Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Rewind

Ross equipped for new five mile commute.

2015 proved to be a year of challenges and changes, starting with a milestone job shift in January to full-time employment after 15 glorious years of freedom as a part-time worker, part time woman with wanderlust.

February's brutal cold kept me off my bike, but not our 13 year old hearty son, who rode to school all winter, amazing his parents. It took all my willpower to let him out the door when it was -15F and he chose sneakers for footwear.

By March, I was back riding in sunshine, learning a new commute, had fun with MG's Errandonnee, made plans to pedal all of my city's 95 miles of public streets, and had an epiphany with Rivendell's Clementine, steering my touring thoughts down the step-through bike line (hey Surly - hop on the bandwagon!).

Family rides on Acadia National Park's carriage roads.

My father died in April, knocking the wind from my sails. Over the next few months I relied on what normally heals me: heading outdoors, riding beside Lake Champlain, exploring new places: riding Acadia National Park's carriage trails and the Charles River Trail, and keeping busy, in this instance, sticking with my Burlington Streets Challenge. I've also learned to be kind to myself, allowing the blog writing to ebb and flow.

My son rides a narrow ramp at Sunny Hollow.
On the family front, I instigated a mountain bike ride with our youngest boy at Sunny Hollow, plus a ferry ride/Ausable Chasm fun day, and insisted all four of us accompany me on a couple Burlington Streets rides, one of which benefited our oldest son who ended up buying a recliner at a garage sale, proving that you never know what will happen on a simple bike ride. I was also heartened by our normally sedentary 16-year-old son setting off on an unexpected riding adventure with a friend. Later in the year we enjoyed fat biking on nearby trails.

Stopping for a break at a Quebec cemetery.

In September I went on a much needed bike overnight, touring Quebec's vineyards and apple orchards and felt rejuvenated, just in time for fall foliage rides and Coffeeneuring exploits. By November, I'd completed both challenges and celebrated five years of blogging. Then I was ready for a dip into night riding, purchased a powerful headlight and surprised myself by immensely enjoying weeks of commuting in darkness, becoming a full fledged night rider.

Coffeeneuring #7 on a beach.

It's the end of December and we have several inches of snow on the ground. Today, I rode the bus to work. The sting of losing someone who's been very inspirational to me is beginning to fade, as happy memories slowly replace sad ones, like a time years ago, when my husband (then boyfriend) and I had left Vermont on our bicycles, touring southward along the East Coast before heading west across the country. My father had promised to "come pick us up if we ever got tired". I know he truly meant it, but those very words assured I would never give Dad the satisfaction of rescuing his daughter. Of course I'll always miss my father, however he lives on inside me. It was, and still is, a good ride.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Weather Station is Perfect for Bike Commuting

Homemade weather station set into entryway cabinet, complete with animated scenery.

I've always been a weather junkie. Like anyone else who bike commutes, it's prudent to check the forecast before setting off for the day. Should I pack a rain coat, warmer mitts, hat, etc.? In recent years, I've taken this weather monitoring to an extreme: I follow wind speed and direction, moon phases, anticipated rainfall, chance of participation, barometric pressure trends, etc. Visual representation is best, and the more graphics, the better. I love charts that display high and low temperatures too. And if any of my readers noticed the weather app on my blog's sidebar, well, you can tell where I'm coming from. Let's just say that Weather Underground is a good friend.

At work it's easy to click on a website, but at home where morning routines are a bit frantic, I put my efforts towards getting ready for work and not online viewing, nor do I own an easy to use cell phone for quick reference. In my rushing around, I press the speakerphone on our land line, call the local weather number, and listen while preparing breakfast, making my lunch, or all too often—and, I realize, not ideal timing—while tying my shoes just before heading out the door.

So imagine my delight when our tech-loving son offers to make me a weather station for Christmas—the only catch being he needed my unused netbook, a computer I had recently replaced with a new laptop. And so, the wonderful weather station couldn't have come at a better time as I vacillate between bike commuting or not as the wacky, warm December is finally teetering towards colder, snowy and more typical Vermont winter. I refer to the online forecast now, complete with fantastic graphics, of course!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Learning Curve - Becoming a Night Rider

Light and Motion Urban 500 illuminates pitch-dark bike paths.
It's a new frontier. I knew that switching jobs, nearly a year ago, would bring transformations in my personal and professional life—that's a given—however, I didn't understand to what extent the transition would have on my bike commute. I was open to new experiences and opportunities so thus I became a convert to night riding not only to extend cycling beyond the end of Daylight Savings Time, but to also avoid driving a car and/or put off using the inevitable bus service, which I will eventually embrace once I become uncomfortable riding on slippery roads.

