Monday, September 30, 2013

Greece - A Birthday Ferry Ride

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

Looking good at 41 years old. Photo taken aboard a ferry to the Greek mainland
with Albania in background.
5 miles - Thursday, October 27

The evening before we had made a snap decision to bypass using the tent to be able to pack quickly and leave. Unfortunately, rain showers and humidity had closed in sometime during early morning. Mosquitoes buzzed our heads. We give up trying to catch any more winks. We rise at 4 a.m., take quick showers, and slip out to hang around the ferry terminal until 6:30 departure.

Andy and I are surprised to see Bruce pushing his loaded bike – until he explained he'd slept behind the terminal. We hug, missing his sense of humor. But Bruce promises to catch a later ferry – not the 6:30 departure time – and meet up with us. By now, Andy and I understand Bruce's friendly, but non-committal style and let it go. Besides, I was only too happy to celebrate my husband's 41st birthday, alone.

On the10-hour ferry ride to Patras, we savor views of dry, rugged, Albanian coastline. It's intriguing, this unknown and forbidden country, to pass it so close without knowledge of it's inhabitants or culture. We write in the journal. Read. I also “butter” Andy's nose (margarine would have to do), keeping with family tradition so the birthday recipient slides into the new year.

At 4 p.m. we arrive in Patras harbor. It's a pretty city from the sea: buildings stacked up hillsides with 2-4,000 foot mountains climbing to increasingly cloudy sky. Patras sits at the entrance to a wide bay with waterway reaching towards Athens. It's cliffs remind us of the Columbia Gorge.

A brief stay on Corfu – an island with long English relationship – initiated us into Greek culture and currency – 228 Drachmas to U.S Dollar, though we equate 225 as easiest mental calculation. On first glance, on the mainland, our big challenges will be language and signs, primarily displayed in Greek alphabet.

Preparing ourselves on land at the terminal, locating map, information, we meet a solo California cyclist getting ready to hop a ferry to Italy. A first time bike tourer, he briefed us on his travels in northern Europe, then weeks spent touring Greece. He shares valuable insights on places. Andy and I take mental notes. As we travel further east, it's comforting to know that others have gone before us.

As the sun dips lower we scamper to locate accommodation and shop for food. Tomorrow is a national holiday and we expect food stores may be closed. We find a closed campground, but the proprietor in the attached restaurant says we can stay for free. The dusty earth, lacking grass, is littered. Bathrooms are unclean, but we stay anyway. I ride on to bring back groceries.

To celebrate Andy's birthday, we eat in the restaurant. I feel under dressed. We sit down, legs snug beneath white table cloths stacked with proper shiny table ware, wine and water glasses, candlelight. It's a far cry from squatting around our camp stove, cooking pasta. Greeks are big meat eaters, but Andy and I share 3 Greek salads (feta cheese, tomato, red onion, green pepper, loads of olive oil with herbs), bread, and treat ourselves to white wine. It's a memorable feast. Loaded with vegetables, yet easy to prepare, we vow to create our own salads in the future.

During dinner we noticed it had started to rain. Nothing to do but retreat to the tent, bellies full of good food.

Happy Birthday, my love.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Organizing Camping Gear

Accumulating piles of stuff for the GAPCO trip.
Between my husband's gear collection from 40 years ago, and all items purchased since we've been together, you wouldn't believe the amount of camping stuff we've amassed. We each have three sleeping bags, 3 backpacks. There are 4 tents, 4 stoves, numerous cooking pots, mugs. This is all good—we've got our children and friends covered—except when I decide to go off by myself for a simple overnight ride.

I can't find anything!

I became frustrated, bugging my husband at work. Where's this? Where's that?

After too many of those hair-pulling episodes, I began to horde the items I used the most. My three piece utensils and favorite mug, lightweight sleeping bag, small tent, and ground pad are stored in one box. (Heaven help my husband if he touches said box without my permission, like my toolbox.)

Now, I easily pack panniers without frustration. Between consulting a list of trip essentials for reference and readily accessing gear, I recently got ready for a bike overnight in one hour. Yes, one hour. There was even time to treat myself to lunch. Hallelujah.

*I will be off-line until September 29th.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Silk Does it Right

I acquire my silk tops at  church sales.
I adore the feel of silk against my skin. This paisley-print tank top is my go-to garment for hot, sticky weather. Silk breathes. Silk is lightweight and easily washable by hand, though I toss this one in the washing machine too. But like wool, silk is also warm in cool weather.

