Bike Easy in the Big Easy

On the second day of my new job I was asked if I wanted to attend a training seminar in New Orleans. Of course I said yes.

My last visit to New Orleans was in May of 2011 for the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, five and a half years after Hurricane Katrina struck the region and inundated the city. To this outsider it felt like the city was still struggling to get back on its feet. Things felt dirty, cab drivers refused to take us into certain neighborhoods, houses stood abandoned. A certain “joie de vivre” seemed to be missing. At times we felt like gawking disaster tourists.

Mighty Miss

Mighty Miss

In the intervening four years I’ve watched the entire Treme series on HBO (if you haven’t, you need to), time has marched on in the big easy, and ironically I now find myself in a seminar about dam and levee failure mechanisms and lessons learned. To bookend the seminar I took the opportunity to rent bikes and re-explore the city.

Two afternoons worth of riding.

Two afternoons worth of riding.

I was amazed at the changes. Bike lanes, sharrows, many many cyclists. Neighborhoods that have emerged revitalized and full of vibrancy and spirit. New shops and restaurants, new sidewalks, new money. Sure, some buildings are still in ruins – many have become murals for local street artists, sure poverty is still evident (and gentrification/displacement a major problem), sure streets in the French Quarter still smell like piss and vomit as the morning sun warms putrid puddles left over from the previous nights revelry. For better or worse, some neighborhoods are welcoming gentrification with open arms, proclaiming to be “Your Blank Canvas”.

Chartres Street. Bywater

Chartres Street. Bywater

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Esplanade Avenue

Bienville Street. Upper French Quarter.

Bienville Street. Upper French Quarter.

I was able to bike almost 30 miles through the city thanks to the folks at BuzzNola and American Bicycle Rental Company. I’m really happy to see the changes, it felt like such a joyful and interesting city this time around.

Orleans Avenue Canal Levee

Orleans Avenue Canal Levee

Mardi Gras Leftovers

Mardi Gras Leftovers

If you have a chance, rent a bike for a day and explore the Bywater, the Warehouse District and City Park. Stop and absorb the life around you. I look forward to my next chance.

From the Land of Pleasant Living

Greetings from the greatest city in America! What… you don’t believe it? Well go outside and look for the nearest park bench. I’ll wait….

Is anything written on it? I didn’t think so.

It’s been a full two weeks since we unloaded our U-haul van in South Baltimore. Our temporary home for the next four months while we look for a more permanent dwelling to sink some roots into. Of course moving is a hectic and stressful experience, so D.C. kindly gave me a going away present in the form of a dog bite while I was picking up coffee the morning of the move. Aside from horrendous traffic, that is probably the worst thing that happened to me in four years in the District – do I consider myself lucky?

Crazy dogs aside, I do miss DC – and the chance to explore and get to know Baltimore has been equally exciting and nerve wracking. It helps a lot that the new job is really an excellent fit for what I want to be doing both professionally and personally. And the commute – 2.5 to 3 miles by bike – is a big part of that.

The new office.

The new office.

Commute routes to date.

Commute routes to date.

I had been nervous about the bike commute – would I need to dodge bullets and corner boys as if I were in a scene from The Wire? Would cars swerve into me and ignore my right to be on the road? Were the industrial neighborhoods I had to bike though even suitable for bike riding? I think as cyclists we carry many levels of anxiety/fear based on the fact that we are among the most vulnerable road users. The foundation of these fears, or perhaps the baseline level of discomfort seems to be tempered by an understanding of social norms and expectations – once you’ve been in an area long enough you tend to get a feel for how far people roll through stop signs, or how fast they drive, or where to be on the lookout for signs of dangerous people or activities. Above that are layers of concern for the less predictable actions – the types of things that people write off as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. I think being a comfortable and safe cyclist means that you understand those baseline expectations, and you are alert and act defensively to avoid those other layers.