Hogging the bike rack at my workplace.
Will is a powerful motivator.
  • I do not like driving a car. Never have and never will. End of story. 
  • It takes 5 minutes longer to ride my bike than driving, plus an additional 5 minutes to change clothes, not to mention all the health benefits, self reliance, etc.—if you are an avid bike rider then you know that 10 extra minutes is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
  • Bus service takes twice as long as driving.
Knowing I have transportation options lent a certain comfort—if my experiment failed, the other avenues were always available.

One of the perks of riding at night during the holidays: enjoying the decorations
at human powered speed. I love this simple 20 foot high framework with sparse lights.

What did I learn?
  • Buying a good light paved the way. Mounting the light on my handle bars was adequate for my needs, which has transformed my thinking about feeling safe.
  • Riding in the dark lends the illusion of traveling faster. I started slowly to get my bearings on several rides homeward until I became accustomed to the route, the blind spots, and where I was most likely to encounter other path users. 
  • I had to relearn to shift without looking at the drive-train. With non-indexed thumb shifters, I realized I'd relied on visually inspecting the freewheel to determine which gear I was in. With my hilly route, I continually switch gears so I had to readjust my shifting technique and pay attention to which gear was adequate for what type of terrain. I also learned to listen closely to the chain rubbing on the front derailleur and adjust when needed.
  • I take advantage of lit areas to tackle problems, etc. Midway home there are a couple of well lighted store fronts that I can duck into and inspect my bicycle. In one instance, I discovered I had a slow leak in my rear tire. I pulled over and inflated the tube, which allowed me to get home.
  • I love the peacefulness of night. I expected to only tolerate the transition to night riding, but in fact I have come to embrace and enjoy my journey homeward, sometimes with friendly moonlight. I dread when I will need to switch gears (ha ha) at some point and take a bus to work.
  • I am heartier than I thought. So far, I can handle temperatures to 15F. On recent excursions I wore a balaclava and winter boots. The footwear didn't fit properly inside the toe clips, but I made do, and more importantly, arrived at my workplace with warm feet. 
  • Make contact with other path users. I've always enjoyed greeting path users in the daylight, but in the darkness connecting with people takes on more significance. Politeness means sharing the space, alerting someone to your presence, even though you may be blinding them with a super bright light. There are many regular walkers, joggers, and riders. I'd like to think we're a community. If I was in danger or had somehow fallen, I would appreciate help and, conversely, I would gladly stop and assist others. 
50 foot high lit tree in a yard. How did the owners decorate the monstrous evergreen?
An amazingly decorated home, complete with nearly life-sized nativity scene.
So far, it's been a positive experience. I'm even doing a little holiday shopping on my way home.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fat Biking at Catamount

The first fat biking event of Le Grand Fat Tour series, was held at Catamount Outdoor Center, on Global Fat Bike Day, and thankfully, very close to home. There's growing interest in fat tire riding and these events, scattered throughout the state and just over the Canadian border, afford anyone the opportunity to demo bikes on various trail systems, enjoy a meal, local beer, and participate in races.

It's a low key, well organized adventure with one flat fee. Eat as much as you like, ride as many bikes as you like - a perfect thing to do as a family. Arriving at lunchtime, we fortified ourselves first, enjoying a very odd but stellar December day at a picnic table.

Husband, enjoying himself.
We followed a recommended route full of roller coaster singletrack, laughing, barreling through a few puddles. The first bike didn't fit me very well, especially the seat which was cocked backward, but my second run was aboard a Surly Pugsley, set up with slightly curved handlebars and thumb shifters, a rig that I instantly felt at home on.

