Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pearl Street Improvements

I do not feel safe in this scenario.
This is Pearl Street. It's a heavily used corridor, connecting Winooski and Burlington, that ebbs by the hospital, the University, flows downhill past old houses, by the top of a pedestrian mall, and 1.5 miles later, ends at venerable Battery Park for grand Lake Champlain views.

From it's illustrious roots as a dirt road, where wealthy Burlingtonians built homes, then an Italian neighborhood, razed in the 1960s for urban renewal—the border of which is the section of Pearl Street in the above photo—the renaissance of this street changes with the times. It is changing once again.

Because it's a thoroughfare, used by tourists, students, and residents, cyclists often use it—myself included—to get to the lakefront. Two years ago, federal transportation money supported a section of reconstruction. City planners reached out to the public, asking for design assistance that would serve all users. Three proposals came forward, one of which supported bike lanes. Cycling advocates spread the word on this particular plan, and many of us weighed in on our decision. I was thrilled that I could pedal with my children on the street. Plan 3, with bike lanes was adopted.

Crosswalk at head of Church Street pedestrian mall. Notice cyclist on sidewalk.
Fast forward to today. Most of the work is complete. Power lines are below ground. Pretty street lights are in place. Bump outs, with parallel parking replaced angled parking. There are safer pedestrian crosswalks, with traffic lights and posts clearly defining their space. Lane markings are yet to be striped.

I often ride the sidewalk if I'm going to the post office (building on right).
But therein lies the problem. If one inspects my first photo, there was never enough room to accommodate a safe bike lane.

I studied the published schematic. Three feet of space is allotted for cyclists. That's smack in the door zone.

Yellow is bump out for pedestrian crossing. Notice narrow 3-foot margin for cyclists
Realistically, to begin with, there was never enough room for parking, driving lanes, plus adequate width for safe cycling. Originally designed as carriage roads, then widened for automobiles, all New England roads are narrow. There is a lesson here. As cyclists advocate for more road space, we should get the facts to better champion our presence.

All this makes me wonder why the lanes have not been striped. Did cyclists speak up? There's been a flurry of e-mails regarding this situation. Some have said it's far better to add sharrows than stripe a 3-foot cycling lane. If lines are painted as planned, they say, it could lead a novice rider down a potentially dangerous path. I tend to agree.

Hopefully, we can learn from this experience. I, for one, will be reading plans more closely.

Friday, June 28, 2013

When Not Riding

Inspecting bike racks at dawn.
Timing of cross-town kids' camps and appointments eat away opportunities to commute by bike everyday. Such is life. I cannot remain still, however. Over the last few years, I've become an early riser, which allows me to squeeze exercise time into a busy schedule, even if it's not pushing pedals.

A Schwinn captures my eye. Nice basket up front.
 When not riding, I walk at 5:30 a.m.

 When not riding, I notice parked bicycles and wonder about their history.

I observe stark lighting on architecture.
 When not riding, I do yoga, swim laps, pull weeds in my gardens.

Early bike commuters are sometimes fleeting. 
When not riding I notice I have tight calf muscles. I hang my heels off a step and stretch.

Nothing short of miraculous, there is a horseshoe on the sidewalk.
When not riding I stumble upon a horseshoe. Really. It must be my lucky day!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unexpected: a Suntour Cyclone Derailleur

New-to-me, Suntour Cyclone derailleur.
The chain that I replaced on the Miyata last fall has been skipping periodically. Since I tried to save money, purchasing a chain without a masterlink, I presumed that when I pushed the pin in place, I did something wrong and ended up with a stiff link.

So, I rode the bike last fall for a while, but put it away after a couple rides. At the time I couldn't deal with diagnosing the problem.

However, this spring while the Trek was in the shop, I started riding the Miyata again. Obviously, the problem didn't heal itself. In fact, it became worse.

Twice, I spent time rotating the chain, inspecting for skips. As the jumping was minor, I couldn't pinpoint the exact spot so I lubricated the chain and twisted the links slightly, hoping to loosen the problem link.

It didn't fix the skipping. Lucky me!