I got rid of all my old, stinky polypropylene shirts and long underwear. Between this silk tank top and a lightweight black silk long sleeve shirt, I've got hot and cool weather covered. These items are appropriate for bike camping and touring and can also double as sleepwear. And, they take up little space. What's not to like about silk?

*I will be off-line until September 29th.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

3 Ferry Bike Overnight

Waiting for the 1:45 p.m. ferry to New York.
I set out for another overnight. After missing a chance to tag along with a group who rode the three ferry ride the weekend before, now was my chance to accomplish that, plus test more camping gear, plus speed along my lazy training schedule for a bike touring vacation. I've been uninspired to pedal more than 22 miles (normal commute distance) in one whack.

Map of ride (for the curious).

Sometimes it helps to go someplace new. Because I dislike driving—period, I tend to take the ferry to New York state; it's an easy roll down the hill from home, enjoy a boat ride for an hour, then have nearly traffic free gentle roads in upstate New York. It works for me, plus treating myself to a Bangkok Thai burrito (think peanut sauce, sweet slaw, chicken, and rice) for pedal power. I'm so motivated by tasty food.

Ferry #1 - Burlington to Port Kent, NY
A north wind is intense, bringing cooler air and periodic showers, but clear weather is promised for tomorrow. I lock my bike to ferry rail, just in case riding the swells is as unsettling as a roller coaster. A ferry attendant assures me my bike will stay dry; loading facing forward becomes the stern after ferry backs out of the harbor.

Passengers descend to warmth below deck. I sip a cup of hot tea purchased from the concession counter and end up talking with an elderly lady who's run the gift shop for over 20 years. With engines continually humming and the smell of salty popcorn permeating a slight diesel fueled air, we gaze out the port hole. In the center of the lake the ship is rolling. Eye level waves are mildly eerie, yet she claims this is the most stable ferry of the three; the boat's mass is underwater. She reminds me of the part-timers at our local hardware store (I adore those guys), wizened, but not ready to retire, and always helpful with projects.

On my bicycle I fall into a comforting rhythm. It's virtually quiet after the noisy ferry ride. The road is deserted. I can be an unbalanced rider, swerving unnecessarily, but distributing weight on front and back rack stabilizes the ride. Tires are grounded. There is nothing quite like bike touring that anchors me in the present, body movements in sync with thoughts, slow, methodical, liberating. I am in my element.

Amongst apple orchards the headwind is negated. Ripe, juicy Macintosh apples dot the landscape. My father says the fruit is large this year. Migrant pickers hang off ladders, placing apples into baskets slung around their necks.

I purposely veer inland from the lake to add miles, staying away from the brunt of lake winds, but also because I love pedaling around Peru. It is home to huge orchards, more for mass harvesting than for u-pickers. Unlike tall, ripe cornfields lining my route, apple orchards are fragrance-free. One needs to imagine sinking teeth into a tart, juicy, crunchy Mac—the kind where biting and slurping is instantaneous. I thought of my own family who planned to pick tomorrow. I would miss that, but my husband is crazy about making applesauce. He'll be out in the fields again, soon after our vacation.

Mesmerized by the terrain, I doubled back to check out a postage stamp-sized cemetery, remnants of an old Amish settlement.

Then, honking geese light overhead, heard before seen. Gotta love those harbingers of fall.

I was pretty lucky with the weather. It sprinkled here and there, but not enough to unearth raingear. I planned to skirt Plattsburgh, however, a wrong turn sent me back towards the lake by 5:30. A dampness settled under my fleece shirt and I wished I hadn't worn a t-shirt underneath. But I didn't change either. Camping was only two miles further.

I pedaled onward, and entered downtown Plattsburgh. One block was closed to traffic. A war of 1812 celebration was just getting underway. A band was tuning instruments, food carts flanked a triangular park, and I stumbled into a booth where a kind man explained the upcoming events. Soon after, a guy in costume ambles by, in character as a French general on the British side. In a thick French accent he recites a lot of history—perhaps too much—and I couldn't wait to get away, but not before he obliged a photo. It's not every day that a cyclist encounters a person dressed in 1800's get-up.

