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Category: travel (Page 1 of 14)

Coffeeneuring 2015: When You Have The Time… (updated 22 Oct)

Another year of Coffeeneuring is in the books. As I’m currently without a job*, there was a bit more freedom in my ability to adventure and log stops (I’ll also note any supplemental stops in another posting).

There is the suggestion of a “theme within a theme” in this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge. The closest I could come up with is “places that also serve baked goods,” but I think I’m going to settle on the approach of Monty Python’s “Bruces” sketch and claim that my secondary theme was to have no secondary theme. I simply enjoyed the rides too much, and relished the tasty beverages to the point of throwing the secondary theme out the proverbial window – that’s OK, MG, am I right? 😉

Note that you can see the route and additional pictures from each Coffeeneuring outing by clicking on the link in the “Distance” line – visual reference is a good thing, right?

Adventure the First:
Date: 3 October 2015
Distance: 6.1 miles
Location: A Baked Joint, Mt. Vernon Square, Washington DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (bike shop adjacent, though no bike racks anywhere to be seen, free H2O refills)
Drink: latté

#coffeeneuring stop the first: A Baked Joint! And a rainy ride to get here.

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: A Baked Joint is a wonderful space, their bread is fantastic, and their coffee drinks are every bit as good as those at Baked & Wired (without the cupcake-driven crowds). Given BicycleSPACE is next door, it’s bewildering that there isn’t a bike rack out front. We rode through rain and drizzle during almost all riding parts of this adventure.
Also Visited: 5th Street Hardware (they offer many fun sodas from all over the country – bought Frostop root beer and red birch beer), Safeway, Giant, Whole Foods (these last three in search of panang curry paste – a fruitless endeavor).

Adventure the Second:
Date: 7 October 2015
Distance: 60.3 miles
Location: Dunkin Donuts, Hyattstown, MD
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (on a busy road, no bike racks tho none needed)
Drink: double shot of espresso

The most twee little espresso cup for a weekday #coffeeneuring outing in Hyattsville, MD.

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: This stop was during a test ride of a Potomac Pedalers route. Espresso shots at Dunkin are the cheapest coffee drink on the menu: 69¢ per shot (sometimes as expensive as 99¢), and it’s a generous shot that tastes quite good. The espresso shot cup at Dunkin is the cutest little cup. Crossing MD-355 to Clarksburg is not too appealing, though once past the new condo subdivisions there are some spectacular farms and quiet, shaded roads. Unemployment/Retirement Rule invoked.

Adventure the Third:
Date: 12 October 2015
Distance: 53.9 miles
Location: Coriander Café, Eastford, CT
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (many great, bike-friendly roads lead there, no racks for locking but no need, staff love cyclists, free H2O refills, cyclist-friendly to-go snacks – e.g. homemade oat bars)
Drinks: pumpkin latté and double shot of espresso

The goods: pumpkin latté, double espresso, danish, and an oat bar for on-the-bike noshing. #coffeeneuring

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: Eastford is a big town with a tiny commercial center. Coriander Café’s food and drink are first class without the prices typically associated with such lovely fare. The riding to and from traverses Yale Forest, which is peaceful and beautiful, with one route through the woods on smooth, blissful dirt. Tara Rule invoked.

Adventure the Fourth:
Date: 14 October 2015
Distance: 8.0 miles
Location: Block Island Ferry en route from Block Island to Point Judith, RI
Bike Friendliness: n/a (it’s a ferry – bike parking is ample and secure, I guess)
Drink: hot cocoa

The #coffeeneuring beverage of choice is hot cocoa on the @blockislandferry – yum!

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: Block Island is a beautiful place, though if you go after Columbus Day many businesses are shuttered for the season. This made for tough hot drink discovery. We had sub-par hot drinks at Mohegan Café and Brewery (the drip coffee was decent, the hot tea was very blah), so the Block Island Ferry was the better option – and a more unique venue (the Atlantic Ocean) for a hot drink after 8 miles of lovely bike touring on the island. Vacation Rule invoked.
Also Visited: North Lights Fibers (alpacas in the yard!), Southern Point lighthouse, Mohegan Bluffs, Crescent Beach, old burial ground, airport.

Greetings from Mohegan Bluffs! #coffeeneuring #bikeRI #radlerlife #blockisland

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Adventure the Fifth: DISQUALIFIED (more than two stops in a week)!
Date: 16 October 2015
Distance: 7.6 miles
Location: The Coupe, Columbia Heights, Washington DC
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (bike lane adjacent, plentiful racks, free H2O refills)
Drinks: hot cider with bourbon, espresso shot

#coffeeneuring stop the fifth: bourbon hot cider & espresso for me, lavender cocoa for sprite at The Coupe.

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: The Coupe’s menu is very veggie/vegan friendly. Their PB&J sundae flip-turns the concept, with concord grape ice gream and peanut butter sauce (delicious). Vacation Rule invoked.
Also Visited: Upshur Street Books, The BakeHouse.

Adventure the Sixth:
Date: 17 October 2015
Distance Ridden: 5.2 miles
Location: Dublin Coffee Roasters, Frederick, MD
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (busy road, easy to leave bike outside but no easy locking places, free H2O refills)
Drink: drip coffee plus bean purchase


Lesson Learned: Woman owned-and-operated coffee roaster where no beans for sale are more than 4 days from roasting. Big spaces inside used for community meetings (can be reserved). Raise money for many local charities. Can buy a bottomless mug of in-house drip coffee and have hand-pours of anything they have recently roasted. Across the street from Monocacy Brewing Company (must visit next time). did this ride after a scheduled Potomac Pedalers ride (Feats of Strength).

I also bought some freshly roasted beans at @dublin_roasters – yummmmmy! #coffeeneuring #bikeMD #radlerlife

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Adventure the Seventh:
Date: 18 October 2015
Distance Ridden: 2.1 miles
Location: Teaism, Dupont Circle, Washington DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (bike lane adjacent, shortage of racks but no shortage of lock-to objects, free H2O refills)
Drink: hot chai

We polished off the chai before we snapped the pic – we wanted warm drinks! #coffeeneuring

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: The only location I’ve been to before (as it is 1.5 blocks from my house). New menu is OK, though the new, locally-sourced flatbread is inferior to the not-as-local naan they used to serve.

Bikes en route. #coffeeneuring #bikeDC #radlerlife

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on

Adventure the Eighth:
Date: 19 October 2015
Distance Ridden: 65.5 miles
Location: Main Street Daily Grind, Front Royal, VA
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (no official bike parking, tho easy to lean bike against shop exterior within clear view, clean bathrooms, quiet road)
Drink: latté

#coffeeneuring stop the eighth: latté at Daily Grind in Front Royal, VA. #bikeVA #radlerlife

A photo posted by Rudi Riet (@therandomduck) on


Lesson Learned: I’d never been to this coffee shop in Front Royal, and it’s a lovely place. Yes, you need to leave Shenandoah National Park to get to it, but it’s worth the 1.5 miles of detour. The foliage on Skyline Drive was peak to slightly past peak, quite lovely though not as fluorescent as I experienced in the Berkshires. Dustin, my riding mate, was a good rabbit – my legs were shot by mile 50 or so, with my core being in suffer mode all day due to four (!) core workouts the day before.

 

* – Yes, I’m without a job right now. I’m in search of a job in transportation/cycling consulting, or IT project management that skews toward transportation or urban design. Consult my other site for CV info.

coffeeneuring 2014 (sure, this is #projectfemur, why not?)

Riding in the pursuit of coffee (or reasonable substitutes) is a great way to keep #projectfemur in shape.

Yes, I’m riding my bike again – have been since August 8th – but haven’t written about it. That will come soon, but for now? Let’s talk coffeeneuring.

Once again, Mary G. has rallied the cycling troops for the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge. The basic rules: over seven weekends, ride in pursuit of coffee, tea, cider, or craft soda, document the experience, and, well, end up writing it all up for folks to enjoy.

Easy, right? So here we go!

