Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sunset Riding

Sometimes the sunsets on the lake are awe-inspiring. I was on a jaunt with the family. We took time to admire the view. For once, I didn't color correct the photo.

And a few minutes later, my son took two spectacular shots with his iPod.

Wow. I just had to share our gorgeous evenings on Lake Champlain.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Broken Axle

After the transformation of the handle bars on the Ross, I still needed to clean the drive train. I wiped the chain then flossed the sprockets with strips of t-shirt. For years the Hub and I've used a skinny screwdriver to nit-pick at the derailleur pulleys. This tool is invaluable for getting into the nooks and crannies.

The rear wheel was also loose - and in fact had disconnected when I test rode the Ross. I walked the  bike home because the wheel was oddly rubbing against the brake pads. Later, I disengaged the wheel, planning to re-grease the bearings.

To my surprise, the axle was broken. You gotta be kidding! Never in my years of cycling had this ever happened. As you can see it was a clean break. Without knowledge of the Ross's history, I suppose it could've been abused or never cleaned. Anything is possible. I took the parts to the shop and bought a replacement, confirming with the mechanics, just how to go about re-threading the cones/bolts in proper alignment. I purchased a quick release axle too - no time like the present to upgrade.

But what the mechanic didn't know or forgot to tell me was the new axle is slightly larger in diameter, just enough to not accept the existing cones. Frustrated, I set the project aside for a while. Despite what I write about on this blog I don't love working on bikes, therefore I know when to walk away and come back later in a better frame of mind.

Did I tell you how much I missed the Ross while it was in "the shop?" Swinging my leg over the Trek's top tube while wearing a skirt just wasn't the same.

Spanking 7-tooth quick release hub. A prize for the girly bike.

In our spare parts "box" (aka room) I'd stored a gently used rear wheel, complete with freewheel and quick release. Two years ago I picked up a complete Araya wheel set in a "free" area at a garage sale. My husband is currently using the front one on his Bridgestone MB-3.

The rear wheel was pretty grimy. In fact, the axle barely moved. I needed to clean it up to see if it was salvageable or whether I should swap the new axle back to the bolt-on style. It took an hour or more, using rags, oil, and eventually digging with Q-tips to get inside the tight curves of the cups. My 10-year-old sat on one side of the wheel, with me on the other, working away until the metal was clean and smooth. I didn't know that dislodging old grease could be so difficult.

The "new" wheel cleaned up well. The axle and bearings are re-greased. Beside the addition of quick release I also have a 7-tooth sprocket vs. a 5-tooth. The disadvantage is I can no longer spin in a low 34T gear; it's now a 28T. It's okay for the present, but come next spring I might be huffing up Burlington's hills until I "find" my biking legs. Overall, I'm satisfied; mission accomplished!

I also replaced the dirty nylon toe-straps with leather ones. I detest the filth that nylon webbing collects. Never liked them. But it's purely personal preference.

I've been riding the Ross for a week. The drive train is smooth. I sit more upright too.

I like the transformation. Not bad for a "parts bike!"

Affirmation for the Ross:
Procrastination and Maintenance
New Front Rack for the Ross
New Handlebars for the Ross, Take One
New Handlebars for the Ross, Take Two
New Handlebars for the Ross, Take Three

Monday, May 28, 2012

Germany - When it Rains it Pours

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

Beautiful German churches.
20 miles, Wednesday, August 24

Two horrendous storms walloped us before we were able to tear down the tent - the kind that start flash floods. Rolling thunder and whirling dark clouds moved over the hillside. We used the first deluge as an opportunity to write in the journal and scribble postcards. When the second wave came we had enough warning to rush inside our yellow bubble. It rained so hard that the tent floor was like a waterbed – though fortunately the pool remained beneath the ground sheet. Laying on my stomach the thunder cracked and bellowed, shaking my insides. Andy said it reminded him of storms at Starr Farm Beach (his family’s lake front cottage) and how great it would be to watch this one from the comfort of camp.

