Friday, April 17, 2015

Rumble Strips

The Adventure Cycling blog has an entry about the danger of rumble strips when installed on narrow rural roads. They argue that the rumble strips installed on narrow road shoulders leave no room for bicyclists, who can't ride on the strips. In the post, they show pictures of Montana roads in which the rumble strips are going to be installed.

I'm not really disagreeing with them about the need to consider bicycles when modifying the roads, but I must take exception to their idea that without the rumble strips, bicyclists can ride on the "shoulder," to the right of the white stripe.

I would argue that, in fact, riding to the right of the white line, in the remaining 1-2' of shoulder, is inherently dangerous. The only times I have fallen while touring was when I was trying to ride too close to the edge of the road and went off the road, hooked my tire on the road edge, and fell back into the road. I and my riding mates have done it multiple times. Once when I did it, the car that was following right behind me (for which I was trying to hug the edge of the road), came to a stop with its front wheel touching my pannier.

On the roads shown in the Adventure Cycling blog entry, any bike rider who tries to ride to the right of the white line is insane. Any bicycle "expert" who advises it is negligent.
Really? Adventure cycling thinks THIS is a rideable shoulder?

The only safe way to ride on such roads is to position your front wheel in the right wheel track of the road, to the LEFT of the white line. I realize that this puts the bike rider more directly in the cars' line of fire, but let's face it: Even when the bike is hugging the shoulder on a narrow road, there is not enough room for a car to squeeze by safely while staying in its lane. It will either force oncoming traffic off the road or, more likely, it will force the bike off the road. It is dangerous to hug the shoulder.

So, in a perverse way, the rumble strips make it safer for bicycles, because they force bikes to position themselves away from the dangerous edge of the road, which also prevents cars from trying to sneak by when there's oncoming traffic. Drivers may honk, but at least it's harder for them to force bikes off the road.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Finger

I gave someone the finger yesterday. And hollered. I was riding along on a quiet side street, when this driver in a white mini-van comes up behind me and blasts his horn. The street was empty.

The injustice of it was what set me off. Not only did I have every right to be riding in the road, I wasn't even slowing him down. He just needed to swing around me. Perhaps he was having a bad day and needed someone to honk at. I was handy.

I regret losing my cool and hollering and giving him the finger. I lowered myself to his level. Not only was it bad karma, it could have been dangerous. He could have been an armed red-neck Republican just looking for someone to cap with with his impotence-consolation-prize handgun. He could brag to his beer-buddies that he was just standing his ground.

Next time I'll blow him a kiss.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Morning Ride

Ordinarily, when I ride to work at 6:00 am every day, I am alone on the sidewalk and share the road with a handful of cars. Despite having the sidewalk to myself (usually), I have taken to wearing a helmet light (a very nice Princeton Tec Eos) so that I can see a little farther ahead than my fork-mounted dynamo light allows. I started doing this after I nearly hit a jogger in dark clothing who was coming toward me but somehow oblivious to my dyno-light.

This morning, if I hadn't had my helmet light, I would have hit a person on a bike with an enormous black garbage bag perched on the front basket. Perfectly camouflaged. Virtually invisible. The only thing I saw was the glint of the pedal reflectors, thanks to my helmet light. My dyno-light would not have reflected off the pedals far enough ahead.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Head Injury

I don't care whether people wear helmets or not. Their choice. But arguments for not wearing a helmet that go beyond, "Because I don't want to," are silly. Helmets are less safe because we ride more recklessly when we wear them? I love that one. Seats belts, too, I guess. Health insurance is actually bad for our health because it makes us behave in a less healthy way. It's safer to run with scissors pointing up because then we'll be more careful and less likely to fall.

I heard of someone recently who was hit by a car and sent to the hospital with serious injuries. When asked if he was wearing a helmet, and whether he suffered head injuries, his answers were no and yes. His swollen brain required surgery. And then he said, more or less, that he doesn't believe in helmets.

Perhaps he thinks the injury would have been worse if he had been wearing a helmet. Who knows? I must say, it seems unlikely. Oh well. We believe what we want to believe. I think I'll keep wearing my helmet.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Snow Tires Off!

By mid-March, it's safe to assume that snow and ice is done for the season, or at least done enough to warrant taking the studded tires off the main commuter.

In actuality, I don't really need studs on the main commuter. When it's really snow and icy, I just ride the slush mobile, with its aggressive studs and knobby tires. Slower, sure, but more stable and better suited to slop. I thought I'd be able to ride the main commuter on icy but snow-free days, but they didn't really exist. There was always snow on the sidewalk and side streets. I only rode it once all winter.

I won't bother changing tires next winter. I always leave the studded tires on the slush mobile, so whenever it snows, I'll just switch bikes.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Brooklyn Bridge

I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge today, as I like to do when I visit my sister- and brother-in-law in Brooklyn. Today was one of the first warm-ish, sunny days this winter, and the bridge at noon was absolutely packed with tourists, most of them not speaking English.

Needless to say, they weren't observing the pedestrian vs. bicycle lane designations. The were aimlessly walking six abreast, weaving and staggering in and out of the bike lane as they took in the NY skyline, looked up at the bridge, and took selfies.

One biker, while weaving around them, was pointing down at the lane divider with exaggerated movements whenever he passed a transgressor, saying with his gesture, "Stay in your lane!"

But why was he bothering? That undulating mass of people was composed of 99% tourists. This was their first and last day on the Brooklyn Bridge. This bike rider had already passed them. What did he care if they moved into the correct lane? They'd be gone tomorrow, and another batch of ditzy tourists would take their place. No amount of preaching to today's tourists would change tomorrow's tourists' behavior.

I am completely capable of being that self-righteous biker, but I'm glad I wasn't. Just slow down, try not to knock anyone into the East River, take a little longer to get over the bridge, and enjoy the sun.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter 2015

The first below-zero ride this morning (-8˚ F). Last year, when I rode in such cold, my goggles iced over, making it impossible to see. New goggles have solved that problem. They didn't even start to fog by the end of my 25 min ride.

I was wearing a thin Smartwool shirt, a microweight Melanzana polartec shirt, a Duofold shirt, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker. I was a smidge hot, but with all that wool and polartec, I never got sweaty cold. My giant snowmobile mittens did a good job keeping my hands warm, and my fleece neck gaiter kept my face and neck warm. Rivendell nylon pants over old fashioned waffled long underwear kept my legs warm.

The only cold part of me by the end of the ride were my feet. My insulated boots, thin socks and thick wool socks were fine for about half the ride. Then it started getting a bit chilly. Not too bad, though.

I think I won't ride tomorrow morning, when it's supposed to be -15˚ F. Twice as cold! (I know, not really.)

Note to self. What to wear in winter:
 Below zero-10: Smartwool base layer, Duofold shirt, vest, windbreaker.
10-20˚: Smartwool + Melanzana microweight shirt, vest, windbreaker
20-30: Duofold + vest + windbreaker
30-40: Smartwool + vest + windbreaker.

More results.
Temp: -9˚ F
Base layer = smartwool lightweight
mid layer1 = mid weight poly
mid layer 2 = melanzana microweight polartec
Fleece vest

When I pulled the socks away from my toes a bit to make more air space, my feet were completely warm

Temp: 6˚, windy.
base layer = melanzana microweight shirt
mid-layer = melanzana lightweight crew.
Fleece vest

Perfect combination. The polyester shirts wicked all the moisture away. I sort of missed the lightweight wool base layer, though. I'll try it tomorrow.

Temp: -10˚ F
Base layer: wool thin shirt
Mid layer: Melanzana thin polartec
Mid layer 2: Melanzana lightweight crew

Too warm. I probably could have worn just the wool and the crew under the vest.

Yesterday when it was 10˚F, I wore the wool and lightweight crew with vest and windbreaker. Almost too warm.

Perhaps the last addition to this list.
March 6. Temp: 2˚. (Normal low = 22˚).
Thin wool base layer.
Melanzana crew mid-layer.
Vest, wind-breaker.
Quite nice. I wore this same combination for the ride home at 17˚ (normal high = 40˚). Unzipping the vest a little, I was comfortable. I decided that I'd rather be a little warm, but dry, with two layers under the vest, than cool and clammy with a single layer.

Spring break is next week. When I resume biking to work, perhaps I will have no more near-zero rides.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

200 Mile Weeks

I have set myself the utterly arbitrary goal of riding 200 miles per week this summer. So far, so good. I originally thought I'd allow myself to average 200 miles, which means that I could apply overages to the underages, but that hasn't been necessary, so far. I had to ride around town for three miles one week, but I made my 200.

Update, August 17: I have done it. Last week was my last full week before the semester resumes. I put in at least 200 miles every week all summer. Yay me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mini-Tour, 2014 (USBR 35, etc)

In all the touring I have done in the last ten years, I have had very little rain. Some torrential rain last summer (a few hours), and a few hours here and there in past years. But nothing epic. This year's rain was epic; torrential; biblical. It rained and rained, steadily, for eight hours on the third and final day of this experimental trip.

