Three Big Days in the Colorado Sky

Our New Mexico – Colorado tour got back on the road Sunday with the first of three long days that took us across two of Colorado’s highest passes and another big ride to come tomorrow that crosses I-70 up to Kremmling.

Mail stop in Gunnison

Sunday the route from Gunnison started well, with a gentle tailwind pushing us to Monarch Pass. But once on the ascent the traffic was very steady and noisy, with lots of trucks pulling campers, and in a couple cases we were harrassed. In another case I think a senior driver never saw us in front of her and I had to steer into the gravel as she blithely drove past. 

One of the threatening moves came from a driver of a cheapo Jeep who buzzed us and whose passenger flipped us off even though they had a clear passing lane to their left. We see more bad behavior from Jeep owners than other makes; I think they market to aggressive drivers.

All this made it hard to enjoy the stunning views though we pulled over a couple of times for photos and to clear our heads. Colorado should really consider a bike lane on these long ascents if they continue to tout the state as a cycling destination.

A Gunnison-based rider at the summit who we met chalked it up to drivers going home after the July 4 holiday and to construction to pave Cottonwood Pass east of Crested Butte. 

A rare quiet moment on Monarch

The descent to Salida for lunch was fast and uneventful though traffic was still strong and drivers seemed to be intent at all costs on passing any vehicle ahead.

It was hot in Salida and we cooled our heels for awhile at Dawn Cafe, a funky coffee shop, and then went to pizza at brewpub Moonlight, which was fun. We got some praise for the tandem and our route from a couple of bikey folks and the food was quite good. 

Cafe Dawn. An oasis on a hot afternoon.

Also a relaxing stop at Moonlight 

US285 north to Buena Vista was one never ending stream of traffic, but the shoulder was wide except where an uphill passing lane was provided, which left us a teeny 3-foot shoulder. Colorado, more work needed here too.

Buena Vista was a good stop for us. Our old pals at Boneshaker Cycles were closed but staff was still there and nicely sold me a tube of chamois creme. 

Deer paraded down Main Street as we had dinner at an outdoor eatery, real small town life.

A Sunday evening stroll

Today (Monday) US285 was much more quiet as we set out for Carbondale via Independence Pass and Aspen. After a solid coffee start at Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, we got bananas at City Market, where I realized that I left my phone on a ledge outside the coffee shop. It was still sitting there when we returned, whew!

The climb up Independence was steep at the bottom but had enough moderate sections to allow some recovery. There was little car traffic and we got some nice thumbs up here and there. 

Still on the lower slope

Still, topping 12,000 feet elevation is always a slow affair on a tandem and we were at it for more than two hours for the 12 miles that make up the main climb from the eastern side. 

Nearing the top, and the rain

Dark clouds gathered and it was drizzling at the summit. We got our photo taken and put on rain gear for the fairly technical descent to Aspen, with narrow switchbacks along the way. Another Jeep driver nearly caused a pileup trying to pass us around a blind turn when we were cruising at more than 40 m.p.h, but backed off when an oncoming car appeared and started blowing their horn. 

Aspen was busy but we made the best of it with lunch stuff from City Market that we ate in a nearby plaza. We also got me an espresso at Victoria’s (though not the $7 cake slice I really wanted) and we talked with a rider who had passed us on Independence and was there all cleaned up and in street clothes! He remembered us and I emailed him a photo of him easing past us on a steep part.

Lunchtime in Aspen

The Rio Grande Trail, deserted on a Monday afternoon, got us to Carbondale 30 miles later around 6 p.m. We blew off dinner out and got pizza delivery to our abode tonight, the Comfort Inn. 
Tomorrow we ride a century to humble Kremmling.  

We have a few options to get us to State Bridge Landing and then up Trough Road, a gravel route into town for the night. We’ll check the fire reports but I think the one small fire near Eagle won’t affect us. 

It’s going to be hot but we’re used to that after nine riding days and will plan accordingly. We will try to avoid Glenwood Springs if we can; that bike trail along I-70 is a bit narrow for a tandem, we found on our 2013 Colorado tour. Plus, Glenwood is a busy place. 

Thanks for reading!

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Hello From Our Rockies Tour

We’re on the rest day of the latest edition of our annual summer tandem tour, in Gunnison, Colo. This year we are riding from Albuquerque to Boulder in a serpentine route through the Rockies.

