame and kept all components.

I love the center pull brakes. Fortunately they are still operable. Pedals spin well. This gives me hope. I have extra tires and tubes. That's the easy fix. I'd need to purchase cables, housing, and chain. I've done some preliminary work. The saddle absorbed mineral oil like a sponge. Someone recommended oiling the frame then attack the rusty chrome with aluminum foil and lemon juice.

On the other hand, I could try selling it through Craig's List. I'm afraid its sad condition wouldn't fetch a dime. I've considered giving it away, though with my current view, it should go to someone that could muster some TLC. Heaven forbid a person might strip the bike for parts! Or, I could keep it for the winter and putter, which I'm inclined to do. Not that I don't have a growing list of repairs and upgrades for my current bikes...

Oh, the angst and indecision of a hopeless bike romantic!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November Sunshine

What normally is a dreary month, with cloudy days piled like a grey sponge atop stick season—that's Vermont's version of leafless trees—has been an utter delight this year. There is sunshine galore! And even though it's been chilly, who can complain when 30F days lack wind? Since I stopped commuting in early November, it's all the better too that I can still ride a bike on my days off. Christmas shopping by bike; here I come!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Switzerland - Numb

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Saanenmoser Pass in more appropriate weather. Photo credit: Wikipedia
40 miles - Tuesday, September 20

I spent the first two hours under my grey fuzzy balaclava.

Before we left Interlaken we mailed a postcard to Katy, notifying her of our quandary as to how to communicate. It’s the best we can do.

The morning quickly warmed, though hazy sunshine is all the Swiss September will allow. The snow-capped mountains provide grinning views. Despite pedaling beside lovely turquoise lakes, the stunning scenery is also a tease; we’ve lost ground against the weather.

When I’m lost in silent contemplation, scared, in pity, thinking of shivering cold nights in a tent, Andy whistles or sings. He purposely changes the lyrics to suit our situation. I know he means well, but there are times I want to be left alone.

In the course of planning this yearlong adventure, when excitement screams “I want to see everything!”, it’s easy to shut out the bad, the lonely, the desperation which must also accompany any extended journey. This afternoon, when we stopped beside the road for a cookie break, I cried. I wanted, more than ever, to curl up on a couch with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book.

I felt better a little later. We started climbing the long Nieder Simmental Valley, when the sun breathed  rays of hope. Then past Latterbach and Erlenbach – all small villages. After Weissenbach the road rose above tree level and we spied train tracks across the mountain pasture. The traffic was light, and for a while all was right on the bike.

The break in weather did not last long. Before we knew it we were ascending in cold showers. At the summit town of Saanenmoser, at 1200 meters, my mittened hands turn numb. When this happens I have trouble warming them again, and if by some miracle it does happen, it could be a couple hours. We stopped for information and discover a hostel in the next village.

Saanan-Gstaad Hostel. Photo credit: Swiss Youth Hostels
First we need to drop several hundred feet. It’s a frightening situation. I can’t feel my hands, but I must periodically squeeze the cold, metal brake levers. I want to weep. I struggle, dismissing the thought for the moment. If I can get through this, I’ll have a warm bed to crawl into. Must not think. Check traffic, look beyond brim of raincoat. Keep bike upright. Listen for too much grit on rims; let up on brake.

Somehow we make it to the base of the hill in Saanen. My feet are now frozen. A sign directs the way to the hostel. We need food. I can barely think. Andy offers to get groceries in Gstaad while I check us into the hostel. I nod and lift a smile. I turn my back to the shrouded peaks and make my way up a small hill, dismounting and pushing the heavy bike the last few yards because I can’t be bothered to shift.

Later, when we have warm food in us, are changed into dry clothes, we listen to the rain. Tomorrow, we may have to take a train to Geneva.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Fun & Cycling with the Hub

It's a tradition in our household to attend The Turkey Trot, held each Thanksgiving morning at 11 a.m. I started doing it 15 years ago on my own as a fun run. What makes it special is that it's low-key and all proceeds go to our local food shelf.