But one day, while riding home in the granny gear the chain decided to jump off a pulley wheel in the derailleur. Did you know that could happen? It turned out to be a godsend. I bent over the back wheel (a biker's version of opening the car hood and scratching one's head) to discover the upper plastic wheel was worn. That I could fix.

Or so I thought. By the time I arrived home, a half hour late, I'd also deduced that whenever I rode in the granny gear, the chain was slack. This was clearly a derailleur issue. The part couldn't do it's job properly, keeping tension while springing back into position.

So I did what any bike lover would do. I scoured our stash of parts, came up with two derailleurs (thank you hubby for collecting stuff) and headed to a local bike shop.

It turns out a spring was broken in the derailleur, irreplaceable at this shop. The lady mechanic mounted the Suntour Cyclone, explaining that it's a nice one, as opposed to the low end black Shimano. I said goodbye to the Suntour Mountech, original to the bike, though I'll keep it for parts. Sometime I plan to run it to another shop, one more versed in older bicycles.

The Suntour Cyclone suits the Miyata in more ways than one. It functions well, plus the all-chrome style and brand fits the era when all bikes came equipped with Suntour components.. It's also prettier than the Mountech—if such a thing can be said about a derailleur.

In hindsight, I now realize the initial chain skip was due to a worn derailleur pulley. And more recently, the spring failed.

And, for all the angst over what I suspected was a stiff link, the chain functioned fine once another derailleur was installed. It's nice to know I can still connect a chain old school style.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Decorate an Old Wheel

I spied this clever use of an old wheel. Simply weave colorful ribbon through the spokes. In this instance, ivy provides privacy to the porch behind the lattice. It makes me wish I had a used wheel to decorate. I'd place it on a pole in my flower garden.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Italy - A Day in Sperlonga

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Click here for the Introduction.

Beachside wandering in Sperlonga.
Tuesday, October 18th
This morning we strolled through a pleasant kilometer of shallow waves along the shoreline to reach Sperlonga. The village itself is enchanting. Narrow alleys and stairways form a maze past multilevel homes. I can't help but wonder if elder Italians find the stairs difficult to navigate. We thread our way, finding an outdoor market. We load our backpack with fresh tomatoes, garlic, fruit, enough necessities to get us through another day.
We've stuck upon an incredible food duo: Asiago cheese and flat bread, much like focaccia - dense with olive oil slathered on top. The loaf is an incredible 18" x 10", but with our simple hand gestures and smiles, vendors move the knife along the loaf and will cut to desired size.
I tried calling home with an Italian phone card. I desperately wanted to speak with my parents. It had been two months, since arriving in Paris, when we last talked. Unfortunately, yet again I had to leave a message. The farther eastward we travel, the more expensive it is to call the United States. That, and the time difference, of which I've lost track, makes it harder to understand the best time for contact. Is it now 6,7, or 8 hours difference? I worry, especially, about my aging grandparents.
Grande Cappuccino--the only way to get a mugful sized cup of coffee with milk, steamed milk!
A drawing from our journal.
After errands, we stop and order a "grande cappuccino" - the only way to get a mugful size cup of coffee with milk, and the milk is always steamed. Wonderful!