I was almost prepared for the rain. The plastic sheet wrapped around my back bag worked perfectly. The contents were bone dry. The plastic sheet draped over the handlebar bag worked and then didn't work. There was a hole where the strap went through, and I think it let in enough water during the day that the contents in the bag got wet. Rain preparedness can only be tested in the rain, and you can't prove that your rain-proofing works; you can only prove that it doesn't work. My handlebar bag was totally dry on the first morning of rain, but that proved nothing. During the deluge, it succumbed, letting in water where it hadn't before. Back to the drawing board.

Anyway, more about rain later. First the details of the trip:

Instead of a long, heroic voyage (see previous posts), I opted for short and functional, commuting (as it were) from northwest to central Michigan, down the west coast of the state, to meet my wife. Three days, 290 miles. Motels all the way. This was to be an experiment in credit card touring. 

I wanted to find out if I could happily sustain long (90+ mile) days over three or four days, staying in motels with reservations each night so that I knew what I was headed for, and not trying to cook. It seemed appropriate that when staying in motels I would go long days. I could arrive, take a bath, look for a restaurant or grocery store with prepared food, watch a little TV, go to bed. Rolling in at 6:00 PM or later  was ideal, which meant that I had 10+ hours or so to ride. Even with regular breaks, I can do 100 miles in 10 hours.

I followed US Bicycle Route 35 from Empire to Muskegon, then I jumped on to the Muskegon-Detroit route as mapped out by the League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB). (I jumped off the route on the third day, since I had already ridden most of it, and it was slightly less direct than I wanted.) I rode my Bike Friday New World Tourist, which has become my go-to touring bike, it seems. My old Trek 620 is actually better suited to touring, with its beefier racks and just overall beefiness, but I didn't have it at my starting point. It's easy to have the NWT at all times, because it's so easy to transport. And it rides like a dream, with super easy gears for whopper hills (which I didn't encounter this year), and it's easy to carry up stairs at motels without elevators. Rather than a full rear rack, I opted for a seatpost rack, which is much easier to make fit on the NWT. (Plus, when I need to travel with it, the rack goes on and off much easier.)
Velo Orange handlebar bag (with homemade bag support) and Riv ShopSack on a seatpost rack

I had already ridden all of the USBR 35 route on previous trips to and from Ludington, but it is the most direct route (and quite beautiful). So down M-22, through Frankfort, Elberta, up and down four significant hills between Elberta and Manistee, then back roads to Ludington. The most beautiful stretch is from Arcadia to Manistee along the coast. (Well, my regular ride between Empire and Frankfort is awfully nice, but I do that at least once a week.)

This first day was the hardest of the three. Perhaps because it was a well known route, perhaps because it was the first day, perhaps because my saddle wasn't set right at first, perhaps because of the hills. Probably all of those. It was only 84 miles, but it felt long. I cheered up after Manistee. (Probably the McDonald's milkshake helped.) Ironic that the hardest day had the nicest weather.

I stayed in the Baymont Motel in Ludington, right on US 31 at the beginning of the freeway. Not a very scenic neighborhood three miles outside of town, but then, I wasn't after scenery. I was after convenience, a bathtub, an ice machine, and a grocery store nearby. I found all of those. I'm not very picky about motels; as long as they're reasonably clean and don't smell bad, I'm satisfied. This was actually pretty nice, for such an old place. They're trying to fix it up; I appreciated the effort they are making.

Dinner from the grocery store while watching old movies. Beats eating baked beans from a mess kit while fighting off mosquitos.

The next morning was the first rain of the trip. After an adequate motel breakfast, I set out in full rain gear: Marmot Precip raincoat (protected me from two hours of rain on this first rainy day), Rivendell "splats"
covering my shoes (mostly worked this day), and 6 mil plastic sheeting covering my bag on the back rack and my handlebar bag. As I mentioned above, my rain gear worked fine for the two hours of steady but fairly light rain. I was wet from condensation inside my raincoat, but that's hard to avoid. One shoe was wet at the toe from the splat being set wrong. Ominously, though, the insides of the splats were saturated by the end of the day. Despite Riv's claims, the canvas is not even remotely water proof. What would a full day of rain do to them? Not too hard to guess; I confirmed my guess the next day.

But the ride was beautiful south of Ludington, even in the rain. Right along Lake Michigan (which I mostly couldn't see because of trees and fog), quiet riding, little traffic. I don't mind rain, as long as the riding is nice. My first break was in Pentwater, right on Pentwater Lake, at a picnic table in a nice covered pavilion. It was nice to get out of the rain, take off my raincoat, adjust my splats, have some trail mix. If there had been a coffee shop nearby, I would have gotten a cup of coffee, making the stop perfect. Alternately, if I had carried my mini-stove and pot, I could have made myself some coffee. Even instant coffee would have been good. Must consider for the future.

Once I made it around Pentwater Lake and crossed under the freeway (US-31), I was ready to jump on the Hart-Montegue bicycle trail, which runs  for 22 miles from Hart (in the north) to Montegue (Whitehall). The trail loops far to the west at the beginning, so I thought I'd outsmart it by staying on the road across the loop. I soon discovered the reason for the detour. There was some significant climbing. I don't mind hills, but there was probably no time savings by going the shorter route.

In any case, starting in Shelby, I followed paved rail-trails most of the way to Muskegon. Obviously, this was easy riding. In Montegue, the trail turns in to the White Lake Trail, which goes through Whitehall. The map at this point proved to be out of date. According to the USBR route map and the maps along the trail, the trail was supposed to end at White Lake Dr. But it just kept going beyond where it was supposed to end. Naturally, there were no signs identifying the roads the trail crossed (one of my pet peeves), so I didn't really know where I was until I checked GPS. Turns out the White Lake Trail has been extended! Beautiful new pavement heading toward Muskegon. But how far? They need some signs.

There were no signs, no indication of where the paved trail might end. So I took my chances and followed it to the end. I was not amused when it ended on a dirt (sand, really) road. I don't mind dirt roads when they're dry, but this one was still nicely moist from the recent rain. I didn't need to ride very far on it, but it was far enough to make my bike a sandy mess. And then I found myself on the busiest road between Whitehall and Muskegon. Sigh. Not pleasant. I could have detoured farther west to a quieter road, but I chose to take my chances with the traffic. I know I shouldn't have the attitude that the cars (and trucks) will just need to avoid me, not my problem. Because, really, it IS my problem if they don't avoid me. But they did avoid me, so I guess it paid off.

I have never liked riding through Muskegon, and I didn't like it this time either. I hate to besmirch a city's reputation with unfair words, but Muskegon has always seemed grungy to me. They have this beautiful lake that they lined with factories, power plants, and used tire heaps. Ick. I bought a nasty sandwich in a nasty convenience store and ate it at a nasty picnic table in a nasty little park across from a nasty used tire dump. Get me outa here! Rather than follow the USBR 35 route all the way around the lake to where the LMB route starts, I set off cross-city on Marquette Ave. I wanted out as quick as possible.

Once across the freeway, I found a nice Arby's and had a jamocha shake. From Muskegon, the route guide suggested that I should jump on to the Musketawa Trail, which I had never heard of. Turned out to be a very nice paved trail that runs much of the way to Grand Rapids. I got off after 10 miles to head down to Coopersville and my motel for the night (the fairly grubby Rodeway Inn). Total mileage: 92 miles.

After a bath, dinner at yet another Arby's (I like their Reuben Sandwiches), and a little TV, I was asleep by 11:00. Breakfast the next day was awful except for the waffle maker (Fruit Loops, Cheerios, and Rice Krispies were the cereal choices, for example). And when I got out the door, I discovered rain. An ark floated by, animals two-by-two, cluing me in to the nature of this rain.

Oh, it rained. Rained and rained. Eight hours of steady, at times heavy, rain. Here was what worked: the plastic tarp covering my back bag. Totally dry. Success. Here is what didn't work: Everything else. My top was soaking, my shoes were soaking, my handlebar bag was partly soaking. I was sopping, soggy, sloppy. The air was warm, so at least I wasn't freezing. But I was thoroughly wet.

The biggest failure were the splats: Waterproof? Hah! Not even remotely. By mid-day, my feet were exactly as wet as they would have been without covers. The splats work ok for brief rain; I'll use them for commuting, I guess. But for long rides in the rain, I won't bother. Perhaps an equivalent design in visqueen would work? I'll try it.

I trudged (the bike equivalent of trudged, at least) through the rain, heading toward Grand Rapids. I was not amused after 10 miles to find my road closed for construction, with a several mile detour. In a car, such detours are annoying. On a bike, they can be catastrophic. (The detour Jon and I were forced to take around the Cut River Bridge in the UP comes to mind.) This one was mostly just annoying; a little extra riding in the rain.