Some families arrive by bike.
On such a glutinous day, what better way to start it off than with exercise, plus knowing you are helping others.

I estimated 1200-1300 people at the mass start.
The event is held rain or shine. In fact when I began 15 years ago there were as little as 25 people. I've run through icy ruts, pushed a double stroller in a thunder and lightening storm (our children loved it, snuggled under a tarp, with snacks), and now I walk it, while our children have taken up running. The local club who hosts the event posts a race clock, so if inclined, you can check your time. Our youngest boy likes to set a personal best each Thanksgiving.

Over 1000 people show up now, which gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. More folks equals more for the food bank.

There is a huge contingent of walkers.

The 5k course follows a bike path and dirt trail through a golf course.

Some like to dress up. I thought it humorous that the dad and son both wore
 unique turkey hats: one  live and one cooked.
While waiting to see it we won raffle prizes, it was announced that 1500 pounds of food was collected, along with 5,000.00—not bad for a morning of Thanksgiving fun.

The following morning the Hub and I rode out on the causeway together. He'd wanted to see the reconstruction. It was funny, but I hadn't noticed before that the surface was raised at least 2-3 feet. This makes sense though; why go through the expensive restructuring without provisions for more flooding.

Seeking shelter from 35-40 m.p.h. gusts on the former train bridge.
A cold front was sweeping into the Champlain Valley so a strong southerly wind blew us to the end. We cranked hard in the granny gear on the return trip. Put your head down and spin away. I mentioned how neat it would be to bring minimal gear with our boys and spend the night. I was thinking about springtime, but the seed was sown in my husband's mind. He plans to try it this fall. Brrr!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Provence, Day Four - Saignon, Ingenuity and the Descent into Aix en Provence

Patty and I got up early, whispering and packing so as to not wake Michele. We set off along the bike path without knowing where exactly to turn and weave our way up the prominent hillside to Saignon, but we lucked out, gaining altitude past vineyards and mown lavender fields. It was a more strenuous climb than anything the previous day that I was glad that Michele stayed behind. We'd be back in a couple hours, as planned, to take a bus through the Luberon.

From a distance, Saignon. Photo credit: Patty
We arrived in the hill town by 8:30 am. The early hour brought cooler temperatures, less tourists—in fact we were the only ones—and time alone with Patty meant we could catch up on girl talk. Hot afternoons drained me; there were distinct advantages to setting off early, but we couldn't make it happen as a threesome.

We wandered slowly, taking in the quiet streets, courtyards, fountains, a grotto with a rectangular pool of water. The water trickling, ivy covered walls, the pots of plants, flowers—all charming—and it lent a softness to the stone buildings.

 I have a thing for interesting door knockers.

 Climbing, watching our step. Just keep going. Turning wherever.

The church structure was fenced off and I wondered what lay beyond the barricade.

A beautiful stone stairway led uphill. Signs warned to proceed at your own risk, which was warranted. I don't like heights and exposure, but I kept to the inside and mounted them easily.

And, just like that were on top, with the summit to ourselves.

 We admired the view of Apt in the early morning haze.

Turn the other direction and stare onto Saignon's rooftops. It's an old world view: clay tiles, stone—so Romanesque. The pastel purple mountains of the Luberon beckoned us onward.

We couldn't see Mont Ventoux. Patty and I had been talking about ascending the famous mountain, known for inclusion on many Tour de France stages. Patty was keen to do it, but after cycling with her, I realized she had more energy than I did. The climb didn't make sense either; Mount Ventoux was a vast distance north of Avignon and would require a day's pedal or bus ride just to get to the region. I preferred to concentrate on the current itinerary. The 22 mile climb would require more effort and time than I was willing to part with, all to get to the top of a lunar landscape—not my idea of a relaxing Provence bike ride. But definitely next time.

Check out the guy leaning out the window. Right photo.
Back in the village a table on the street is inviting, which just happens to be a spillover from a room-sized boulangerie/patisserie. Provencal ambiance. Exquisite. 

