Back In the Saddle Again

Hard to believe that it’s been over a year since my last blog post. I had the best intention to blog regularly, but then the following things happened:

1. My laptop crashed, leaving me with only an iPad. And until recently, WordPress’s app was awfully buggy. This was a great excuse not to blog.

2. The Spoked household had no weeklong or out-of-state rides planned for 2013. Posts about commuting are often crushingly boring. This was a great excuse not to blog.

3. I injured my knee from overuse in July, mainly due to gardening. The range of motion was so limited that I didn’t ride the bike from August 2013 through March 2014. This was a great excuse not to blog.

I’m hoping to improve my track record in 2014, with an emphasis on microblogging rather than the books I used to publish. We’ll see how that goes.

Next up, if I can figure out this WordPress app thing: riding the Natchez Trace–briefly–this spring.

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April 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm 4 comments

2012 Recap

Sweetpea & stone fence

January is the customary time to make resolutions, and cyclists also use the month to revisit their accomplishments during the previous year. Far be it from me to buck custom. But I promise to keep it short.

Personal record: My mileage tally was 3,624 miles. That’s nearly 500 more miles than I’ve ever ridden in a year.

Third place in the nation: I was lucky to ride on the third-place team in the National Bike Challenge, and ended up ranking among the top 50 women riders (the League of American Bicyclists’ blog published a story about us). We formed a team for fun and started out strong; much to our surprise, we stayed in the top five out of over 2,500 teams throughout the four-month competition. When we realized we might actually finish in the top three, we kept up the pressure by trash-talking each other and another local team. During the competition, I also discovered the number of weekly miles I must cycle in order to eat anything without gaining weight. That number is 170, about 70 more miles than I wish to ride.

153 consecutive days of riding: After putting away the 30 Days of Biking challenge, I just kept on going and ended up cycling every day from the beginning of April through the end of August.

Mountain biking: This new sport got added to my repertoire, although I have to admit I’m not very good at it. I’m wearing a wrist brace even as I type because of a crash.

Closer to car-free: Cycle-commuting until the third week of December led me to discover the joys of early-winter sunsets and riding through neighborhoods decked out with Christmas lights. I still have a long way to go before becoming a car-free commuter, but I’m making progress every year.

And that’s it. No big goals for 2013 yet, except continuing to stretch the commuting season, biking while on vacation (again), the 30 Days of Biking challenge (again, again), and riding Kansas’ Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail — called  “epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Oh, and I swore I wouldn’t ride in the National Bike Challenge again this year, but have already agreed to be on a team. How did that happen? Strange how you can start a year resolving to make no resolutions, and yet gain them anyway.

January 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm 4 comments

Bicycling the Great Allegheny Passage

Rail-to-trail bridge“Are you sure you can find this Great Allegheny Passage bike trail?” Mr. Spoked asked, skeptically. He’s often suspicious of my internal GPS, after years of getting lost. Sometimes we compensate by heading in the opposite direction of where I’m convinced our destination lies.

On this particular day, though, I peered over my spectacles at the tablet screen, where Google maps had zoomed in on something called Ohiopyle State Park. “I think we put in at this park with the funny name,” I said. “It’s just down the road from Fallingwater.” I hadn’t a clue how to find the bike trail inside the park.

In our gigantic western parks, you can drive around an extra hour or two if you don’t enter at the exactly the right spot. But this was the East, where parks are reasonably sized and bountifully signed. So, after spending the morning at Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece—Fallingwater—we drove south on highway 381 and quickly found Ohiopyle State Park. We followed the signs to a busy cluster of buildings that made up the tiny town of Ohiopyle. Ahead, we saw families splashing in the rocky shallows of the Youghiogheny River. To the right, bicyclists rolled across a fancy bridge high above the waters. To the left, we spied a parking lot near a bike rental and an ice cream parlor—a juxtaposition that told us the townspeople understood the significance of their location on the Allegheny bike trail.

Great Allegheny PassageWe unloaded our bicycles in the parking lot and picked up the Great Allegheny Passage heading west, across the river. Also known as the GAP, the rail-to-trail starts in Cumberland, Maryland, and follows the old B&O Railroad line about 140 miles to just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ohiopyle is located near its midpoint. The setting of the Ohiopyle bike trail is wooded and hilly but the bed is quite flat, with a wider bed than most other rails-to-trails we’ve ridden. Its pea gravel bed is easy to ride.