The LMB route through Grand Rapids worked well. In fact, crossing the city on Three Mile Rd. was one of the highlights of the trip, thanks to the adorable little houses all along that street. Even in the rain, this was a nicer experience than riding across Muskegon in the sunshine.

When I got to Ada (home of Amway!) on Grand River Ave, I decided to leave the LMB cross-state route. It was going to take me farther south than I wanted, to roads I had already ridden. Instead, I just stayed on the river road, as far as Saranac. It rained like crazy, but the road was nice, and the traffic was very light.

I stopped once at a park that had a nice covered pavillion, thinking I could get out of the rain. I got out of the rain, all right, but into clouds of mosquitos. Even with repellent on, I was overwhelmed. I immediately headed back out into the rain.

By this point, I had been riding in the rain for six hours. It had not stopped for even a minute. I needed someplace to get something to eat and dry off a bit. The route I had planning to take, David Highway 30 miles straight across to near St. Johns, had no real towns on it that were likely to have fast food. So I altered course and went down to Grand River Ave, which paralleled I-96. More traffic, probably, but also more direct, and guaranteed to have fast food and convenience stores.

Mostly, this was an acceptable route. Traffic was relatively light, and the road was mostly in good shape. I did find a truck stop with a Subway, where I gratefully got out of the rain and got something to eat. Unfortunately, the air conditioning was turned up so high, I couldn't stay very long. I was sopping wet, and the last thing I wanted to do was hang out in a refrigerator. I went back outside and hung out under the gas station canopy for a while to warm up, then I headed back in to the rain. Surely it would let up soon.

But no. I followed Grand River Ave through Portland, not even stopping for the many fast food choices, and continued on Grand River Ave south of the freeway. This is where my route choice proved problematic. Grand River between Portland and Eagle was pretty awful. Narrow, potholes, lots of traffic. One of those roads where I constantly watch in my mirror for overtaking cars, ready to preemptively pull off the road if there's oncoming traffic (which I did several times).

Beyond Eagle, the road widened again, but the rain didn't stop, even though the sky was getting markedly brighter. The sun was almost out, and the rain was coming down harder than ever. I believe I said, "NOT FAIR!" a number of times. And worse.

By the time the road crossed M-100, the rain had finally stopped. I squished in to McDonald's, had a chocolate shake, and started the final drying out process.

From there, all was sunshine and warmth. Continuing down Grand River, straight into Lansing past the airport, I didn't care about traffic. It was the most direct way into the city, so I was going to take it.

I turned off at the Turner Dodge Mansion on to the River Trail. Less direct, but always fun riding. This was my normal riding turf. I arrived home at 5:30. Total mileage: 102 soggy miles.

Was the trip a success? Yes. Despite the rain. Was the new motel-hopping, high-mileage format a good alternative to the old camping model? I hate to say it, but yes. More about that in a future post. Will I do it again? I'd like to ride Empire to Okemos down the east side of the state at the end of the summer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Pleased as I am that the US Bicycle Route planners chose to run USBR through Empire, I am startled and appalled at their choice of route between Mackinaw City and Empire. (The maps can be found here.) For example, it takes riders on one of the busiest roads—a commercial artery—in northern Michigan, US-31 between Eastport and Elk Rapids, which has virtually no shoulder, rather than routing it on beautiful quiet roads along Torch Lake. It takes riders on a treacherous stretch of M-22 (Manitou Trail) between Leland and Glen Arbor (again, heavy traffic, no shoulder), rather than routing them on a gorgeous stretch along Lake Lelanau, then through Cedar and Maple City. These are stretches of road that I avoid at all costs because they are so dangerous.

What's the point of the bicycle route system if the routes they choose are unfit for bicycling? If I'm a bike tourist, I want a route that I can trust to be safe, such as the Adventure Cycling routes, which are reliably safe. The USBR system isn't reliably safe, at least not in northwest Michigan.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Evolving Model of Bike Touring

Winter is finally over, although it didn't give up without a fight. Single digits right through March. Near record snow. We will touch 70 for the first time tomorrow (April 12). We were consistently 20˚ below normal for highs and lows all winter.

In any case, warm weather brings thoughts of summer tours. It looks I'll be touring by myself, again. Last year, I thought I was going to follow the old model of going from campground to campground, but it didn't work. I only camped once. Partly because there were few convenient campgrounds, partly because camping by myself isn't much fun, and partly because I could afford to stay in motels with showers and TV. And because motels tend to be near restaurants.

So the new model for touring is motel-centric, with camping secondary. I was going to abandon camping altogether, but one possible trip takes me across the north shore of Lake Erie, where there are more provincial parks than motels.

But no cooking gear, no extra cold gear, minimal extra tarpage, etc. The goal is ease of transport. All my trips will probably involve mass transit in at least one direction. Last summer's awful experience hauling the folding bike and a full set of camp-touring gear convinced me that I should never do it again. Even when I camp, no more cooking, no more Be Prepared For Everything. Small enough, light enough, that walking a few blocks while carrying it all should be possible. (OMG, the nightmare of hauling my gear through the Boston train station last summer. Never again.)

Camping is to be the exception, only if a campground is exactly on the route and desirable. I'll take a tent, pad, and sleeping bag. And flashlight. And that's about it. But mostly, hotels. And reservations ahead of time, so there's no worry about where I'm going to stay. That will allow for longer days, since I can take my time, knowing that I won't get stranded.

Stay tuned. Planning is in progress for a potentially longish (800 mile) trip. Maybe with the new philosophy of touring, I can do it.

Still debating. I have a trip planned out: Okemos to Rome, NY, which would continue the cross-country-by-installments endeavor. I'd camp for three nights in Canada (right on Lake Erie), then stay in motels and B&Bs. Seven days of riding, 500 miles or so. I was originally going to go all the way to NYC, but that seems unlikely. As I think about the shorter trip, it's starting to seem unlikely, too. Do I want to do it? Reading last year's trip log, it seemed about 50% worth doing. The first three days were fine, despite the heat. Nice scenery, adequate towns, pleasant roads. The days in the Adirondacks were less nice. Too desolate. Not enough convenience stores.

Isn't that pathetic? Not enough convenience stores? Is that why I do it? For the convenience stores? Partly. Maybe that's not a good enough reason to do it. Just saying.

I have been wrestling with the question of why I bike tour as I decide whether to embark on another one this summer. It's not just for the biking. I can do that in northern Michigan, which is significantly more beautiful and better biking than in the ugly stretch between Buffalo and Syracuse. It's not really for the sight-seeing. I don't actually see that much, at least not after the first 40 miles. The camping isn't fun.

I think it's for the challenge and sense of accomplishment. Can I ride 500 miles in seven days? I know I can; I've done it numerous times. Can I do it again? The thought of starting at my house and setting off toward Canada is appealing. Taking the ferry across the St. Clair River, riding along Lake Ontario. That all sounds interesting. But is it fun? Hm. This must be answered on two levels.

First, on the lowest level, no, it's often (half the time?) not fun. It can be quite miserable, slogging out mile after mile at the end of the day. Why subject myself to this?

Here's an aside: How do people ride brevets (bike rides of 120, 180, 240, etc, miles)? How do they do it? As to why they do it, that's easy. They do it to prove that they can do it. To accomplish something. We can't all cure cancer or get elected to congress. But we can all set a goal—running a marathon, riding a 400K brevet, riding cross country—and accomplish it. And when we've accomplished it, what do we have to show for it? Nothing. Memories (often painful ones) and bragging rights. And maybe that's enough. Maybe it's all about our deathbeds: Do we want to be able to say that we accomplished things in our lives, even if it's just riding across the country in 500 mile installments? Maybe. (And as an aside to my aside, I have ridden 160 miles in one day, back when I was 16. Rock hard plastic saddle and all. But that doesn't count because 16 year olds aren't human.)

So no, it's often not fun on the lowest level. Is it fun on higher levels? After a good dinner and a few beers? Sure. Having done it is fun. Fun enough to do it again? That's the question.

 I opted out of the MI-to-NY trip this summer, choosing, instead, to experiment with credit card touring in Michigan. I rode from Empire to Okemos, three long days down the west side of the state, then across (290 miles). I carried everything in a seat bag (or its equivalent) and handlebar bag. No tent, no sleeping bag, no cooking gear. I made reservations so that I knew exactly where I was headed each day. I ate in restaurants or prepared food from grocery stores.

Despite riding 80 miles in drenching rain one day, it was a good trip. I'm not exactly sure why . . . there was no quality communing with nature (other than riding a bike through it, but that's not exactly communing). The motels were cheap and far from being vacation destinations. And yet, it was fun (to answer my question above). I easily could have done one more day. I could imagine doing two more days, even, for a total of 500-ish miles.