Ready to go in Taos

So far 600 miles have rolled by in various states of heat, cold, bright sun and rain as we made our way to overnight stops in Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico, and Colorado towns of Pagosa Springs, Durango, Montrose and yesterday into Gunnison.

Mary has been posting daily at her blog Chasing Mailboxes about our adventures, which have been amazing in various ways — the visual beauty of the Southwest has been matched by the friendly people, especially in New Mexico, and the food. If you like green chili, this region is heaven. There are also some great coffee and bike shops; Pagosa Mountain Sports was a sweet place, as was Cimarron Coffee Roasters in Montrose.

Eric at Cimarron Roasters got us on the road to Gunnison in good spirits

We also had happy meetup with friends in Santa Fe (Patrick) and Durango (Jenny, Shawn, Jason and Matthew). So nice!

We’ve been asked about our touring setup. We ride our trusty Co-Motion Java 700c tandem and stay in hotels, which allows us to cover long distances, mostly paved with occasional gravel miles where practical. The route will give us about 1,000 miles in 12 riding days, ending in Boulder on Thursday.

Our first ride over 10,000 ft. elevation on US64 to Chama

We flew with the bike, which was made with S&S couplers, to Albuquerque via Southwest Airlines and assembled it there. We shipped the cases from our hotel to friends in Boulder via Bikeflights.com.

Team Photo

We carry spare shorts, socks, rain and cool weather gear, and dinner outfits in a large Carradice Camper saddlebag.  Other stuff — tools, electronics, snacks and so forth — go in the Carradice and in/on a front Acorn box bag.

We also use an Oveja Negra top tube bag for me, a Randi Jo Fabrications bar bag for Mary, and a surprisingly useful little frame bag from Nashbar for cables and other spares.

A spare tire goes in an Acorn seat bag lashed into a bottle cage. Tires are Clement USH 700x35mm.

Camelbak (me) and Osprey (Mary) hydration packs and three bottles ward off the heat. We run generator front and rear lights continuously (Schmidt) and Garmin GPS computers, which helpfully tell us how slowly we climb up these Rockies passes.

We are the dot. The dot has a long way to go.

The hotel experience can be kind of weird. We stand out among the families and retirees and get odd comments from old guys who think tandems are funny, but we also like showers and beds and the free breakfasts come in handy.

The only mechanicals on the bike have been a stuck chain link on the road to Gunnison and a couple of goat head flats on the day we left Albuquerque. I think we got them on the paved trail we used to leave town.

The cool espresso and bike shop here in Gunnison, Double Shot Cyclery, has been our home base today. Along with essential caffeinated drinks, I got a new 10-speed chain from them (complicated, but four removable links in one chain was going to be a bit much) and they let me use the bike wash station out back with a hose, real Dawn soap and brushes and an old workstand and everything.

The Co-Mo is all clean, lubed and ready for the climb up Monarch Pass tomorrow to Buena Vista via Salida.

Thanks Double Shot for the landing spot and the gear

A big thank-you also goes to James at Gravel & Grind shop in Frederick, Md. (also espresso and neat bikes, hmm…) for talking me into adding Paul Components Klamper disk brakes and 203mm Shimano Ice Tech rotors to our tandem. They are doing wonderful work controlling speed on the steep descents — definitely an upgrade over the Avid BB7 brakes and rotors we had before. Slowing from 50+ m.p.h. for that next hairpin without brake fade is kinda critical.

That’s it so far. More to come. Thanks for reading!

Keeping the Wheels On: The DC Randonneurs 600K

Mary and I took a break from the longer brevets last year, mostly because of the 4 a.m. starts and being at new jobs that required us to be fully functioning on Mondays. This year we were able to plan ahead and made time for the D.C. Randonneurs 400K in May and the 600K this last weekend.

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Another fun weekend on the bike. Photo courtesy Mary.

 

There is a joke in randonneuring about randonnesia — where you forget the discomfort of the most recent big brevet enough that you sign up for more (I’m sure a version exists in all endurance sports). We had a version of that going into this year’s 400K and 600K, which is a good thing. We approached them with renewed enthusiasm for overcoming the logistical, physical and mental challenges.

We didn’t suffer too much on the Frederick 400K on May 20. It was the hillier version of the two that DCR ran this year, but we prefer hilly over flatter rides. You can see our GPS log from the event here.