By noon the precipitation stopped. Knowing that we couldn’t travel too many miles before dusk we inquired at the Inmeldung (office) and located another campsite a few miles further east.

It was a nice leisurely afternoon. The sky eventually cleared. In Georgenthal we walked into town and bought groceries along with a Czech/Slovakia map. Later we cut each other’s hair at a picnic table. It was a delightful end to a drenching day.

45 miles, Thursday, August 25

It was funny that the Europeans, since the start of our journey two months before, kept reminding us that it’d been a dry summer. The farmers deserved badly needed moisture. As cycle tourists we’d have to endure what nature threw at us. Again we set off in a cloudy morning, which quickly turned to rain. Then a cloudburst buckled the sky. The streets turned to red rivers, collecting soil from road shoulder construction, all part of the constant highway reparation. We sloshed through crimson pools, searching for refuge to wait out the storm.

Abysmal concrete bus shelter, very much like the one in Germany.
Photo credit:
We holed up in a dingy four-sided, cement bus shelter. For an hour we stood in the doorway, hopefully looking at the sky. If we’d remained in the campground for an additional 30 minutes we could have stayed in relative comfort, but we’d been anxious to move. And to top off the unfortunate situation, we had to relieve ourselves. Lacking privacy, Andy fished our apricot preserve jar from the trash can and urinated in it. I turned my head – I was doubled over in laughter. But I had to go too and sucked up my pride. I also used the receptacle. I have to admit that it was a resourceful idea. Then three young men came to the bus stop before we had time to empty the evidence. We left it in the corner. Andy and I kept glancing at it from time to time, but the men stayed outdoors under the eaves. The torrent eventually let up to a drizzle. By then we’d been in the cement dungeon for two hours. We couldn’t wait to get moving. Andy bravely walked outside, scattered the jar’s contents, and threw the container in the garbage. The men smiled and said something in German. We smiled back and got out of there pronto.

A common sight in Germany: red geraniums in window boxes.
Photo credit: SuperStock
As we roll through the former East German villages, people stop what they’re doing and gawk. Some say “hi”, but mainly they just stare as if we’re space creatures. Sometimes, I feel like one. It rained for 9 hours. Wet and chilly, we eventually pulled into a campground and dined beneath a picnic shelter. Then the rainfall miraculously stopped. Just when we think we’re the only crazy couple on two wheels, two other touring cyclists roll past.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dodging Night Crawlers

On a wet day's commute I find I'm dodging squashed frogs, slugs, and creatures battered beyond recognition. Gross, I know.

Worms are sickly looking, all pink and squishy, unsightly. But the long, dark headed night crawler is in a class of its own. There's something about their fortitude, the utter determination to get somewhere. Stretch and contract; lengthen and pull up their hiney in one fell swoop. Constantly on the move. I yield to the night crawler.

Maybe it's because as a child my father would give us a penny for every one we captured. He sold the creatures as fishing bait at his mom & pop store. There was something exciting, going out on a dark and dewy summer night with flashlight in hand. I'd look for the "nighties" laying on the grass. It took a quick hand to swipe the slimy buggers before they madly retreated into the ground, but we were youngsters on a mission. I was pretty good at it too, earning up to 25 pennies at a time.

This determined night crawler moved 12" by the time I was done photographing.

If you see me wavering on the asphalt, please give me a wide berth. It could be I've lost my balance or maybe I'm dodging the low life, giving the night crawler one last chance.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moose on the Loose

Photo credit: Horizons North
Because my husband regularly commutes along the Winooski River, he often encounters deer, woodchucks, even fly-fishermen in hipwaders standing in the water. But the other day something swimming caught his attention and he realized a moose was heading towards him. He stopped his bike, hardly believing what he saw, but also to give the mammal room should the moose lumber up the bank. But fortunately, the same instance the animal saw my husband and headed back the way he came. The moose eventually stood on the far bank, dripping wet, all leggy 8 feet of him.. "He was a big boy!", exclaimed my husband as he called home immediately after he got to his office. "With 6" antlers."