As many would ask, why was it fun? Riding 90 miles a day, eating trail mix and fast food milkshakes, getting rained on, what's fun about that? What's fun about anything? For me, it's fun as long as it doesn't hurt. More specifically, as long as my butt doesn't hurt. This trip was a success in that regard. I had a good combination of saddle and shorts, so even after three days, I was relatively saddle-sore free. Perhaps the baths and cortisone cream every night helped. Perhaps that was too much sharing.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Epic Winter Continues

The temperature has been consistently in single digits or below zero most mornings this semester. Today was warm at 19˚. Tomorrow they're predicting -1˚. Next week, lots of 0˚ predictions. Sheesh.

It was -9˚ one day last week. I was warm enough (even without the snow pants, just long johns and MUSA pants), but my goggles iced over, almost completely. That's a big problem. You can't see, but you can't take them off. You even hate to expose your hands long enough to take them off and scrape out the ice (on the inside, of course).

Now we're getting 5" of snow on top of the icy, cut-up snow that was already there. That with -1˚ is going to make for an unpleasant ride tomorrow. Sigh. This is the most severe winter of my bike-commuting career. I'm doing it, but I'm not really enjoying it very much. Spring, if it ever comes, will be sweet.

Update: We got 7" today on top of 6" over the weekend, much of which was smashed down by cars and pedestrians rather than plowed up. That kind of conditions, new snow that has been chopped up and smashed down by cars and pedestrians on top of similarly chopped up old snow, makes riding literally impossible. The bike simply doesn't roll through that crap. I had to push my bike the last 1/2 mile. Perhaps my Trek with the studded 38mm (1.5") tires would have been able to cut through the slop better than the 2" tires.

If our street isn't plowed by tomorrow morning, I'm taking the bus.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


First sub-zero ride of the winter. (There have been ample opportunities, including one morning that had -13˚, but I drove to work with my wife those days.) Today was only -1˚, so not cold by recent standards, but definitely cold-ish.

The gear:

Long johns, MUSA pants (thin nylon), insulated snow pants: perfectly warm legs.

Insulated winter boots, thin socks, thick socks: toes were cold by the end.

Thin SmartWool base shirt, thicker wicking Under Armor shirt, fleece vest, wind-breaker: A smidge too warm.

Fleece neck/face gaiter, fleece hat, clear goggles: A smidge too warm, but nice.

Snowmobile gloves covered with rain booties for wind-breakage: Awkward but warm.

This outfit would have been OK down to maybe -10˚. Below that, it's probably time to take a bus.

I soon realized that the extra snow pants weren't necessary. Just long johns and nylon pants were plenty. The warm snowmobile mittens were also sufficient, without the extra wind-blockage of the rain booties.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Neck Gaiter, Wool vs. Fleece

More wool-mystique debunking: The wool worshipers (you know who you are) argue that wool is always better for everything. Here's their favorite line: It's even warm when it's wet! So I've been using a thin wool neck gaiter for years, which I pull up over my mouth and nose when it's cold. By the end of my five-mile ride, it's soaking wet. Warm? Maybe, but soaking wet and uncomfortable. Even more annoying, once it gets soaking wet, my breath doesn't pass through it very well. Instead, it leaks out the top and fogs my goggles (despite their anti-fog coating).

Enter the new fleece gaiter: It wicks moisture away from my face, so it doesn't feel wet by the end of my commute. And because it's not sopping wet, my breath still passes through it. Goggles don't fog as much. Fleece wins this round.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

More "Same Rules, Same Rights"

Bike Snob New York City (don't have the link handy) posted a rant in response to a foolish article in the New York Times about biker rights and responsibility, ostensibly having to do with the unjust sentencing of car drivers who kill bikers, but actually blaming bike riders for getting themselves killed.

While BSNYC went a little overboard, his central point was right on: Bikes and Cars DON'T have the same rights and responsibilities. As I have mentioned in these "pages" before.

We (I'm speaking as a bike rider now) can (and must) ride on the shoulder; cars can't. We can't signal our turns with turn signals, especially at night; cars must. Even in the daylight, signaling a turn with one hand while hanging on to a loaded bike with the other hand while traveling at speed is exceptionally dangerous; I mostly choose not to do signal. We can park on the sidewalk; cars can't. We can sit forever at vehicle actuated traffic lights; cars don't. (As an aside: my favorite vehicle actuated traffic light is on Hagadorn Rd, which has a speed limit of 55. If I go over the sensors just right, I can activate the green light, but because it's set for a car going 55, IT ALWAYS TURNS RED BEFORE I CAN GET TO IT. And then I'm stuck forever at a red light. Cars don't have that problem.)

Does that mean we should be assholes and flout the law? Well . . . maybe not assholes, and maybe not flout. But yes, when I'm at that infinite red light, I run it (after carefully looking both ways). I always treat stop signs like yield signs, particularly the two signs on Hamilton Rd. that were put there  specifically to harass and slow through-traffic; I don't think bikes were the problem.

On the other hand, when I am behaving like a vehicle in traffic, I do tend to stop at red lights, at least when there are cars around, even at 6:00 AM. It just seems like a good PR move. And when I'm riding on a city street that has no shoulder, I exercise my rights as a vehicle and take the lane when there's oncoming traffic to prevent idiots from either crowding me off the road or to prevent the idiot from running the other car off the road. (Which isn't really my problem, but I figure I should help prevent road rage in others, particularly if I get blamed for it.)

BSNYC's big omission was one that several of his commenters made: Always assume cars are driven by drunks talking on cell phones and eating BBQ ribs. Lights (many lights), reflectors (many reflectors), rear-view mirror to see them coming, and neon clothing. And yes, I do wear a helmet although I'm not a helmet fanatic.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Planning the Summer 2014 Tour

One way to get through the long winter is to dream about summer. Pathetic, really. Still, it helps a guy get up in the morning.

Last summer's ride (Maine to NY) was OK, but I ended it early (six days instead of eight days), and I stayed mostly in motels. I wish I had gone the full duration, and I wish I had camped more. And the travel to Maine was torture because of the heavy, awkward way I packed my gear.

So what are my thoughts for Summer 2014? Perhaps a trip from Erie, PA, to NYC. Perhaps a circle tour in Colorado. Those are the two leaders. If I did the eastern trip, all travel would be by train, so I wouldn't need to put the Bike Friday in its suitcase. If I did the western trip, I might need to fly, which would leave me with a suitcase to either tow as a trailer, or stash somewhere.

If I am suitcase-less, I am exploring lightening my load so that schlepping everything around the train station and onto the train is not so miserable. I may tray to get rid of the panniers and just strap gear straight to the rack, perhaps using a "bike packing" arrangement under my handlebars, as well.

Here is what the BF looked like last summer:
Standard rear rack and panniers, front handlebar bag. But the panniers weighed several pounds and were hugely bulky to pack. If I could use a seat-post rack and the duffel in which I carried my gear, I could lighten up and slim down my travel gear.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hit and Run

There have been three incidents in the last several weeks (two in Michigan, where I am, and one in North Carolina) in which bikers were killed or seriously injured by hit-and-run drivers. In two of the cases, the drivers were found; both had suspended licenses (presumably for drunk driving), which leads one to assume that they were drunk when they hit the bikers, and drove off because they didn't want their drunk driving to be discovered. I hope they are thrown in jail for a good long time. (They won't be. In fact, one of them was charged with hit-and-run driving rather than manslaughter, which is shocking.)

So the guilt of the drivers is clear. Anything I say from now on is with that in mind. This was the drivers' fault. Not the bikers' fault.

But for the sake of all of us bikers, I have questions, which have apparently not been asked by reporters: Were the bikers wearing helmets? Two of the bikers were riding at night. Did they have lights?

If they were wearing helmets and died, that reminds us that helmets are not the ultimate protection. If they were wearing helmets and didn't die, well, perhaps the helmet helped. If they were not wearing helmets . . . you get the idea. For the sake of collecting data, I wish we could find out.

But the big question for me is whether the riders who were hit at night had lights on their bikes. One of them was a hard-core bicyclist, apparently, so I suspect he did have lights. One was just riding home from work at 2 am. I suspect she didn't have lights. But, as someone who rides a lot at night, I'd like to know. I find it astonishing that the reporting about the incidents has made no mention of it. When the police in Traverse City are interviewed, they talk earnestly about bike safety, and they say the bike rider was riding in a completely safe way (with traffic, 12" from the curb), but they don't say whether she had a tail-light (or helmet). Really, if she had had a bright tail-light, it would have been safer for her to ride in the middle of the lane, where drunk drivers expect to see traffic, rather than hugging the curb.

Why don't we have laws that require bikes to have lights at night? When I ride at night, I always have at least TWO lights, sometimes three. And yet here the police chief never mentions lights when being interviewed about a bike fatality that happened at night. Something is missing in this discussion.