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Outside Hancock, Md on the 400K

 

We finished in a solid 20:09 overall, falling short of the goal of taking only an hour rest per 100 miles, but there was a lot of climbing in the morning and some headwinds in the afternoon. We’re about an hour slower than our best performance of years past for the distance, which we could approach with less time off the bike. Maybe next year.

After having ridden 600Ks over the years, I’ve concluded our strongest rides come on the shorter brevets. Our legs tend to be heavy after riding the fleche and the 400K in particular. The overnight sleep stop on the 600K also makes a big difference — the better we feel on the first day, the sooner we arrive at the overnight and then get out on the road again.

This year we had a solid if not spectacular 600K. Here’s our recap. You will find our 600K GPS files at Garmin Connect: Day 1 and Day 2 (note: we turned the Garmins off for long stops), and my photos at Flickr.

Prologue

The weekend forecast called for the lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, possibly hitting the upper 80s. We got home early from work on Friday and had dinner before driving out to Warrenton, Va. to the start hotel, the Hampton. Ride organizers Kelly and Josie Smith greeted us in the lobby just as they were packing up from the advance sign-in, along with Eric Williams and Emily Ranson keeping them company.

We had no drama getting set up, which involves hauling the tandem off the car, getting it into the room and attaching the front fender, little bags and electronics, and stuffing in our rain jackets and other gear. As we have this spring, I had my Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer up front and Mary had a Garmin Edge 810 on the rear top tube, both with OSM Cycle maps. We also carry USB batteries to recharge on the go; I ran mine off the battery the whole day and recharged Mary’s once along the way.

I made up custom courses in nine segments on RidewithGPS earlier in the week (see them here), and had those loaded on both Garmins. I like to break up the route in case one of the Garmins has a problem and shuts down, so that I don’t have to reload the entire route file. Plus, we get the Garmin fanfare noise and little “You Win” notice when we reach the end of each segment. Every little morale booster counts on these rides, haha!

One bummer was that our fleche team captain and fellow coffee stop afficionado Jerry Seager had to skip the event because of work commitments. We missed his good cheer.

An Early Start

The usual 20 or so of us attending DCR rides these days gathered for the 4 a.m. start. Having a Sheetz store nearby was helpful; Mary and I got a faux-cappucino to share and a breakfast sandwich for me. We also ate some Hippie Crack granola I brought from A Baked Joint bakery in D.C., which went down surprisingly well in middle of the night with soy milk. We both put on arm and leg warmers and light caps, but left our cold weather gear in our bags.

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Check in desk

 

Kelly and Emily were getting folks signed in, with help from David Ripton helping with lights inspection.

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Quiet anticipation

 

Right at 4, Kelly quietly sent us off into a cool, clear night.

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John and David ready to go

 

Compared to when I first started riding, riders are definitely more visible in the night. The quality of reflective gear and lighting has advanced a lot. It looked like a wall of white and red (some of the battery taillights were actually too bright) coming from the riders ahead of us.

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Roger and Bob

 

We rode with the front group as long as the rollers allowed, about 20 miles, as we steamed over the green hills and valleys toward the first control at Somerset, Va., mile 60. There were no services until there, but at this stage of the brevet season we can easily ride that far on pocket food and breakfast. We rode a bunch of miles with Bob Counts and Roger Hillas after the sun came up, as one gorgeous Virgina countryside vista after another came into view.

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Randos converge on Somerset

 

At Somerset the first group was still there, which meant we had kept up a good pace. I got some little country ham sandwiches and bottled ice tea, my go-to rest stop drink.

When we went to leave, Mary’s Garmin had shut itself down. It restarted fine, but reset back to zero so she had to add 60 miles to her distance total the rest of the day. The unit saved the lost segment data to internal memory and I was able to join it with the rest of the day’s track when we got home on Sunday.

On the way to the control at Dyke, mile 81, a driver slowed to warn us about a dog that had bitten a rider ahead, and then an ambulance passed. We were worried. It turned out to be a cyclist not on our ride, but we were saddened that somebody got hurt. At the control we learned Roger had talked to the fellow — “he was bleeding all over his Sidi’s,” Roger said, but said he wasn’t in bad shape.

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Theresa Furnari arrives at the Dyke store

 

Caleb joined us for the run to Crozet, mile 103, over the high point of the ride in the Appalachian foothills. We got there just after 11 a.m. and went to Green House Coffee by ourselves and had sandwiches, espresso and treats. Everybody else did the rando thing and went to the convenience store. It felt good to sit down and catch our breath in a relaxed setting. The nice staff filled my Camelbak with ice, too.