Sip a foamy cup of coffee with chocolate croissant. Watch the village waken, duck inside for baguettes. A man leans out a second story window, chatting with a passerby. Yes, I thought, this is what I wanted.

It was a fast descent back to the campground. I was glad Michele had explored Apt in our absence. With time before meeting the bus, we wrote in journals and read the guide book. Often campgrounds provided WIFI; some cost money while others were free. Internet time all around!

Before 11 a.m. we headed to the terminal, but it became clear the buses were not equipped with bike racks—contrary to what we understood the day before— and couldn't possibly squeeze three in the limited rear compartment. A friendly Frenchman translated our needs to the driver, but it was futile. Disappointed, we headed back to the campground. Clearly, some ingenuity was called for. I suggested that we arrive at the start of the road through the Luberon and hitchhike—who wouldn't pick up three women? There was certainly a plethora of small-sized delivery vehicles, I reasoned: surely one could accommodate us and there was safety in numbers. I was immediately voted down. Patty looped the campground, hoping to find a traveler packing and beg a ride. Meanwhile, Michele and I spoke with the receptionist and had her call a taxi to see if they could handle our gear. For $35.00 Euros they would take us through the Luberon, which didn't sound bad when split three ways. Within a half hour, we had the front wheels removed and were helping the taxi driver place bikes and baggage into the back of a van.

I was concerned the driver would zip around the curves, and not only scare the heck out of us but that I would become nauseous. He was very safe, though, and pleasant. Michele conversed a little in French; her school years in France finally kicking in. I enjoyed the forested hillsides, the villages off in the distance. The incline wasn't too bad and I wished we'd ridden bikes. On the other hand, the descent followed some nasty blind curves, which could've placed us in jeopardy had we met a vehicle at just the right moment.

Behind heavy traffic in Aix en Provence. Photo credit: Michele or Patty
We had the driver drop us off in Lourmarin. We whipped through a Provencal market just as they were packing up, but the selection of olives, citrus, cheese, sausages, and honey tantalized our tasted buds; the aromas were heavenly in the hot afternoon. After a not-so-discreet squat in a field (my bladder was ready to burst) we descended the remaining miles to the Durance River, detoured to fill water bottles at a campground, then climbed a long steady hill.

Unfortunately, I missed a turn that would have put us on a better road into Aix en Provence, but the direct route wasn't too bad. Every turn displayed a sign for a different vineyard and eventually the road swung downhill for several kilometers. We turned onto a side road, enjoying once again, the solitude of narrow lanes. A stunning lavender cliff appears on the eastern horizon, captivating us for a long time. Then my pannier fell off shortly after a pit stop. Our bikes didn't have kick stands and sometimes I laid the bike on its side. The bag had jostled and come unhinged. Thereafter, whenever I stopped, I checked the pannier it gave me no further problems.

Michele's head (sorry Michele) and the evening craziness at the fountain.
The ever downhill cruise was a delight at first, but continued on for several more kilometers past roundabouts on into the Information Center in the heart of the city. Nearly 6 pm. and the traffic was a raucous cacophony  swirling around a beautiful fountain. Aix en Provence was much larger than I expected. Directions and maps helped us ride the final 4 kilometers—still descending—until the finish line at a cozy campground. I was happy to have found our temporary home. 

The campground was oddly right beside an interstate, though amazingly quiet, tucked behind a security gate. It was a walled oasis: pots of flowers everywhere, fountains, twinkling lights, clean bathrooms, a bridge over a stream filled with ducks, a game room, reading room. A young lady leads in a a golf cart to show us a site. Immediately, I dipped in the pool for instant cool down.

After dinner we convene in the reading room with a bottle of wine and study the map. Because of the morning's transit difficulty we decide to fore go a bus/train ride south through Marseille's urban sprawl. Patty had wanted to dip her toes in the Mediterranean, but was now gladly willing to alter course. Dealing with public transit might easily delay us further when the time could be better spent riding west toward Arles. I am thankful for the change in plans. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bicycles vs. Dogs - The Age Old Story

I wonder how postal workers on bikes deal with canines. Photo credit: FUN Online
We've all been there: cruising down a country road, enjoying the scenery and the quiet is interrupted by a ferocious barking. A dog comes out of nowhere barreling as fast as its four legs can go. There's a moment of terror. My heart is in my throat and I panic, wondering how I'm going to deal with the creature. Is the animal protecting it's territory and will eventually leave me alone, or should I stand in the pedals and make a run for it? Can I outrun him?