Today was a day of firsts: the first day I wore my bathing suit and first swim in the Mediterranean. We relaxed on the beach, using the grey Gore Tex tarp, normally reserved to cover the bikes, in place of a towel. I buried a lemon soda in the sand. We kept a food bag handy for munching. Unfortunately, our hunger didn't understand it was a rest day.  
The cliffside village of Sperlonga. A drawing from our journal.
October warmth stifles our desire to move south into the Naples region. We stall for a day. The metronome of surf is relaxing. Wind diffuses the low rumble of aircraft. The sea glistens. Three young blond-haired naked boys chase each other up and down the beach. Andy tries to teach me how to body surf, except the waves are a trifle small.
We discuss advancing eastward as far as Turkey before returning to London, where we'll need to acquire visas in preparation for the Asian leg. However, with only another month before European departure, Italy and Greece's empty beaches, not to mention ancient ruins, could easily satisfy our wanderlust.
Grotto of Tiberius. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Later, we meander to a nearby museum, housing a collection of Roman antiquities, the pieces extracted from a seaside grotto. The statues once surrounded an oval pool along with rectangular fish ponds. Spring fed and saltwater seepage combined to fill the tanks. Andy and I walked among oversized curly-haired Roman heads, limbs on tables, a foot twice life-size. The collection was a reconstruction; predecessors had broken the statues to use as fill. Afterward, we walked over the grounds and observed 2-foot-high stone walls, also the remains of a palace, a guard station for wartime, and the water-filled oval and rectangular grotto pools. How odd, I thought, to unearth a single foot, a hand, or a head. I marveled at a big toenail. So thick and life-like, even 2000 years ago.
Replica of Oddyseus blinding the cyclops. Sperlonga Archaeological Museum.  Photo credit: Virtual Tourist

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Women-Only Flat Repair Clinic

Several ladies attended the Women's Ride Series' third event of the season: how to change a tire and patch a flat. With three female instructors (myself included) we broke down fixing a flat into simple, manageable procedures.

  1. Identify the cause of puncture. (wheels, pumps, patch kit provided)
  2. Remove tube
  3. Practice gluing patch (pinch flat and punctured tubes provided)
  4. Inflating tire

Many women are afraid to ride alone because they are unable to repair their own flat. Others wanted to be prepared and less intimidated should something go wrong. As instructors we helped identify their particular valve style and how to remove their wheel. Most importantly perhaps, we provided an easy venue for women to ask questions, any questions about their bike. And in fact, each leader approached flat repair a bit differently, which I hoped showed the ladies that's it's okay to develop your own style, fail on your first attempt, or take 45 minutes to fix your tire. Accomplishing the task is the prize.

At the very least, ladies know what items to carry, and as I explained, depending upon your route, there are good Samaritans who will stop and assist.

A very friendly lady (on the left) was attentive and eager to learn. She was the last to leave.

I enjoyed meeting a clutch of female riders. I hope to see the ladies again at the next event: riding South Burlington's bike paths.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Do You Wear Your Helmet Inside a Store?

Completing errands by bike is the perfect way to go. Pull up near the front door of any establiment, lock the bike to a pole or—if you're lucky—a bike rack. If I'm away from the bike for five minutes or less, no sense removing the helmet. As for bike gloves, well, let's just say they're like a second skin.

What are your rules for bike attire?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kudos to Pittsburgh's Bicycle Community

A screen capture of Bike Pittsburgh's website.
Every once in a while I stumble onto what I like to call Online Heaven: a site that's masterful in its wealth of information, easily navigable, and overwhelming in response. I found everything I needed (and then some) to help navigate downtown Pittsburgh by bike, including bus information, hotel suggestions, and directions for a city tour—all directly from the cycling community. I  value this feedback more than from any chamber of commerce.

Bike Pittsburgh has the best bicycle map! You can access it online, complete with interactive routes, print it, or even order a waterproof version.

I have nothing but praise for their Message Board. I posted, hoping to locate information regarding navigating a big city that I was clueless about. Within 1 hour there were 10 responses, including a personal invitation to lead our group through rough spots. It didn't stop there. The messages poured in. In two days, I made a hotel reservation.

It's clear Pittsburgh cyclers are passionate. And thanks to them, I've come away from this experience, confident that we'll start our tour smartly plus spend time exploring this city on three rivers.

Have you ever stumbled across a bicycle community that's blown your bike shoes off?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bus, Ride, Hike, Camp, Ride - Elmore State Park

My favorite: Oreo-colored bovines.
1:30 p.m. bus ride to central Vermont. Head off on back roads. Not in shape for steep, winding, tough country lanes. Blissful scenery. Buttercups galore, yellowing fields. Admiring cows.

Earlier rain equals good dirt road riding. Dustless and smooth. Mountain views, west and east.

Obligatory covered bridge photo in Stowe. "No trucks or buses allowed. Per order of selectmen."