Mary in Crozet

A good rest stop in Crozet

 

The air was hot as we departed. The cue sheet did not mention any more stores until mile 178 (there were a number of them, I should have recalled) so we stopped again at Brown’s Store, mile 127, to get more ice for our Camelbaks, fearing we’d run out of water.

Jack Nicholson, Bob Counts and Pat O’Connor rolled up and took our surplus ice, and Gardner and Theresa pedaled past, showing strong time discipline.

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It’s hot! Time for more ice.

 

The terrain leveled off, we had a hot tailwind and by mile 164 I was overheated.  We stopped at the friendly LJ Store, where I got an emergency Snickers ice cream bar and ginger ale.

The Wheels Come Off

At Louisa, mile 178, I was in distress. I was nauseous and grouchy. The new Sheetz had a sitting area and I took a 20-minute nap while Mary fretted about my situation. Normally my stomach never bothers me. Dehydration, I think, was the culprit and nothing was appetizing, even though I had consumed more than 100 ounces of fluids in 60 miles. I didn’t think to get something moist and easy to digest, like a banana.

I finally managed to drink another ice tea and we decided to go to the control at Orange and see if I could recover.

We spent an hour in Louisa, which put a 30-minute dent in our plan to get to the overnight by midnight. Most of the people in our ride orbit were now ahead of us, not to be seen again today. It was definitely a low moment, not knowing if more trouble was ahead.

I Am Focused

The cooler evening temperatures and easy terrain made a huge difference, though. By 20 miles later in Orange, mile 199, my appetite had returned and we ate at McDonalds. I recovered and we rode steadily, though I was fighting drowsiness and saddle soreness at the end and counting down the miles.

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Appetite returns in time for McDonald’s.

 

About an hour out from the overnight stop, blearily riding along and not paying attention, I said loudly, “I am focused!” Mary was naturally perplexed. I said I was declaring myself focused on getting to the hotel with no missed turns. This exercise seemed to work, though I had to repeat it occasionally, which became a bit of running joke.

We arrived to the hotel at mile 255 at 12:40 a.m., not far off our usual 400K pace.

Kelly and Josie had a nice spread of hot and cold food going in their room. Caleb was there taking a peaceful nap in advance of heading out into the night. After some chicken soup for me and chili for Mary, we got almost three hours sleep.

Day 2

We arose in the usual randonneur fog after short sleep, ate the last of our granola and got some bananas from Kelly and Josie (yep, still at work!), and checked out of our room. By 5:10 a.m. we were off just before first light, and I felt back to my usual self. I like the exit from Warrenton on this route because it trends downhill, making the initial miles go by without a lot of effort to start. Unsurprisingly, my Garmin advised me that my recovery status from my last ride was “poor.” Gee, thanks for that.

Our ride to Fredericksburg was pleasant though we had no sighting of any riders. I’d see a red light ahead in the dark but it would always be a driveway reflector.

The genial clerk at the 7-11 at mile 279 said some folks had come through about 40 minutes earlier, which we assumed was the first group that had slept. We saw from Instagram later that Caleb and Paul Donaldson had ridden out first.

We stopped to move a turtle off the road. It protested wildly about being picked up, but I got it into the ditch before it clawed me.

At Fredericksburg, around 9 a.m., we stopped at Hyperion Espresso for today’s sit-down meal and coffee. The air conditioning was delicious too. I was hungry enough to eat a cold tofu and cole slaw sandwich, which would be well off my radar, but that was all they had outside of pastries, and it tasted great.

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Not a convenience store.

 

The ride though the Fredericksburg Battlefield is always a highlight and we enjoyed the tree-lined, peaceful Lee Road and the little dirt footpath connector section. No randonneurs were anywhere in sight so we presumed we got passed at breakfast, and that was that.

We learned later that Roger Hillas saw us up ahead at one point before the battlefield but we caught a traffic light and he got stopped.

At Spotsylvania, mile 325, the sun was blazing. Choosing the Fasmart to control just on the edge of town, we bought a big tub of cold potato salad and cold ice and cold drinks. If it was cold, it looked good.

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Potato salad. Hot weather food.

 

We were cheered up a lot when Roger rode into sight and turned into the parking lot, but then he made a quick U-turn and rode away, apparantly not seeing us at all. Oh well!

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So long Roger! Photo courtesy Mary.