Campers on the GAPWe rode west/northwest on the GAP for about 8 miles before turning around and heading back to Ohiopyle, then continued east on the opposite side of the town for another few miles. Most of this section runs very near or along the banks of the Youghiogheny River. We watched whitewater rafters pop the river rapids on one side of the tail, and skirted massive stone boulders on the other side. The trail wasn’t crowded, but it was busy. We came upon one group of slow-moving boys accompanied by several adults on overloaded bikes, their tin cooking pots clanking with every bump. The boys each had bedrolls strapped to their bikes because they planned to stop for the night at the Kentuck campground near Ohiopyle. I felt a little jealous, not of their heavy loads but of the opportunity to camp along the trail. Most cyclists we encountered were day-trippers like us, enjoying the mild summer afternoon.

The Great Allegheny Passage bike trail connects to the C&O Towpath at Cumberland, Md., and that trail continues to Washington, D.C., for a total of 325 miles. It’s long, but it’s not the longest rail-to-trail in the country. That distinction belongs to the Katy in Missouri, much closer to my home. Here in Kansas volunteers are building the Flint Hills Nature Trail; it eventually will connect to the Katy, and I’ll be able to ride to them both via the Landon Trail out of Topeka. That day cannot come soon enough for me, but for now I content myself with cycling completed portions of my country’s trail system. Happy times, my friends, occur on a bicycle on a trail.

This is the final post in my Velo Vacay series for 2012. Check out the others:

December 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm 2 comments

Will Pedal for Ice Cream: On the Burlington Bike Path

We walked out of the ECHO Lake Aquarium on our first day in Vermont, intending to cross the Burlington bike path and make our way toward downtown. But we didn’t get very far before our friend spied a maple creemee stand and insisted we taste this Vermont foodways tradition. I tried to keep my lip from curling as she explained that creemees are soft serve mixed with maple syrup. Soft serve ice cream! Why bother? But I dutifully agreed to try it, and fell in love at first lick. Creemees pack a powerful maple flavor and a silky, slightly sticky texture. Every day thereafter, each bicycle trip we took just happened to pass a maple creemee stand.

Burlington bike path in downtown Burlington, Vermont

Burlington bike path, downtown

Like maple creemees, the Burlington bike path has a long and storied history in Vermont. Burlington claims it’s one of the oldest in New England. The city section is part of the Island Line Trail system uniting several area bikeways to form a 14-mile-long route running roughly north to south along Lake Champlain. I decided we would ride it on one of our last days in Burlington.

As I’ve explained before–no doubt ad nauseum–Mr. Spoked is not a fan of bike paths, but he rides them anyway because of me. And I ride them to understand how cities respect (or disrespect) bicycle transportation within their limits. Many trails are used for recreational purposes; it’s a happy accident when commuters can get to work on one. (We didn’t see any commuters in Burlington, but then it was a Saturday.) The Burlington bike path appears to be designed for recreational purposes, although I don’t doubt commuters appreciate that it connects northern and southern residential areas to downtown. If you lived and worked in the right places, you could patch together a sweet commute.

Our trip on the Burlington bike path was purely recreational. We parked our car at North Beach Park and rented kayaks for a couple of hours before unloading the bikes and heading north on the trail. For some yards, we jockeyed for space with walkers heading to a beer festival. Happily, things cleared out in less than a mile.

View of Lake Champlain

View of Lake Champlain

Generally speaking, the Burlington bike path is nicely maintained. Thankfully, it’s also pretty straight–Bike paths with curves may seem scenic to their designers, but they’re wildly annoying to cyclists. The path skirts Lake Champlain and its course is mostly easy to find. The surface is a mixture of sand and gravel, along with some paved stretches. One of the path’s notable features is a long–and expensive–boardwalk through the New North End neighborhood. It keeps cyclists high above the marshlands between the lake and the Winooski River, and bridges the river’s mouth. We pedaled along at a good clip on this stretch because the trail was wide and flat, and there were few cyclists and walkers.

Winooski River bridge, Burlington bike path

Winooski River bridge, Burlington bike path

Our friend, who didn’t accompany us on this trip, told us to be sure to ride out onto the northern causeway of the Burlington bike path. Before flooding in 2011, cyclists could ride the causeway out into the lake–all the way to South Hero Island. Unfortunately, we lost the trail’s scent when we were dumped into a poorly marked neighborhood on the other side of Delta Park. We later learned we were only a couple of blocks from the trail, although we might as well have been miles away because of the lack of signage. This seems to be the curse of bike paths everywhere.

