Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Rewind

If there is one word that describes 2019, it is transition. I'm proud of a leap in creativity, overcoming and fully embracing riding on snow, thoughts on replacing one bike for another, an amazing hiking adventure that stretched my physical limits and unfortunately lowers the bar for future long distance hikes, and finally an upcoming relocation that's filled our thoughts since October.

I find writing this year end blog post very therapeutic - a chance to reflect - so I can move forward. Equally important to recounting is writing (and referring back to periodically through the year) a future goals/ideas type of blog post - not so detailed to feel overwhelming - but to set an intention, which gives me something to look forward to. When winter rolls around, I anticipate future trips, thoughts, new places to see, etc. for the coming year. It keeps me going!

I fully embraced the Dahon in 2019, focusing on lowering the gearing, fixing a broken fender, making a water bottle holder, pouch thingy, (from scratch!) and creating small panniers. While riding the brilliant, easy to mount folder, quite a lot this year, I realize I would be perfectly content if I had to make a choice of having one bike - the Dahon is it. This simple realization is liberating.

My heart wasn't in planning my own overnight excursions in 2019, but I found a solution: hook up with a cool trip to Law Island and a WTF Explorers weekend. Both adventures stretched my comfort zone - never forget your sleeping bag! In addition, Adele and I made our annual pilgrimage to Quebec happen with last minute planning. I'm so fortunate to have an adaptable companion.

In September I went on a two week hiking adventure with my husband, a 100 mile circuit of Mont Blanc, often referred to as the TMB (Tour du Mont Blanc). With daily steep ascents and descents, it was very difficult terrain, but easily the most beautiful scenery. With complications in places to stay, and the busiest trail I've ever seen (in the off season no less!), and very sore knees (yours truly), it was a wonder we were able to finish every mile. Going forward, I've given myself permission to avoid difficult hikes from now on.

The Coffeeneuring season has turned me into a confident winter rider. For the second year in a row, November's arctic blast and early snowfall meant toting a thermos when I otherwise might've stayed indoors. With a chosen theme to explore a neighboring town - where we'll eventually move in 2020 -meant a least a 15+ mile round-trip ride, often in temperatures of 20F. Because of the coffeeneuring challenges, I believe a year from now, when my commute distance doubles (9.5 miles each way) on mostly flat bike path, I'll be able to ride to work on many wintry days.

Emotionally I'm ready to let go of one ill fitting bicycle. I am also considering acquiring a hard tail mountain bike as I have a desire to ride trails. I've also accepted that blog posts will remain infrequent (though follow me on Instagram at @annie.bikes for photos). I'm content with this social arrangement.

I'm ready for 2020 - are you?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

DIY Inexpensive Mini Panniers for my Dahon

After successfully commuting on the Dahon, using a small duffel bag on the rack, the last item on my to-do list in 2019 to finish focusing on the folder was to fashion small panniers for added capacity. My preferred prerequisites: a lightweight, removable, and inexpensive system to use on existing rack that also avoided heal strike - easier said than done!

I've admired trunk bags with fold-out panniers, like Downtube Nova's, and though good bang for the buck, this system meant I couldn't stack my small duffel on top. Then I stumbled on dog panniers, which provided the narrow fit and low cost I was searching for. In the end, the best option was a pair of Eddie Bauer sling bags on sale for 30.00 total, in a myriad of colors.

Lightweight means stowable into a built-in pocket - a feature I wouldn't need for the project.
I chose dark grey with red accents. The beauty of this particular style? It has a wide shoulder strap, exterior zippered additional pocket, plus bonus carry handle and reflective bits. All these features would adapt nicely to Dutch style panniers - my intention from the outset - and be stylish too.

Original condition: dual buckle system at bottom.

As with all my projects, I store the bike near my basement sewing corner to adapt and fine-tune fit.

The Process

1. Removed stowable pocket and key clip (not pictured above, inside exterior zip pocket). The idea being to get rid of anything extraneous. Set aside for possible re-use.

2. Cut off sling straps, leaving a few inches to cinch together as Dutch pannier. Set aside to re-use buckles.

3. Stuff panniers to simulate actual use.

Bags are not mirror image, which means one unzips in rear, one in front,.To me this is not a big deal.
4. Double or triple stitch bags together at top. Fit on rack to (figure out the next step!) to see how and where to further secure the bags. Doubly important at every step -I checked for heal-strike.

I always liked the dotted strap on an old helmet. Looks nice here. (Semi-hidden beneath carry handles).
5. Sew a buckle and clip from my stash to cover seam which secures pannier to rack top. (I used a buckle and strap from an old helmet.)