I grab a burger at a food cart and stuff it in my handlebar bag for a 2-minute pedal over a bridge to the Samuel Champlain monument. Across from the entrance, white canvas tents dot a field, part of a reenactment that would take place tomorrow. I ate my burger in peace, looking over the calm waters. I gravitate towards this spot every time I visit Plattsburgh. The tiny cove and park is just the right size to fit within a neighborhood. After the brief history lesson, I try to imagine several American warships in the greater bay, defending against a British invasion. It's the last and decisive battle in the war—Plattsburgh's claim to fame—not too mention its rich history during the Revolutionary War.

Behind me the tall monument dwarfs the park space. A statue of Samuel Champlain adorns the pinnacle with an Indian crouched at the base. I especially like the latter tribute; Indian's lived along the shores long before Samuel "discovered" the waterway.

Then it's off to score on a few bananas and snacks to add to my food cache. Now, I'll have supplies to get me through breakfast.

My tent set up. Notice, I brought my new camping pillow along.
I arrive after 6, set up tent, cook and eat noodles, wriggle in a lukewarm shower, and dress in extra layers and hat, then curl up on a bench at Cumberland Head State Park's sandy beach, watching twinkling lights. I call home and chat with family for a few minutes.

 I found these fun, fleecy Acorn brand socks at a garage sale. Love em!
 I'll bring them with me on vacation.
I stay up for a while in the tent and read. Fireworks boom around 9:30. I presume it's part of the city festivities.

It's still cloudy and damp on Saturday morning, but fortunately it's not raining.

A cup of coffee warms my hands and body.

Waiting for ferry.
I pack a wet tent fly and damp tent, but otherwise everything else is dry. Though all items are within garbage bags inside panniers, I stored panniers overnight inside the vestibule. I'm glad I did. It rained for an hour before bedtime.

Ferry #2 - Cumberland Head, NY to Grand Isle, VT
It's an easy four mile ride—on separate bike path too—to catch a ferry back to Vermont. It's a smooth crossing this time, short and sweet at 15 minutes. I stand beside my bike and enjoy the outdoors.

I loop around Grand Isle's back roads. I struggle northward a few miles then turn for a tailwind, which should sweep me all the way home. Hungry again, I welcome the sight of a farmer's market.

At the "Kids Market" booth, a young girl doesn't mind if I mix coffee and hot chocolate. It's still chilly, but wearing a silk shirt under fleece top is the right combination this time. I inhale a delicious, maple walnut scone.

Onward I roll, past more apple orchards. Cars flock parking lots, spill over onto narrow country roads. I turn onto a dirt road that leads onto the Causeway.

Ferry #3 - Bike Ferry from South Hero to Colchester
It's a 3 minute crossing and I forget to snap a photo of my bike onboard. There is also nowhere to prop a ladened bike. I lay my ride slowly onto its side.

I like to celebrate and thank the volunteers who man (or woman in this case) the table, handing out information and collecting fees. They endure some tough weather for their 4 hours shifts. I offer to help move her set up to the other side so her back is to the wind, but she is unfazed. The folding bikes belong to her and her husband, who I realize loaded and unloaded my bike on the ferry. All volunteers ride 4 miles to their posts at the crossing.

I zip along.

The sun comes out as I enter the waterfront—finally! I slowly pedal uphill, sweating, because now I'm overdressed. But two miles later I pulled into our driveway, less than 24 hours after I left. My husband sees me and greets me with a fresh picked Mac. I bite into it and smile.

*I will be off-line until September 29th.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Simple Alpaca Gloves

Needing some basic, inexpensive gloves for cool, rainy weather, I chose these alpaca gloves. I learned my lesson last year while hiking in Switzerland: cotton is cold when it gets wet. The gloves worked—at least in sunshiney 40 F. My hands were toasty!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oh My Goodness, It's GAPCO Time!

Riding GAPCO has been on my bucket list for sometime. Otherwise known as The Great Allegheny Passage rail trail coupled with C&O Canal towpath, it's 335 continuous miles of mixed paved and gravel trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. It's the longest untrafficked bike/pedestrian route in the U.S., complete with ample campgrounds, tunnels, viaducts, towns for supplies—all loaded with history. I would've felt perfectly safe alone on this urban adventure. However, my favorite bike touring partner (my husband) and outdoorsy girlfriend (co-planner on last year's Provence adventure) are also accompanying me. I couldn't be more excited to ride as a three-some!

Planning GAPCO is a relatively easy as it's growing in popularity. There are several online resources like: Allegheny Trail AllianceBike Washington, and Bike C&O. And that's just for starters. I acquired Allegheny Trail Alliance's TrailBook 2013-14 edition. It's packed with so much more information than I thought anyone could add on top of all the Web stuff, plus history and a plastic map—all of which we could've lived without—though I'm happy to have it just the same.

