Saturday, August 31, 2013

Altering an Old Friend vs. Buying New

Tinkering with the Peugeot UO 14, adding upright bars.
Sure, I lust after new bikes. But when practicality enters the equation—I have a stable full of perfectly functional bicycles—I can't justify a new purchase. Though pristine and in excellent mechanical shape, a new ride lacks personality—at least the way I look at it, coming from do-it-yourselfer lineage.

It's still a work in progress. Brake levers aren't secured.  I think I'll shorten the grips,
 ride around, possibly adjust handle bar reach and braking comfort,
before attaching front basket.
I enjoy the problem solving aspect of redoing the bikes in my possession: thinking, dreaming, then tackling the reconstruction. That way I add my personal style from the ground up and create a bike that works purely for the way I like to ride. I love digging through parts boxes, reorganizing inventory so I know exactly what I have available. I research what others have done, go over options. I might order new items when needed.

Keeping it fresh, re-using, restoring...

If I came home with a new bicycle, I'd stifle my creative side.* Where's the fun in that?

Here's a well thought out example of a beautiful Peugeot remake. It fits the owner's personal style:  "My New Old Bike".

*I can justify just about anything.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Foggy Dreams

Without my usual cup of coffee I stumble onto my bike, and forge through the fog. Thick, warm New England moisture paints surreal pastures. Crickets scream. Tree frogs whistle. I begin to imagine I could be anywhere... 

Pedaling beside Cape Cod's tall grasses. Gulls screech. Atlantic fog wraps me in a saltwater breeze.

Or, somewhere in the heartland. Flat. Hay bales stretching into infinity. Cornfields. Whining cicadas.

Some scenes are ubiquitous. It could be Northeast dairy land, or perhaps a Northwest valley, Southern drenched lowland.

But the sugar house reveals that this is definitely Vermont. Land of golden maples that ooze sweet sap.

Red barns appear. Another fortuitous sign.

The fog begins to lift as I enter the long driveway, flanked in more maples. I'm ready for that cup of strong, black tea.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Humane Society's Bike Rack

I present a functionally styled bicycle rack at our local Humane Society. It's not for test riding per se, but my son hopped aboard and came to the conclusion that the seat is rather uncomfortable. Silly boy—I could've told him that.

A flat feline purrs nearby. Because of metal construction the cat is impervious to rainy bad hair day—I mean bad fur day.

Go Dogs, Go!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Miyata 610, Who Loves You Baby?

As I have time, I've given my touring bike some love. It will accompany me on an adventure in September so I wanted it spiffed and in fine working order ahead of time—they'll be other last minute details to worry about.

First up: adding two bottle cages. Since this bike hails from the 1980s when frame pumps were positioned along the seat tube, the second cage resides under the frame between front wheel and crank. It's not ideal to swap bottles while riding, but it's nonetheless much needed extra storage.

I replaced the rear tire with Schwalbe's Marathon Tourgard. It has toothy tread with reflective sidewalls. The grooved surface should provide the traction I need on gravel rail trail.

I have new panniers too. I wanted a lightweight set with more space than my current commuters. Even though I used them on the Provence adventure, this time we'll haul more gear in less stable weather. I know for a fact that I won't be sipping espresso and devouring baguettes purchased at campsites.

Nothing updates the look of a bike like new bar tape. This go around, I wrapped cork tape, using real wine corks for bar end plugs. I'm always amazed that every time I re-wrap bars I have to do it twice. I wind the tape tight enough—that's not the problem—it's that I run out of length. Bar tape manufacturers provide bare minimum coverage. It irks me. It's funny too that once I get hang of it for one side you'd think I could wrap the other side like a pro, but no, I enfold the tape twice again.

A bit of garden twine completes the look. I like the looks of shellac, however
 I'll pass that procedure this time. I'm happy with it's current style.
If you love mustache bars with shellacked cork tape, view owl boogies bars.

I attached a simple Dimensions bell that I can flick with left hand while right hand can brake, if needed. It's important that I leave ample handle bar real estate for multiple hand positions.

Except for some minor issues to deal with, the Miyata is all set to go.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm a Guzzler

What is it about water, or specifically, lack thereof, that sends me into a panic? Sure, I can manage without this precious liquid for my hour commute. I have before. I won't expire or fall off my bike.