On the Pugsley. I can understand the appeal of a fat bike!
We all got a little muddy. Tried out fun trails. Had full bellies. A perfect introduction to fat biking!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Burlington Streets Challenge - The Grand Finale

Another installment in the series to ride every public road within Burlington's city limits in 2015.
Engine Co. #5, stationed in Burlington's South End neighborhood.
I never knew there were 324 public streets in Burlington! Well, give or take 324. This is an unofficial count after all (the city did not provide a complete list). I discovered that numerous roads were unaccounted for on the map and often streets that were indicated ended up being private roads.

Chase Street ended in a dirt parking lot with a view across the Winooski River,
border between Burlington and the city of Winooski. 
The city of Burlington claims there are 95 center-line miles of public roadways. In reality, as I pedaled every street, doubled back on dead ends, looped streets more than once to accommodate neighborhood districts, or just to reset the navigation for another day, making sure I covered every single street before moving on to another area of the city. I wouldn't be surprised that by the challenge's end, I might've covered 5 times 95 miles!

Old Chase Mill spillway, now adorned with metal sculpture. When the river is running high
the water rises to the arches.
I left the streets close to home unridden until on one of my last outings. If the weather had turned cold or rainy I knew I could manage those roads in 10 minute increments, scrambling home for shelter.

Head of Church Street, beginning of my foray onto its brick surface.
Busy two mile long Shelburne Road proved to be a tough street to complete. Normally I would ride the sidewalk or an alternate route, avoiding it altogether. However, because it was part of the challenge, I pedaled sections at a time, covering it's length in 4-5 installments.

Four block long Church Street was also an interesting accomplishment, not because of it's short length or hazardous traffic conditions but because it is mainly a pedestrian mall, thereby closed to bicycles, skateboards, and scooters. I considered skipping this short segment because of its special status, however, for brief periods every morning the brick-lined street is open to bicycles and delivery vehicles. And so on my way to work one morning I ambled down it's length, carefully riding around a few trucks parked near storefronts.

Looking south on Church Street at 7:30 am.
I started the challenge in April, claiming victory in early November, completing every street in Burlington. In some respects, the last miles felt anti-climactic. I started off this quest accompanied by family in the New North End, then gradually I was on my own with the added difficulties of hilly downtown region. I kept the miles alive by ticking off more streets in the height of foliage, rewarding myself with coffee or tea brew ups on beachfront locations, thus combining both Coffeeneuring Challenge and Burlington Streets outings on each weekend ride, which helped fulfill both missions. In the end I'm glad I stuck with my plan, documented each street by coloring in the map and listing each street name in a log book.

I give thanks to my family for riding with me in the early days of this challenge, to my husband for leading on countless zigzag journeys through the ONE district, and to all the folks who wondered why I pedaled down their dead end street and turned around with a big smile on my face. Honestly, I wasn't lost!

For a final review of all blog posts, see this list.

Completed Streets to date:
  1. Gove Court
  2. Birchcliff parkway
  3. Cherry Lane
  4. Linden Terrace
  5. Alder Lane
  6. Bittersweet Lane
  7. Beach Street
  8. Raymond Place
  9. Southmeadow Drvie
  10. Baird Street
  11. Home Avenue
  12. Scarff Avenue
  13. Morse Place
  14. Bachelder Street
  15. Lyman Avenue
  16. Ferguson Avenue
  17. Flynn Avenue
  18. Wells Street
  19. Richardson Street
  20. Foster Street
  21. South Crest Drive
  22. Biggs Court
  23. Fletcher Place
  24. Calarco Court
  25. Colchester Court
  26. Chase Lane
  27. Rumsey Lane
  28. Case Parkway
  29. University Drive
  30. Thibault Parkway
  31. Latham Court
  32. Nash Place
  33. Chase Street
  34. Grove Street
  35. Barrett Street
  36. Mill Street
  37. Church Street
  38. Shelburne Road

Monday, November 30, 2015

Riding in the Cold with Moonlight for Company

A star-filled sky is a constant companion on my commutes at 5:15 pm. After three weeks of riding in darkness, I've quickly grown accustomed to and, in fact, prefer riding in near blackness, bike path lit only by my amazing bike light.

I am content, embracing the night, which was wholly unexpected. How had I come to this?