 

The chains were driving me crazy with noise, so I oiled them, but I forgot to reapply sunscreen to myself, so it was a half-victory on the tasks list. I suffered some sun exposure by the end but didn’t burn, but it was an risky mistake.

The Invention of RandoBall

There was a lot of Sunday morning traffic over the next 14 miles to the information control at the church at mile 338, on twisty and hilly roads. Everybody was nice to us, but it was pretty stressful. The traffic let up after that, yay.

At the church, Mary shot a couple of baskets, including a nice layup, and we enjoyed a shade break. Our progress was good and there was no more stops over the next 45 miles. We had plenty of fluids and food, and set our sights on the finish.

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383 miles and two points.

 

Our aches and pains were piling up, though, which made the last miles a challenge. My big pain points were the heel of my left hand, which stays on the bars most of the time while I shift the rear gears,  my seat from compression soreness, and my left big toe, which was throbbing for no real reason.

We had some breeze, thankfully, and kept up a decent rolling pace, taking just one shade break.

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Shade and some personal care on Summerduck Road. Photo courtesy Mary.

 

I liked the routing at the end via Courtney’s Corner, Shipps Store and Elk Run roads. It’s a peaceful stretch with good shade. After the usual turns and hills into Warrenton we arrived at 3:55 p.m. for a total run of 35:55. That’s a fine outcome for us, especially given the ride was 383 miles. For the record, we passed the the 600K distance, 375 miles, at 3:18 p.m.

Kelly texted us earlier and asked that we give him an arrival time so he and Josie could order pizza, and there it was in the room, still hot, along with plenty of cold drinks and other snacks. Nice going team! He also came down to greet us.

Epilogue

This year’s 600K was a return to form for us. As the years go by, keeping up with past performances is the primary goal for me.

It was unusual to not see anyone for all of Sunday other than the random sighting of Roger.  The ranks of the regulars have dwindled for DCR rides and it appears there is too much separation on a 600K for groups to form. I hope this trend changes.

Big thanks go to Josie and Kelly, and to Bill Beck and Emily  (with Kelly) for riding the checkout over Labor Day weekend. Also big thanks to Nick Bull, our hard-working brevet administrator, for managing another long spring series.

Our next big event is our annual summer trip, this year a 1,000-mile unsupported tandem tour from Albuquerque, N.M. to Boulder, Colo. starting July 1. The brevet and fleche miles should come in handy in getting over the summits out there.

Tech Notes

Our Avid BB7 disk brakes were annoying on this ride, with the disk pads tending not to retract fully on the front wheel for awhile after hard braking, skimming the rotor. This is unusual. I hope it’s just time for new cables and housings. We also had our rear shifting start to get clunky at the end. I’m thinking of going from 9-speed to 10-speed shifting, which we have liked on our other tandem for a few rides so far. I’m still sticking with bar end shifters, though. No matter how sore or cold my hands get, I can always shift them.

Our tires, Panaracer GypsyKing GravelKing 32mm smooth tread, remain a mixed bag. They roll and corner really well and mount easily but are stiffer than our standby, the 32mm Panaracer Pasela PT. I presume they are made that way to ward off sidewall cuts. It was noticable on the rougher roads in central Virginia. Maybe I’ll lower the pressure as they are less likely to pinch flat. (Sorry folks we are not going tubeless).

My new Voler Black Label shorts were a fail on Saturday. I’m between sizes and moved up to large after finding the medium was too tight, but the chamois was too big and caused some chafing. They are going back. I pulled out a pair of my Voler Caliber shorts for Sunday, which were fine. I’m not a big fan of the move to compression in sports clothing and I think Voler has taken it too far in their Black Label line.

 

 

2017 Fleche: Team Once in a Blue Moon

It’s been a week since our six-person, five-bike team Once in a Blue Moon rode 226 miles in 24 hours on April 22-23 as part of the D.C. Randonneurs 2017 fleche, and I’m just now getting my head clear to post our story, so forgive the tardiness. It’s worth it to get a story that isn’t clouded by sleep deprivation, I hope.

In case you are unaware of the fleche, it’s the main team randonneur event of the year. Teams of up to five riders or bikes (tandems count as one bike, yay!) make up their own route that covers at least 360 kilometers (223.6 miles), with 24 hours to finish and no stops of longer than two hours, so you can’t race and finish way early.