But, it's all I think about when I've forgotten my bottle. Memories of past rides, tours without enough water or food climb into my thoughts. Take over.

I have to tell myself, it's okay, you'll get through this, you'll be fine. It's good for self control, right?

To make matters worse, I've noticed how most people I ride with consume less liquid than I do. Like half. I drink 22 ounces each way on my ride. If I run out and my mouth is parched, I'm silently begging for more.

It's obvious that some riders require more liquid than others. I've also wondered if because I have a tendency to ride slow anyway, I possibly need optimal energy, so I won't fade and fall behind. That also means I eat a snack every two hours. Or less.

My husband often forgets—how can he do this, I don't know— to bring water when we're out for a 1.5 hour jaunt. I bring plenty for myself, of course. But somewhere down the road, I buck up and offer him a sip. Begrudgingly.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Duffel Will Do

To catch up with my family I load a duffel bag with overnight gear, put important stuff in front bag, then pedal six miles along waterfront path. So easy, so delightful, so fun. Leave the car at home.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Canadians Love Burlington and Lake Champlain

David and Genevieve (Simone, and Emile - not pictured) visit from Montreal.

Thanks to lots of Burlington adulation from Adventure Cycling, 50 Places to Bike Before You Die, and wonderful cycling map for do-it-yourselfers, touring around Lake Champlain has become quite popular. It's no great surprise then that Burlington—largest city on the circuit—sees its share of travelers.

Prior to welcoming a Canadian family into our home for two nights, in one day I spied three sets of bike tourists. I became an impromptu embassador to one Canadian group without hotel reservation, leading them to a less expensive hotel. But, I presume if you asked them afterward if they'd known what a long hill they'd had to negotiate—I warned them!—they might've sprung for waterfront living. I was further amazed at their touring rig, comprised of two adults powering a tandem, plus hauling a handicapped adult in a trailer. After 112 kilometers, they must've been exhausted!

Watching a family of four getting packed and ready to leave -- no small feat!

Thanks to Warm Showers Organization we host a variable amount of cycle tourists each year. In mid-August a family of four arrive for two nights. After a day spent around Burlington they prepare to set off mid-morning.

David adjusts baggage while his 3 year old daughter does likewise.

Simone packs doll and later helps her baby brother.

Emile gets into all kinds of trouble.

We keep him amused. Boys love wheels. There is no shortage of boy toys in our garage.

All packed and ready to go, we wish them a safe journey.

Heading north for their three day ride back to Montreal.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Greece - Arriving in Corfu

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Click here for the Introduction.

Photo credit: Sarantis Travel

55 miles - Tuesday, October 25

We spent the night aboard a ferry bound for Greece. Most passengers upgraded to indoor reclining lounge chairs, while we happily snuggle inside sleeping bags on the top deck between belching diesel stacks. Despite the rumbling engines and fumes, Andy and I are already exhausted from the train ride. We enjoy stars dancing around a half moon, then easily fall asleep.

At 6 a.m. it's still dark when a high pitched voice sings “Kerkyra, Corfu!”, announcing the ship's brief stop at the island of Corfu before continuing on to Patras. Since it costs the same whether we stay on-board or catch a ship two days later for the trip to the mainland, we preferred to break up the voyage with an introduction to Greece in daylight, rather than evening arrival, where we'd be pressed with currency transfer plus scrambling for overnight accommodation.

Old fortress. Photos credit: Corfu

We eat breakfast in the terminal, discover a hostel and campsite, all before leaving at daylight, pedaling up a hill past a 200 year old fortress walls, entering Kerkyra's bustling central square. As with every approach to a new country, I inspect faces, listen to language. Dark eyebrows, brown eyes and prominent facial hair adorn the islanders; women sport a faint mustache. But, skin coloring varies. There are blond-haired Greeks too.

Tiropita. Photo credit: Gardens and Flavors

Ever a hungry cyclist, we spy a storefront selling pastry and bread, tiropita (cheese pie), spinach pie, and donuts. Signs are in English, confirming what an acquaintance on the ferry said regarding everyone speaking a little of our native tongue. But frugal pockets must show restraint. We only buy cappuccinos. Shortly afterward a woman approaches, offering inexpensive rooms, but we must refuse. We need time to absorb and adjust.