I'm slow. Transfer to busy route 100. Loud. Ample road shoulders. Traffic turns a headwind into a neat tailwind. Make tracks and arrive at Elmore State Park at 6 p.m.

No vacancy. But it's serendipity. All Vermont Parks do not turn away cyclists and pedestrians. "I'm sorry you'll be far from facilities." I set up in day use area. Under apple tree. Secluded. Big lawn. Ranger housing is only a hedge away. Perfect for me.

Scramble to set up tent. Pack food, water, jacket in backpack. Think ahead. Toss in towel and toiletries, preparing to take shower on way back. No time to lose. I head for Lookout Trail. Purpose of this trip: climb Mount Elmore.

It turns cloudy. I hike fast. Encounter no one else. Push worrisome thoughts away. Watch footing. Thunder rumbles.

Storm never materializes. Enjoy tower climb. 60 steps. My family raved about this hike. I had to do it too.

It's windy. Gorgeous view of Lake Elmore. It's 7:30. After two minutes I descend stairs. Need to move.

Scramble. Take care on way down. Follow blue markers. Stop at overlook. Don't recall this spot, but am blown away by rainbow above water.

Favorite bridge created from one half of crooked trunk. Lovely.
Consult map. Going opposite direction. Longer. Forms a triangle to end where I started. Go for it. Have flashlight, though plan to get down before dark. All alone on trails. Ridge hop on soft, rich earth. Less traveled. Comfortable. Waist high ferns. Eventually cross wetlands. Frogs chirp. Interesting bridges. No two alike. Sneaker sinks into bog. Wet. But I keep moving. Smiling.

Complete loop by 8:30. Take shower. Back at tent site by 9:00. It's a chilly evening. Achy legs. Restless. Wide awake until 1 am. I sleep little. 

Pedestrian/cyclist only bridge in Montpelier.
Next morning I realize I've forgotten to bring matches to light stove. No hot tea. Too early to borrow from another camper. Gobble banana, yogurt. Drink lots of water. On the road by 7:30. Follow lake. Sore legs. Opt to take shorter route back. Still need to manage 50 plus miles. Route 12 is forested. Moose crossing signs. Ponds. My presence elicits bullfrog croaks. I laugh. Wild daisies, paintbrush, purple blooms (I wish to know your name). Long, sweeping, big chain ring downhills.

Arrive in capital, Montpelier, at 10 a.m. Cell phone heaven. Farmer's market. Though without bus service on weekends. I confer with husband. Will rendezvous later to save ugly last miles into Burlington. He's my hero.

Follow Cross Vermont Trail for alternative to Route 2. Dirt roads, back roads. Not well marked. I go 3 miles wrong direction. Disheartened. Get back on track after consuming chocolate milk and overstuffed seafood sandwich. Revived.

Beautiful gorge.
Single track crossing of bridge reveals dirt road. Back on track.
Only single track stretch of any significance: half mile to bypass downtown Waterbury.
Once in Waterbury, I ride familiar ground. Husband's commute. River Road, Duxbury Road, Cochran Road. Deer leaps from river bank, crossing in front of me. Winooski River serenade. Numerous cyclers. Both directions. I cruise over bridge. Swing into park. Meet husband and kids. Happy to be done. Just in time for Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Revitalize a Map Case

Large map case has simple hook and loop fasteners that attach to handlebar.
I own two map cases and they are identical. They were given to me because I participated in organized rides. I like some of the case's features, however, I felt they could be improved to better suit my needs. I had time recently to catch up on projects, so read on for my alterations.

A unique feature: opened map case turns into a shopping bag. Map or cue sheet
stays in place. Incidentally, Auberge Harris is a nice accommodation
if you're touring around Lake Champlain
. I've stayed there twice. 
The case's original intent was that it unfolds, doubling as a shopping bag. There are two pockets. One holds a map. The other conceals pop out handles. The material is constructed of woven plastic fiber. It's strong and no doubt can hold a bagful of goods.