Because of lightweight "pannier" I was able to wrestle and sew all buckles and straps in my sewing machine.
6. Re-use sling strap buckle and secure to bottom middle of pannier. With cinch tightening, the idea is to clip into either buckle, though I intend to primarily use one to keep pannier from sliding forward on rack.

7. Cut 4 Velcro-type strips and place where needed to prevent sway. My plan is to connect one to frame and the other to fender stay.

8. There is a panel conveniently located inside each bag where I placed a bubble wrapped, package piece for stiffness (thank you Amazon).

Voila! The panniers are easy to mount, remove, and coincidentally have built-in handles for carrying. Of course, practical use may require further adjustment, but for now I have two extremely lightweight panniers for additional storage.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Journey: Becoming a Year-Round Rider

It's been a slow process, from adjusting to riding in complete darkness, wearing appropriate winter clothing, switching to flat pedals, finding and altering the perfect (for me) work pannier, stretching coffeeneuring outings a little beyond my comfort zone, to seeking out weekend rides in winter. And lately, I've been quite comfortable riding on a little snow. A traffic-free route has allowed me to experiment with what's possible, adjusting attitudes, lowering speeds, and walking when it makes sense: to warm feet, negotiate a steep incline, or to skirt a patch of ice.

It's been totally worth it!

Traveling at 10 mph is my favorite way to explore. I enjoy walking also, but by challenging myself to stretch my idea of what's rideable, or not, I've been pleasantly surprised at what I can do.

All of this feels like a culmination, and liberating! It's made our decision to move further away from my office very acceptable. Living closer to the lake means I'll have a much longer though a welcome, prettier commute. It will be an adjustment, I'm sure, but in the end worthwhile.

One step at a time.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 - Seventh Cup in our Future Backyard

Having a cuppa in our future backyard.

New Places, New Spaces
The final stop on my Coffeeneuring in Colchester tour was a special bank overlooking, yet again, the Winooski River! One of the reasons I've chosen to explore Colchester, and specifically the region surrounding the mouth of the river where it empties into Lake Champlain, is because in late spring of 2020 we will be moving into a new house - part of a new neighborhood of 12 homes in various phases of ownership/construction.

The Place:  Future neighborhood, sitting on the riverbank enjoying our future backyard view
Date: Saturday, November 23
Drink: Trader Joe's Red Refresh tea
Observation: Ugh, still waiting for the cellar hole to be dug.
Total Miles: 20

Parking bike in future driveway (actually in path/sidewalk just before).
Sipping tea and looking upriver. 

Sipping tea and looking downriver.
Street view with model home under construction.
The new neighborhood view from nearby fishing access. Model home is in the center.

25 F without wind feels balmy! 

Parting thoughts
  • By far, this year I rode the most mileage during a Coffeeneuring Challenge, averaging 15 miles each time.
  • 2018 and 2019 saw below average temperatures and snowfall in early November. I was lucky to have finished both challenges.
  • This was my 7th year of Coffeeneuring. 
  • To keep the challenge fresh, I decide on a different theme each year. In the beginning, I visited coffee shops, then toted a stove for coffee without walls, even gravitating to setting up a camping chair! For the past two years, I've used a thermos, which has improved my outdoor experience (and kept my hands warmer). Who knows, because of next years new living situation, I may go full circle and ride into Burlington to explore coffee shops!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 - Sixth Cup at Billado Park

New Places, New Spaces
The next stop on my Coffeeneuring in Colchester tour was Billado Park. Because the waterfront path conditions might be iffy because of wintry-like weather, I cruised instead down busy North Avenue (thankfully on a bike lane), over the Heineberg Bridge to where I could easily access the park. With temperatures in the mid-30sF the plan was to meander homeward later along the waterfront path to see if it was ice-free. 

The Place:  Billado Park
Date: Sunday, November 17
Drink: Trader Joe's Red Refresh tea
Observation:  I'm curious where the trails lead.
Total Miles: 15

I walked the last hundred yards to rest on the boardwalk overlooking the Winooski River.

It's a pretty spot and seemingly under-utilized - visible from a car, I rarely see anyone standing or fishing. Sipping hot tea, I noticed ice was forming along the water's edge. Nearby snowy footprints headed off in different directions into the woods. I made a mental note to check out more of the park later. It was still hunting season, also allowed in the woods nearby, connecting Halfmoon Cove wildlife management area with Billado Park. After becoming obsessed with finding access to Halfmoon Cove, I spotted it from a dead end Colchester neighborhood. The water way is much larger than I expected; would make a nice area to explore when frozen or covered with snow.

Overlook is currently under construction.
Lucky me! Looping back home I discovered that 35F and sunny feels like 50F! Trail was passable, so I enjoyed a quiet moment with the best water view in the world - I'm biased, of course - of Lake Champlain.

