A rainy weekend read.

There is nothing stopping me from getting on my bike an riding in the blowing wind and rain. Except for the comfort of home and warm, dry clothes.  Instead of a journey on two wheels, I set off for a journey back in time this weekend – reading local D.C. author Garrett Pecks latest work, “Capital Beer – A heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C.”.

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Filled with interesting facts and stories from before the existence of the District of Columbia, through Prohibition and into the 1950s – this book transports you back to the people and places that are now only memories.  The lush beer gardens in every neighborhood, the immense breweries along the Potomac, and the small family run operations scattered elsewhere. The Heurich Brewing Company even had the experts claiming it to be the finest in the United States!

Washington, D.C. has certainly enjoyed a renaissance of craft beer in the past 4 years, and if that is something you excitedly participate in, then you ought to read this book and gain some historical context. Plus, you have a little soapbox to stand on next time the historic preservation board or neighborhood advisory commissions announce that a favorite watering hole does not fit into the historical context of a neighborhood.

Pecks book can be purchased online here

Heurich Brewery at 26th and D NW.

Heurich Brewery at 26th and D NW.

Alhambra Summer Garden. 410 E St. NE

Alhambra Summer Garden. 410 E St. NE

 

 

Double R, Double N, Double E

The proper way to spell errandonnee is clearly indicated amongst to rules of this years edition of the Chasing Mailboxes spring game/non-competition/encouragement activity. Pronunciation however, is as varied as the eleven categories that a ride may qualify for. I opt for the “air”-”an”-”Don”-”ay” method, which is easily remembered with the following mnemonic strategy: “I put AIR in my bike tires before I head out for AN errand where I may bump into my co-worker DON, who doesn’t often shout AY like the Fonz, but I wish he did”.

Simple right? Well the errandonnee was at least pretty easy to accomplish this year. Take a look:

And of course, the documentation:

roche errandonnee_Page_1roche errandonnee_Page_2

Thawing Saddles: A Town and Country Ride

Saturday was marked with sunny clear skies, temperatures creeping into the 60′s and the last vestiges of winter slipping out of grasp (hopefully). After a harsh winter by D.C. standards, there was no question that this was a day to ride!

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Breakfast..

Breakfast..

Last minute bike tweaks.

Last minute bike tweaks.

Justin, Ryan and myself decided on an adventurous route through notoriously bike un-friendly Prince Georges County Maryland with the hopes of discovering some hidden jewels of roads on the border between “town” and “country”. As one moves further from the Districts boundaries you inevitably stumble upon development patterns that begin with tightly knit shopping centers, then run-down commercial districts, and finally farm land or cookie-cutter housing developments with names that harken back to the recently stripped nutrient-rich topsoil or leveled cow pastures. Likewise, the roads become wider and faster with drivers losing patience by the mile, until finally one stumbles upon a lane forgotten by custom home developers. Perhaps the asphalt is rough or rutted, but the peaceful narrow winding quality of the road is not lost on a cyclist.

Town & Country Route

Town & Country Route

And so went our ride, leaving DC via the popular Mount Vernon Trail to Alexandria, crossing the Potomac River to the shopping mega-plex of National Harbor, and winding through housing developments that couldn’t be further from the dense rowhomes that our group of riders calls home. Eventually we happened upon the Henson Creek Trail – a gem in the network of multi-use paths that surround D.C. – the trail was well maintained and its users are immersed in a peaceful, natural setting. Yellow and tan river rocks are worn smooth from the clear fast flowing currents. Wetlands and young forests engulf the trail. If your tire were to wander from the asphalt you would quickly find yourself a muddy mess. Disregard the “Trail Closed” signs that result from riverbank erosion, this engineer deemed the crossing safe!

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Henson Creek Trail

Thanks for the warning!

Thanks for the warning!

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Ryan braves the portage.

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Look at that lovely creek!

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The trail to ourselves.

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Keep on the asphalt.

From the Henson Creek Trail we emerged into neighborhoods that gave way to high speed commercial corridors, or at the least what remains of commercial corridors. After a few missed turns we took our chances on Old Branch Ave, paralleling the multi-lane Branch Avenue arterial until we happened upon Woodyard Road. Though the shoulder could have been a foot or two wider, the traffic was relatively calm and gave ample passing distance as we escaped into less developed areas of the county. Crossing Pennsylvania Ave we came upon the narrow Mellwood Road, and the more trafficked Westphalia Road – both providing vistas of rolling farmland.

How long until this land is developed?

How long until this land is developed?

Rolling hills alongside Mellwood Road.

Rolling hills alongside Mellwood Road.

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We could have been 100 miles from DC.

People can find a way to mess up even the nicest of places.

People can find a way to mess up even the nicest of places.

We had hit our turning point – the outer limits of the development patterns that we would find on this ride. We turned onto Richie Marlboro Road towards Largo and the roads got busier and wider to match the cul-de-sacs, bland condos and strip malls. Justin caught a flat just outside of town, and a 7-11 provided a convenient spot to sit and change out the tube while enjoying “lunch”. Soon he split to the Metro to handle household duties, leaving Ryan and I to meander back towards DC.