Stop 1:
Date: 5 October 2014
Location: Country Convenience, Blue Grass, VA
Bike Friendliness: no racks, but safe to lean bikes against front porch of store – guard cat on duty.
Drink: Pure Leaf Sweet Iced Tea
Distance: 89.3 miles
The store cat at Country Convenience, Blue Grass, VA
Notes: This is a favorite ride of mine, especially during foliage season. The second rest stop is at a classic country store, where the store cat is still loving as ever. While the coffee is somewhat blah, I tend to go for cold beverages at this stop (thus the iced tea, which quickly made its way into my bike bidon). The foliage in the Blue Grass valley was stunning and at peak color. The only damper on the day: Chris’ crash only a few miles past the store, which resulted in a broken clavicle (and our having to shortcut the route – and add 500-or-so feet of climbing – due to the wait for EMS to arrive).
Jonathan rides past Blue Grass Valley foliage.

Stop 2:
Date: 13 October 2014 (Columbus Day)
Location: Starbucks, East Longmeadow, MA
Bike Friendliness: no rack, but felt OK leaving bike outside for 5 minutes.
Drink: double espresso
Distance: 22.9 miles
The Rudi Projekt and a double shot.
Notes: This was a recovery ride and foliage excursion the day after the Great River Ride, so the pace was mellow. The foliage at Hurds Lake was stunning (see picture below). I stopped to say hi to Chip at Competitive Edge Ski and Bike (he’s due for hip replacement this fall). As it was late afternoon, I decided to take the most direct route back to Somers on Route 83, which passes a Starbucks. The barista knowingly asked if I wanted a lid for the espresso (I didn’t), and the hand-pulled (!) double shot was very tasty. Glad I had my full set of lights on the bike, as I rolled home after dark.
The foliage at Hurds Lake, Somers, CT

Stop 3:
Date: 15 October 2014
Location: Farm Market, Peterborough, NH
Bike Friendliness: outdoor park, no rack, but no worries about theft.
Drink: coffee bean purchase from Parker House Coffee (micro roaster)
Distance: 6.3 miles
Parker House Coffee beans, Peterborough Farmers Market
Notes: This was a lovely pre-dinner/pre-movie ride with sprite. By exploring the roads heading north out of Peterborough, we experienced a lovely Rotary-kept park with spillway falls and vibrant foliage. We found the local farm market, which moved from its former location in the center of town, where coffee beans were bought from the owner/operator of Parker House Coffee (he had samples of brewed coffee to try, which was a tasty treat). We then rolled to Ava Marie Chocolates for us to enjoy “hot” chocolate – the quotes needed as the milk was barely tepid, so the chocolate flake hardly melted. I chalk this up to a tired staffer who was worried about scalding the milk. After this, we returned to our car, locked up the bikes, and enjoyed our dinner and movie. Dinner was at Harlow’s Pub, featuring excellent food and drink (I really enjoyed my pumpkin black-and-tan with a cinnamon rim), and the movie was the excellent My Old Lady.
Spillway at Rotary Park, Peterborough, NH

Stop 4:
Date: 17 October 2014
Location: Amy’s Bakery Arts Café, Brattleboro, VT
Bike Friendliness: no racks, but lampposts and parking meters for locking.
Drink: maple latté
Distance: 7.0 miles *
Hot beverages (cider and maple latté) at Amy's
Notes: We initially attempted to ride in NH, but the road on the other side of the Connecticut River was a bit too crazy for our tastes, so we rolled back into Brattleboro and had drinks and food at Amy’s. We love Amy’s: great drinks (including the best maple latté you’ll ever have, made with locally-roasted beans from Mocha Joe’s and maple syrup from a local farm), and the food there is equally fantastic. The view from the dining area is a technicolor feast in the autumn. After lunch we rode to Grafton Cheese and the Retreat Petting Farm along Route 30. After rolling a little further out, we turned back toward town. I broke off to see the town ski jump, which is up a steep hill. After re-connecting at the town green, we rolled back into town and had fun at Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, the Brattleboro Co-Op, and Mocha Joe’s.
Harris Hill Ski Jump, Brattleboro, VT
(* – The Strava recording is partial, as the app stopped recording along Route 30 – the full route is plotted here: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/6315947)
The Rudi Projekt at Retreat Petting Farm, Brattleboro, VT

Stop 5:
Date: 18 October 2014
Location: Hot Chocolate Sparrow, Orleans, MA
Bike Friendliness: on CCRT, plentiful racks at store.
Drink: iced coffee (outbound) and quad espresso (inbound)
Distance: 46.2 miles
The Rudi Projekt outsde Hot Chocolate Sparrow, Orleans, MA
Notes: sprite stopped here en route to Coast Guard Beach via the Cape Cod Rail Trail. I’d already taken said trail to Dennis and then back, and met her here for an iced coffee. After we finished our drinks, we continued to the beach where we saw surfers and seals battling for best wave rides. The water was chilly, but pleasant, though I did nothing more than soak my feet.
Shadow waves, Coast Guard Beach
We rode back into the sunset via Sparrow, where we purchased more hot beverages (tea for sprite, a quad espresso for me) and baked goods (pumpkin coffee cake for me, warm blueberry pie for sprite – both delicious), then charged our phones for a spell. It’s good that we had our lights, as the last few miles back to Nickerson State Park (our campsite) were in the dark on the CCRT.
sprite in sunset light on the CCRT, Wellfleet, MA

Stop 6:
Date: 19 October 2014
Location: Savory and the Sweet Escape, North Truro, MA
Bike Friendliness: no racks, but safe to leave bike outside shop while I ate inside.
Drink: coffee
Distance: 53.7 miles
Coffee, bagel, taillight, Truro
Notes: This outing had multiple purposes. I wanted to see sunrise over a Cape Cod beach (something I last did on my 21st birthday, when I was a student at Connecticut College). This meant leaving camp before dawn and riding the CCRT by headlight, encountering foxes and rabbits along the path – and not a single cyclist. I saw sunrise (muted by low clouds on the horizon), then set off toward my second goal: getting all the way to Provincetown. However, a persistent strong north-northeast headwind (20mph) and a hilly route after the CCRT ended made this a tough go, especially given time constraints (had to break camp and head back to DC). I saw folks setting up the Wellfleet Oyster Festival – something to try next time, I guess. I threw in the northbound towel in Truro at this lovely café, having ridden the whole 32 miles to this point on no food at all. The coffee and bagel were most welcome! On the return ride I enjoyed the tailwind (and a more direct start via Route 6) back to Nickerson SP to strike camp.
The Rudi Projekt outside Savory and the Sweet Escape, Truro, MA

Stop 7:
Date: 26 October 2014
Location: Capital Teas, 8th Street SE, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: bike rack outside DC Doughnuts.
Drink: darjeeling tea (hot)
Distance: 10.2 miles
Helmet, doughnuts, teas, Barracks Row
Notes: sprite and I had wanted to try District Doughnuts at their new brick-and-mortar location, so we set off to do just that. When we arrived, the sign said “CLOSED,” but the staffer inside saw our sad expressions and motioned us to enter. Although the shop had technically been closed for 15 minutes, there were plenty of doughnuts, and we bought a half dozen to share with our friend, Sarah, who was meeting us to pick up some unpasteurized cider that sprite had procured for her. We bought teas at Capital Teas, and took our loot to a pocket park at the south end of Barracks Row, enjoying the sunlight and friendship. On the way back to The Burrow, we stopped at the National Botanical Garden and took in the lovely plants and afternoon sunlight.
The bikes and District Doughnut

TOTAL DISTANCE: 235.6 miles

Once again, coffeeneuring was a fun adventure! It was fun to do a few outings with sprite, and fun to visit the coffee venues, new and old.

You can see all of the pictures from the various coffeeneuring stops here.

Days since surgery: 289

My mydunkin ad

social media connects in sweet ways

I tweet. Really – I do!

And I’ve met a lot of great people – many of whom are now friends – via Twitter. I’ve saved money via “tweet-only” special sales. Breaking news is almost always found first on Twitter.

And this past November, Twitter afforded me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to film a commercial for Dunkin Donuts.

It all started innocently enough with a tweet from Dunkin Donuts on November 21, 2013, asking me if I’d follow them back:

I thought it would be an offer for a discount coupon, given the sheer number of times I’d “checked in” at DD on road trips.