The Traverse City police are treating this as a "serial hit-and-run" bike stalker, as if it's some sort of crazed son-of-sam style murderer of bike riders. I don't know the details, but it seems much more likely that this is a serial drunk driver who happens to hit bikes as he (no doubt it's a he) swerves his way home at night. Still deserving of being thrown in jail for a good long time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 6, The Final: Boonville to Rome, NY, 26 miles

(Note that this map is interactive. You can zoom in, show contours.)

I write this from the dry comfort of the Amtrak train taking me back to my car in Rochester. Although I changed my plans out of wimpiness, I'm still feeling pretty smart because it is raining steadily, and it's supposed to rain for the next two days. So the weather is helping make me feel better about quitting early.

And in my defense, I should say that my original thought for this trip was to do exactly what I'm doing, namely train to Maine, bike to Utica (or, in actuality, Rome, which has a more convenient train schedule.) Riding all the way back to Rochester was simply a late change that would have allowed me to technically ride across the country if I picked up the trip in Buffalo, since I had already ridden the Buffalo-Rochester segment. But you know what? That's a stupid reason to ride more than I want to (in the rain, no less). The cross-country-by-installments model is hereby defunct, but it wasn't really a good plan, anyway. Doing the whole thing in one shot for the sake of accomplishing it, well, that's one thing. This leg through spectacular country was reasonable. But why would I spend a week riding across North Dakota just to say I did it? I'm sure North Dakota is nice, but I think I can find a better place to spend a week riding.

So this change of plans does feel reasonable. I didn't catch the train two days ago in Ticonderoga (even though that was seeming like a mistake when I was in the middle of my long long day in the wilderness), so I'm not a total wimp. And, although not the motivation, the rain today and tomorrow helps.

And, in an unexpected bonus, today's short ride (I ended as I began, off the route guide) was absolutely lovely. The road was basically downhill all the way from Boonville to just outside Rome, through the gorgeous Black River Valley. Wow! It felt like a victory lap or something. I left very early, just because I didn't want to feel rushed packing up my bike, I wanted to avoid the morning rush hour traffic, and I wanted to miss the rain. I reached the Rome train station with two and half hours to spare, but that was fine. (It's a beautiful station, which made it pleasant to spend time in.) I will reach Rochester in time to drive home today.
Before packing up in the Rome, NY, train station
After the transformation. Ready to jump on the train.

I have now followed the ACA (Adventure Cycling Association) route guides for many miles, on several routes. They are very good, very accurate, very complete. But I am not convinced that they are good for me. There's something about being able to keep track of the route seemingly foot by foot that takes away from the general sense of where I am. Only seeing a tiny slice of the map, often pointed in the wrong direction (relative to north) can be disorienting. More than once, when I took out a normal map and looked at where I had been, I couldn't believe it. The distances and directions looked wrong. 

I think I may prefer relying on conventional maps, even just the state maps, using gray roads, or, even better, nice county maps, referring to GPS in problem situations. I don't know. Future trips may be circle tours of different areas, in which I improvise the route and find my own accommodations. The ACA guide is only marginally useful in recommending services, restaurants, hotels, and campgrounds. A grocery store is anything from Safeway to Mable's Beer and Cig Stop. Fred's Corner Motel was listed as one of the choices in Long Lake. One of hotels listed for Boonville was beyond scary looking. It's not really ACA's fault. They can't update every guide every year, although they try with regular addenda based on user comments (a few of which I'll be contributing). 

But I think future tours are going to need to be more carefully planned in advance by me; I'll create my own route guide. I'll make reservations, and not fret during the day about where I'm going to stay or eat. This is exactly the opposite of a Ken Kifer tour. Fine. I'm not Ken Kifer.

May I say a few words in praise of my "clown bike?" My Bike Friday New World Tourist was a marvel. It carried 35 pounds (at least) with no problem at all. With Schwalbe Marathon tires (also the best, the touring standard), the bike rode wonderfully. It didn't feel slow (in fact, this morning I was averaging 15 mph on my admittedly downhill run), it was wobbly in back, but every loaded touring bike wobbles. And, really, it was more stable than my touring trek has been when loaded in a goofy way. The Bike Friday never shimmied, always tracked true, and felt completely stable even going more than 30 mph.I loved having the step-through frame. If I were buying a full-sized touring bike, I would buy a Riv Mixte in a heartbeat. And at the end of the tour to be able to take the pedals off, fold up the bike, pop it into its soft case (which I carried with me the whole trip), and jump on the train, well, that's quite miraculous.
In the photo above, notice the handlebar bag. It is a Velo Orange bag for which I have crafted a "rackaleur" out of a 1/4" aluminum rod. The bag support wraps under the stem, over the bars, then forms a little shelf for the bag to rest on. Works great. 

So, that's that for now. I'll be refining these posts in the future, adding pictures, so if you were interested, check back for the more official edition.

(By the way, in case you're wondering, these posts were typed on a small Amazon Basics bluetooth keyboard into my iphone running the Blogger app. The keyboard fits perfectly into my handlebar bag, and the hard clicky keys (as opposed to rubbery squishy ones) are close enough to full size to make full-speed touch typing possible. Highly recommended.)

Day 5: Long Lake to Boonville, 76 miles

After a lovely night in the Corner Motel (which I would give -1 star to, but I would still recommend for its, um, character (both in the person of Fred, the proprietor, and in the general character of the place), I walked over to the Stewart's convenience store and got a cup of coffee and a still slightly frozen apple fritter. Frozen? Hm. Usually one thinks of baked goods as being baked. No matter. It fueled the engine.

I was on the road by 7:00. I'm glad I was in the motel last night, because the temperature was 32˚ when I got up. My sleeping bags are only warm down to about 42. (How do you plan for a trip that starts in the 90s and ends in the 30s?)

It was a lovely, if chilly, morning, and the riding was lovely. I was mostly heading down out of the mountains, so the road was mostly flat, with a few significant hills (but nothing like yesterday). This was more populated country, so there were towns every ten miles or so; that is, there were a few houses, some outboard motor repair businesses, and a couple of gas stations.
On the way to Inlet, NY

But it got progressively more developed as I headed down. The town of Inlet felt downright resort-like, and the town of Old Forge felt like Coney Island, complete with theme parks and knick-knack shops. Not really an improvement, except the quality of the convenience stores took a marked leap. The two slices of pizza I had for lunch were outstanding.

This was to be my last day on the route guide, which took me south to Boonville before turning west and heading for Lake Ontario. Becuase I had decided to end two days early, I would be continuing south to Rome, where I could catch Amtrak at noon tomorrow. I was tempted to go all the way to Rome and stay there, but I decided the extra 25 miles served no useful purpose, assuming I could find a place to stay in Boonville.

From Old Forge to the turnoff to Boonville (9 miles), the ride was fast, mostly a steady downhill. I barreled along at 20 mph much of the time. The road to Boonville was hillier. (Again: backroads don't try to minimize hills.)

I had two choices in Boonville: A tidy looking private canpground that was 3 miles outside of town, or the Headwaters Motor Lodge, which had mixed, leaning to very negative, reviews on Trip Advisor. I really didn't want to spend another night with Fred or his equivalent. But I also didn't want to be three miles outside of town, or camp in the rain (which was predicted).

So I took a chance on the Headwaters Motor Lodge. The fact that the large lawn was neat and tidy, and they had just taken the time to plant marigolds along the front walk, suggested that maybe the proprietors cared at least a little about the place (unlike Fred, who seemed to be planning on not fixing a thing before he died.) 

The price was right (in the $50s, again), and the room was . . . acceptable. Slight cigarette smell, but you know, as long as you allow smokers to rent rooms, you're going to have that smell  because, well, because they stink. You notice it on a bike. When a car of a smoker goes by with its window open, you smell the stink EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NOT SMOKING.

Do I sound prejudiced against smokers? Sure. They can help it. If they quit smoking and burned all their clothes and their car and their house, they wouldn't stink any more.

Anyway, this motel made sense to me when I saw the signs in the lobby directed at snowmobilers. That's what this palce was: A snowmobile motel. I've stayed in them before when I was a skier.  I'm sure they're hard on motels. (One sign said, "Snowmobilers: You're renting a room not a party barn." Oi.

But there was TV and a powerful shower and a tiled bathroom floor (with a real bathmat!). It was OK. Dinner at the Boonville Hotel. Lovely place, nice people, so-so chicken and biscuits. I think I just ordered the wrong thing.

This was a perfectly good 76-mile day, considering that my butt hurt. Nice weather, no wind, lots of downhill, adequate service stops. Actually, the pizza in Old Forge was the culinary highlight of the trip.

I was well positioned to head to Rome and Amtrak, and thence to Rochester and my car. I hope it hasn't been towed.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 4: Middlebury, VT to Long Lake, NY, 85 miles

As the title of the post suggests, I opted to go for it, to set off into the Adirondacks. I got to Ticonderoga, after a beautiful ride through the last of Vermont, and had to make my decision. There was a giant hill out of town, which I could see from the McDonald's where I was deciding. I opted to ride up the hill, and decide from the top, since going back down wouldn't be a problem.