As you can see, it's also an advertisement for a hotel. That part doesn't bother me. It's a place that caters to bicyclists, supporter of Velo Quebec, our north of the border regional cycling authority whose advocacy work resulted in a network of separate cycle paths throughout the province. When a map tucks inside the clear plastic, the logo all but disappears, rendering an obnoxiously blaring graphic nearly nonexistent.

Black tape along bottom is virtually like the fabric tape along stitched side seams.
I first altered the case size. I no longer want or need the bag feature. I cut off the bottom half to desired size, then snipped the looped handles.

I folded the cut end and laid a piece of black tape along its entire length. I burnished the tape with rounded scissor handles. The tape is a cross between duct tape and electrical tape. It's strong, infused with fibers. My son claims it's hockey tape. Whatever its name, it works and the color blends well.

I moved married side of Velcro-like closure to just below my thumb.
Since one side of the Velcro-like fastener was now on the lower end of bag that I'd removed, I used a seam ripper to undo the large stitches holding it in place. I returned it to the correct position, secured with super glue, and tape on both sides, running its entire length. It might be better to machine sew the fastener, however it's nearly impossible in the current configuration with pre-stitched sides. I also don't want to risk mistreating my machine. (I will look into its capabilities, though. I can foresee other projects, using worn tire tubes that would require machine sewing.)

Dual pouches could come in handy for bus schedule, money, etc.
Tote handles are no longer in the way.
Refashioned case with map folded to show my next bike overnight route.
Now, I have a re-purposed map case. It's lighter than the original. It's larger than most cases on the market, allowing easier map folding (without entirely creasing the paper) so I presume maps could have longer life. It has two pockets. That feature alone makes it unique. I was so pleased with the result that I went ahead and reformed the second case.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Italy - Coastal Riding

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Click here for the Introduction.

Promontory in the distance is part of Parco Nazionale del Circeo. Photo credit: Wikipedia
47 miles - Monday, October 17

Riding the Mediterranean coast is delightful. Sunny, tailwind – and for Andy – shirtless weather. Immediately we enter our first Italian national park: Parco Nazionale del Circeo. We ride through coastal wetlands, past dunes. It's pretty and quiet, however a profusion of insects and roadside litter are less than inviting. We exit the park at Torre Olevola, happy to keep sailing along until lunchtime.

Dunes in Parco Nazionale del Circeo. Photo credit: Wikipedia
In Terracina we take a break and resupply camera film and Gaz cannister for our stove. Onward, we hug the coastline for more easy miles. The cold, clean roads of the north are a distant memory, replaced by warmth, spectacular coastline, juxtaposed against detritus on the road shoulder. It's almost two distinctly different countries.

We are steered onward to Sperlonga by proprietors of previously closed campgrounds. Andy and I climb steeply into the village, quaintly situated on a bluff, It's stucco buildings and walkways, begging to be explored. But first we coast another kilometer to the campground at ocean level.

A man stops to chat at the entrance, confirming the campground is thankfully “aperto” or open. When he hears we are from the United States, he removes his gold band from his finger and points out the inscription “Alaska gold”. And something about “1880”. Unable to converse beyond a few phrases in Italian, it leaves us wondering. Maybe it's an heirloom?

Ancient Roman resort town of Sperlonga.  Photo credit: Wikipedia
By 3 p.m. we had set up the tent, locked bikes, and headed for the beach. Northward is Sperlonga, accessible by beach. It's a nice stroll back to the village for groceries before sunset at 5:30. After 3 months on the road we've gone from 56° latitude and 10 p.m. sunsets to 42° latitude and early darkness. Obviously, it changes what we do after dark. Tonight we talk with a German couple in an adjacent site. They arrived for one night and are currently on a 10 day stay. They are smitten with Sperlonga's romantic, narrow alleys. Andy and I look forward to returning tomorrow.

Family gathers for wine production in Sperlonga.
They wave Andy and  I inside  for a look.
After our usual wine with pasta meal, friendly voices and machinery emanate from a small building snuggled between campground and beach. Andy and I investigate. A family group of 4-5 people are running their grape harvest through a contraption to separate grapes from vine and stem. It's a small scale production for personal consumption only, they explain. They allow us a photo.