But it wasn’t.

Instead, they took fancy to the following tweet:

Yes, it’s a tweet that I posted 2.5 years earlier, but it caught the eye of Dunkin’s corporate HQ. They wanted to talk with me about “a project” they were working on, specifically with Dunkin fans. I figured it was worth a go, and I sent them my contact info.

Within the next two weeks, I was:

  • contacted by Dunkin’s PR department.
  • contacted by their ad agency, Hill Holliday.
  • contacted by ACNE Productions, who would film the ad.
  • contacted by a wardrobe consultant about my measurements.
  • booked on a flight to Chicago.

Yes, Chicago – not exactly ski country. But the commercial called for me to be in skiing mode, so I brought my full ski kit with me: skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, gloves, pants, jacket, base layers, you name it. For an overnight trip, it was a bit much.

So, all packed up, I left Washington National Airport after work on Wednesday, December 4th, arriving late in Chicago, where I caught a taxi to The Public hotel in the Gold Coast section of town. It is a gorgeous art deco hotel that has been lovingly renovated without losing any of its vintage charm.

Public Hotel lobby

Granted, I didn’t spend a long time in the hotel, as we – the film crew, the account manager, and me – had to depart our comfy digs at 4:00am to drive out to Lockport, one of Chicago’s exurbs, for our first bit of filming.

During the drive, I marveled at the call sheet for the day. This single sheet of paper listed every single person involved in the creation of a 30-second advert. Almost 70 people and organizations were listed on the call sheet – a staggering number, but they all had specific roles. Some directed, others filmed, others did lights and audio, still others provided our meals.

And I was just one little cog in this machine.

We arrived in Lockport at 5:10am, at the house of another Dunkin social media advert star, Elizabeth. She already shot a lot of footage in New Jersey back in the summer, but the ad agency wanted to film some setup footage at her house. Her tweet is featured in the ad, as are her really wonderful kids, who were given free reign to destroy their own living room for the sake of coffee! Click here to see Elizabeth’s ad.

Upon our arrival, craft services had a HUGE breakfast spread waiting for us in the basement of Elizabeth’s house. The whole crew for the day convened here, and introductions occurred over coffee, eggs, bacon, oatmeal, and fruit – all very tasty and very filling.

The camera equipment is set up

The whole day was produced under the auspices of SAG-AFTRA, which meant that strict union rules about shooting times were followed. So spot-on 7:00am, film rolled on Elizabeth’s ad, while I was whisked away to hair and makeup.

My brightly colored ski duds were exchanged for more earthy tones: light brown parka, navy fleece top, orange down vest, grey pants, black boots, and a multi-colored hat. This wasn’t the only option, but it’s the one that suited the fancy of Tyler, our director. All of the clothing was “de-branded,” with corporate logos removed as well as possible. Only my personal gloves and helmet were used as wardrobe, with the logos either taped over or obscured with clever angles. Likewise, while I was in the house getting into “TV shape,” my ski equipment was also “de-branded,” with multiple hues of duct and gaffer’s tape used to obscure as many logos as possible.

In between takes of Elizabeth’s commercial, I recorded voice-overs in a corner of the now-partially-destroyed living room. I used my own words, with a few key things included – namely, a mention of Dunkin Iced Coffee.

Wait – iced coffee? In winter?

Yes, this was the focus of the ad. Personally, I only drink hot coffee in the winter months, but I was willing to suspend my own druthers for this commercial – no problemo. Once my voiceovers were done, I retreated to my trailer out on the street.

I was ready to film, and didn’t know quite what to expect. I’d gone in with no preconceived notions of what would happen – a plus, I think.

My filming started around 9:30am at a house three doors down from Elizabeth’s. There was a rented car that I would drive, with a ski rack on its roof. My ski equipment was placed in the garage, and the director had me take the equipment from the garage to the car.

I did this move 5 or 6 times, each from different angles. I managed to scratch the car on the second take (oops), but otherwise, the filming went fine. I was then filmed pulling out of the driveway a few times.

Filming then moved to a Dunkin Donuts store in Orland Park, IL, which delighted the tennage employees to no end. They were read the riot act regarding social media (i.e. don’t post pictures from this shoot on Facebook or Twitter), but they were all quite pleased to have a national TV ad being filmed at their store.

This is where I got my iced coffee, which was really room temperature coffee (prepared to my usual level of cream and sugar) with acrylic ice cubes in the cup. It was cold outside, so an ice-cold drink wasn’t really what I wanted at the time. We filmed 10-or-so takes of me leaving the store, walking out to my car, and so forth. It went smoothly, and I listened to the directions from Tyler and his crew to help improve each take.

After our shooting was complete, we ate lunch (tasty chicken, salmon, and other great things) in the back room of the Dunkin store, where the donuts would be baked. After lunch, I went in for one last touch-up of hair and makeup, as my trailer wasn’t going to the final shooting location.

After leaving Dunkin, we drove on some country roads to give the impression of me driving to a bucolic ski mountain. I felt like I was on Top Gear in some respects, with a camera car doing its thing while I drove.

The final filming location was a ski area outside of Schaumberg, IL, a 45 minute drive from the Orland Park area on the outermost beltway around Chicagoland. During this drive, I chatted with the cinematographer, who has filmed so many cool events and places.

After driving around 40 miles on toll roads (in a car that, I might add, was still running its “Hollywood dummy” license plate – oops), we arrived at Villa Olivia Country Club and Ski Area. This is not the kind of ski area that anybody who really loves skiing would go by choice. My guess is that the place is reclaimed landfill, where the ski slope had vertical drop added by mounding the landfill.

Villa Olivia Ski Area

Also, note the lack of snow in this picture. Y’see, the week leading into my commercial shoot was very warm, so any snow that had been made to shoot the commercial had melted to the point where it wasn’t usable. Sure, it was cold on the day of shooting, but this place didn’t have the capability to make a skiable ribbon of show in our short window for shooting.

Fear not! ACNE had a plan: they would make “Hollywood snow” using cotton batting and spray foam to coat the lawn and sills of the ski lodge. It wasn’t perfect, but as it would only appear in the background of the shot, it wasn’t a huge deal.

Hollywood snow

And we had some “snowflakes” flying in the air, as well. These were created using dish soap suds blown by a powerful fan. The soap tasted nasty (I managed to get a few gobs of foam in my mouth), but it was convincing enough on camera.

We had to wrap shooting by 4:30pm, both due to SAG-AFTRA rules and the rapidly setting sun. The crew let out a big exhale, and everybody thanked each other for a hard day’s work well done. I managed to spy some initial edits taking place on a MacBook Pro in the ski lodge, which was very cool.

Editing in the ski lodge

The entire commercial was shot on compact, high-resolution digital cameras, so hard drives were sent via courier to editing studios. One of these couriers shuttled me back to downtown for a quick shower at The Public, after which I high-tailed it to O’Hare to catch my flight back to DC.

At the airport, I enjoyed a most welcome beer as I decompressed.

Beer and 737-800

I was back at work on Friday, having taken just Thursday as a non-specific personal day off.

The next questions were: who do I tell that I’ve done this, and when will the ad air on TV?

I decided to tell only a few people. Other than sprite, only 4 others knew of my adventure. I tried to stay mum on social media during the trip, using a “#blackops” hashtag on any tweets, Facebook posts, or FourSquare check-ins.

The ad first aired in the New England area during the pre-game show for the Super Bowl. I know this because Sam called me after it first aired, asking how he didn’t know about this, how did I get into this ad, and so forth. At the time, I was at National Rehabilitation Hospital, still recovering from the #projectfemur surgery, and I hadn’t yet seen any edit of the ad. Sam sent me a quickly-recorded video of the first airing, and I laughed a bit.

Mostly, though, the ad aired during prime-time coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It aired twice per broadcast, every night of the games. Many more friends saw the ad, after which they would email, call, or tweet me that they had seen it and were shocked.

That was my goal in not telling: surprise, pure and simple.

“So,” you ask, “where’s the bloody ad?!?”

Well, here it is! This is the 30-second version that didn’t air on TV. The 15-second version is just a shorter version, with only the voiceover of me reading the tweet.