Interested? Perplexed? Shocked, even? Typical for randonneuring, there are a bunch of rules, see them here. In sum, it’s a long ride with time limits, just like other randonneur rides, but you get to make up your own route and have to finish together.

I tried to get this post out earlier in the week but needed time to process the whole event and catch up on my sleep.  I always think I’m back to normal from the fleche after just one or two night’s sleep, but it always takes longer.

The Fleche: What the Heck is That?

We like the fleche but mostly during the ride and after. In advance the concept is daunting.

The fleche is run on or near the Easter weekend so spring weather is a given. Riders have to bring night/cold/wet weather gear, and of course learn how to stay awake in the wee hours. They also have to get to a remote start, if a point-to-point route is chosen to the designated finish at the Key Bridget Marriott in Arlington, across the Potomac River from Washington.

This year our team had two randonneur newbies which added another bit of extra uncertainty – though they did fine! More below.  A team must have at least three bikes finish together for an official result, but the goal is always to complete the ride with nobody dropped, and optimally riding as a group the entire way.

Sunny skies in Cumberland for our arrival

 

Lastly, there is always the threat of bad weather. It’s rare that there is no rain somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic on a fleche weekend, and usually some winds. Every team (this year there were seven that attempted the DC Randonneurs event, five were successful) throws the dice in deciding their general direction regarding the weather. Last year half of 10 teams abandoned because of a massive cold front from the northwest with gusty winds.

This year we started in Cumberland, Md., at the northern end of the C&O Canal Towpath where it meets Great Allegheny Passage Trail that links Washington with Pittsburgh. Mary and I drove out Friday morning in a rental minivan with the Spectrum tandem, which isn’t allowed on the train because it’s too long – the tandem, that is!

It fits!

Clean, for the moment

 

Cumberland has an Enterprise franchise that accepted a one-way rental, and a staffer drove us back to the hotel, which was nice.

Our Team

Team OIABM was drawn together by our English pal and captain Jerry Seager, who loves to provide cue sheets in proper European kilometers instead of miles, finds restaurants for meals, and looks for mountains and dirt roads to liven up the proceedings. For the second year in a row Jerry had us start from a town on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which has bike service, so that our team could ride a point-to-point route without arranging a shuttle.

 

Bilal and Natasha in Cumberland

 

We and Jerry were the holdovers from our team last year. Rando stalwart Eric Pilsk joined us this year along with newcomers Natasha Calderwood and her partner Bilal Zia, who Jerry recruited. They are very active cyclists in the DC racing/cyclocross scene but not randonneurs, so they were green to the brevet cards and middle-of-the-night riding thing.

The makeup of the team brought its own stresses, because it would be our first ride together, but also made it interesting to see if we could come together on the road.

Eric and Jerry at our first stop in Corriganville, five miles into the ride

 

To meet the minimum mileage, Jerry devised a question mark-style route that initially sent us in the opposite direction from Washington, which was kind of strange, but hey this is randonneuring so just follow the route, OK? Joking aside, devising a fleche route is not easy, and we’re indebted to Jerry for doing the work.

See our GPS track and data at RidewithGPS and see Jerry’s route at Ridewithgps.

Basically, we took the GAP Trail towards Pittsburgh over the Eastern Continental Divide and then left the trail in Meyersdale for some gruesomely hilly & gravelly/scenic riding to Bedford for lunch. From there we turned south through the steep but lovely Laurel Highlands, landing in the early evening in Hancock, Md.

Pointing our wheels to the southeast, the remaining highlights were:

  • rolling back roads to Shepherdstown, W. Va., (for a planned dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe, hence our team name);
  • a few flat and muddy miles on the C&O Canal Towpath to a Potomac River crossing at Brunswick, Md;
  • more back roads to Leesburg in Virginia;
  • the finish in Arlington via the paved W&OD and Custis paved trails.

Friday Arrival in Cumberland

The forecast for the weekend was ominous, and that left us with some dread on Friday, with cold rain forecast for most of Saturday and all of Saturday night. Our hopes were pinned on the chance that the rain would somehow miss us.

Mary and I got into Cumberland under sunny skies and light breezes, an ironic touch. I forgot my knee warmers at home but we found some nice Endura ones at the friendly nearby Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, right by our Fairfield Inn hotel.

We had just one gear scare. I brought my Sidi road shoes by mistake instead of my mountain shoes. They are set up with Shimano SPD road cleats so we tried them out on the tandem and they worked fine with our dual-sided SPD pedals. Using only SPD pedals on our bikes paid off this time.