It was then, as we sit on a bench, sipping our drinks that we spy a familiar sight – another bike tourist (eating two donuts)! We go over and introduce ourselves. Bruce breaks into a grin when we explain we grew up not far from his home: Montreal. He's been on the road since April, starting in Morocco, and now on Corfu for 10 days, mostly recovering from a nasty fall in Sardinia that injured his hip and elbow. Wanting to compare travel stories, but also Andy and I want to explore the island, we leave our fellow traveler to attend to a broken spoke on his rear wheel. However, we promise to meet him later or the following day. Bruce knows a free place to camp. This is enticing after exceeding our daily 30.00 budget, blown on hopping aboard numerous Italian trains.

Itching to ride after two sedentary days, we set off northward. We ride through small coastal communities. It's the off season yet it's perfect riding weather: sunny, little traffic, and 70-75 degrees. We couldn't be more delighted. There are dark-skinned topless women with tanned mates, beach side. And then for contrast, pearly skinned Caucasians, fully covered in one piece suits, lounge next to potbellied men.

Rugged Albanian coast, impossibly close.

The roadway climbs gradually through olive groves. Scraggly, gnarly, twisting trunks cling to the hillsides, while their lacey-leafed canopy whispers in the wind. And oh, the aroma! Olive oil contrasts with comforting scent of heated pines. Growers must be closing in on harvest; workers unroll long snakes of black mesh into circles around the olive trees, presumably to catch falling fruit. At the summit there's an intriguing view of the aqua Mediterranean, Greek mainland to the east, and hazy, brown, barren rugged Albanian coastline. An Italian navy boat patrols just off Corfu's shore.

Photo credit: SuperStock

Daylight is growing short, so we beeline south from Roda inland. Again the countryside is full of dry, rolling hills, covered with olive groves. On hills there are still spectacular ocean views, east and west, plus descents through villages, narrow streets. Locals sit on porches. Relax. Or, older folks work fields, wearing threadbare wool and cloth garments. All women don skirts with cloth wound around their heads. We passed elderly females riding sidesaddle on donkeys, positioned on wooden frame, or walking, leading animals burdened with firewood and kindling. It's an old world peek into island life compared with touristy beach communities.

We pick up food and arrive at the campground/hostel in time to shower, eat, and set up camp. We fall asleep by 8 p.m.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Conquer Headwinds, Admire Flowers

I haven't felt much inspiration nor energy lately. Plaguing headwinds haven't helped.

Tucking my head, pounding pedals—like the speed demons that pass me—fails to invigorate my commute. Time to refocus, concentrate on roadside wildflowers.

However, to my dismay, road crews recently mowed. Rats..

However, I spy day lilies bordering property.

Roadside pickings: a brand new mega sponge!

Good timing. I watch a young farmer in shorts and flip flops prepare to let his herd cross the road.

There are many 10-acre lots for sale.

Houses also. Some have been on the market for a long time—so long that the lawn is swallowing the sign.

Hmmm, less traffic. Nice. Must be later than usual. Of course, it's bound to happen when I take photos every few minutes...

Favorite spotting: hay rolls. Much prettier than bales.

Home made signs. Gotta love'em.

Especially this one.

Headwinds? What headwinds?

 I found flowers.

The nicest, however, are in my employers' garden.

I'm counting on a tailwind on my way home.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Italy - Train Scramble, Pomodoro Love

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Click here for the Introduction.

25 miles - Sunday, October 23

At first light I stumbled from the tent, pulled on flip flops, and headed across vacant campsites to investigate inside the mysterious door where the couples had disappeared the evening before. Andy surmised it was a gambling operation. However, when I discovered a long hallway with several motel-like doors ajar, I couldn't resist peeking inside a few rooms. Rumpled sheets covered each double bed. It was now clear that hanky panky filled these bungalows with occupants leaving before sunrise, often disturbing our sleep. I was mad. And because more automobiles arrived than rooms available, it was even more irritating that this nasty business was concluded so close to our tent. Disgusted, I got out of there; soon an attendant would come by, stuffing dirty sheets into a shopping cart.