Dunkin' Donuts "Rudi's #mydunkin Iced Coffee Story" from Danny Rodriguez on Vimeo.

Did I enjoy this experience? Oh yes. Would I do it again? You bet!

So it goes to show that social media can connect people in rather sweet ways.

P.S. – for the curious, my typical Dunkin coffee is a medium or large Dunkin Turbo (i.e. red eye) hot, with a little cream and sugar. And yes, I still get hot coffee in the summertime.

fireside in new hampshire, october 2013

Some shots of the campfire from Gilson Pond, New Hampshire, during our October vacation:

fire - good

sprite winds yarn

Final fire embers

The campfires were a lovely part of camping for sprite and me. Camping should happen more often.

Post topic courtesy of Write ALM.

coffeeneuring 2013: will ride for coffee

For the third year in a row, Mary G. is hosting the “Coffeeneuring Challenge.” And for the first time, I’ve taken part.

And it was a ton of fun!

As my readers know, I participated in Mary’s “Errandonneuring Challenge” earlier this year (the posts are here. That was fun, but this was better. It was a good excuse to go bike riding with sprite, to explore areas both familiar and new, and to try some new-to-us coffee, tea, and chocolate shops.

Stop #1:
Date: 5 October
Destination: Orlean Store, Orlean, VA
Miles: 77.2 (Strava map)
Drink: hot coffee (with ice)

 

Notes: an impromptu ride with my usual riding buddies, leaving from Gainesville, VA, and rolling through Warrenton and Orleans, where our rest stop happened. They had fresh hot coffee, but it was toasty outside, and I wanted something cold. So I had the owners of the shop add some ice to my cup – all good! I love this little store, which seems to be finding its groove with the new owners.

Stop #2:
Date: 16 October
Destination: Ana Maria Chocolates, Peterborough, NH
Miles: 4.4 (Strava map)
Drink: hot chocolate w/whipped cream

 

Notes: sprite and I were on vacation in New Hampshire, so we decided to take our bikes from our campground at Monadnock State Park to the nearby town of Peterborough, a lovely little mill town with a vibrant arts scene. We rode on the Common Trail, one of over 60 miles of rail trails in southwestern New Hampshire. The trail was a tunnel of vibrant foliage. The cocoa was really decadent – exactly what you’d expect from a chocolatier. And as we were on vacation, we counted this as a weekday ride exception (per the rules of the challenge).

 

Stop #3:
Date: 19 October
Destination: Brewbakers Café, Keene, NH
Miles: 30.4 (Strava map)
Drink: pumpkin latté

 

Notes: rode from Gilson Pond Campground at Mt. Monadnock State Park to Keene, where I met up with sprite at the end of the Cheshire Rail Trail. We rode into town for the Pumpkin Festival, which was a treat: over 30,000 jack-o-lanterns were on display, all with real candles inside that were to be lit before 6pm, when the Guinness Book of World Records would officially certify this year’s display as the largest-ever display of lit pumpkins.

 

We stopped at two coffeehouses on Main Street: Prime Roast, where I bought some beans; and Brewbakers, where we both bought beverages. We both agreed that Prime Roast was probably the better place of the two. My pumpkin latté was just OK. Fortunately, we were able to drown our sorrows in hot cider, pumpkin soup, and other tasty treats from the Pumpkin Festival.

Stop #4:
Date: 20 October
Destination: Taste Budd’s at Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck, NY
Miles: 11.7 (Strava maps for leg 1 & leg 2)
Drink: latté and cocoa

 

Notes: after our time in New Hampshire, we visited old college friends, Erica and Eric, in the upper Hudson River Valley in New York. The four of us rode bikes from Red Hook to Rhinebeck to visit the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. We had a great time, with scenic riding both ways. I had two drinks from Taste Budd’s: a latté, and their sublime hot cocoa (made with their homemade chocolate ganache – mmmm).

Stop #5:
Date: 27 October
Destination: Bar di Bari, 14th and R Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 3.2 (Strava map)
Drink: latté

Notes: a new-to-us local joint, not far from our home, so we wove in a stop by Walgreen’s in West End to extend the distance. We rode fairly late in the day, and it was a bit chilly, yet we insisted on sitting outside. Our server was friendly and affable, and we wondered if she was a bit miffed that we wanted to be outside, while she was in short sleeves – brr! But the coffee, tea, and munchies were tasty, and the sunset down R Street was most beautiful.

Stop #6:
Date: 3 November
Destination: The Coffee Bar, 12th and S Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 2.6 (Strava map)
Drink: cardamom latté

Notes: sprite and I had both seen this place, yet we’d not paid a visit. The vibe here is relaxed and friendly, and the place is certainly popular with the neighborhood. Their cardamom latté is quite wonderful. Saw two Friday Coffee Club irregulars, Paul and Brook. I’d injured my left Achilles over the weekend, so this ride was extra mellow.

Stop #7:
Date: 9 November
Destination: Big Bear Café, 1st and R Streets NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 5.3 (Strava map)
Drink: latté

Notes: my ankle still in rest-and-recovery mode, this was an easygoing ride. We first stopped at BicycleSPACE to shop for bike bags (sprite bought a lovely little handlebar bag), and Phil shared his homemade banana bread with us (splendid). We then rode up to Big Bear Café, another new-to-us place that we’d seen many times driving back into DC from points north and east. The place is quite nice, though the service was extremely slow, the cashier seeming to forget some of our orders. We weren’t in a hurry, but still, it was noticed. We sat outside until it became too chilly to bear.

Stop #8:
Date: 10 November
Destination: Port City Java, 7th and North Carolina Ave SE, Washington, DC
Miles: 9.0 (Strava maps for leg 1 & leg 2)
Drink: drip coffee

Notes: I went to Eastern Market to gather ballot petition signatures for my good friend, Charles Allen. Given I was stationed outside of Port City, a coffee was a must.

Stop #9:
Date: 17 November
Destination: Qualia Coffee, 3917 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC
Miles: 6.0 (Strava map)
Drink: drip coffee (hand pour) and bean buying (two bags, one full caf, the other decaf)

 

Notes: one final stab at Coffeeneuring, and another new-to-us place (though I’d had Joel’s beans before). The hot drinks were great, the butternut & blue cheese quiche was awesome, and the view from the front deck was relaxing.

 

A more complete set of photos from my Coffeeneuring adventures can be seen here.
All-in-all, this was a fun exercise. Thank you, Mary, for issuing the challenge!

cycling log: 29 june 2013 (c&o canal end-to-end)

Activity: trail cycling (bucket list)
Location: Cumberland, MD > Washington, DC
Distance: 191.0 miles/ 307.5 kilometers (mostly flat with gradual descent, a few climbs here and there)
Duration: 18:47 (14:01 rolling time)
Weather: warm, humid, partly cloudy, some rain at dusk, 60-82 degrees
Climbing: 1,883′ (less than 10 feet of climbing per mile)
Avg HR: 131 (max 170)
Type: aerobic

In life, there are “bucket list” items: the things you want to do before you leave this mortal coil (and no, I’m in no hurry to do so). And riding the C&O Canal Towpath – the whole thing – in one day is one of those.

I hadn’t planned on doing this ride, in actuality. Yes, it’s bucket list material, but this year? Maybe, perhaps, but it wasn’t on the radar. And then my friend, Eric, said he had to scuttle plans to do the ride – all 184.5 miles, plus commutes to and from the start and end points – as our friend, Lane, was having knee problems. I expressed my interest, Eric asked, “how about next weekend?,” and the die was cast.

The ride is a bit of a logistical challenge. Being a one-way, point-to-point ride requires one-way transit to the ride start. Regrettably, Amtrak doesn’t handle bikes as baggage on the line that serves Cumberland (though I’ve heard that it’s not difficult to get a bike on the train on low-traffic weekdays), so we had to go with another route.