An incident occurred in the South when we crossed the country in the 80s. I was following my husband when a golden retriever silently dove for his bike, but instead of aiming for flesh the animal chomped onto his rear pannier, pulling him to a halt. By the time my husband whipped out his bike pump the dog sped away. It's almost like the dog was toying with us. Or a canine buddy played Truth or Dare. It was hilarious in hindsight, considering the normal friendliness of the breed.

Photo credit: FUN Online
According to Cyclopedia, Victorian Age cyclists carried pistols. One can only imagine how vulnerable the cyclist felt, perched on a high wheeler, prone to unpredictable free-ranging mutts. On the other hand, the poor animal was only following its instinct, attacking a moving object—and to be shot at, well, that's harsh punishment.

Did you know the Germans made gunpowder-filled anti-dog grenades? How I would love a stockpile of those gems.

Sometimes I miss the old style, but ever so practical frame pump. It was great for handy defense; pull and swing. Undercut the bugger. Listen for the whimper. Despite the efficiency of my Topeak mini-pump, it  falls short in the dog management department.

What kind of dog versus bike stories do you have?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Three Bike-Themed Movies

Ultra athlete and extroardinary camper,
Mark Beaumont. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Just when I thought I'd seen all the bicycle movies ever made, along comes a review from Randy and Nova's Bicycle Scrapbook, recommending two exciting BBC documentaries. Now, coming into this past weekend with frigid November weather settled over Vermont, I liked nothing better than watching a good flick. Both are of adventure cyclist Mark Beaumont as he pedals around the globe and from Anchorage, Alaska to the tip of South America. If you like cycle touring as much as I do, or at least living it vicariously, make a cup of tea (or four) and settle in for the ride. It's amazing. Available on YouTube.

Mark has also written a book, which appeals to cyclists more than arm chair travelers. I'll add this one to my Christmas list.

The Man Who Cycled the World
The Man Who Cycled the Americas


Photo credit: IMDb
Another movie of note: The Flying Scotsman. My husband stumbled on this one on Netflix. It's a true account of Graeme Obree's personal trials, plus his ability to smash the one hour record. The Scottish scenery is a highlight along with how Graeme comes up with a unique bike frame design. There are humorous attempts to appease a finicky cycling federation that seems eternally out to get him. It's ultimately an uplifting movie, but be forewarned about the first two minutes of the film: it is disturbing but does end okay, if you need assurance as I did. Personally, I'd fast forward through the rough stretch. You won't miss anything important.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Switzerland - A Hike Above Grindelwald

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Grindelwald, 3000 feet below.
Monday, September 19

The skies partially cleared. We left the bikes locked at the campground, stowed items in our backpacks, and then hopped on the train for Grindelwald. A half hour later we arrived in the center of an idyllic Swiss village. Accessed year round, the area is known for its skiing and rock climbing.

Andy and I locate a hiking map and walk the serpentine main road until a well signed trail points us in the right direction. We paused occasionally, to drink or shed a jacket, or to catch our breath. The going was steep, more difficult than I expected though I always welcome a break from the bike seat. It was wonderful to wear a backpack again. It’d been two months since we hiked in Scotland.

Two hours later we closed in on the Eiger’s sheer rock face, famously portrayed in The Eiger Sanction. Stars George Kennedy and Clint Eastwood battle to death on the cliff; it’s an epic and hairy scene, made all the more real by standing beneath that massive rock wall. Early snow prevented us from going higher than a chalet at 1,700 meters, but it’s a breathtaking turn around point. Jagged glaciers with comb-like spikes nearly 300 feet thick hang from white peaks. It’s like a giant tongue lapping into the canyon above us—a glorious vista which appeased my Swiss wanderlust.