Saturday: Rain at the Start

We met at 7 a.m. for handshakes and photos under heavy cloud cover in Cumberland and sped off to the early control points that were needed to verify our route. We had our rain gear handy and it would come out in short order.

Our humble start point

Eric in Cumberland

Steep hill into Frostburg

Us, in Frostburg, mostly dry

Bilal and Natasha in Frostburg

 

Light rain started after Frostburg where we picked up the GAP Trail. By the time we were over the Continental Divide there was steady cold rain, and we were shivering. At the Sheetz store in Meyersdale we put on all of our cold weather gear and rode off in drizzle that seemed to be getting less intense. Before long the rain stopped completely, which was great news.

Natasha and Jerry on the GAP Trail. Courtesy Mary G.

The Continental Divide on the GAP Trail

Bagging that turkey on the GAP Trail

 

Best of all, the rain did not catch us again on the entire ride, as we stayed behind the cold front moving toward the southeast. It was chilly, especially on the downhills, and cloudy, but that was so much better than rain.

Dirt Climbing with Eric and Jerry

 

We still had a lot of ups and downs to conquer in the first century. Jerry has a knack for finding steep dirt lanes and on this day he did not disappoint. We took on a few including Schoolhouse Road on the way to lunch in Bedford, and the appropriately-named Hill Road that took us over McKee’s Gap into Hancock. We added these to our annual list of fleche grievances.

(Tech note: we enjoyed good traction with our new tire choice, the 700×32 Panaracer Gypsyking Gravelking file tread model. We’ve been using Panaracer Pasela PT 700×32 for years).

Crazy steep Schoolhouse Road

 

Jerry is also good at finding better lunch spots. This time we enjoyed the farm-to-table restraurant Horn O Plenty in Manns Choice, where Mary and I each had a Monte Cristo sandwich – a ham-and-cheese on French toast – which must have had 1,000 calories, and we didn’t leave any behind. The staff was really great too about getting us our food fast. Eric shot past the place (it was easy to miss), but he returned with five bonus miles and they got him fed in fast order.

Big Lunch at Horn O Plenty

 

The many hills in the area offered fantastic views but they came with a downside for a fleche team with a tandem included – we became well strung out.  The fast downhill speed of the tandem (48+ m.p.h. on one hill) pulled us away from the group and we rode a number of the miles by ourselves, with Eric coming up from time to time on the ascents before we’d fly off again. Jerry,

Natasha and Bilal were out of sight behind us somewhere, which made us worry, but we figured there would be a regrouping in Hancock. Temperatures remained in the 50s, not ideal but warm enough.

Up in the Hills courtesy. Mary G

 

We arrived at Hancock way behind schedule, at about 6 p.m., or 11 hours for the first 115 miles, and the rest of the group was some minutes back. We were barely making minimum overall speed for an official finish. Not good!

Dinner was not happening at the Blue Moon in Shepherdstown – the restaurant would be closed at 9 long before we got there, and Natasha’s stomach was acting up, keeping her from getting nutrition and slowing her progress.

There was some consternation at this point about our team prospects. We decided to split up, with Bilal and Natasha taking some extra time to see if she could recover. It was sad but we had to move on if there was to be any chance of making an official finish.

The Reunion and the Magic

Along the way to Shepherdstown, riding by ourselves, we got off course for a couple of miles. After returning we noticed bike lights ahead and eventually caught up to Natasha and Bilal, who had gotten past us. Natasha was so surprised to see us that she initially thought we were some other tandem couple riding around in the dark!

Meanwhile, Jerry and Eric found a pizza place in a shopping center near Hainsville and we had a happy gathering. Natasha’s appetite returned, we got plenty to eat, and set out in good spririts. The gentle terrain kept the group together and the miles flew by.

There was conversation. There was laughter. We stuck together and got into Sheperdstown late but happy.

Racing to the Finish

The night ride was foggy and damp but mostly uneventful, except for a chance meeting with the Severna Park-based Four Guys and Another Guy team at Harpers Ferry. Our group stopped under the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River after midnight, only to hear people clomping down the spiral staircase above. Another happy meetup!

After some pleasantries they sped off east while we took the C&O south, splashing through the puddles, toward our next control at Knoxville outside of Brunswick, Md.