My comfort may stem from a heightened sense of smell and solitude. Fallen leaves emit an earthy aroma and as corny as it sounds, I like this connection to my surroundings. And now that it's dark, most of the after work walkers and joggers are not present. It's just me and 2-3 other hardy riders, all using powerful headlights so when we pass, we momentarily blind each other, but then I'm left again in solitude. A quiet I've grown to love.

The November full moon seemed to come on quickly. One evening I noticed a waxing moon and then suddenly - or so it seemed - a golden, glowing moon rested just above the horizon, casting shadows in the trees, highlighting a few leaves clinging to branches. The stragglers were tenacious, unaware they should be on the ground with their brothers.

I may not see the next full moon aboard my bike, but for now, I'm content with whatever mother nature decides to bestow upon us. I take one day at a time and bask in each frosty, delicious ride homeward.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DIY Leopard Print Helmet

The finished product, all done up with leopard print duct tape!
I fell in love with a stylish leopard print helmet first spotted on Eleanor's bike shop many years ago. I was tired of my Bell helmet and very disappointed also that after only three years, the bright, highly visible yellow color had drastically faded - in some places it was nearly white. I could have replaced the helmet altogether, however, it was an opportunity to be creative, the helmet should have a little life left, and I still enjoyed the model, especially the rear bracket, a feature which most helmets do not have, providing an extra place to clip a taillight. 

An Xacto knife was the perfect tool to cut duct tape.
I perused the Internet, searching for what others have created and was inspired to use duct tape. It seemed like an inexpensive solution in lieu of sewing a covering. Some folks had torn the shell off before taping, but I felt that would compromise the helmet. I also learned that solid duct tape shows the edges and highlights mistakes - it is a shiny material - so I searched in a couple stores, knowing that locating a patterned tape would be the best solution, when I stumbled on leopard print tape at our local hardware store. It was then that I became excited about recreating the helmet I was fond of at Eleanors.

I removed the visor, rear bracket, and any stickers then cleaned the shell with soap and water. I placed one strip of duct tape at a time, carefully cutting around the vent holes as I went, starting in the back of the helmet so my first practice attempts wouldn't show much. However, it was relatively easy, only requiring a little patience. I was careful to completely cover the yellow. and at any rate, should I make a mistake I could always tear off the tape and start with a fresh piece.

Almost there, just the rim to go.
Total time, about two hours.
Voila! Snap on the visor and re-attach the light bracket and the project is finished. I'm pleased with how the revitalized helmet looks. It's barely noticeable that it was created with tape, a testament to patient cutting plus the pattern lends itself to seamlessly blending in with visor and foam under layer. I plan to replace the white reflective stickers so I will be visible to road users.

So with half a roll of leopard tape left, what's a girl going to do? Hmmm, I have another idea...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Forgetting the Camera Enhances a Ladies' Ride

I always tote my camera along, for documentation for blog posts, except however, for one evening of Girls Ride Out. 30-40 women amassed in Battery Park for the start. Ladies were affixing strings of lights on bikes when organizer Christine Hill pulls up, toting a trailer with massive speakers, promising booming tunes for this second event. I reached into my baggage for my camera, but instead realized I'd inadvertently left it behind, which turned out to be blessing in disguise. Carefree, I had great fun, rolling along with these women on a 60F dark night.

My favorite part was riding through the parking garage
and laughing my head off.

The video below says it all, put together by Christine Hill. She's doing awesome work, uniting Old Spokes Home and Bike Recycle into one bike-loving community.

Girls Ride Out was last night and we had a blast. Props to City Market for letting us have an impromptu bike light rave in your bike parking area.
Posted by The Old Spokes Home on Friday, November 6, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Light & Motion Urban 500 Lights Up My Commute

It's difficult to depict the true lighting capabilities of the Urban 500,
but at least the photo shows the unlit, forested bike path
which I ride on for 3 of my 5 miles.
I needed a decent bike light if I was serious about commuting this year in November and possibly into December. I hadn't meant to wait until the last week before Daylight Savings Time ended before I chose a light or, admittedly, even researched a few models, but somehow I had procrastinated until the last moment.