On the descent, my knees were tender. No amount of cycling prepares us for negotiating a relentless downhill on rock and root-filled trails. I longed for the stability of poles to alleviate the descent. I’m often torn; a respite from the bike would acclimatize legs to the pounding, yet the need to keep cycling trumps all. Evening strolls never prepare us for more rigorous walks. For now, I’m content that the weather held for a lovely alpine hike.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

3,000 (S)miles

It's been a smile per mile this year. Commuting, the Lake Sojourn, Anniversary Overnight, and then celebrating my birthday in Switzerland and France have all contributed to easily making my goal. It doesn't end here though. I'll be pedaling until the snow falls and possibly even beyond.

After receiving good news from my doctor, I unlocked my bike and pedaled the long way home. Then later, the sunshine felt so good that I spun a few more miles to top 3,000 and meet my youngest son at school. 35F or not, it felt good to be on my bike.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bridgestone MB-2 Update

My husband brought home his "new" Bridgestone bike on a frigid January day. He was so tickled with the Craig's List find that he tinkered for a couple months, digging in parts boxes, inspecting the bearings and general condition of his new love. Nothing like the dead of winter to jump-start the bicycle juices!

He added bar ends, black and red grips, an old semi bent rack salvaged from when someone at his workplace who was operating a forklift, accidentally dropped a pallet on the rear rack (the company reimbursed the cost), and toe clips without straps (my goofy guy likes it that way.) He sprang for new fenders.

Oddly, he rode it sparingly the whole summer, storing it at his family's camp. He took the bike out for afternoon rides with our children, for creemees, jaunts downtown, or to collect bagels and groceries for summer living. Often when we escaped for rides as a couple, he mentioned more than once how the bike runs smoothly, compared with his old standby MB-3.

This fall he brought the MB-2 home and has ridden it several times to work. While he loves having an alternate bike, he says the extra weight (3 lbs.) is noticeable on the hills. He says it feels more upright also—not uncomfortably so—just different. And he presumes it might even benefit his creaky back. Since the MB-2 is a 1986 and the MB-3 from 1993, we presume there could be vast differences in frames and components.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Great Turkey Chase

My family and I attended The Great Turkey Chase on a chilly, but bright day. We met at Maglianero to sign in, pick up this wonderful spoke card and map.

The event is a fund raiser for The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. There is a shorter family loop with 5 stops or the longer 12 store ride, which some treat as a race. We took off 30 minutes early because with two 13 year old boys, their chatting considerably slows the pace.

I liked that not only chain stores were included, but also 3 neighborhood shops. The idea is to go into each and purchase the prescribed item. It's like a treasure hunt, something that appealed to my son and his friend. At the second place, the "racers" itinerary overlapped our own and a cyclist pulls up and takes photographs of incoming riders. 

Our bikes.
We are amused at how seriously the attendees take this. The riders prop a bike against the storefront without locking and run inside. But then again, there are many on fixies with and without helmets, ladies in sleeveless tops, (brrr!) all manner of characters. It's like a cult. My husband and I are on the old side of this event and somewhat embarrassed by riders darting across trafficked lanes to shave a few seconds.

We take our time, soak up the sun while the kids do most of the shopping. My husband decides to go in when the kids were taking too long. Turns out the boys got sidetracked, and he catches up with them having fun with the automatic check out machine.

Loading my pannier.

The boys are hungry. We send them back inside. A crowd shows up. We yell "aisle 6!" to help out their hunt.

I like the red union suit character, or maybe it's because he has a mountain bike and panniers, like ourselves.

He bolts for the next store.

We encountered a couple other families and stop to chat. I was most impressed by three dads who each hauled a trailer with children and were working together, watching bikes and kids. They sometimes varied the human cargo when the crankies set in.

After two hours we completed the loop and dropped off our bag back at the start. Most people ended at a bar where prizes and whatnot were handed out. Later, I heard that 29 turkeys were purchased—thus the event's name. What a hoot, and all for a great cause. Sign me up for next year.