Luckily, Hertz offers one-way car rentals from DC to Cumberland, so that was the choice. Eric and I braved the Friday rush hour traffic out of DC (which cost us an hour of driving time), stopped at the wonderful 28 South restaurant in Hagerstown for dinner, and settled into our hotel room around 11:30pm – later than planned, but not too bad…

…except that our plan was to wake at 4:30 for a 5:30-something departure. We were well prepped: bikes packed with essentials (food, clothing, tools, tubes, toiletries), everything in order to roll in the morning. But waking at 4:30 was painful.

We rolled out of the Holiday Inn at 5:41am and made the short crossing to the start of the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail, the latter of which meanders to Pittsburgh (another time for that, I’m afraid). We snapped photos in the early morning light, mounted our bikes, and left.

I chose to ride my 16-plus year old Marin mountain bike (named “Skully” because of a foam skull sticker on its head tube) because it offered more rugged components, the ability to run wider tires (1.5″ slicks), and front suspension – all reasonable considerations when the rolling surface is a dirt trail, with mud holes, crushed stone, bumps, tree roots, and other things that make it a bit less smooth than my usual paved routes. Equipped with a seatpost rack and rack trunk, it was suitable for the task.

The C&O Canal Towpath is a curiosity, one that only had a short usable life as a commerce channel before the railroad made it obsolete. It only exists today because of the intervention of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, whose love of the towpath prevented it from being converted to a parkway, instead becoming the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath National Historic Park. The National Park Service provides upkeep over the full 184.5 mile run of the towpath, repairing flood damage and keeping it passable.

Eric and the towpath

The first 30 miles showed the side-effects of this area’s ongoing rain: a lot of mud. It wasn’t impassable, but it made the going a bit slower than we planned. Our “timetable” had us averaging 16 mph for the ride, and we were mired, as it were, at 14 mph. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did make a mess of things.

Muddy drivetrain

I was glad I brought the mountain bike, as its drivetrain was tolerant of a bit of mud and other muck from the trail.

We eventually arrived at one of many engineering marvels of the towpath: the Paw Paw Tunnel. This tunnel cut the journey on the canal by over six miles. It was also a dark, eerie place to ride a bike.

Paw Paw Tunnel - west portal

The path through the Paw Paw Tunnel is narrow and bumpy. Headlights are a must if you plan on riding in the tunnel, as it is extremely dark inside. We both made it to the other side without incident. Once there, you emerge onto a boardwalk and can see where a rockslide blocked the east portal back in May.

I made it through Paw Paw! Photo by Eric Pilsk.

From Paw Paw, we continued toward Little Orlean, where we stopped at Bill’s Place. Essentially the only hangout in the town, Bill’s Place is a bar, general store, restaurant, canoe rental, town meeting hall, etc. The owner is a nice, middle-aged guy, and the service comes with a smile. We spent some time on the porch here, enjoying cool beverages and salty snacks.

From Little Orlean, we rolled toward Hancock. As the towpath was still muddy, we made the decision to take the Western Maryland Rail Trail to make up some time (I’ve ridden the stretch we skipped today back in 2011). Our average speed tipped up to 19 mph once we were on the WMRT, which was a nice boost. We saw many other cyclists on the trail, including a couple who were riding the full GAP-C&O length from Pittsburgh, albeit over multiple days. They were far more sane than Eric and me.

Selfie in Hancock

A quick stop in Hancock allowed us to top off our bidons and grab some snacks at C&O Bicycle. I also bought a bottle of chain lube here, as the mud and grime had already washed away the lube I’d applied to the bike on Friday. A quiet drivetrain was a nice thing.

On the way back to the towpath, we took a wrong turn, adding a mile or so to our journey. However, we passed a house where the yard had been converted into a “field of dreams” baseball diamond, presumably for the family’s kids.

Field of dreams near Indian Spring.

We did find our way back to the towpath, which wasn’t quite as muddy by this point but had its rough spots. The lovely thing about staying on the path is that there was shade pretty much everywhere. On a day that promised high temperatures near 84°F/26°C with ample humidity, it was a nice perk. The thick foliage did block some scenery, but not too badly: Big Pool was, indeed, big, and tough to miss.

Milepost 100. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

So we kept rolling through the day. We had a lunch stop in Williamsport (a Sheetz MTO hasn’t tasted as good), where we saw a young woman catch her first fish in the lock pond, squeeing at it and shying away from removing it from the hook. We passed a tour boat on the canal. We saw more cyclists out on short trail excursions.

Outside of Sharpsburg and a little over 110 miles into our ride, we stopped at the quaint Barron’s Store & C&O Towpath Museum, a family-run outpost (literally run in what would be the living room of their house) that provided needed cold drinks and fresh fruit, as well as some indoor seating. Our legs still felt just fine (mine did, at least), but it was nice to sit back. A quartet of teenage boys rolled up to the store as we prepared to leave, each on a BMX or older mountain bike, reminding me of a hybrid of Stand By Me and Back to the Future in terms of “groups of kids on bikes, out having fun.”

Eric and the Potomac

By this point, we were well behind schedule, but enjoying ourselves, all the same. Soon after Barron’s Store, we approached a section that Eric believed to be closed: the Big Slackwater viaduct. This wonder of civil engineering replaced a portion of the towpath that settled into the Potomac, and it was a joy to behold – and to ride! It was one of the more exposed areas of the path, clinging to the side of a sheer rock wall, and as we passed a group of boaters taking a dip in the water, we were tempted to jump in….

Eric approaches Big Slackwater

Riding the Big Slackwater viaduct. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

We soldiered on with an increased tempo at this point, past Sherpherdstown and Harper’s Ferry, toward our dinner stop in Brunswick at the wonderful Beans in the Belfry coffeehouse. A Celtic group was playing there, I and recognized the lead singer and guitarist from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (he didn’t recognize me, which is all well and good). Eric and I noshed on spinach quiche, and also took advantage of the nice bathroom to wash our faces and brush our teeth. The cleanup had an amazing energizing effect, which was good, as we saw dark clouds approaching as the daylight grew long. As a nod to the weather gods, we donned our cycling caps under our helmets to ward off the rain.

Getting back onto the towpath, we increased our pace yet again, taking advantage of a smoother section of trail to try and make as much progress as possible before the sunset. We made it to Mouth of Monocacy rather quickly, stopping briefly to snap a picture from within the aquaduct, looking toward the setting sun.

At Mouth of Monocacy. Photo by Eric Pilsk.

A little further down the trail, we found an even better view of the sunset, near Dickerson:

Sunset over the Potomac in Dickerson

It’s at this point that our cycling caps ran out of good mojo, and we experienced our first rain of the day. We weren’t sure whether it would be heavy, as the clouds looked very black. We decided to carry on to White’s Ferry and make a decision whether to stay on the towpath and risk the mud, wind, and rain, or to take the well-known paved roads down to Riley’s Lock.

Luckily, the rain stopped about 1/2 mile before we pulled into White’s Ferry. At the ferry store, we bought some cold sodas and talked with the ferry operator, who deemed us crazy for wanting to carry on to DC along the towpath in the cover of darkness. We laughed, wished him well, and got back on the path.

Less than 1/4 mile from there, the battery on my Garmin Edge 500 died. It had sent out a warning beep a little while earlier, but as my unit has a blown-out screen, I had no way to verify that the beep was battery-related (though I suspected that it was). It did well for an older unit: 15.5 hours of runtime. Luckily, my phone had a decent amount of charge, so I swiftly started the Strava iOS app, missing only 0.1 miles of tracking (easily connected when I combined the two GPS tracks).

As we rolled along, there were frogs all along the towpath, their song growing louder as we rode deeper into the woods. The amphibians would jump out of the way just in time as we rolled. Our pace was slower, but our lights allowed us to find safe passage. The towpath started to have more muddy patches as we neared DC, so our lines had to be chosen more judiciously. When we passed one of the lockmaster’s houses, the group staying there was making s’mores over an open fire – and we were quite tempted to join them and crash there for the night.

We also weren’t sure where our next known landmark, Riley’s Lock, was. Yes, we had the mileposts to go by, but we weren’t sure where Riley’s was in the grand scheme of things. This added an eerie quality to this section of the ride, and while we weren’t necessarily physically fatigued, this added to our ever-growing mental fatigue. At least the frog song was there.