I think I had somehow expected that once November rolled around the temperature would plummet, the rains would set in, and I would contend with icy streets and darkness, two dangerous conditions that would mean the end of bike commuting for the year. But I had to remind myself that one of the perks of switching jobs last winter afforded me the opportunity to extend commuting as late into autumn as I felt comfortable riding.

An example of Light & Motion Urban 500 with orange side lights.
As a coworker noted, the case color is Bianchi green.
It could have been daunting research, but as time was of the essence I perused a local outdoor shop's website first for ideas as a means of limiting my choices. I loved Light & Motion's simple styling and color selection, but I also knew the NiteRider brand would make an excellent choice. My husband has a NiteRider and the beam it casts on unlit bike paths is exceptional. There are many other brands that would be adequate but I refused to get bogged down with too many choices. I read Amazon's reviews of Light & Motion's Urban series, decided on at least 500 lumens brightness, confirmed this choice at the local shop on Friday, went home and thought about it overnight and made my purchase locally on Saturday. As simple as that.

Since I store my bicycle at my workplace outside, easily connecting and removing the light was critical. A beam that would illuminate unlit bike paths was another prerequisite.

After riding for two weeks, I've discovered other handy features: battery charge indicator is green when fully charged, orange when half charged, and red when it needs to be plugged into a USB port. I haven't encountered the flashing red indicator, and don't plan to, as this apparently means only a few minutes of light is left before plunging yourself into darkness. An orange light glows laterally on the side of the case, casting light on the handle bars, handy for finding my bell and thumbshifters. Also, the light pivots 365 degrees, allowing me to fine tune the direction of light. It has a bungee-type strap that securely attaches to handle bars. The light will not shift when riding over bumps.

The best thing is, I can light up bike paths in woodlands in complete darkness on the lesser setting (225 lumens). What a revelation! The beam casts 20 feet into the woods on either side of the path making me feel secure. I observed a wild bunny zigzagging on the path's edge before finally darting into the forest. If I aim the beam approximately 15-20 feet ahead, it accommodates my blazing (ha!) 10 mph speeds. Interestingly, I've yet to utilize the brightest setting, but I know it's there should I need it. Having an adequate lighting system means cars see me and I finally feel liberated, joining the masses of nighttime commuters as we extend our riding season.

I'm loving the Light and Motion Urban 500.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015 - Seventh Cup on a Sandy Beach

Bike parking with a view. 
I'm lucky that this autumn's weather has been spectacular, ensuring that I finished all Coffee Shop Without Walls brew ups with Lake Views, in grand style. These experiences could have been brutal, get-em-over-quick frosty adventures. Instead, mother nature and a little ingenuity turned 7 outdoor bike rides into 7 wonderful adventures.

My bike is waiting in the sand, just off to the left of the photo.
Before each weekend rolled around, I checked out the forecast, determining whether I would reserve Saturday or Sunday for coffeeneuring. (I took advantage of one weekend where I brewed on both days.) If it mattered, I set aside the warmest time of day. For most outings I had two or three possible places in mind, that way I wouldn't be disappointed if one spot was too windy or cold. I kept pedaling and settled on a place that would provide a sheltered, and thus warm, comfortable spot to brew up a drink, which made all the difference.

Using a stick to prop up coffee filter in my oversize mug/pot.

A thick, rich espresso mocha.

My last brew spot turned out to be a perfect place on a lonely sandy beach where I could listen to the sound of the waves and stare across the lake. It's also a spot that's off the bicycling radar; I pushed my bike several yards down a leaf covered path to an area full of driftwood but with plenty of available sand where I easily tucked myself into a sheltered spot. 

I couldn't resist photographing the orange jacket on the person ahead of me, contrasting with the nearly
leafless trees on the waterfront path. Stick season, here we come!

Coffeeneuring 2015, done!

The Place: Secluded sandy beach in Burlington (and I'm not revealing where!)
Date: Saturday, November 7
Drink: Mocha
Observation, Bike Friendliness: It's wonderful to have the place all to myself. I'm glad I was able to sit on at least one sandy beach.
Total Miles: 14

Thursday, November 5, 2015

AnnieBikes Blog, Five Years Down the Road

It seems too good to be true, 835 posts later, this blog is five years old. I'm pleased that I've stuck with the blog's original intent. Below is an excerpt from my first post.