Outside Ticonderoga

At the top, I hated to waste the effort, so I continued on.
The Green Mountains, where came from
The Adirondacks, where I was headed

May I just say from the truly scary squalor of the "Corner Motel" in Long Lake where I currently reside, that I'm sorry I did? Once committed, I had no choice but to bike all the way through the Adirondacks. There's no turning back once you're in. (Actually, I did consider turning back, riding back down to Ticonderoga, but that seemed too unlikely. No. My best option was to do a heroic day today, positioning myself for a descent out of the wilderness tomorrow. In fact, I've had enough of this trip, so I'm going to jump ship when the route guide puts me within 25 miles of Amtrak. I'll catch the train to Rochester on Thursday, two days early. Enough is enough. 

Anyway, one of the problems with biking through the Adirondacks is that they are devoid of people in the off season. I rode on Blue  Ridge Rd (which also had a number from North Hudson to Newcomb. Totally beautiful scenery, beautiful road. But I got sick of it. Just trees and mountains and burbling brooks. What's to like? No traffic. Almost literally no traffic. One car every 10 minutes, maybe. Even that was a little desolate.

The thing about biking, for me at least, is that it's not always a great sight-seeing medium. First thing in the day as the fog is rising from the lake and the birds are twittering, the sun is just lighting up the tops of the mountains, my butt boils haven't started hurting, sure, that's nice and fun. But later in the day, bike touring is about biking. Actually, it's about surviving, reaching the destination. It's just hard to have fun when your butt boils are killing you. Or when you keep hitting granny-gear hill after granny gear hill, as it was on Blue Ridge Mountain Rd. with many many hills, some quite formidable, and there are no distractions, well, it becomes work. It's hard to sight-see when you are slogging. In NH and VT, I didn't experience this, despite the heat. There was variety, there were towns, there were people. I could go from town to town, river valley to river valley. The bike was a good way to get about. But today? Oi. Just hard work. 

So there's not much to report for this day. I rode and rode and rode. My butt hurt. There were no towns, literally no gas stations or convenience stores. Just trees and mountains, all very beautiful, but not very appreciated by the end of the day.

The high point of the day was lunch at the Jellystone Park camp store in North Hudson. A touch of civilization in the wilderness. (Obviously, under any other circumstances, I wouldn't call a Jellystone Park campground civilized. But today it was heaven.) I probably should have just spent the night there. I had done 50 miles or so. I was tired, but not whipped. I could have taken a dip in the pool. Gotten a milkshake from the camp store. Then, another 50 miles through the beautiful but desolate Adirondacks, stopping at Blue Mountain Lake, perhaps, at a state campground (which would have showers. Then, once out of the Adirondacks, I could have gone back to 70 miles days. That would have been fine. But it's not what I did.

I just kept on keeping on. When I finally rolled in to Long Lake, it felt like it was 8:00 pm. It was only 5:30, a perfectly reasonable time to be done. But it had been a long long day. I literally stopped at the first motel I saw, right in the heart of town: The Corner Motel, run by stooped over, legally blind, 90-year-old Fred. The place was a shambles. Hadn't been painted in many years, gutters falling off, screen doors that had no screens or even the original door handles. I even had a look at a room before agreeing to stay. It was horrific. But somehow, I wanted to give Fred the business, and it was close to a restaurant and a quite nice convenience store, and he gave me the biker's deal of $50. Worth at least one penny of that.
The Corner Motel, Long Lake, NY
At least it had a nice setting.

 As with all old scary motels, it had a persistent background stink of stale cigarette. Note to self: If I buy the Corner Motel to run in my retirement, tear out EVERYTHING that might harbor a cigarette stink: Carpets, bedspreads, mattresses, paneling, acoustic ceiling. A cigarette stink is a killer these days. Everyone has gotten used to things NOT smelling of stale cigarettes, and we've come to like it.

What a barbaric society back then, when we thought it was OK to smoke indoors. What else could we have done in the same spirit? Fire up the barbie and having a cookout in your room? Set up a little campfire ring? Bring your dog into the room and let him pee on the bed?

Anyway, these old motels are doomed if they can't solve the cig prob.

So I walked over to the Long Lake Tavern (maybe it was called that) and had a Philly Cheesesteak. The bun was particularly good. As were the two beers.

Fred told me that there was no cable TV because he had been fighting with the cable company. So I didn't get to watch TV on the 12" portable. But I was highly amused to find that the motel has WiFi! The sign out front said "Open All Year!" (not true) and "Free Coffee!" (not true), and "Cable TV" (also not true), but it didn't mention WiFi. The best thing about the motel was the convenience store just around the corner.

Oh! One more thing! Instead of a bath mat, there were paper "bath mats" on which was printed: "Dear Guest: For your convenience we offer you these sanitary bath mats! Just place them on the floor next to the tub or shower." But they were paper! Not even very thick paper. Fred Fred Fred.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 3: Orford, NH to Middlebury, VT, 78 miles

Now that's more like it! What a beautiful day! Temps in the low 70s, fluffy clouds, lots of sunshine, low humidity. It was a day of big climbs, but they were MUCH easier in the cool.

It was foggy and damp when I left The Pastures at 7:00 am. The wet clothes and shoes were exactly as wet this morning as they had been when I went to bed. Sigh. The best way to dry clothes on a bike tour is to wear them, so I pulled on the squishy shoes and dripping socks, wet arm covers, and wet long sleeved hi-viz shirt (over a dry short sleeved shirt and dry shorts), and set out. 

I followed the routine that Jon and I have always preferred, namely riding for 10 miles or so, to the first breakfast place or convenience store. Today it was a convenience store on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River. The ride along the river was quite lovely, even including some dirt road, which I liked. I passed some pretty fancy houses; probably Boston fat cats avoiding paying taxes. After my passable convenience store coffee and unspeakable donuts (I bought six and threw five away) I set off, up out of the river valley and into the start of the Green Mountains. The first climb up to Thetford Hill was a good warm up. Five hundred feet or so, some which required my granny gear. But I was feeling pretty good.

After some lovely riding along rivers, the climbing started again before South Strafford. I eventually gained 1000 feet in about five miles. As usual, the downhill was fun. Right before Sharon, it got REALLY steep. I was glad I was heading west not east. Many of these climbs are steeper on the western side. Note to self, don't go west to east.
Road art in the Green Mountains

At Sharon, I hit the White River, which I would follow for much of the day. It got smaller and smaller as I went higher and higher. It's always fun to get to know a river that way.

I had a quite tasty chicken salad sandwich at a convenience (where I learned the storms yesterday had been much more severe in Vermont than where I had been in NH, knocking out power all over the place. I saw armies of utility trucks, literally dozens in a row, presumably heading to the various power outages.

The roads along the White River were both awful and nice. In spots, they were the main route to somewhere, so there was lots of truck traffic. But after that route peeled off, it quieted down. Just lots of steady climbing, with occasional quick steeps, until Rochester. This is obviously tourist country, if not tourist season, yet. I was lucky, because I missed the crowds, which must be formidable, in order to support all the coffee shops and B and Bs. I bought pasta salad and a quart of sports drink, found a park bench, took off my still squishyt shoes, released my wrinkled feet from their wet encasement, and had a little picnic in the park, getting up my energy for the last climb of the day up Middlebury Gap.
The White River in VT

It was as bad as I feared, but much better than it would have been if still hot (or if I were going west-east). It was four miles of gentle climbing followed by two miles of straight up. I plodded along in my granny gear (which on the clown bike is absurdly easy). I was going so slowly that walking would have been as fast. Although I did stop several times on that final push, I never walked. In fact, when I slowed my pace down to the point where the bike nearly fell over, I found that it wasn't so bad. Agonizingly slow, but doable. Summiting was a triumph, particularly because I knew that I was done climbing for the day. Just 12 miles down hill remained.

This time, as was enjoying the downhill ride, I judged that most of the west-east ascent was not too much steeper than what I had come up, except for the very first part out of the valley, which was absurdly steep. I really don't know if I could have made it up that initial 15% (according the sign, but it seemed steeper) incline.

I felt a little sad leaving the mountains for the last time. I love mountains, and I hate leaving them. Particularly for the noisy, trafficky Lake Champlain valley.

I think riding on the busy loweland highway discouraged me. I was suddenly feeling ready to chuck it all, to catch a train in Ticonderoga and head back to Rochester and my car. And the thought of heading out into the wild and wooly Adirondaks was equally daunting. I know how empty they are, at least this time of year, when there are no tourists. Perhaps I should just declare victory and end the trip?

I decided to put off deciding until Ticonderoga in the morning. The train was scheduled to go through at 2:30 pm, so I had plenty of time to decide.