I think I would've peed my pants had the moose bumbled toward me!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Riding in the Heat

It was flippin' hot this past Sunday. I was all smiles though, after a hot morning walk with my adventure buddy who was in town for a family celebration. We ironed out more details on our French Affair. After a week of hut-to-hut hiking in Zermatt we'll catch a train ride to Provence. We agreed to take it easy, once there. Enjoy the sights, drink wine, pedal about 50k a day. There is no end to the Roman fortifications spread around the region - that's my primary love. Patty is interested in a Mediterranean ride. But we're going without a specific itinerary to remain flexible, should something catch our fancy en route.

To get in the mood, later that Sunday after my girlfriend went to play bocce with family (practice for petanque in France?) I headed to the lake. I wore a bathing suit and beached it with our youngest boy, skipping stones and dipping in 52F Lake Champlain. Barely able to breathe: barely clothed. I rode home in a wet suit, pulling shorts on for coverage. It was definitely summer-like weather. Which means August arrives in the near future - that much closer to a plane flight over the Atlantic!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Germany - Order and Crossing the Wall

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

48 miles – Monday, August 22

Today’s journey through rolling hills was what I’d envisioned the German countryside to be like. Entire villages cluster the hillsides, all with matching red tile roofs. Houses are multi-story with white stucco crisscrossed woodwork painted dark brown. Cobblestones and brick streets snake through town only to change back to asphalt upon leaving – very picturesque.

We passed through the city of Kassel. There is much industrialization, a Mercedes Benz tower, the smell of hops indicating a brewery. Andy noticed a BMW dealership, not out of the ordinary in Germany, but the showroom vehicle displayed a bike rack and bike. What we consider status cars in the U.S., like Mercedes and BMW, are utilitarian here. Some pull trailers; others are used for tailgate picnics or everyday shopping.

40 miles – Tuesday, August 23

Late morning we walked into town and browsed, bought groceries, and did a couple errands. It would be hard not to notice how much Germans love flowers (blumen), especially red geraniums. Blumen are sold on roadsides or in huge nurseries.  Geraniums overflow window boxes, sometimes from every glass pane on the brown and white homes. It’s rather prim and proper, yet nonetheless appealing.

In a supermarket parking lot an old woman was stooped over two sacks. She gestured, speaking wildly that she needed help. That was easily understood, even with the language barrier. We rushed to her aid, explaining that we didn’t speak German, but would carry her bags. Her eyes sparkled. As she limped along, she said, “mein haus” pointing with her cane. Andy held her arm as she puttered along.  We wondered just how far her house was. In the quiet heat of the morning we spoke a few words, telling her where we were from and how we were traveling. From time to time she nodded and said “Kentucky” and “Texas” though we couldn’t understand enough to tell if she had visited, knew relatives there, or was just mentioning states she had heard of. In a few minutes we reached her front gate - a mere block from the market - and helped her to the door. She beamed and said “danke” (thank you) more times than were necessary. When Andy and I walked away we wondered how the elderly woman managed. She couldn’t carry her own food and little each time. We presumed she enlisted assistance on a regular basis.

We climbed a river valley, ascended small villages each one seemingly more pristine and colorful than the next. The sweet scent of hay filled the afternoon, its aroma like heated barley malt. At the crest of the rise we stopped and photographed an old barn, its timber, brick, and mud-mortar construction showing signs of wear. Many of the buildings are over 200 years old. We can tell by etchings above the doors.

For a while my reverie was focused on the road shoulders, filled with plums looking like purple marbles. Fat snails also hovered on the white line like warts on the pavement. I had been pedaling in this manner, contemplating the snail’s tracks, wondering whether they were starting out on the long journey across the highway or had miraculously survived the haul and were inching the last legs to safety, when the road gradually sloped downhill. I looked up and smiled. It was time for a rewarding downhill coast.