There is more precipitation in the forecast. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to finish with coffeeneuring next weekend.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

An Abrupt End to Autumn Commuting?

I set out for a reconnaissance at lunchtime to check bike path conditions.

It always takes me by surprise: the first snow storm, plummeting temperatures, a low pressure system that lingers for days. A depressive mood marks the end of safe, regular bike commutes.

The transition is difficult, especially in early to mid-November, to give up commuting to work. For the second year in a row I will struggle to complete the Coffeeneuring Challenge, but if I manage the final stop will be a special one, a culmination of sorts!

The double-whammy: the time change and weather patterns are occurring - much like last year - at the same time this November. Transition to navigating with lights, body rhythms in flux, all while adjusting mindset to taking the bus and/or driving more.

But though the shift has been abrupt, I'll walk more and set up indoor projects. I have mini panniers to finish for the Dahon, research to do on new handlebars for Miss Clementine, other sewing projects, cleaning closets, painting of rooms...

I'll get there, physically and emotionally, just a little earlier than I expected.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 - Fifth Cup at Macrae Farm Park

New Places, New Spaces
The next stop on my Coffeeneuring in Colchester tour was my first exploration of Macrae Park bottom lands along the Winooski River. Macrae Farm is one of Colchester's largest parks. 

The Place:  Macrae Farm Park
Date: Sunday, November 10
Drink: Trader Joe's Red Refresh tea
Observation:  Lots of trails! Best utilized during winter?
Total Miles: 20

A one mile dirt road ends at the farm where a couple cars were parked on the side of the road. I pushed my bike around a barrier and over a bridge in need of repair. 

I sipped tea while enjoying the views of the river and farm. I like how remote this area feels yet close to neighborhoods and shopping. I'd once explored the upland trails but never along the river. 

 A convenient map for guide, I set off for a walk.

 A massive tree!

The woodland trail started off quite lovely. I saw beaver action: gnawed and felled saplings along with animal trails to river's edge. But as there was recent flooding (somewhat receding), I wasn't able to complete a loop and gingerly returned to my bike, skirting puddled portions of path. I'm anxious to explore the whole area, but I suspect it's best to return during winter, when footing is better, or with skis. With old farmland, I imagine ticks are a problem during summertime.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 - Fourth Cup at Halfmoon Cove

New Places, New Spaces
Getting to know Colchester, Burlington's neighbor to the north, the next stop on my Coffeeneuring tour included the usual enjoyable ride on the waterfront path, a bit of single track to connect neighborhoods, then, leaving my bike behind, a short but steep descent to sip tea beside the swiftly flowing Winoooski River.

The Place:  Halfmoon Cove 
Date: Saturday, November 3
Drink: Uncommon Grounds ginger tea
Observation:  I didn't know there was river access, though I've passed this way several times.
Total Miles: 18

The river was still a bit high, but slowly receding from Halloween rains that dropped a whopping 3.7".

The real treat was discovering animal tracks on the river's edge. Later, I asked my husband and he said raccoons are known for washing their food before eating so they were probably raccoon prints. I was skeptical - he likes to make up explanations just to see if we believe him - but sure enough, he was right!

This is why I coffeeneur: to learn cool stuff like this.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Coffeeneuring 2019 - Third Cup at Malletts Bay Cemetery

Heading to the waterfront, peak foliage abounds. Across the lake, New York is also awash in autumnal glory.

New Places, New Spaces
Sticking with exploring neighboring Colchester, the next stop on my Coffeeneuring tour was Malletts Bay Cemetery, Approximately 10+ miles from home. During peak foliage too! I pedaled afterward to visit my mom before returning home, racking up 32 miles. Coffeeneuring for me is enjoying a cup of coffee/tea while setting a goal/theme to explore new places. The challenge pushes me to ride on weekends in addition to bike commuting - and this time of year - combating cold, darkness, and falling snow is another test altogether.

The Place:  Malletts Bay Cemetery
Date: Saturday, October 26
Drink: Uncommon Grounds house brew
Observation:  Coffeeneuring is much better during daylight!
Total Miles: 32

Filling up the thermos at Uncommon Ground, closing by the end of the year.
A bush brimming with pink berries. Any guess to it's name?

Waterfront trail colors. It was a slow ride towards Colchester...
Bridge over the Winooski River with golden trees ahead.

Looking upriver.
I lean my bike just inside the cemetery gate

Like many old cemeteries, marble stones have not weathered well. Inscriptions on many stones have been erased.
The older stones are in peaceful area at the back of the cemetery.

The front area overlooks Malletts Bay, beyond the highway.