Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deux mille bornes!

If you're as cool as I am (wink wink), you are no doubt aware of the card game Mille Bornes. Perhaps like me, you even played it with your friends during lunch period in school growing up before graduating to Pass the Pigs in high school. That's right. I'm just that cool.

The object of Mille Bornes is to pass mille bornes (French for 'one thousand milestones') while dodging problems (like running out of gas and having accidents) in order to travel 1,000 miles, or in the case of modern day France, 1,000 kilometers. (Maybe some day we'll evolve sufficiently in this country to adopt the metric system as well, but for now we're stuck with the arcane mile, but I digress.) 

Now, to the point of my post... Today, on my way home from work, I passed my 2,000th bicycle commuting borne for this year! Well, not literally. Only the trail has marked mileage, and it's on poles, not nifty little tombstone-like stone markers. But I have now traveled more than 2,000 bike commuting miles so far this year.


Since I've been at this bike commuting thing for better part of three years now, these kinds of milestones have become something of an annual occurence for me. I've hit the 2,000 mile mark before, but that doesn't make it any less sweet.

When you cover this kind of mileage in roughly 7.5 mile increments twice a day as I do, it's easy to forget that all those little trips add up to thousands of miles a year. Pausing to reflect and realizing I've commuted over 2,000 miles by bike at the end of August gives me more of a sense of accomplishment than I get from arriving home after work knowing I've ridden 15 miles round trip that day. 

You can also use these year-to-date totals to amaze and impress your friends! How far is 2,000 miles, for instance? Well, a quick measure in Google shows that it's roughly the distance from Alexandria, VA to Boise, ID. Not bad. Certainly has more gravity than one day's 15 miles of commuting does. It's also roughly the distance between Alexandria and Las Vegas, but since I'd much rather visit Boise in my lifetime than Las Vegas, I'll use Boise as an example. Besides, it's also fun to think that this means I have ridden far enough to get to the farms where the potatoes are grown to make those Five Guys fries I love so much!
 
More practically, keeping track of this kind of mileage figure is good in terms of bike maintenance. It's always good to have at least a rough idea how many miles you've racked up on a set of tires or a chain and cassette. Keep records long enough and you have a sense of how many miles you've put on longer lasting items like a wheel or chainrings on the crankset, much in the same way that if you're very serious about car maintenance you'd keep track of how many miles you have on your tires, your brake pads, and belts. Of course, bikes are generally a lot easier and cheaper to maintain. ;-)

Now it's time to turn my attention to the next big milestone, 3,000 miles (and beyond). By year's end I should have covered over 3,200 miles commuting by bicycle to and from work and class. 

Now if only they'd build a bridge straight across the Atlantic, that'd be far enough to go from the DC area to the southwest tip of Ireland! Erin Go Bragh!\

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Are the Tide

There's exciting news, and then there's exciting news!!! This falls into the latter category.

Blind Pilot's new album, We Are the Tide, is set to be released September 13. That much I knew. I was already excited, but thought I had to wait a couple more weeks to hear the whole album.

New album to be released September 13

But now, thanks to the great folks over at National Public Radio, the new album is now available for streaming in its entirety in the First Listen section of NPR

I'm streaming it now as I work on some readings for classes, and I'm impressed. Their last album was really good, and this album, while a tad slower at times, is solid. The music is really good. I strongly recommend checking it out. That $5 credit to Amazon mp3 that I have is definitely going towards the purchase of this album!

So, why does this great news make it to my cycling blog? There is a very direct connection here. As NPR points out, they
have logged thousands of miles' worth of touring on bicycles, even after Blind Pilot's audience grew well beyond the West Coast [...] With its broad appeal and good-natured grace, We Are the Tide stands to keep them off the bikes and in buses for the foreseeable future. Environmental impact aside, that can only be a good thing.
That's right, they toured on bicycles, instruments in tow. That's how I first heard of them... they were that band that had toured from Seattle to San Francisco, going from gig to gig by bicycle. And they're coming back to DC! I saw them last time they came through, and I hope to be in the audience for their next DC concert, even if they didn't ride their bikes all the way here from their native Portland, Oregon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Have a Dream...

...that one day, cycling will be considered a worthwhile mode of transportation and included in all planning, especially that of the National Park Service in the urban core of a major metropolitan city like Washington.

I took poetic license with the famous words of the great Martin Luther King, Jr., because it is at the new monument dedicated to him that bike parking is becoming a hot issue for cyclists in DC these days.