Caught up in the deserved descent, I couldn't understand why Andy pulled off the highway shortly afterwards, braking in mid-stream. A few seconds later goose bumps prickled my torso as a profound realization sank in. I halted too. Only five years before the Berlin Wall came down. In this region this was all that remained of the border with East Germany. A cement marker stood 8ft high; a 12ft mesh black fence had once continued all the across the asphalt, now torn away in spots with gaping holes. The line cut into the forest, disappearing in each direction over distant hills..

We got off the bicycles and walked the two waffle-like cement tracks on the East German side. It went on as far as we could see. This was most likely where jeeps patrolled the border, searching the many who tried to escape to the West. Andy and I talked briefly about the dispute between Germany and the Soviet Union over the East German territory before the Berlin Wall was erected in the 1950’s. After contemplating this historic spot for some time, we eventually pedaled onward.

The division between the former two countries couldn’t be more apparent. Highway quality deteriorated. In the next town new businesses sprang up.  Houses were being repaired. A road was being bull-dozed to bypass the village. Town centers still had cobbled streets, but were in bad shape.  If small stones hadn’t filled in gaping holes, my tires would have certainly gotten stuck, pitching me over the handle bars. It was an odd feeling to be in a country where only 5 years ago we would be refused entrance. Much is going on in building and reparation – and much is still to be done – to bring the countryside up to the German standard. The country has taken on a huge challenge.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Walk & Roll Week

Vermont's area schools celebrated Walk & Roll week in conjunction with Bike to Work week. It's our version to get kids and parents on two wheels for the commute to school.

As added enticement there are healthy treats, a helmet raffle, and reflectors and pencils to give away.

Some of the parent volunteers never took off their helmets. I found it quite amusing, yet brilliant too. It's part of their everyday attire. There are some super moms/dads who bike with 3 kids and bring cakes, class snacks, etc. as part of their daily routine.

Both racks filled up quickly. Though there were more bikes than usual, this is a common sight at my son's elementary school.

Yours truly, talking up the watermelon. One child ate 6 pieces. I helped monitor the table and provided a receptacle for the rinds. I also praised the parents for walking and rolling with their kids.

The children and parents continued riding all week, tracking statistics in classrooms.

As a school they are competing to earn their name on a trophy to be displayed for all to see.

A plucky family rode their cargo bike. One child held the sign while mom negotiated the streets.

I said to one father about how nice it was to see him riding with his daughter. "It  must make Kate pretty happy."

His reply, "Yeah, and it's not that hard for me either. Maybe I'll do this more often."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going to Camp

Going to my family's camp from our house starts with 1.5 miles of city biking through Burlington's bricky downtown to connect with the waterfront path. Then it's smooth sailing for four miles along the former rail way line. On a Saturday morning the trail brims with all types of travelers. We are lucky to have this world class access to beaches, parks, neighborhoods, and camps along Lake Champlain. Oh, and you couldn't beat the abundant blooming trillium guiding my way.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Mother's Day Find

My husband and I set off for a Mother's Day morning ride. We have a neighbor that often puts free stuff on his front lawn. Immediately my eye was drawn to this bike rack. While it can only hold three bikes, it will go a long way toward organizing the garage. I also like it's portability.

I received flowers, chocolate, and yummy Black Magic Blend coffee for Mother's Day, all from my awesome husband. Each of which is a welcome pleasure. I didn't get anything bikey—not that I'm complaining. To find this rack was serendipitous. (We bike lovers are easily amused.) After hefting it homeward we continued the ride.