Delicious "Michigan Style" chili dog at the A and W next door to my motel. (The motel had signs plastered everywhere: "Absolutely no bikes in your room! And that means you, Bruce Taggart, PhD." I decided to play dumb and put my bike in my room. Even more delicious than the chili dog was the chocolate milk shake. OMG it was good. Jon would have had a root beer float. I opted not to honor him by having one.

As I was reviewing the trip and thinking about ways of doing it without a route guide, I noticed in Trip Advisor that several people had raised the alarm about BED BUGS in this Middlebury motel. I noticed the plastic mattress cover (part of a bed bug treatment), but I didn't make the connection. I didn't notice any bed bugs . . . but just to be safe, I quarantined all my gear in the garage when I got home. No bed bugs in a campground, at least none that you didn't bring yourself. Note to self.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 2. Conway to Orford, NH. 77 miles.

STILL HOT! Ugh. It got up to 90˚ today. Better than 93˚, but not much.

The started beautifully, after a lovely muffin and coffee from the Conway Quicki Mart (or whatever it's called). The first 7 miles were up a little used road that parallel the state highway (on the other side of the Swift River). Lovely start to the day.
Covered bridge over the Swift River on Passaconaway Rd.

The first order of business was to be Kancamagus Pass, the highest on the trip. I figured doing first thing, when it's relatively cool and I'm relatively fresh would be a breeze. Oh I could have used more breeze. The first 18 miles were great. Either gradually up, or even stretches of flat. But the last five were serious mountain pass action. I was able to do it in middle chainring/easy rear cog, so not nearly my easiest gear (which was lucky, because I couldn't get the front derailer to pull the chain onto the small granny gear.) But it was a long slog. And pretty darn warm. The views were great, and the ride down the other side was outstanding. Three miles of 9% grade, followed by 9 miles of steady down, to Lincoln.
Crossing the summit after a long climb.

I learned that people take offense when I insult their towns (see my discussion of Ohiopyle, PA), so I won't insult Conway. But I could. But Lincoln was better. Seemed more vibrant. Maybe it's just more touristy. And it had a McDonald's! I installed myself and started drinking diet Cokes. I also had a Filet O Fish sandwich and a blizzard or flurry or flizzard or whatever they call them. I felt rested and refreshed when I left. And I hadn't looked at the elevation profile on my route guide, so I was able to kid myself that it would be mostly flat to North Haverhill. I mean, it looked like it went along a river . . . that could be a nice meandering river valley, couldn't it?

Not quite. This not-called-a-pass pass was shorter than Kancamagus, but significantly steeper. And hotter. I was suffering, at least until I managed to bend the front derailer and rediscover my lowest gears. That was a relief. But this "pass" was perhaps even more spectacular, since it goes up the flank of a nearly 5000' mountain, which is big around here. (Mount Washington, the highest in these parts, is 6200 or so.) This pass was where the Appalachian Trail crosses the route, after it goes over said 5000˚ mountain. That must be quite a hike.

From the top of the not-pass, I could see that the sky was darkening. I knew that there were storms moving through the area as a cold front moved in (please!), but there was no way of predicting when that would be. So I set out at the beginning of the day and hoped for the best. So there was the ominous sky in the west, obviously moving my way. Could I make to to North Haverhill before the storm did? I gave it my best shot. 

It was lots of downhill, of course, as I descending into the Connecticut River valley. Not all downhill, however. There were a few nuisance climbs as I wound around for the final plunge.

I had about 13 miles to the "town" of North Haverhill, which my route guide promised had full services.  Figured I'd be safe there. So I hurried. The storm hurried. I hurried. The storm hurried more and won the race. I was one mile short of "town"  when it hit. The rain came a pummeling down, and I needed a place to hole up. And there it was! The sheltered side of a bus repair service garage. Just an overhanging roof, really, but it was enough for me. I cowered in the shelter and watched the storm rage. Not a lot of wind, but lots and lots of rain. Copious amounts. Torrential amounts.

It did let up, and I did venture out, hoping to find a place to sit and ponder my next move. I didn't find it. Just a convenience store. I bought orange juice and was on my way. Maybe the rain was done.


Why did I hole up during the storm? As I was riding south toward the only port in the storm, The Pastures (odd name) campground, the sky opened up again.

By the time I arrived I was totally soaked. But I have to say, that last 15 miles in the dusky rainstorm along the Connecticut River was very pleasant.  It was a blessed relief to be cool (if wet). When I rolled in to The Pastures, the nice owner charged me only $10 and said I could pitch my tent under the pavillion, a covered area that is used as a little performance space in summer (complete with glitter ball!).

So as the rain pounded on the metal roof of the pavillion, I set up my tent, using chair legs instead of tent pegs. It was perfect. All of my clothes (at least what I had been wearing) were soaked, but my tent and sleeping gear were dry.

The Pastures was a typical private "residential" campground. Lots of parked RVs, many with decks, most with party lights, serving as summer homes. But why there, on the not very beautiful banks of the Connecticut River in a not very beautiful campground? Don't get me wrong: It was a typical private campground of its sort. Perfectly usable restroom, quite nice showers, but not where I'd want to spend my summer.

I went to the "store" up the road and bought their finest baked beans. (Actually, I bought Campbell's, instead of the much better Bush's) and a 24 oz PBR. Cooked it up on my little alcohol stove, went to bed dry and happy. Luckily, my air mattress made the hard wood floor of the pavillion as soft as a feather bed. (I always sleep very well in my lightweight mummy bag on my full length Big Agnes air mattress. Highly recommended.

So what did I learn on this day? I can ride the mountains, but I don't like heat. My little clown bike (OK: Bike Friday, New World Tourist) rides great. It even carries quite a heavy load in panniers.

I didn't learn this today, but I remembered it from previous trips: I don't like that feeling at the end of the day of not knowing where I'm going to sleep that night.  To be honest, I was hoping for a cheap motel, where I could dry off, drink PBR, and watch TV. The Pastures was fine, I slept great in my tent, but it's not exactly getting out into the great outdoors.

So in this way, the shorter days that Jon prefers are ideal: You set a modest goal, and when you get there you quit. None of the end of the day scramble for a place to stay and its nagging anxiety. You go 50 miles and you stop. But that's not in my nature.

 I know that I could always do a Ken Kifer and stealth camp, but that just doesn't sound fun. I admire Ken Kifer's style of bike touring, but it's not for me.

Really, what I like about these trips is the biking. Camping is fine, but it's hard to call it camping when you're in a pitty private campground surrounded by party lights and satellite dishes. I enjoyed going 77 miles today, over a couple of whopping passes, and being in the middle of the beautiful White Mountains. Perhaps I should just do loop tours through beautiful areas: Green Mountains, Adirondacks, Rockies, Cascades, staying in Inns and motels at predetermined distances. Hm. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Summer Tour, 2013: Day 1, 60 miles

Oh brother was it hot. 93˚ by mid afternoon. Here it was snowing two weeks ago, and now it's in the nineties.

From the comfort of my air-conditioned motel room in Conway, NH, I can say that it was awful but I survived. I wasn't sure I would, though.

Because I was leaving from Portland, I had to improvise the route until I rejoined the Northern Tier guide in Freyburg. I picked a reasonably direct route that used a combination of state roads and back roads. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Back roads are quiet and pass by interesting local scenes, but they have the bad habit of going straight over hills. This is true around the country, and I normally don't mind, but IT WAS HOT! I was baking on those slow slogs. And my front granny gear doesn't want to catch. (Actually, there's something going on with the cable; either it's too loose . . . Actually, that's probably it.)

State highways, on the other hand, tend to go around hills, following river valleys when possible. But they are loaded with traffic. Many of them in Maine have wide shoulders, which makes the traffic irrelevant. But many don't. The last half of the day was on those roads.

But the riding would have been totally fine, even the roller coaster hills, if it hadn't been 93˚.That was just too hot. Getting out of Portland was easy (after a tasty breakfast at this bike tourist's favorite restaurant: McDonald's. (Ask me about the $1 soft drinks. No need. I'll tell you when I get to the second HOT day.)

I didn't hardly get lost (thanks to GPS, of course). And, once on the state highway, I slogged along, stopping frequently whenever a small patch of shade appeared.

I do know better, but I just didn't feel like eating, and I didn't have the usual snacks. This part of Maine is not exactly a riot of convenience stores. I bought OJ and caramel corn from a campground store on Lake Sebago. But I didn't even eat the caramel corn. Too hot. And I certainly didn't drink enough. Don't ask about my urine.

As I neared Freyburg, I stumbled on a new rail trial, less than a year old, which took me around, not through, town. It was a risk I was willing to take, because there was a visitor's center at the end of the trail, four miles away. I figured it would be air conditioned, and they'd let me sit. It was, and they did. Nice folks, in a Welcome to Maine (from NH) tourism deal. I drank lots of cold water and cooled off in their air conditioning. My plan still was to go to Conway, get something to eat (or buy groceries, then push on for the first National Forest campground, which was sure to be nice. (They usually are.)