From Greater Greater Washington (GGW) (with a link to my favorite DC cycling blog, Washcycle):
What about biking? Certainly the crowds around the Memorial itself make biking an inconsiderate choice in close proximity to the ceremony, but bike parking and/or a bike valet a short distance away would allow people to bike to the event and reduce Metro congestion. Unfortunately, there appears to be no bike parking at the memorial at all. 
GGW goes on to add:
That's not terribly surprising, as the MLK, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation website makes no mention of biking whatsoever. It appears as if biking was not even considered as an transportation option. In contrast, the a shuttle bus for drivers is provided from the parking lots at RFK stadium.
I double checked myself and did manage to find the following about bike parking at the Memorial on their website (underlining mine):

Landscape the bookstore plaza – Surrounding the auxiliary building are more cherry trees, benches, pavers and bike racks, water fountains and trash receptacles.
Mind you, that's the only place on the entire site where there's information about bike parking. I was only able to find it using Google and searching the entire site for the word "bike".

Two thoughts. First, discussion of bikes at the Memorial belongs on a page that's a little easier to find than this. Scratch that, discussion of how anyone(not just cyclists) can get to the Memorial should be easier to find than this! The complete URL for the one page with the word bike is the incredibly easy to find/remember:
http://www.mlkmemorial.org/site/c.hkIUL9MVJxE/b.6134613/k.76F4/Construction_Milestones.htm

Secondly, I think it's sad when bike racks are simply a "landscaping" element.

Here are a couple photos (not mine) of the current bike parking arrangement at the Memorial:

http://yfrog.com/ke7l2rwj
http://yfrog.com/hs57wcfjhttp://yfrog.com/hs57wcfj

I'll try not to prejudge the Memorial. Construction is sure to continue even though it's now "open". I certainly hope that they install their "landscape elements" soon. Given the metro is so far away and that we shouldn't be encouraging too many cars to head downtown, it would do a lot to make the MLK Memorial more accessible to everyone. And given what Dr. King fought for, isn't that kind of accessibility something the Memorial should strive to incorporate?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Help Shape Cycling's Future in the DC Area

Taking a break from cleaning up from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene to share the following request from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), which is holding a series of meetings this fall aimed at helping to "[shape] the future of bicycling" in the DC region. The pre-meeting for my jurisdiction (Alexandria) conflicts with one of my classes, so I won't be able to make it, but I do plan on submitting comments as part of the process.


http://www.waba.org/events/summit.php

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake

The DC area continues to see previews of the worldwide calamities that will no doubt spell the end of civilization as we know it in 2012. How can I be so sure about the 2012 thing?! Because a critical mass of quackpots from all over the world agree and are predicting the end of the world in 2012.

The flavor of the week for last week was flooding. Today, it was a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that felt like it lasted a good twenty to thirty seconds. At work, the office was evacuated for some time before they deemed it safe to go back inside.


This did not happen in DC, but we did have an earthquake today.
Now, following the tremor, the following update is on the DC Metro's website:

Metro Earthquake Update 1
 As a result of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in the Washington, DC area:
·         As of 1:59 p.m., all trains are operating at 15 mph.
·         Metro personnel are conducting track inspections of the entire rail system.
·         There are no reported customer injuries at this time.

Customers should expect significant delays on Metrorail until further notice due to the reduced operating speed.
News release issued at 2:34 pm, August 23, 2011.

Much in the same vein as last week's post on flooding, I am glad that I will not have to deal with the impact and delays this will mean for everyone trying to take the train home tonight.
 
Next on the preview list for 2012... a possible brush starting Sunday with Hurricane Irene, which looks like it might come straight up the Chesapeake Bay after hitting North Carolina. If this keeps up, I predict that by mid-September, I will have blog posts about how my commute has (or has not) been affected by the Ebola virus, massive swarms of locusts, and huge firestorms.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A New Direction

By the time I started cycling seriously again two and a half years ago, I had already long been a proponent of denser urban development and effective public transportation. My stomach has always turned a little when I've gone a few miles further away from the DC and the close-in suburbs into the land blighted, in my opinion, by suburban sprawl, generic strip malls, and McMansion subdivisions with two SUVs in every garage. (I'm stereotyping a little here, but you get the point.) All this is to say that on some level, urban planning issues were always something I thought about.

Suburban sprawl

Then I started cycling. The vast majority of the miles I ride are commuting miles. Given the nature of where I live, that means I don't just ride on quiet residential backstreets or lightly traveled multi-use paths on weekend mornings. I was riding on more heavily traveled city streets and mixing it up with weekday rush hour traffic on the downtown streets of Washington, DC.