Later, I added the flower. Betch 'ya can't guess which slot is for the girly bike?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bag of Whimsy, Upcycled Messenger Bag

I have a fetish for bags. Especially those that double as a handlebar bag. I didn't need another one, but I'd always wanted this particular style. It's a well-made name brand (guess which one?), used and on consignment—for only 7.00. So I put it back on the rack, right up front, hoping someone else would buy it. I went home, thought about it, and returned the following day. Maybe it was meant to be.

I'm tired of black so to give it some pizzazz I found a package of assorted felted buttons. Do you know how hard it is to locate a pre-embroidered bike emblem? There were lots of frogs, letters, blocks—all geared toward children. I settled for flowers. I wanted just a splash of color and decided to only use pink. I hand-sewed a large flower over the logo and placed a tiny one on the strap.

My pink magnifying glasses go rather well too.
On the back I cut off a logo tag and strategically positioned another small flower. And that's it for the new look.

Despite the exterior color, The inside pattern is fabulous. Below is the flap pocket.
Red strap has a clip for keys.
There is a zippered main compartment with more sectional interior pockets. And the bottom unzips for a wider extension. I'm impressed with the design.

I customized the bag with hook and loop straps (Velcro-like) just like the Eastsport. (Note the loops added between the grey edging.) I enjoy re-purposing a stylish pack into a usable bike bag.

The bag attaches to a back rack (with shoulder strap tucked away)...

or to handlebars.

Or sling it over your shoulder for every day use. I envision this as my traveling bag for when I go on our adventure in August, but only because it's more fashionable. The Eastsport would suffice too, but why go for blasé when this new model would rock with my pink fleece hoody?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Germany - Bread, Hedgehogs, and Münster Fun

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

Drooling over German bread. Photo credit: German Embassy Doha

55 Miles - Saturday, August 20

We’ve been sailing on the most incredible tailwind for a week – apparently a western prevailing wind. As we pedaled under grey skies through the farmland, north of the Koln-Dusseldorf metropolis, we wondered what lay ahead. Prague is a week and a half away. So we navigate an eastern course, skirting large Deutschland cities.

Fortunately, Monique, our friend in Den Haag, had warned us about grocery store closures at 1pm on Saturday through Monday morning. We stocked up on 2 days worth of food. Since I am the primary food carrier, I stuffed both front panniers with 2 lbs. of spaghetti, 1 lb. of granola, oatmeal, two huge baguettes, onions, etc. It takes a half mile to get used to the sluggish steering, but I’ve grown accustomed to added weight, then gradual decrease as we eat through our cache. We spent 48 marks ($30 USD). Not bad for 2 days of eating.

Photo credit: HIH

German bread costs less than in other countries - for an incredibly vast selection. There are five varieties of white bread, long crusty baguettes, and ten unique loaves, all varying between round to long and squatty. To a hungry cyclist, German bread is heaven. We cannot pronounce the multi-syllable names, but when it’s our turn in line we point to any loaf. I suspect we’ll like anything that’s handed to us. We supplement fresh bread with Volkornbrot, a dense, dark bread that tastes like soured dough/molasses studded with rye kernels. It comes in .25 inch slices and the compact plastic wrapped package weighs over a pound. The taste is unique. It also stores well in our baggage. All for 1.99 marks ($1.20 USD).

A "hedgie" in defense mode.  Photo credit: 123RF
Photo credit: Snowflake Books

70 miles - Sunday, August 21

Early morning a hedgehog was scratching at our trash bag just outside the tent. I took my rubber sandal and poked him. He curled into a ball, his round back like a pin cushion. He was awaiting my retreat, apparently thinking he could fool me, but I knew that two humps in the hazy moonlight was more than our garbage. I pushed the creature until it toppled on its side like a football. Then its arms and legs moved and the animal scurried away. Andy knows how much I like “hedgies.” There are so many dead on roadsides that we enjoy the live ones, even though they're a nuisance.

Not long afterwards we woke to a noisy couple in the next tent, unabashedly fond of each other. Thin walls mean close neighbors. It’s a reminder to keep our own tent fun in check.