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Lunch

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Teamwork gets the job done fast.

Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise Like mountains beyond mountains And there's no end in sight I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise
Like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights

Just inside the District boundary we picked up the Marvin Gaye trail towards Benning Road, then finally the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It is always nice to have these “buffer” trails to ease ones nerves after exiting Prince Georges County, and before hitting the busy downtown streets.

If you want to escape the District and have grown bored of Fairfax and Montgomery County roads, I would encourage some thought about Prince Georges County. It is certainly not as pleasant, but with proper planning it is certainly possible to patch together a really nice ride.

Though I don’t wear earbuds while riding – the appropriate soundtrack for this route would be Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” album, particularly this song:

UPDATE: Ryans video of Mellwood Road is online. Now I know what I look like when biking!

Review: Pat’s Back Country Beverages – Adventure Beer

Back in December I posted my guide to Gifts for your beer loving cyclist, and among the products featured was the “beer concentrate” system developed by Pat’s Back Country Beverages from Talkeetna, Alaska. As fate would have it, my youngest sister had ordered the system for me as a Christmas present – so my chances of trying the product increased to near certainty – I just needed to add an adventure, and water!

I became interested in Pat’s system well over a year ago as the final kinks were being worked out and the initial marketing of the product began to sweep the internet. After lugging beer miles through the back country for camping or fishing trips, the folks at Pat’s realized there must be a better way! Water makes up the bulk of the weight of beer, and the packaging, whether cans or bottles needed to be carried in and out of the site as well. While the weight is no problem if a machine is doing your work for you – when you are moving under your own power it can add up quite quickly, and the bulk will take away space from more important gear. So they got to work to develop a smarter way to enjoy beer in nature.

This camping/adventure beer seemed interesting to me, and here was a very environmentally conscious company, not only reducing the costs of shipping the product, and wasteful packaging, but using a low water, low energy brewing process to create what essentially amounts to a 50-60% ABV “shot” of flat beer. Go ahead and take a look at their eco2nomics vision and tell me you aren’t impressed.

The System:

With the packaging staring me down from a corner in our living room every day since late December, I couldn’t wait for a spring thaw to head out on an S24O bike trip. I had to try this unique product, but felt it wouldn’t be quite the same from our kitchen counter. I had to capture the ethos of nature, so I hiked along a treacherous trail to the nearest park service land I could find – Lincoln Park in Northeast DC! Upon arrival I was dismayed to know my activities were frowned upon, but nonetheless I pushed onwards towards our camp.

trail uh oh

It wasn’t back country wilderness at all – but it would do for a test of the carbonation system! Amidst families building snow forts and a curious group of Amish teenagers playing frisbee, I set up “camp” adjacent to a nice large tree. My snowman companion was of little help. What you see is the brew concentrate, the eventual beverage container (larger bottle), the carbonation unit (smaller orange vessel), and a Nalgene carrying my water supply (there were no clean mountain springs to be found, so I came prepared). Absent are the small “sugar packets” of carbonating materials.

equipment

I was initially surprised that the carbonation came from a chemical reaction, using two pretty benign sounding ingredients – citric acid and potassium bicarbonate. I figured carbonation would come from a miniature CO2 canister, akin to those used to inflate bike tubes, though I do know that those gasses aren’t necessarily food safe – and making them so would require a significant amount of work.

The process of brewing your beer is pretty simple. First, “prime the pump” on the grey lid, then add 16oz. of water and concentrate to the larger bottle. Next, add the contents of the carbonation package into the orange container, and screw the system together and for two minutes perform a “pump, shake, rest” dance that draws suspicious glances from passersby.  Pretty quickly you’ll feel pressure building up and see the bubbles building. On my first try the carbonation seemed to take pretty well, but my second pint was very flat. It’s a shame to have wasted the rather expensive beer (it works out to about $3.00/pint) on learning to master the carbonation process – so I would recommend practice on regular water. Overall the system did seem pretty easy to use, but consistency will take time to master.

extract

shake it

The Beer:

So if you’ve invested $30 for the bottle, another $6 for the carbonation packages (12/unit), and $10 for a four-pack of beer, then carried it out into the wilderness to enjoy by a campfire or on a river – you hope for something that matches the splendor of your surroundings. I tried a pint of both the 1919 Pale Ale and the Black Hops black-IPA on my expedition, but I can’t honestly say they were very spectacular.

Upon opening the package of 1919 Pale Ale concentrate I could immediately smell a heavy fruity hop odor, which got me excited. Following my two-minute carbonation dance I smelled – and yes tased, grapefruit-y hops pouring out of the bottle. At first I picked up on those hops in this nicely balanced beer, but I soon had a stale cardboard taste in my mouth, eventually followed by a dank resinous hop sensation. The flavor profile was somewhat flat and reminiscent of my home brewing adventures – not “pour down the drain” bad, just somewhat disappointing after so much anticipation.