This new first-hand exposure to cycling as a mode of transportation and not simply a means of exercise or recreation made me begin to think more critically and seriously about what makes for good cycling amenities and what, by extension, encourages people to walk, ride a bike, or take a bus instead of hopping in a car.  It also refocused my thinking on all kinds of issues related to the ways that communities are organized - land use and zoning issues, density, development - since all of that affects the quality of the environment, of our lives, and the transportation choices we make. 

I started reading and following DC area blogs about planning issues and cycling. Combine this with a relative lack of interest in where my professional life has taken me to this point, and it wasn't a big leap from this kind of thinking to the idea of pursuing a career in the field of urban planning. Well, I finally begin taking the plunge. Today is my first day of classes in a graduate program in urban planning. 

What began with a bike ride is becoming a career change into a field for which I feel a real passion.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Morning Ride

As a daily bicycle commuter, you get used to having a bike ride or two as part of your day almost every day... of the week, that is. You'll find me out on my bike morning and evening just about every day Monday through Friday. Most people think of riding a bike as a weekend activity, but that is precisely when I am less likely to be out and about on my bike. 

Don't get me wrong, I like getting out for a ride on the weekends, especially during prime cycling seasons (for me fall and spring). It just doesn't usually happen, at least not with the frequency that occurs Monday through Friday.

Today was one of those weekend days when I make time to get out and ride. With the exception of the areas around some churches, traffic is really light on Sunday morning at 9 AM. It makes for some nice riding. I spent a little less than two hours on my bike this morning and went about 20 miles. It was a good distance for working up a little bit of a sweat, getting the blood flowing, and having some time to not really think about much except for the road I was on, my legs spinning the pedals, and the fresh air blowing in my face as I pedaled along. I also managed to stop and pick up some needed groceries on the way home. 



I start a graduate program tomorrow (more to come on that in a separate post), so between reading and research for that and other plans for the next few weekends, I have a feeling this might be the last time I get to take this kind of weekend ride for a while. 

On the plus side cycling-wise, I'll be getting an extra three or four miles of bike riding in to and from evening classes three times a week now that my graduate studies are getting underway. But I'll miss my couple hours in the saddle on a nice Saturday or Sunday morning every few weeks if I can't work that into my schedule.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When I First Conceived of Bicycle Touring

Last month I went on my first overnight bike camping trip. I rode roughly 75 miles on back-to-back days, riding out to just past Harpers Ferry, WV and back. It was something I’d thought about doing for some time; I’d started thinking about doing this specific trip a couple months after I first started riding again a few years ago.
  
My bike and tent set up on my recent overnight bike trip on the C&O Canal

In a larger sense, though, I think the very first inklings of such a trip were born when I was still a teenager. I remember going to the beach with my dad in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach. At the southern end of Sandbridge, the paved road ends at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. South of that is False Cape State Park, which sits on the border with North Carolina.



According to the state parks' official website, there is “[n]o vehicular access.” (By “no vehicular access” they mean cars. Bicycles are technically vehicles, just not motor vehicles, but I’ll let that little legal technicality slide for the purposes of this post.)

Anyway, back to my story. My dad and I went on almost yearly father-son camping trips from the time I was a little kid through the end of high school. Our camping trips were always car camping trips. We went to local state parks in Pennsylvania when we lived there. We went to places in Virginia, North Carolina, and later in upstate New York and even Qu├ębec.

False Cape State Park is not accessible by car. That meant our normal car camping modus operandi would not work. False Cape SP is, however, accessible on foot, on horseback, and by bike. I think it’s maybe 10 miles or so to the camping area. I had the idea that my dad and I should sometime take our bikes to Sandbridge and ride to the park’s primitive camping area by bike.

(Primitive Camping and Beach Views at False Cape State Park, from official Flickr page)

I didn’t figure out any specific logistics and I wasn’t yet hip to the world of racks and panniers and all the things that can make bike travel easier and more convenient. But we each had a mountain bike, and I figured for an overnight trip we could probably get everything we would need (a tent, a few cans of food, toiletries, and maybe some water) in a couple backpacks. Incidentally, the tent I thought we could use for the trip is the same one as in the picture above. I’ve had that thing since I was probably eight years old. Still works! That’s all we’d need.

While I know it probably would have worked, that trip never did materialize. That’s probably because by the time I had the idea, I was already in high school and working summers. It may have been one of the summers that my work schedule kept my dad and me from taking a camping trip altogether. Even if it wasn’t I don’t think I ever mentioned the idea except perhaps in passing. Now, though, I realize that what I have come to know as bicycle touring or bicycle camping is something I wanted to try almost twenty years ago. And even if it took nearly two decades before I actually took a trip involving a tent and a bicycle, I’m glad I finally did it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On naming a bicycle

If you’re like me, you like to give names to certain inanimate objects and possessions in your life. In my life, I think it started with my parents’ habit of giving nicknames to their cars… Nina and Bertha being more recent examples.