Hills near Münster. Photo credit: tripadvisor
We're gradually shifting to earlier starts. Daylight is growing shorter. To bed by 10pm; awake by 6am; rolling by 8:30. Mornings on the roads are quieter; we look forward to relaxing in the campground by late afternoon.

Halfway through the day the terrain changed to long rolling hills. Bike paths are few, only just outside of towns. I'll miss the designated lanes. Andy and I would often ride side by side while he looked up German words in his dictionary.

Panorama of the city of Münster. Photo credit: See the World

As we rolled into the center of Munster a human-powered relay race looped the city streets. French was heard over the loudspeaker. Happy for a break, and curious, we rested on the handlebars and watched the silly-clad teams get in and out of their "cars". There were jesters; one car was a teddy bear; another in the shape of an umbrella; one with a face, etc. Pure fun on wheels. After a while we reluctantly left, heading to a known campground. We love the pleasant surprises that leave us smiling. Why the French language spoken in a German city? Andy suspected a cultural celebration, including the town's sister city in France. We’d often seen the signs listing each partnering locale at village entrances.

Promenade Park in Münster with lots of Pedestrians and cyclists. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Treated to a View

On my commute home there is a point where my wheels head west, directly at Lake Champlain. All day showers threatened in between bursts of magnificent sunshine. I didn't know if I'd pedal in rain pants or hike up my tights for fresh air. As it turned out the moisture kept at bay and I was treated a lovely view. Light rain was falling across the lake and yet the clarity of New York's mountains, nearly ten miles across, is absolutely astounding. This is always a sign that stable weather is coming.

Now, three days later, I am sore from spending 8 hours roofing our family's lakefront camp. The clear weather did arrive. I rode to camp yesterday and home after the long day. But today, Mother's Day, I will gently pedal with my husband for a bit, probably along this lakefront that we dearly love. And gobble the Extra Dark Lindt Truffles that were part of my gift.

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Handlebars for the Ross, Take Three

The bag of clamps arrived from eBay. It's a pity there is only one that fits, but that's all I need.

The double-ringed gadget is what broke.

I squeezed the brake lever. The best tool to remove the inset screw is a ratchet.

Voila. I could barely see this break when the lever was all together, but as I said I'd heard an audible crack and thereafter the clamp wouldn't tighten, well, it became obvious, especially after I slid the clamp from the bar and peered inside.

It was an easy repair, really. I gingerly tighten the brake lever back in place. As this replacement piece was difficult to locate, I'm erring on the side of caution. As a matter of fact I backed off a turn on the left hand brake mount, just in case that one's stability is on the edge. I presume I may never locate another one of these specialized clamps.

It's looking good. I took the Ross for a spin around the block. Braking and shifting worked reasonably well. Oh heck, I went ahead and put on the leather grips. This time I placed them in water so twisting the grips in place was a breeze.

Using the mustache handle bars sits me more upright on the bike. A bit too much. I lowered the stem as far as possible. And angled the seat differently. This feels better. I presume there will be more adjustments as I get used to the changes.

Ready for a test ride, I installed the bell and mirror. I've never put a mirror in this position, but it turned out to provide more visibility. On the other hand the bell is more awkward. But I'll leave it for now as it's functional. I routed the right hand brake wire under the bar and cinched it with a green zip-tie to another wire. This provides adequate room for a front bag.

At first I didn't like the spider web of black wires, but I'm getting used to it, especially with the addition of mirror and bell.

I'll eventually adjust the braking power as it's a bit soft. But all the gears seem to work. That's amazing. It's an adjustment getting used to braking with two fingers as it's rather uncomfortable gripping with my whole hand. Another reason to fine tune the braking system.

I'm happy I made these adjustments to the Ross. It's better suited to the way I use this bike. It'll never be the Pilen or the Betty Foy, but it's uniquely, distinctly mine.