This was our last straw with southern Italy. Andy and I packed up and left.

Photo credit: Art Fire
We headed north around Mount Vesuvius, hoping for less congested roads. Rack after rack of garments flooded roadsides, village after village. Fall clothing seem to hang out over us, proprietors yelling and selling like car dealers. Definitely the garment district. It's like window shopping without the window, I mused. I laughed, entranced with vendors selling women's undergarments. Bras are unpackaged, folded, and stacked with white points presented like mushrooms, filling sidewalks. As I spun my wheels, careful to pay attention, lest I crash quite embarrassingly into the clothing piles, I couldn't help but wonder, “so where, in all this cacophonous miscellany, do women try bras on?”
Early for our train ride at 23:28 (11:30 p.m.), we roll through older region of Naples, relaxed, and inhaled McDonald's Italian salads as the sun set over the Mediterranean. Afterward, inside the train station for 8 hours, we pass the time writing, reading, and strolling – one at a time. It gives us time to think. We aim to break with convention. Instead of the recommended bike transport on Monday morning, whereby we catch the evening train ride to catch up with our bikes – not an acceptable solution for us, which necessitates Naples accommodation and separating ourselves with bikes for nearly day – we decide to wing it and try carrying the bikes with us on this evening's scheduled train.

We plan to disguise bikes and panniers as regular luggage. By 22:45 we dismantle bikes, hiding frame and wheels in garbage bags. At the same time we befriend a conductor, asking permission to lug our bicycles with us. He understands our plight – even speaking some English – and by further breaking down the bikes: removing handle bars and pedals in a frantic rush – by now it's minutes before departure. Italian trains are punctual!

With two minutes to spare the employee relents and waves us onward. I scamper to an open car, lugging panniers in each hand, wearing my backpack, followed by Andy who hands me two frames and wheels then disappears to get the other gear. I stand inside the car sweating, waiting. And then, the door closes. The train rumbles and starts moving.

I wonder if Andy's made it onto the train.
I jumped off that car and sprinted 100 yards to retrieve the rest of our gear. Fortunately, at the conductor's urging, four kind Italians helped carry all the packs to the nearest open door – two cars away from Anne. All this time, I expect to be stranded on the platform. However, I leap onto the car; the door slammed shut and away the train rolled – late.” -Andy
I stand in a tight hallway with other passengers, surrounded by our mountain of stuff that prevents everyone from moving throughout the car. I'm nervous. I don't know what to do. Then I realize there's nothing I can do if Andy hasn't made it on board. I'll wait in Brindisi for him to arrive 24 hours later.

Gosh. I wish it was this easy to take a bike on a train in Southern Italy. Photo credit: Singletrack
Passengers start to move about, struggling past me. 15 minutes go by and hallelujah, here comes my bearded husband, grinning, arms full of panniers! Together, we find a nearby open compartment and begin shoving everything inside. Phew! We settle by 1 a.m. and take inventory: 2 bikes, 4 wheels, 8 panniers, 2 backpacks, 2 helmets, 2 seats. It's all there.

After a stressful evening with erratic sleep, the seven hour train ride drops us in Brindisi on the Adriatic Coast. It's the year-round port for ferries to Greece and Albania. We understand the Greek union that runs tourist/archeological sites is on strike, closing popular venues. We recall the one day bus strike in Rome. It happens. We are committed to taking the ferry to Greece.

This closely resembles fresca pomodore . Photo credit: Pizza Pomodoro
Arriving in Bridisi, we are tired and hungry. Within a block we spot a panificio or bakery. It's a non-descript entrance, reminding us of a wholesale business. Maybe they won't cater to walk-ins. But once inside – the aroma is heavenly – there's a display of fresca pomodore (fresh tomato), olive oil pizza. 14” square, thick crust. All for 5,000 Lire (USD 3.50). We polish off the entire pie outdoors in the alley. The pizza does not have cheese. It's the most basic pizza I've ever eaten and amazingly full of flavor. Andy and I look at each other. It's fate. We buy another pie. Bellies are full, but additional sustenance is needed for the overnight ferry ride. And who knows? It might be the last pizza we consume for a long, long time.