The agenda:
Day 1 - With girlfriend Patty arriving two days earlier to visit family (she's using my Trek 830), we all drive to Pittsburgh. Patty and I remain with bikes and gear in a hotel. My husband continues driving towards Washington D.C., rests somewhere, then endures horrendous D.C. traffic, leaves vehicle at airport, then connects with a Friday morning flight to Pittsburgh. (I don't envy him this shuttle.) 
Day 2 - Meet my guy near start of trail in downtown Pittsburgh. Ride for 30 miles to first campground. 
Days 3-9 - Average 40-60 miles per day. There is some flexibility with our days, depending on what we decide to do along the way. And while I had misgivings about venturing off trail, I couldn't miss visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater residence. This necessitated a reservation too. I don't think I've cut it too close, and besides, we should be able to complete total trail miles in 7 days (we allowed 7.5). End of day 9, we need to be in D.C. at a hotel. 
Day 10 - Patty leaves for her flight back to Oregon. Andy and I drive home.
Wish us luck. We leave on Thursday. We are scrambling to complete last minute bike tasks, stock up on food for our children and relatives who've generously offered to assume live-in parent duties for 10 days.

P.S. Many thanks to the Pittsburgh bike community for their help in planning navigation and hotel suggestions. It's a big city for us little city folk.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Attention Bike Riders!

I should have seen it coming. I knew Burlington police, in conjunction with Local Motion, has been spot checking intersections for a couple years, handing out friendly warnings for those cyclists running stop signs and traffic signals, even zipping across town at night without lights. Fortunately, canvassers also distributed free blinky lights.

All this led up to a profusion of warning signs zip tied to bike racks, timed for when thousands of college students arrived on campus this year.
The Burlington Police Department is stepping up enforcement of all traffic laws for bicyclists.
You could get a $50.00 ticket if you:
Go through a red light of stop sign 
Travel the wrong way on a one-way street
Ride at night without lights (front & back)
While the bold print was aimed at cyclists (signs affixed to racks), all transit modes are forewarned. Drivers and pedestrians are likewise cautioned or will be ticketed.

I have mixed feelings regarding crackdown on offending cyclists. There are more cyclists than ever cruising Burlington's narrow streets. That's a good sign. More students on bikes equals less drivers and—hopefully—less inebriated young people behind the wheels of dangerous vehicles. This is a positive direction for Burlington, one which is finally helpful in times of increased student attendance at several area colleges.

How far reaching are the new transit laws? With few cycling routes in Burlington, I often ride sidewalks, sometimes against the flow on one-way streets. Neither do I stop at every stop sign. I assess each crossing and make a decision based upon traffic flow. As I like to tell my children, "make eye contact. Slow down. When in doubt, stop. Cars are bigger than you are." And, if I forget my light, I ride sidewalks at dusk. Will these practices now risk a fine?

I realize laws are for the sake of general population, but at what point do they hinder safe navigation? Or worse, keep folks from even attempting to try two-wheeled transportation.

At least they aren't banning cyclists from sidewalks, or instituting helmet laws—yet.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Greece - Corfu Ocean Views, Looking for Companionship

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

38 miles - Wednesday, October 26

Dark clouds hang over the mainland, threatening to thicken the haze over Corfu, but we pedal to central Kerkyra, hoping to meet Bruce. Andy and I felt bad about not connecting the evening before.

However, he was not there. We head on a southerly loop of the island, winding in and out of village coves tucked high on dry hillsides. We'd hoped to swim in the aqua waters – a teasing distance away – but the road snakes onward, passing through more hamlets.

View from  Lakones village of Paleokastritsa, an agonizing descent for an ocean swim.
Photo credit: Zvezdatluliganjetta
There is a distinct contrast between touristy coastal communities and poorer inland places – the same as northern Corfu. Like southern Italy, trash litters highways. Farmers haul field clearings with donkeys and burn piles of brush. As we bend west, hills steepen. Faced with a 2-mile descent to sandy beaches, especially with all our belongings in tow only to have to climb the route later, it's an easy decision to fore go a swim. I'm too tired from yesterday's miles.