So we turned around and headed back to Burlington, adjusting our purpose  to find the Lake Champlain Chocolates factory store. This would be our only opportunity to ride in the city proper–not on a path or trail, but on a road with vehicular traffic. A parking lot guard directed us south onto Pine Street. We made good time on the pavement, but the bike lane came and went without any apparent logic. Sometimes the pavement sported sharrows, but often not. It was comforting to see other bicyclists on the same street, dealing with the same schizophrenic approach to city planning. The drivers gave us plenty of clearance, though, and our safety never felt threatened.

I’d recommend the Burlington bike path to recreational cyclists and also hard-core riders in the mood for a more relaxed trip. The scenery is grand and, oh yeah, there’s a maple creemee stand right on the path downtown.

Check out the other posts in my 2012 cycling vacation series:

November 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm 2 comments

Oh La La

Bixi bike share station in MontrealI once knew a Canadian (in Kansas) who liked to talk about his country. (Who doesn’t, when they’re marooned far from home?) If the conversation turned to Montréal–and it often did, because he made sure of it–his face took on a languorous expression, his lips pursed, and his shoulders and hips rocked teasingly while he purred, “Oh là là.” Now that I’m older and wiser, I know this man was probably an alcoholic and his sensual wiggle was meant to illustrate the city’s nightlife. But, still, it pleased me to learn that we’d be visiting Montréal on our recent summer Velo Vacay. Bars and clubs aside, the city has quite a reputation for art and culture. And, I learned, for being bicycle friendly.

Bicycle rack at McGill UniversityMontréal is only a 90-minute drive north of our friend’s home in Burlington, Vermont. Her daughter studies at McGill University and wanted us to come up for a quick visit. We drove through hilly terrain along Lake Champlain until crossing the Canadian border, where the landscape took us by surprise by changing abruptly to flat and agricultural. We drove past many fields, tractors and silos, thinking we might well have been in Kansas but for the French road signs. The traffic picked up as we approached Montréal, and soon we were driving up a tall, wide bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River. The bridge curved downward on the other side of the water and–boom–we were in downtown Montréal.

Parking meter with bike parkingCanada’s second largest city, Montréal is shoehorned onto islands flanked by the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers.  It’s a pentimento drawn on an island canvas–old neighborhoods overshadowed, but not erased, by modern skyscrapers. The city definitely has a vertical profile; even now, months later, I remember crooking my neck to see the building tops. The city’s compactness makes it easy to manage on foot or by bicycle. In the 24-hour period of our visit, we walked everywhere: Old Montréal, Chinatown, McGill University, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, Notre-Dame Basilica, Mount Royal Park, Schwartz’s Deli. What we did not do was bicycle. We might have leased bikes from Bixi’s stalls, but decided instead to maximize the short visit with our friends by strolling and talking, talking and walking.

Divided bike lane in downtown MontrealThat plan didn’t stop me from photographing bike-related sights in the city–an interesting rack outside the Redpath Museum at McGill, sturdy rings for bike locks at the downtown parking meters, the Bixi bike share stations near the university, and impressive divided bike lanes downtown. Generally, I’m not a fan of large cities. I’m overwhelmed by the aloofness of the people and the relentless energy. If I lived in a city like Montréal, though, the intensity would be balanced by a bicycling infrastructure that could serve as a model for other urban places. So much can be accomplished with commitment, interest and, of course, money. Oh là là, indeed.

Other posts in the Velo Vacay series:

November 4, 2012 at 6:34 pm 2 comments

Bicycling the Champlain Islands

Continuing with our velo-vacation, Mr. Spoked and I are joined by a friend for a day of cycling “The Trail of Two Beaches” route on the Lake Champlain Islands Bikeways system in Vermont.

Continue Reading October 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm 1 comment

Biking Covered Bridges in Vermont

In which we bicycle to–and through–covered bridges in Vermont on the Champlain Bikeway.

Continue Reading September 16, 2012 at 8:29 pm Leave a comment

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Passionate about Bicycling

I don't bicycle for a living, but I do bicycle to live. It's that simple.

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Mileage

2012: 3,624 miles total
2011: 1,632 miles total
2010: 3,132 miles total
2009: 2,840 miles total

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