Even after driving my bike commute route for a week, I felt like a ball of nerves for my first bike commutes. I observed that simple changes in the built environment drastically changed my expectations of driver behavior compared to DC or Boston. After five rides now I am beginning to feel a bit more comfortable. There are a few conflict points where I need to keep an eye out for cars trying to beat a light, there are some train tracks that I need to avoid (lest I find myself waiting in the bitter cold at the crossing for five minutes again this morning), the normal smorgasbord of glass in gutter and potholes, and the apartment building that can’t seem to figure out how to operate the door locks in their bike room. But on the plus side I feel great biking to work (mentally and physically), and there seems to be a small but enthusiastic group of cyclists in the office that I’m looking forward to riding with. If I keep the same job and the same commute – there’s at least 45,000 more bike commuting miles until retirement. I think Rootchopper covers that in about 2 years.

The commute route mostly follows the on-road portions of the Gwynns Fall Trail.

The commute route mostly follows the on-road portions of the Gwynns Fall Trail.

A private citizen marks the trail. A hero.

A private citizen marks the trail. A hero.

Morning commute traffic.

Morning commute traffic.

But I’ve got a lot more city to explore than just my commute route. There are a few folks I know that have offered up some great recommendations for routes – and now I need to find a group (or three) who I jive with to share in those rides. I know there are a few out there – one seems just a little too fast for me, but has good routes), and another focuses on slightly too long a distance, but is nice folks. I’ll just have to get faster and build more endurance.

Strangely, Baltimore is a little behind in the bike-organizing social media world. There is no equivalent to #bikeDC that I can find – though I plan on using #bikemore (also the name of the city bike advocacy group) on Twitter. In fact, it seems that most activity is on Facebook – hence my joining of about 5 different groups this week. I prefer Twitter and Instagram, so I’ll have to infiltrate these groups to pressure them to switch to the service. Oh, and I cooked up a great iteration of the #baaw tag (Bike Against A Wall) – #baawltimore. Time to hunt some great walls and murals.

I’m looking forward to sharing more. For now here’s a few more shots from the last week of commuting and exploring.

Oh say can I see - at Fort McHenry

Oh say can I see – at Fort McHenry

#baawltimore at the AVAM.

#baawltimore at the AVAM.

#baawltimore on the GFT.

#baawltimore on the GFT.

Looking forward to the next adventure(s)

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I’ve shared portions of this news with some folks, all of it with even fewer – but as of 3:00pm today I can finally share with everyone.

Escape velocity has been achieved. 

What does that mean? Well, after a few years of general malaise regarding my career (complicated but leaving me wondering if I had fallen out of love with my profession) – I felt like I would never achieve sufficient escape velocity – to find myself in the perfect career in the perfect town and the perfect house for our perfect family. Fortunately I had married the perfect wife in 2012, so that part was all set. However, a few months ago we decided to stop “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good”, so I put some electrical tape over the check engine light and took some risks that I felt somewhat unprepared for. But it paid off –  escape velocity achieved –  I’ll be starting a new job, doing some pretty different things starting mid-January.

It is all made even more exciting when paired with this other announcement: sometime in June 2015, between diaper changes and midnight feedings I’ll also begin shopping for extracycles, bakfiets or something similar. Yes, we’ll be welcoming our first child onto this planet. That’s pretty amazing by itself.

So, we’re moving north by 35 miles.  First a temporary residence in Columbia, Maryland – then possibly Baltimore City in the spring. Maybe we’ll find that perfect house and perfect neighborhood.

I’m looking forward to closing my eyes, jumping in head first and experiencing some great and happy adventures. That being said, I look forward to keeping strong ties to DC – particularly with the wonderful people I’ve met over the past 4 years.  Hoppy100, Monument to Monument, Brewvet, and more will continue on.  I’m hoping some of you will join me in Maryland for bike rides or stroller pushing hikes, just as I’ll swing down to DC for the same.