So, when I first got (back) into cycling a few years ago, I had a challenge: to name my new bike. Fortunately, inspiration didn’t take long to strike with that first bike. She was Winnie. I had no doubt it was a girl, and the name (derived from the brand name Schwinn) rolled off the tongue just the right way.

My Schwinn is no more, and I am now the proud owner of a Surly Long Haul Trucker. I’ve been struggling with a nickname for this bike for months, though. I’ve had no shortage of ideas. These have included Orson and Napoleon (pigs in Garfield and Animal Farm respectively, based on the fact that the headset on my bike is FSA’s “The Pig”); Bubba (a classic trucker name); Bessie; and Dorothy AKA “Dot”. Yet none of these seemed to have that certain something.

Perhaps coming up with or committing to a name this time is more difficult because I hope to have my Surly for years decades to come. Maybe there has been something else keeping the creative juices from flowing. I don’t know. In any case, I’d been struggling to come up with a name for some time. Feeling stuck, I turned to the all-knowing Internet for inspiration and ideas.

Recently, I came across a site full of random name generators. It’s actually fairly entertaining and good for killing a few minutes if you’re interested. I tried the trucker name generator  there. It seemed logical, given the model name of my new bicycle. One trucker name stuck with me a little: Thunder. I got that by entering my own first name into the trucker name generator and entering sex as a male. Thunder happens to be the name of the dog I had when I was a kid. He had a lot of black fur (my bike is black), and was a faithful companion in the life (just as I am sure my bike will be). So, in some ways it seemed a good match, but still, it just didn’t grab me like I wanted a name to. I wanted something new and unique.

Last week, I got nerdy with the name generator site and excitedly clicked on the link to the Vulcan name generator. Yes, that's right... as in Star Trek planet Vulcan, birthplace of Spock. I typed in Long Haul Trucker, chose female, and got the name “Belna”. According to the name generator, Belna is Vulcan for “strong maiden”. Such a fitting description of my Surly, given the nature of an ideal touring bike... strong and sturdy, carrying a cyclist, full panniers, a tent, and who knows what else on its back. The name is really growing on me the more I think about it. And I'm becoming increasingly certain that my bike is indeed a she.


So, I’m going to give it a couple more days to make sure it really sticks, but I think I many finally have a name for my Surly… Belna. That’s Belle for short, because she’s a beauty.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Flood

Upon waking up this morning and checking my e-mail, I saw I'd received the following breaking news alert in my inbox. 
Flooding forces Metro to suspend Blue and Yellow line service between Reagan National and Braddock Road. Shuttle service has been set up.

Photo from the Wilkes County Photographs Collection


Were I still an everyday rider of Metro, this would be a serious pain in my behind. Instead, it just means, at worst, that I need to avoid a Four Mile Run Trail and detour through Crystal City for my morning commute. Times like this, I especially appreciate the convenience of bicycle commuting.

Update: The flooding was not along Four Mile Run. I rolled in on my regular commute route.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saluton mondo!

Saluton mondo! This simple two word phrase is one of the few things I still really remember from a past feeble attempt to teach myself some basic Java programming. It means “Hello world!” in Esperanto and it’s what this blog is saying now!

Lest I confuse you, this blog is most definitely not about computer programming. While my attempts to teach myself Java failed to gain traction, one thing that certainly did gain traction a few years ago was a renewed, and in many ways new found, love of bicycles.

I loved my bike as a kid. I remember riding my BMX bike around and around the neighborhood where I lived as a little kid in Western Pennsylvania or to friends’ houses when I lived in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia during middle school and high school.

I’ll save some of those details of my childhood bike riding for future blog posts so I don’t get too far off track here. Suffice it to say that as I got older, I strayed somewhat from that childhood interest in cycling, eventually giving up a bike that I had when I went to Peace Corps.

Finally, a couple years ago, I procured a new bike. I had wheels and I fell in love with cycling again in a way I hadn’t since I was a kid, and probably not even then. I haven’t looked back since.

This blog will be my forum to share and discuss my passion for cycling: my experiences commuting daily by bicycle between Alexandria, VA and Washington, DC; bicycle touring; urban planning, bicycle advocacy and safety issues; professional cycling; and other random musings.

Welcome to my blog! Enjoy!