A square in Kerkyra. Photo credit: About Corfu

By 3:30 p.m. we meet Bruce again in the city. Andy and I adapt to our companion's traveling style: cooking a one pot meal in the central square. Curious, older women amble by, gesturing towards our simmering pots. We lift the lid, revealing a tomato garlic sauce. The ladies' wrinkled faces widen in smile, nod, and the kindly women move on. Andy and I are so used to eating alone that this public dining is at first uncomfortable, but I'm thankful for a change. It's not that far a stretch, I realize, to commune among the locals. Besides, a nearby public restroom provides ample water for clean up.

By 9 p.m. it's dark with stars replacing earlier clouds. We are eager to follow Bruce to his free camping spot. Bruce, however, cycles a confusing route, first checking at the waterfront for ferry times and cost. Then it's back to the main square. He leads again, this time Andy and I wonder if Bruce knows where he's going. For someone who's remained on the island many days, he is unable to navigate efficiently one mile to the ferry docks. He rides against the crowds, dodging scooter traffic, rolling through stop lights. We become distraught, unused to riding in darkness. By now, Bruce is far ahead. We lose him.

Andy and I stop along a high bluff. We admire the darkening ocean. Lights twinkle. We are out of our element, caught out late at night, unwilling to camp just anywhere. If Bruce knew where he was going, fine, but neither did he wait. Despite his crazy cycling, we didn't feel personally threatened. We'd seen it before. Lone travelers often make snap decisions, especially those on multi-month adventures. They are so used to being alone that when companions arise, they forget how to coexist. We'd also experienced the opposite: they are so starved for company they cling, letting others make all the decisions, becoming a follower until wearing out their welcome. Bruce was clearly a free thinker, content to be on his own.

Andy and I need to get some sleep before leaving on a morning boat. We return to the familiar hostel/campground. We decided to sleep without erecting our tent. We plan to arise early, slip out before the young woman returned to take care of the place. Save a few dollars.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Trike for Two

Cruising around, my husband and I spy this tandem trike. The owner corrects us, "a recumbent tandem trike". We are captivated by it's length, its customized trailer, and it's ingenious ramp system—all to remove the extended machine from the top of a pop-up trailer.

At the moment I ask to take a photo, the guy operates a cordless drill attached to winch. It's an efficient way to raise and lower the trike, especially for an elderly couple.

It never ceases to amaze me what lengths people will go, to transport and ride a bike. Love it!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let There Be Light

In the waning days of summer I become enamored with the quality of light. Early morning or late afternoon, the low angle sunlight filters through trees, over meadow, across vineyard, warming chilled arms and cold knees. It highlights renegade solitary leaves that have fallen on the pavement. The singular red, orange, or gold, stark against black asphalt. Then, whizzing automobiles scatter their presence, gutter bound.

I am in awe. The September sunlight is ethereal, entrancing. It's my favorite time of year.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Women's Garage Sale Ride

I did a little research the day before, using Craig's List. Highlight location on map,
while displaying addresses in side bar. This helped to define an efficient route. 
I didn't know what to expect for turnout. My quest to lead a garage sale ride, supporting Local Motion's campaign to inspire more women to ride, was a shot in the dark. But, lo and behold, a spry grey-haired triathlete and a plucky college-age lady riding an old Raleigh are waiting when I roll to the meeting place. 

I'd made two maps: one for the north end of the city, the other for downtown. The two-hour timeframe didn't allow for both routes and as I've learned, five or six sales is enough—any more and eyes glaze over. It didn't matter to the ladies which area to browse, so I decide to cruise the vicinity around downtown.

The young lady quickly scores on a frying pan and mini-trash can. The heavy pan goes in her backpack while she dangles a lightweight bag containing her other item from her handle bars. I love how resourceful she is. Since she was also a new Burlington resident, and hadn't heard of the Causeway—a gem we insist she must experiencewe detour to provide her with a Burlington Bike Map.

Near the end of the Garage Sale Tour we stumble on the best venue yet—a moving sale—and not on the itinerary. I buy a metal pencil sharpener in the shape of the Eiffel Tower—a tacky thing I wished I'd acquired in Paris last fall. I also got a sturdier recipe box. Since it holds less cards than the one in my cupboard, it prompted me to clean out unused recipes. I also score a nice water bottle from the free pile. Now I have plenty for an upcoming trip. I guess some things are just meant to be.

For two and a half hours we made minor purchases, chatted, and got some exercise. That's the whole point of the Women's Ride Series—a low-key way to meet and encourage other like-minded individuals.

Who else likes garage-sailing on two wheels?