At this point, we made a decision: due to our growing mental weariness, we would exit the towpath at Great Falls. The stretch from Great Falls to Fletcher’s Lock features a good deal of technical trail: mud, ruts, damp boardwalk, things that require full mental faculties to navigate in the dark. It wasn’t that tough a decision: safety trumps stupidity. And both of us had tackled this stretch many times before, so it wouldn’t be big loss to skip.

So we stopped at the restrooms at Great Falls, let our significant others know that we would be getting onto MacArthur Boulevard to complete the trek into DC, and climbed our biggest hill of the day. My legs were quite spry here, and I climbed the road quite quickly. I waited for Eric at the top, and enjoyed the light show put on by thousands of fireflies in the trees over the Great Falls access road.

Once on MacArthur, we made decent time: nothing approaching my typical Wednesday night club ride, but still a good clip. We wound our way to Georgetown, took a left on 35th Street, wiggled to 34th Street, then made our way back down to the towpath for its final 3/4 mile to its origin.

Marker at the start of the C&O Canal Towpath

We stopped, took photos, congratulated ourselves on a bucket list task now complete. I was confused by a text I received from sprite, saying she had refreshments in the parking lot – I was unable to remember that there is a parking lot by the Watergate, only 1/4 mile from where we were. We turned toward The Burrow, up the Rock Creek MUP. I stopped my Strava app, sat down, and I was done.

So what would I do differently? I’d like to do this again – over a period of 2 or 3 days. I’d take a hydration pack to allow for easier drinking while on rougher surfaces. I’d use regular panniers that keep the center of mass low on the bike (read: better handling). I’d also setup a dynamo wheel to charge my lights, Garmin, and phone via USB (I have a dynamo hub that needs to be built into a wheel).

But I’m so glad I did this ride! Eric was a great riding partner, his experience with the DC Randonneurs giving him many bits of sage advice to help on such a long ride. We had a great time – what more can a guy want?

my 30s: a look back

I turn 40 today. Frankly, it’s not a birthday that’s weighing on me like my 30th did – it’s just another day to me, this time around.

But a lot has happened to me over the past decade, and since I’m feeling a bit put out by other things in life right now, I figured it would be worth a trip back through time to see where I’ve been and what I’ve done, just as a reminder.

  • Settled into DC (2003)
  • Settled into Georgetown U. (2003)
  • Helped two presidential campaigns (2003-04)
  • Run for political office – and won (2004)
  • Traveled to England and Wales (2005)
  • Traveled to Austria and Germany with my mom (2007)
  • Rode up Mount Shasta (2008)
  • Ski trips to Colorado (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
  • Cut off my long hair (2008)
  • Traveled to France (2008)
  • Rode from Boston to Windsor for a beer (2009)
  • Testified in front of City Council (2009, 2011)
  • Traveled to Iceland (2011)
  • Chaired my favorite bike club, Potomac Pedalers (2011)
  • Traveled to Louisiana (2012)
  • Groomsman in two weddings (2005, 2013)
  • Many concerts: Simon & Garfunkel, U2, Thomas Dolby, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Paul Simon (solo), Pink Martini, The Beach Boys, Retro Stefson, Erin McKeown, Nellie McKay, Sloan, The Pipettes, Polyphonic Spree, Elvis Costello, and many, many more
  • Seeing awesome plays written by my friend, Michael
  • Excellent beers, including the rebirth of brewing in DC
  • Birthdays, holidays, picnics, and other random occasions hanging out with friends

So a lot of things – a lot of great things – have happened over the past decade. Yes, there have been setbacks and sadness, but the good has outweighed the bad, all in all.

cycling log: 16 september 2012 (bridge-to-bridge)

Activity: road cycling (special event)
Location: Lenoir, NC > Linville, NC > Grandfather Mountain, NC
Distance: 101.4 miles (very hilly over the last 50 miles)
Duration: 5:48 (5:46 rolling time – data here)
Weather: cool, damp, foggy, rainy, 59-68 degrees
Climbing: 8,590′
Avg HR: 151 (max 178)
Type: aerobic

Given my injury earlier in the year, I had to cancel my plans to ride the Death Ride in July. so, in the search for another “bucket list” ride to conquer, the 24th Bridge-To-Bridge Cycling Challenge entered my mind. So I entered, I got Chris to join me, and we took on this beast of a ride.

Lenoir is a town that seems to be in transition. Old industry has died off. Hulks of old factories and warehouses sit in lonesome decay. Downtown wears shadows of a former life: the shuttered movie house, the old department stores with boarded-up windows.

But there is a rebirth beginning to show. Main Street has a variety of new stores. A wine-focused bistro fills its tables every night. Craft stores and coffeehouses have loyal clientele. These customers may work at one of the new data centers that are taking over some of the old industrial spaces in and around town.

The people are friendly. They smile at you and say hello. They ask you, with all sincerity, how you feel, how the day has gone, and what’s new in your world. It doesn’t matter if they’ve known you for 2 minutes or 20 years – they treat you like you belong.

For a few hundred cyclists, many of whom are somewhat local and some of whom traveled from points far from Lenoir, it was a perfect introduction to the town, and perhaps a way for the locals to say to themselves, “these riders must be crazy.”

Our agenda, after all, was to ride 101 miles, ending our journey atop Grandfather Mountain in the Appalachian Range. The final 51 miles featured most of the climbing – a back-loaded affair, and very daunting on paper.

In real life, it was every bit as challenging as promised – and somehow, a lot easier to handle than other challenge rides I’ve completed.

Chris and I arrived on Saturday, the afternoon before the ride, after a six-plus hour drive from the DC area. The drive was uneventful – most drives on Interstate highways are – and allowed us a chance to size up the hills as the Appalachian Range became a constant driving companion: up and down, flirting with the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Eastern Continental Divide.

After pulling into Lenoir, we immediately found Main Street and a street festival the town held for the cyclists. Food was a focal point: pasta, salad, bread and barbeque created a lovely mix of fuel for the next day’s miles. Local vendors, part of a weekly farmers’ market, sold their wares alongside children riding strange tricycles and bicycle variants. There was local beer. Volunteers mingled with cyclists. Chris and I enjoyed our dinner with a couple whose charge was the fourth aid station along the ride route. They thanked us for coming all the way from DC for their “little bike event.”

After eating, signing into the ride, picking up our number packet, and buying the lovely event jersey, we checked into our motel. The management of the Days Inn was warm and welcoming, and the room was basic and comfortable. Seeking out Mexican food (my preferred pre-event fuel), we made our way to a great little place with honest-to-goodness Mexican (not the typical Salvadoran) food, hit up a grocery store for breakfast food, and returned to the room around 9pm to prep our bikes and get some needed shut eye.

The next morning, we awoke before dawn – after all, the ride started at 8am, and we needed time to wake up, eat breakfast, and ride the short, 1 mile commute to Main Street. It was damp, foggy and misty outside, a sneak preview of what the day held in store.

I had to decide what clothing to take with me. It wouldn’t get especially warm today, so long as the mist, fog and clouds clung to the mountain ridges. I decided to wear my SmartWool PhD socks*, which are excellent in all conditions, wet or dry (and I anticipated some wet tarmac along the route). I packed my wool arm warmers in my jersey pocket, and donned a vest for the ride to town, unsure whether I would want to wear something so substantial once I was riding with the pack. I opted against wearing knee warmers, as it wasn’t that cold in the morning. My clothes pack contained clean, non-cycling clothes, and eventually held my vest.

Chris and I arrived at Main Street 35 minutes prior to start time – early for both of us. The ride is chip-timed (i.e. they use little timing “chips” to measure elapsed time on course), so we made sure to affix our chips onto our shoes after arriving at the start area. It wasn’t too difficult, though the chips were clearly designed to be attached to running shoes with laces, rather than cycling shoes with velcro straps. Regardless, we worked out any problems, and dropped off our bags with clean clothes for transport to Grandfather Mountain.

I rode a few laps around the closed streets of downtown Lenoir, snapping a few pictures of their current state of urban rebirth. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood – I somehow felt a bit off, but was willing to shrug it off as an anomaly. After around 15 minutes of warm-up riding, Chris and I took our places in the start pen.