Welcome to my bike ramblings. I live and breathe bicycles—much to my family's dismay—so this is the reason for my blog.

I am 53 years old and I still love to ride my bike.

Writing has always been a sort of therapy. I journal while on cycling adventures and in recent years began editing a world trip cycling adventure. But through this blog I've also learned the importance of taking photos that tell a story. And through extension, to become comfortable photographing myself. While reading others' blogs I occasionally wanted to know what the author looked like and was thankful to be given a glimpse now and then. And so, I include a photo or two of myself in a post - a hurdle I once had to overcome - now a relatively easy task.

I am still amazed that I've written 835 little stories.

Some ideas come as a response to other bike blog authors posts, or musings while pedaling, or fixing up my own bicycles, or delving into fashion or upcycled bike bags. Often the thoughts come out of nowhere. Honestly, they just appear, but I must be doing something right because I'm still satisfied with scribbling in this blog.

I am not alone.

I never anticipated the value that bike bloggers would eventually contribute to my bike community. I've learned about tires, handlebars, even a kindly soul sent a pair of serviceable pedals, which I now use on my Mount Saint Helens. Readers have provided interesting solutions to my most vexing problems - I love that kind of camaraderie. We have so much to learn and teach each other.

During the last five years, I've realized the importance of bike overnights to my emotional well being. These adventures were not specifically inspired by blogging - I've always loved bike touring - but I really enjoy writing about my adventures afterwards. It amuses me that consistently these posts rank highly overall. It was never my motivation, of course, but if I've inspired someone else to try an overnight then I consider that a bonus.

Taking a break from writing is completely normal.

I've given up transcribing our world trip journal, and while it was interesting to reread a special part of my past, the effort was very time consuming. I still possess the paper editions, so if I never get back to that monumental task, I'm fine with that too. I've also learned to put blogging in perspective. Everyday life is more important.

Challenges are worthwhile.

Through the bike blogger universe, I've discovered little challenges like Chasing Mailbloxes' Errandoneering and Coffeenering outings. This year I adapted Endless Velo Love's idea and rode all 95 miles of Burlington's public streets (blogging it here). Sometimes you just gotta have goals to keep yourself motivated!

Where to next?

I am looking forward to more challenges in 2016, possibly riding all the streets in a neighboring city. Of course I will go on more bike overnights. It's what keeps the flames alive: writing and photographing and riding.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Coffeeneuring 2015 - Sixth Cup at the Earth Clock

Why do I coffeeneur? To keep the wheels turning, the mind stimulated (all the planning requires mental enterprise!), and to enjoy my surroundings. I started the challenge two years ago, visiting as many new coffee shops as I could, which has morphed into a more difficult but satisfying third year, brewing coffee or tea at scenic Lake Champlain vistas.

En route to the Earth Clock, I ride under the golden colored Linden trees. From a distance,
the tree shape reminds me of gumdrops. 

I live in beautiful Burlington, Vermont, situated on seven miles of Lake Champlain shoreline. The Coffeenering Challenge occurs during the height of autumn foliage. It's a perfect opportunity to experience three of my favorite things: riding along the shoreline, admiring the changing colors, and using the camp stove - an exciting mini bike adventure during my favorite time of year!

Coffeneuring roadblock: costumed revelers boarding a Halloween train.
Visiting the Earth Clock has been on my coffeeneuring agenda since the challenge began, but due to frequent lakeside winds and park location, I knew it would take the right circumstances for my stove to function, plus be able to relax and really enjoy the moment.

Halloween afternoon was pristine.

The earth clock was built several years ago on park land and the bike path runs between the stones and lake, providing not only expansive water views, but interesting views of pedestrians and cyclists passing by.

A 40-hour filming venture was in progress and I was momentarily asked to step aside.

And so I brewed my English tea and watched the world go by.

These stones have a commanding yet soothing presence which has as much to do with location as with the shape and placement of stones.

Solstice celebrations take place here and someday I would like to attend. 

The Place: Burlington Earth Clock
Date: Saturday, October 31.
Drink: Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold tea 
Observation, Bike Friendliness: It's a contemplative spot to enjoy the lake amidst beautiful granite stones. By far, this has been my favorite Coffee Shop Without Walls experience.
Total Miles: 8