-John

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

- Eleanor Roosevelt

More Bike Gifts for Beer Lovers

Last year I wrote up a summary of holiday gifts that are particularly well suited to your beer drinking, bike riding, adventure seeking friend, companion, or family member.   Now, the idea was never to serve as a complete resource [And it wasn’t necessarily meant as a wish-list either] – so let’s discuss some of the interesting items that I’ve stumbled across in 2014 that work nicely as beer-bike-adventure gifts.

VeloVO Six Pack Rack Orange Six-Pack Rack – Early in 2014 VO let out some photos of a new rack attachment it was testing along the streets of its home base – Annapolis, Maryland – and I immediately liked the concept.  A six pack rack, designed to attach to their Randonneur rack, Pass Hunter rack, or Constructeur front rack was a nice and elegant way to carry six of your favorite bottles to and fro. While the rack itself may be a bit of a uni-tasker, it could easily double as a space to stash a vest or jacket, a lunch bag, or a box of cookies for your friend.  Price: $55 (not including necessary main rack) [Image: Velo Orange Blog]

 salsa anything cageSalsa Anything Cage – Perhaps an elegant porteur bike isn’t your thing – you’d rather thrash through the woods on a fat bike, build campfires, and skinny dip in frozen alpine lakes. You’ll need something to help warm you up after that adventure, and the Salsa Anything Cage will help carry your drink of choice out into the wilderness.  Basically, a water bottle cage, on steroids and with more flexibility.  A 22 oz. bomber of imperial stout, your favorite whiskey, or perhaps some additional camp fuel to keep your fire going – it will handle any of those. Price: $30 each. [Image: Salsa Website]

growletteSprocket Growlette – Perhaps you stopped at the brewpub before your fat bike adventure and want something nice to take home with your Anything Cage. The folks at Portland Growler Company make some pretty neat stoneware growlers by hand, including the Sprocket Growlette (32 oz) and Growler (64 oz.) which feature bike sprocket inspired details. Price: $55-$65. [Image: PGC website]

paul toolPaul Bottle Opener – When it comes to opening your beer, there are many bike-centric multi tools available.  I listed a handful last year, but somehow forgot to mention the hefty anodized aluminum opener from Paul Components.  Available in silver or black, and occasionally special anodized colors, this tool also features a 15mm wrench perfect for aligning your lovely Paul brakes.  Extra credit for Made in USA! Price: $20 [Image: VeloNews]

 sku_225_Next_Door_Brewing_Co_CottonWalz Craft Beer Caps – If you are on the side of caps, not hats, then Walz has a few options to cover your head while promoting a favorite brew. I own three Walz caps myself, and think the fit and quality is really great, even for my large circumference dome. Despite being priced a little steep for my tastes, and with designs that may not be of everyones liking – the cap is an excellent way to show your style both on and off the bike.  Oh, and they have jerseys available too.  Price: $29 (cap), $69 (jersey). [Image: Walz]

bikehoppyblue_smallBike Hoppy T-Shirt – Perhaps you’re afraid of Jimmy Duggan insulting a cap – well, how about this t-shirt from Forked Apparel Company instead?! Its got bikes in the shape of a hop cone. Is there anything else to say?  Price: $25 [Image: Forked Apparel Co.]

Knucks_decalsREEB Apparel: Oskar Blues makes some good beer. They also have a whole product line called REEB (can you tell what it stands for?), that makes shirts, belts and other accessories.  Oh, also 100% made in America bike frames too.  Shred in style with some REEB apparel, on a REEB bike, in the mountains of Western North Carolina on the new REEB ranch/bike farm. Man, I’m in the wrong industry! Prices: $7-$70 (apparel), $1,500 and up (bikes) [Image: Oskar Blues]

hop saddleHop in the Saddle: Planning a trip to Portland, Oregon anytime soon? You definitely need to rent a bike to get around this wonderful city – and you absolutely should bring this pocket guide to Portland bike and beer culture. During our Oregon Adventure this past fall Hop in the Saddle was an invaluable resource for getting around, and narrowing down our list of destinations into a almost manageable quantity. Price: $10 [Image: Hop in the Saddle]

 

WABA Cider Ride – Escape Velocity

When you throw an object straight up into the air, gravity (and air drag) begins to act upon it slowing its upward trajectory until it stops and falls back to earth. But gravity is a curious thing – as you move an object further from the Earth the gravitational forces acting on it diminish. So if one were to throw an object with enough initial speed that it could travel sufficiently far away from ground faster than the  effects of gravity can slow its speed, it would break free into outer space and continue on its trajectory.