But after seven miles in the still brutal heat, I was ready to vomit when I reached Conway. Riding another seven miles up the Swift River valley seemed impossible. If there had been a McDonald's (or its fast-food equivalent) where I could have vegged out and rehydrated (and had dinner) and cooled off, I could have made it. But there wasn't. There was a Mexican restaurant and an ice cream stand. (Even that didn'ty sound good. That's how far gone I was.) So I stretched out on the grass, in the shade, and considered my options. 

The best one seemed to be to go back to the Scenic View Motel, which I passed on the way into town. So I went back, hoping that it wouldn't be $150. It wasn't: $70. All the air conditioning (courtesy of a wheezy Heier window AC unit) I could want. For dinner? Jonathon's Seafood Restaurant. It looked like fried clams were the specialty. My clam chowder and haddock were fine. I was in and out in about 15 minutes. I should have taken a book. Or a friend.

Blissful sleep in a quite comfortable bed.

What I learned this first day of my solo tour: I hate hot. I wasn't prepared for it, with my ultra light shirts that I soak in water and then wear wet for blissful airconditioning. That would have helped. I still could have done it with the T-shirt I was wearing. Why didn't I? Note to self.

I also learned that motels are quite nice. Although Jon and I don't interact very much in the camp site, his company is nice to have and makes a camp site in a dingy private campground a little less pathetic. When I'm alone, air conditioning, wi-fi, and cable TV look pretty good.

So that was day one. I was not looking forward to another day of heat, particularly going over the passes in the White Mountains of NH.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Underway, New England, 2013

So far, so good. After a hectic start, in which I had serious doubts about carrying everything on the clown bike (I think it will work), I crawled into the van and set off. Starting at 6:30 pm meant that I wouldn't arrive in Buffalo until 1:00 am. But that's when I was supposed to get on the train in Indiana, so instead of a night on the train, I had a night in Red Roof Inn. Much better.

I got all my stuff on the train and got myself installed in a seat. Now I'm enjoying a lovely train ride.
My bike, in its case, on the Lake Shore Limited.

What a day. The train ride was great. Rolled in to Boston a little late, but not too late for the bus to Portland. But here's the problem: The bike in its soft bag is HEAVY and CUMBERSOME. I had to schlepp the huge bike bag and my big green duffel bag to the bus terminal next door, up and down stairs. I thought I'd die. And then when the bus arrived in Portland, I had to schlepp the ensemble from the bus terminal to the Clarion hotel. Not far, but far enough to make me swear I would never do it that way again. 

Rollers for the bike bag? A skateboard? Pack it in the suitcase and give up on camping so that I don't need to carry all the camping gear? Maybe. 

I was glad to get to my room at 12:30 am. I unpacked the bike to make sure I hadn't bent it in half. And I went to bed with my fingers crossed that everything would fit on the bike.
What was inside the bag
Assembled, loaded, ready to go.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This Summer's Configuration

Here is the way the Rambouillet is set up this summer:

Notice the threadless stem adapter and super tall and short stem. Looks silly, but it's quite comfy.

Notice the seatpost rack and rack trunk. I tried a Riv seat bag, but I didn't like having it hit my legs, and I didn't like the single large space in which things rolled around. The rack trunk and rack are a little heavier, but I like the rigidity and the multiple compartments.

Notice also the foam pad on the Terry Liberator saddle. Very comfy with my J&G touring shorts.

In the background is Glen Lake, from the Pierce Stocking scenic drive, one of my daily rides in northern Michigan.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tour Planning 2013, part 1

Now that it's almost May, it's time to start thinking about summer tours. It seems that Jon and I will discontinue our new/old tradition of a joint tour this summer (our riding/touring styles are diverging enough to create an unfavorable cost:benefit ratio, if I may be cryptic), which I regret. He and I have been touring together, at least on mini-tours, since 1975, not counting a big child-rearing gap in the 80s and 90s.

So now I'm faced with the prospect of touring alone. Although I would rather have company, the thought of joining an organized group tour is horrifying. I've had people say to me, "I always do RAGBRAI (or Michigan's equivalent, DALMAC). You should, too! You'd love it!" But I wouldn't love it. Taking a tour with a cast of (quite literally) thousands sounds awful. I don't want company THAT much. Maybe I don't want company much, at all. I don't like biking with people, in general. They're either too slow or too fast. I realize that group tours aren't really group rides; people go at their own pace, often not seeing their fellow tourists at all between daily departures and arrivals Still, it doesn't sound fun. (Although I have been tempted by the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, I must confess, mostly because it sounds so impossibly difficult--an interesting challenge.)

So, can I do it? Take a week-long tour on my own? I think so, and here's the tentative plan:

I propose to start my Trans-Am by installment trip this summer. I will pack the clown bike into its suitcase and take trains and buses to Brunswick, ME, then follow the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route guide to Rochester, NY (550 miles, perhaps?), where I'll catch Amtrak back to my car in IN. At 70 miles/day, that's 8 days (or so) of riding. Since I have already biked the Rochester-Buffalo leg, I could start in Buffalo next summer, and ride across Canada back to MI and Empire. Then perhaps Empire to Minneapolis the following summer, Minneapolis to western N Dak, etc, always starting and/or ending at Amtrak stations.

So stay tuned.

Equipment report, indirectly related: I put Scwalbe Marathon 406 x 38 tires (100 PSI) on the clown bike yesterday, hoping for a nice combination of cush and rolliness. Mission accomplished. Really a good combination. I had them pumped up to about 85 PSI.

The reservations are made. Train to Boston, bus to Portland, ME, arriving at midnight. There's a hotel near the bus station, so I'll spend the night there, then start the next day, joining the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route halfway through day 1.

I think I'll be able to pack the clown bike in its soft case to carry on the train. (At least, Amtrak says its possible to carry a folding bike as a piece of luggage; I'll carry a copy of their official luggage policy, in case the conductor gives me a hard time.) That way, I won't need too tow a trailer. The trailer is fine, and I have ridden hundreds of miles towing it, but I think it will be easier just to use panniers. I have rigged up a rear rack on the clown bike (just a stock rack that I have bent the stays to fit), which still allows the bike to fit in its soft case when folded. I'll try to put on a front rack on my way to the Indiana train station. (My winter home is exactly on the way, so I'll stop and mow the lawn and make final preparations for the trip.)

I decided that getting on the train at 1:15 a.m. is onerous but acceptable. It's by far the cheapest way to go, once airport parking and luggage fees are factored in. I have reserved a return trip from Rochester, NY. I hope I'll be able to keep to the schedule. 

I was going to catch the train in Indiana at 1:15 a.m. tomorrow night, arriving Boston 9:15 p.m., in time to catch the last bus to Portland, but the thought of pushing into a seat in the middle of the night, riding all night and all day, and not getting to my hotel until midnight sounded awful. And then, at the end, I'd need to reverse the process from Rochester to Indiana.

On my daily ride (see the picture, above), I got to thinking. (That's what daily rides are good for, among other things.) Why not just drive to Rochester and leave my car there? Catch the same train, but at 10 a.m. instead of 1:00 a.m.? Then, at the end of the trip, just jump in my car and drive away? I wouldn't even need to fold the bike back up. That way, if I finished a day early or a day late, I wouldn't need to rearrange a ticket. I like driving (I even fixed the radio in the van), and I'm willing to pay extra to avoid two nights on a train. So I did it.

Here's the funny thing: It turns out that I had a ticket from Indiana to Boston ON THE WRONG NIGHT! I searched for May 30 (Thursday), meaning Thursday night. Amtrak gave me May 30, 1:00 a.m., meaning WEDNESDAY NIGHT. I was too dumb to realize my mistake until I went to cancel the ticket. Lucky me. (Amtrak lets you cancel for a full refund up to 24 hours before the trip.)

So I saved $110 on train tickets, but I'll pay an extra $150 for gasoline, plus an extra $70 for a motel tomorrow night. But I'll save, say, $20 on train food. So let's say I'm paying an extra . . . call it $100. Worth it. Oh, and tolls. I'll need to pay tolls on the Turnpikes. Still worth it.

I should be apprehensive about this trip, having never taken such a long one by myself before. But mostly, I'm looking forward to it. I've done a lot of bike touring, so I know the drill. I think I'll have the right gear. I think the clown bike will work well carrying a load (rather than towing a trailer). I like riding by myself. I think I won't like camping by myself, but it will be OK. I have a new iPhone, so that will help me stay connected when I'm feeling lonely. (Although I'm sure I won't get much service in the mountains.)

I was thinking of using the iPhone as my documentary camera on the trip, but, quite frankly, the pictures it takes are crap. I'll take my little Canon Powershot SD4000, which takes lovely pictures. Extra weight, granted, but worth it.