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