The Black Hops had many of the same characteristics, though there was a biting sweetness with a mild roasted malt flavor that hit and quickly faded, likely due to the additional malts necessary to create the black IPA style. Again, slight stale cardboard and a thin flavor profile.

Conclusion:

The generally disappointing beer shouldn’t dissuade you from buying this product – if you truly are heading out into the wilderness, miles from a general store or gas station. Out there, treating water from a creek or spring is commonplace, and after a long day some beer is certainly better than no beer at all (unless you brink a hip-flask of bourbon – which may be a smarter move overall). Another good use for the product is home brewing – giving you a chance to test carbonate a small sample of your batch before you go to the effort of bottling everything.

But, if like me, you will primarily use Pat’s beer concentrates for shorter weekend-length bike camping trips, where the distance and terrain makes it relatively easy to carry a few beers, and a general store is often a short ride away. In that case, I don’t think this product is for you. You’ll be carrying the concentrate, brewing container and probably bottled water – so you might as well just bring a six-pack of your favorite local brew – where you have more selection and a known-quantity with regard to taste and carbonation.

I’ve got six more packages of concentrate – so I am not giving up on Pat’s Back Country Beverages, and I hope to try more flavors as they become available. I will bring the system on some S24Os this summer for the novelty – but I hope the taste profile can improve as the product is on the market for a longer time. If we take an S24O together this summer, then I’ll gladly let you sample and form your own conclusion!

finished

Things Worth Having: Acorn Boxy Rando Bag

If I remember correctly, I was sitting on the couch in my parents house well past midnight in December 2010 [click-refresh] [click-refresh] the distinctive click of on the touchpad of my ancient iBook ticking like a grandfather clock in the otherwise quiet living room. [click-refresh] Finally! [click-Add to Cart] [click-accept] A wave of excitement and dread rushed over me. Had I really just spent that much money to buy bags for my bike?!

photo 1-1It has now been something over 5,000 miles, and the tan canvas Boxy Rando, and medium saddlebag I bought that night rarely leave my Surly Long Haul Trucker. In fact, I struggle to understand why any cyclist would want to ride without either a spacious front or rear bag. I need them at this point – I instantly throw keys, a phone and a wallet in it as every ride starts off – and would feel awkward not having space to carry home a small package picked up along a ride or to stow a rain jacket or a pair of gloves.

Checking the cue sheet on the 2012 DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200k. Acorn Boxy Rando Bag carried my supplies well that day.

Checking the cue sheet on the 2012 DC Randonneurs Wilderness Campaign 200k. Acorn Boxy Rando Bag carried my supplies well that day.

Built by hand in southern California, Acorn Bags were built in small batches then (and now), and “released” into the wild at somewhat random intervals. After developing a solid lust for this bicycle accessory thanks in part to Yehuda Moon and the resurgence of hand-built bespoke rando bikes, I stalked the Acorn twitter feed waiting for the correct bags to be released. It was a gift to myself, I was moving from Boston to Washington, D.C., starting a new job – I deserved this!

My mileage increased after I moved to DC, and I started writing this blog – and the Boxy Rando bag became invaluable. I could carry my lock, food, a DSLR, wallet, keys, and a spare tube with ease. Acorn claims a volume of 8 liters – which means pretty little to most people. Dimensions of the main compartment are 11″ x 8″ x 6.5″. Big rides became so much less daunting when I knew everything I needed was easily accessible, and small trips are made more convenient with. It even helped cut down on getting lost! Cue sheets were easily visible from the secured top flap, and the contents hidden beneath could be plucked with east while riding for a quick shot or a chewy hunger fighting granola bar.

And I met people! If I had a nickle for every time somebody stopped and complimented the bags and wanted to know more about them.  Well… it is vain, but I’ll admit I feel good when that happens.

Rain is rarely a concern, as the bag is relatively water resistant – though a spare zip-lock bag for electronics is easily stowed in the front pocket just in case. Perfectly sized for a six-pack of beer, I never needed to carry a bag on my back again! Once I even carried five large breakfast sandwiches, oozing with egg, melted cheese and fresh tomato and two iced coffees two miles back from the local coffee shop to my family. Any other person in the house would have fired up their SUV for the task.

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Over time the bag has held up well, and developed a nice patina thanks to  exposure to the environment (including a big bird turd that wont wash off), and an accidental spilling of a full bottle of chain lube inside a front pocket. The quality of the Acorn construction is top notch, and perhaps even more importantly – it is steady on the bike.  I didn’t secure mine with a decaleur, instead only the included straps and a cheap Nashbar front rack, and it has never fallen off, even on hard bumps and shocks.  The bottom velcro occasionally detaches if you have a top heavy load, but I’ve grown so accustomed that I can fix that on-the-fly.

Russ Roca, of the Path Less Pedaled, said in his 10,000 mile review of the same bag:

It speaks of adventure, of far off places, of dusty roads and down pours.

And I couldn’t agree more.  This bag had enabled so many adventures, big and small. I think all the bikes in our house bikes need front bags like this.

Do you have a favorite bike bag or other accessory that you can’t leave home without? If so, tell a story below in the comments!

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