Scientists call this minimum speed the escape velocity. It is something that has been on my mind lately, but in the context of escaping the urban tangle of the District of Columbia.  Though I seek the calming, rejuvenating effects of a bike ride in the country, I just can’t seem to escape DC. Sometimes the simple thought of riding across town feels like too great a force to overcome, and thus turns me off of my planned route.

WABAs second annual Cider Ride provided just enough of an extra force to enable that escape to the county recently. This year the ride took folks out to northern Montgomery County, Maryland to experience some of its beautiful rolling hills and farm land. That being said, despite my professional training in soils, rocks and groundwater, I do not understand space travel – and at times it felt I was just at the cusp of slipping below the escape velocity.

The forecast of mid to low 40 degrees and rain didn’t exactly help, and as anticipated riding partners dropped out the night before, I was wondering if I should give in to the forces and do the same. Fortunately a few of the best ones, Justin and John, decided they’d brave the deluge – nudging me closer to escape velocity. With the start in Rockville, the red line Metro also helped, bringing me from ground level urbanity to some form of exurban farm living.  The train became a rocket booster, lifting me nearly 20 miles into the atmosphere before I jettisoned leaving it to fall back to earth. This is something I need to do more often.

Waiting to board my rocket ship

Waiting to board my rocket ship

At the ride start in Rockville the farming history of the area was evident, though just barely. Rich farmland having been recently erased by townhome developers, leaving behind signs at development entrances with the words “farm” and “preserve”, devoid of meaning but allowing a boost in asking prices. Achieving escape velocity isn’t easy.

At the start, we hadn't yet escaped, but we knew we could make it.

At the start, we hadn’t yet escaped, but we knew we could make it.

As we traveled these developments became fewer and far between – and I felt as if we truly achieved escape velocity – sufficient enough that even a flat tire and broken chain experienced by my riding partners couldn’t slow us down – we persisted and broke free into some pleasantly familiar roads.

This is what I came for.

This is what I came for.

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The weather hindered the views, but not the feelings.

As I slogged up those familiar grades, gravities pull became ever apparent.  My fitness wasn’t at the peak it was only a few months ago when daylight and favorable weather allowed for countless miles in the saddle. My cold muscles weighed down by layers of waterlogged clothing certainly didn’t help either – I feared they couldn’t maintain sufficient velocity to keep me moving away, outwards towards the rolling hills and forests that made this ride so appealing.

But eventually we made it – Kingsbury Farm, a refuge, a space station – warm apple cider and salty snacks abounded. Soggy riders shared stories of their despair and triumph. All relished in the scenery around them.  I was happy, pure and simple, but it was time to re-enter the atmosphere.

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A shortcut allowed for a little less time in the rain, but unfortunately it meant the sprawl came back into view quicker than I had hoped.  But that is ok – because while I had great company on the ride, I knew what waited at home base.

Achieving escape velocity is something we all need to do every once in a while, it keeps us sane and happy. There’s more to say about that theme, and I am excited to share it, but I’ll save it for another time.

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Thanks

Image: Jefferson McCarely, Mission Bicycles,

Image: Jefferson McCarely, Mission Bicycles,

For many adventures, big and small.

For family, friends, readers of this blog, people who inspire me, and people who work to make the world a better place.

For many miles of safe travel (by bike, car, foot, plane, boat and train).

For the future, and whatever it brings.