A cornucopia of multi-colored bike jerseys were sardine packed into the start area. Local teams all amassed at the front, treating this event ride like a full-on race. Clubs from North Carolina queued up behind the teams, hoping to test their mettle. Chris and I, in our non-club kit, planned to seek out some fast riders – not racers, per se, but fast, smooth riders who would ride a good tempo until the rode tilted up at mile 51.

Pre-ride announcements were broadcast on the PA. A local country radio DJ was the honorary starter. A local official said a prayer. The rules of the road were spoken, though hardly audible over the din of hundreds of Garmin bike computers being clicked into action, anticipating the start.

And at 7:56am – a whopping four minutes early – the 2012 Bridge-to-Bridge Cycling Challenge commenced. The sound of gears shifting, chains whirring, and “on your left” could be heard up and down Main Street.

The crowd was thick at the beginning, with everybody on guard to avoid a crash, as well as to find the right group of riders with whom to collaborate. The racers, as expected, took off as if they had a plane to catch, and Chris and I ended up in a fast-but-not-insane peloton that fell just behind the racing pack. It felt right, so we forged on.

One of the wonders of Bridge-to-Bridge is that most of the intersections over the first 40 miles were controlled by police officers. So we were able to continue, no breaks in momentum, through busy intersections. And while the typical DC attitude to such things would be scowls, shouting, horn blowing and tantrums, the locals in North Carolina seemed to welcome us with open arms: cheering, smiling, ringing cowbells and making us all feel like we were in a grand tour. It was amazing.

And my feeling of unease quickly morphed into a feeling of contained power: I felt strong on the bike, able to accelerate with ease. Our peloton settled in initially as a group of 50, then 40, then eventually 20 to 25. Only a handful of us seemed to take turns pulling on the front, as not all were willing to put in extra effort to keep the pace up. But most of us shrugged it off, as the hills would arrive soon enough.

If anything, the weather – which, to this point, was a mix of overcast, damp, and fog – worked in concert with the closed intersections to allow me to excel. Keeping up a consistent momentum helped regulate my energy expenditure, allowing me to conserve a lot of fuel for the climbs while maintaining a 22 mph clip. I never felt a need to stop to get more water or food. The aid stations also contributed to this, with volunteers lined up along the road offering food and drink without the need to stop. This was one of the hallmarks (among many) of the excellent organization of Bridge-to-Bridge.

While the first 50 miles were lovely, lightly rolling country (truly ideal riding terrain for most cyclists), the latter 51 miles had a different side. And with a right turn onto Route 181, the road tilted up. And up. And up.

The climb on 181 is a long grind, averaging 8 percent grade with sections approaching 13 percent. It is long enough to separate those with good climbing legs from those who would have a tough time throughout the day. A local rider, Adrian (a Swiss expat), explained to me that the road has a few false summits, and that I should treat the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing as the true summit of the climb. Message understood, he followed that up with sage advice that I try to follow on every ride: “ride your own ride.” In other words, don’t try to follow anybody’s lead, know your body and its limits.

My body was saying “let’s get this thing ON!”

I dropped the majority of the peloton on 181. Chris fell behind, unable to keep up with my pace. I ended up in a group of 8 riders, all of whom seemed to be doing this thing non-stop, which increasingly became the approach I took. My only annoyance was a slowly building need for a “nature break,” but it wasn’t that bad, and I kept taking on fluids and food without it causing any more bother – why stop?

I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing with a lot of pep left in my step. The fog kept rolling in and out, and brief (as in 10-20 second) glimpses of sun added contrast. The traffic, as it was, didn’t bother us much: they were courteous and gave us wide berth. People sat on their porches and cheered us on. Dogs were on leashes, likely thinking “what is up with this?” The road dipped downhill for a while, the pavement damp due to the fog and mist. Grandfather Mountain rose to our right, shrouded in clouds. Linville lay ahead, behind it an extremely dark, foreboding cloud wall. The freshly-wet roads were its calling card.

We stopped at a traffic light (the only time we had to all day), and two of our ranks decided to make the very stupid decision to run the light. They were almost broadsided by a SUV, and the rest of us kept our distance, glad it wasn’t us who got impatient with a 25 second stop for three lights on a post.

As we turned off of Route 211 (which would have been a shortcut to Grandfather Mountain, albeit an extremely steep one), we rode smack into the dark cloud wall. At mile 71, the deluge began.

The rain was hard and pelting. Some of the drops stung. Most of us had lights, which was a good thing, as the road spray created a situation that seemed risky, even though the roads were wide and the traffic kind. This was one of the busiest roads of the day, and we were all grateful to make the right turn onto Shull’s Mill Road.

For all the bustle, commercial buildings and open territory that our previous 7 mile stretch held, Shull’s Mill was anything but. The tree canopy enveloped us and shielded us from the hardest rain. The road was narrow and winding, with a 6 to 8 percent grade feeling far gentler than it was. The group shared a few laughs as we enjoyed a little slice of cycling heaven, climbing toward the ridge and the possible traverse along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Grandfather.

But as we emerged from Shull’s Mill, the fog closely resembled that of Sherlock Holmes lore: thick, yielding to neither sun nor lantern. Approaching the on-ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway, riders were directed to stay on Route 211, which was more undulating, if a bit flatter than the Parkway, albeit with more foliage, more rain, and less fog.

By this point, all of the riding in rain had caused my freehub to start making some grinding noises when I wasn’t pedaling. The water and road grime had found its way inside (I would later learn that my freehub had cracked at some point during the ride – ouch!). But it didn’t deter me, and I kept up a steady clip through the rainy deluge toward Grandfather Mountain.

By mile 95, though, I started seeing yellow – I needed a nature break. Fortunately, at mile 97, an aid station beckoned, free of most riders and featuring a most welcome port-o-let. I went inside and let forth a stream that seemed to last forever, but only lasted about 90 seconds. During that time, the aid station volunteers topped off my water bottle – very nice.

I got back on the bike, unencumbered by bladder complaints, and as I approached the turn to Grandfather Mountain, I let out a loud “WOO-HOO” to the state trooper who was flagging cyclists onto the road. He laughed, smiled, and cheered me on.

The climb to Grandfather Mountain is exactly two miles from 211 to the summit. This road is only open to cyclists one day per year: for the Bridge-to-Bridge Cycling Challenge. So I knew that it had to be something special. The elevation profile is daunting: it opens with a 12-13 percent kicker, which leads to a flatter section at 5-8 percent that goes on for 300 meters, allowing some respite as you view the field where the post-ride party takes place. The road then kicks up with ramps of 16-18 percent, testing your mettle, followed by a short, false flat of 200 or so meters.

And then it just. goes. up. The last 2/3 mile is foreboding. The road never dips below 13 percent. There are switchbacks and kickers that touch 18 to 19 percent. And the final 400 meters averages a steep 20 percent grade – no margin for error in terms of losing traction. Add into the mix the fact that the mountain was shrouded in fog and drizzle, and the whole thing seemed like something lifted from Lord of the Rings.

I realized that I still had a lot in the tank at this point: the legs showed no signs of cramp, my feet didn’t bother me, my back was fine, my mind was sharp. I passed two riders on the initial ramp, after the guard station. I passed another 5 or 6 in the flatter section after that, and another rider at the next kicker. One of these riders had number 666, so I said, “hola, El Diablo!” as I passed him. In his tired state, it took him a few seconds to make the connection.

All the while, I also passed a few riders who had stopped and pulled over. A couple were doubled-over in pain. One was violently emptying the contents of his digestive system on the side of the road, having cashed a larger “physical check” than his body could fund.

I simply soldiered on, sitting in a powerful, if not overly rapid, spinning cadence. The photos taken by the official event photog (stationed about a mile from the finish, near Split Rock) show me at relative ease, which was the case.

As I approached the switchbacks leading to the finish, the fog thickened, and I could hear the first sounds of the finish line: the cheers, the cowbells. I passed another rider on a 16 percent ramp, and another in the turn leading to the final stretch into the finish. Where a rider in front of me was tacking his bike up the ramp, I rode a straight, purposeful line to the top – which I still couldn’t see, due to the fog. Eventually, the shapes of the people and the summit station came into focus. My legs kept pumping rhythmically, moving me up the steep ramp, tires gripping the wet pavement. I reached the top of the ramp, made a hard, right turn to the timing mats, and was done.

I didn’t make note of my time, even though I stopped my Garmin unit and my Cateye computer. I made a quick move toward the food table, where I drank approximately 20 ounces of Coca-Cola (the first Coke I’d had in a month, if not longer), ate grapes and peanut butter sandwiches, and finished my still-mostly-full water bottle.

And I wore a smile that seemed like it was a mile wide.

I didn’t know how far back Chris was, given I hadn’t seen him since mile 40 or so. So, after handing my bike to one of the Boy Scouts who were helping with the ferry down to the field, I explored the top of Grandfather Mountain park. To fight the chill, I donned the wool arm warmers that I’d carried with me in a jersey pocket for the entire ride. My change of clothes was down the mountain, so I had to make do walking in my bike shoes – not ideal, but workable.

I cheered on fellow cyclists as they finished. I climbed up the stone stairs to the swinging bridge between two crags of the mountain. The mist truly made this place seem like Tolkien’s Misty Mountains, and when the cloud layer briefly cleared, the view of the town of Grandfather was lovely, indeed.

Chris eventually came across the line around an hour after me, having suffered a flat tire on the Shull’s Mill climb. He was happy with his ride, as well.

Positives:
+ Excellent ride organization, with great people running everything
+ Excellent support at the aid stations
+ State police controlling all intersections from the start until mile 40
+ Locals who turned out along the entire course, cheering all riders
+ The camaraderie of the riders, who all seemed to be of similarly friendly persona
+ The pre-ride street fest was awesome
+ The post-ride picnic and BBQ were top-notch
+ The finish on Grandfather Mountain – how could that not rock?

Negatives:
+ The long wait for a shuttle back to Lenoir – a bigger bus might work better than smaller vans paired with moving trucks

You can see all of the pictures I took over the weekend by clicking here.

* – I am a SmartWool Athlete Ambassador, so this could be considered an endorsement of their product – and I love the PhD socks!

ten on tuesday: goals are for soccer

So Carole does another non-knitting “Ten on Tuesday,” and I’m compelled to join in. The subject: 10 goals for the summer. I think you can guess where my goals will be….

  1. Get back in prime cycling shape. This goal is vexing me right now: I’m back on the bike, essentially cleared to ride anything (though I still need my doc’s full “OK” to do the big stuff – I’m hoping it comes with tomorrow’s check-up), but feeling so out-of-it. I’m enjoying riding, but my climbing shape is woeful right now, and I have a lot of muscle mass to build back after the long sit-out and gradual build-up to riding again. Working on pedaling mechanics, good as it is in the long-run, doesn’t hold as much satisfaction as being able to climb like I usually can at this point. The rest of my riding friends are well ahead of me, thanks in part to the lack of winter we had in DC. And while I know that recovery from an adductor injury is a long, drawn-out, steady process, my inherent impatience is making things a bit tough. I have a lot of ground to make up, and having to do it in the midst of summer’s heat and humidity will make it extra challenging.
  2. Rebuild my carbon bike. The frame has been repaired for months, but sitting in a shipping box. I’ve stalled rebuilding it because of…. well, because of depression due to not being able to ride and riding like crap. I think I’ll be happier once it’s built and back on the road (and I’ll have two road bikes to choose from in riding – woot!).
  3. Do a mass de-cluttering. The Burrow is in a weird state of “packed” right now, and I could stand to clear out some things that I’m not using any more, but I’m sure could be used by others. Goodwill, local bike swaps and co-ops, eBay: be forewarned, I’m coming!
  4. Cook more. Part of the de-cluttering will involve “rationalizing the pantry.” This will make me more likely to cook. That’s a win-win.
  5. Go camping. I’d like to go backwoods camping – hiking, backpack, tents and all – but would settle for car camping, all the same. That said: must go backpacking sometime in the none-too-distant future.
  6. Go to the beach a few times. I’m a person who believes a beach isn’t a real beach unless there is actual surf (thus why I was never too keen on the Connecticut beaches: salty water but no surf). Why? Because I like to body surf (or at least attempt to do it – success is fleeting). The nearest good beaches are a few hours from DC, but worth the trip.
  7. Go on more picnics and cookouts with friends. I feel that this often gets overlooked in my summer plans. Hopefully, it won’t in 2012 because I’ve committed to it here!
  8. Enjoy what little available weekday vacation time I have. Due to a double whammy of working in academia and a large, enterprise-wide roll-out happening this summer, my available weekday summer vacation time (i.e. the stuff that summer vacations are made of) is all-too-short this year. Putting it gently: I have all of June and a few days in July, and that’s about it. I could complain about the fact that, unlike most of my DC friends, I don’t get to enjoy the dog days of summer with 4-day work weeks (believe me, it’s highly irksome), but that’s just a waste of time. So a road trip sometime in June is a must.
  9. Stay sane. The aforementioned big roll-out, happening in July, will likely tap my physical and emotional strength. My department is expected to turn in long work days for extended stretches of time, and I don’t cope well with these situations if they drag on for too long. So I’ll need my sanity checks along the way.
  10. Keep a positive outlook, come what may. Since my injury, I’ve had more than my share of ups and downs. I’ve found myself fighting to stay positive, and it’s a tough battle. Thus summer’s busy times and tough situations with regard to my favorite summer pastime have me in a bit of an anticipatory funk. I just need to take every day as it comes and find the positives wherever they are hiding. I can’t promise that every day will be good, but I hope that every day has at least one positive moment.

I know that sprite has her list, and that Sarah may also play along. Do any of my readers have specific summer goals? Post ’em in the comments!

(Note that I haven’t mentioned soccer until now? Good!)

ten on tuesday: things to do in 2012

OK, so it’s Wednesday Thursday, but this seems like a good topic to start of 2012, right? As usual, Carole posted a lovely topic, and both sprite and Sarah posted their lists.

So, here goes:

1. Read more books. I read a couple books in 2011, but I really would like to be a bit more diligent about diving into the stack of volumes that are whispering to me, urging me to open their covers and get lost in the pages.

2. Plan another big trip. Iceland was a surreal, magical, wonderful experience – and one that sprite and I planned mostly by happenstance. I’m not sure that this next big trip will happen in 2012, but getting the wheels in motion now wouldn’t be a bad idea.

3. Cook and prepare more things that I would otherwise buy. Often I’m in a rush to leave in the morning and don’t pack lunch. That means having to uy lunch, and the cost adds up. So I’d like to have the foresight to pack more lunches. Also, I’m a sucker for gourmet coffee drinks that I can totally make myself (e.g. espresso, Starbucks’ gingerbread lattés). For Christmas, I received an Aerobee Aeropress, and sprite pointed me to this DIY gingerbread latté recipe, so…. there ‘ya go!

4. Clean a little bit every day. The Burrow is a tiny apartment, and it’s often far from the sanctuary it should be. I’d like to rediscover the space inside by cleaning it a little each day and, like sprite, concentrate on sectors. It may mean that we’ll have guests over more often, and that would be great.

5. Let go of things. This goes hand-in-hand with cleaning, in a sense: I tend to hold onto things, sometimes to the point of obsession. This leads to messes, both literal and figurative, which leads to unnecessary stress. I’ve been working on this for a few years, and it’s a continuing process.

6. Really crush the Death Ride. It’s my big event ride for 2012, and I want to be super-strong in it! So it will involve training smartly, eating well, resting, keeping the bikes in shape and always looking forward.

7. Go hiking in both Rock Creek Park and Shenandoah National Park. One is just blocks from my front door. The other is only 60 miles from my front door. And I really haven’t hiked in either park. I love hiking, so…. let’s do it!

8. Draw more. I have a lovely set of Prismacolor pencils and sketchbooks – I should use ’em more!

9. Post more on this blog. It’s fallen somewhat by the wayside. This will change in 2012.

10. Say “thank you” far more often. I’m often not grateful enough for the friends and family I have, and the things they do to help me through life.

Do any of you have things you want to do in 2012?

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