Eric in Knoxville

 

Our final goals were a 7-11 control in Leesburg, and then our last control at Amphora diner in Herndon, which we had to reach by 5 a.m. We knew it was going to be close. After getting confused in an apartment complex trying to get on the W&OD again in Leesburg that required a bit of bushwhacking, we rode hard to get to Amphora, and made it with about 10 minutes to spare.

After a 20-minute rest we trundled out toward Arlington, and a randonneur team time trial formed. We arrived with seconds to spare at 6:59 a.m.! It was a joyous moment after a long and at times tough ride.

Team portrait at the finish. Courtesy Mike Wali.

 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of talk in cycling these days about epic adventure rides, particularly on gravel. The fleche, at least when Jerry is making up the route, is a great way to experience the long miles, night skies and remote roads right here in the Mid-Atlantic. This year’s edition was particularly challenging and an official result wasn’t always a sure thing. Our team pulled together in the dead of night and made it happen, and for that I’m proud of them and us.

It was a pleasure to ride with Natasha and Bilal, who remained calm and resolute throughout.

And, as always, special kudos are due to Mary, who rode with her usual aplomb. I’m always glad to be part of our tandem team.

Mary and Me. She looks much fresher. Courtesy Mike Wali.

DC Randonneurs 300K: Big Flat Looms Large

I’d have to stop and count the number of times I’ve ridden the DC Randonneurs 300K out of Frederick, Md., yet it remains my favorite of that distance.

Why? I have this love of conquering the big monster known as Big Flat Ridge, about a third of the way through the ride. Big Flat is part of the South Mountain extension and rises above the first control in Shippensburg, Pa.

IMG_0592

Signing In

See all of my photos here at Flickr.

A stairstep climb to the top gains more than 1,300 feet over seven miles, starting with a tough grunt up from orchard hills below, then culminating in a grind of about 1.5 miles with sustained grades over 10 percent.

Big Flat isn’t the only tall point on this ride – we also ride over South Mountain from Thurmont up MD 77 at mile 18, about 1,200 feet up over seven miles. The grades are not as bad there, however.

Still, Big Flat caps off about 45 miles of big hills, for a total of about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. If you push too hard to get past Big Flat, it’s hard to recover, especially if the winds pick up.

On the Spectrum tandem we’re way down in our lowest gear often on Big Flat – a 26×34 combination –  and standing on the pedals here and there to get off the saddle.

Saturday was a gorgeous day, but the ride was still as tough as ever. We had the benefit of a slight tailwind, but hauling a tandem over those climbs is always a challenge.

Here’s our route on RidewithGPS, but ignore the total climbing, which I think is a fair bit lower. Garmin corrects it to 8,338 feet.

A Fast Start

Organizer Chris Readinger sent us off at 5 a.m. from the Days Inn, 26 riders in all. Mary and I managed to stay close to the front group to Thurmont and got there in just over an hour, but they rapidly disappeared on the climb up to Cascade. Some riders caught us near the top, including Pat O’Connor, another D.C. resident who we had not seen at a DCR ride in a few years.

IMG_0626

John on his Boulder

After Cascade we were among the riders we’d see the rest of the day: Greg Keenan, Gary Rollman and Scott Franzen of Pennsylvania, Paul Donaldson and John Mazur, who was on his single bike today, a lovely Boulder Bicycles 650b randonneur.

IMG_0604

Cascade!

Chris Readinger was there with his partner at the turnoff on Shippensburg Road to Big Flat with water and encouragement. We got over Big Flat and flew down into Shippensburg around 10 a.m., not bad for us. The sun was bright and warm and we took off layers.

IMG_0634

Gary and John Climbing Shippensburg Road

Headwinds and Bonking

The rest of the day we leapfrogged with the other folks in our riding orbit, which now included Roger Hillas and Mark Mullen. The wind was in our face after the midpoint turn south at Plainfield, and it was warm, well into the 70s.

IMG_0642

Mark in Plainfield

We made it up Whiskey Springs Road to the final tall spot of the ride, and then rode without much pop in our legs over to East Berlin with that annoying headwind. It was not strong enough to really knock us back, but kept us working. Being on a tandem helps, but only so much.

We thought we were the only ones to stop at Rocco’s for pizza, but Roger came in and sat with us while he ate a sandwich. This spot has been crowded in the past but everybody else went to the Rutters store instead.

IMG_0647

Spring Abounds

Arriving famished, I overate pizza and fries and paid for it with slow digestion. Oh well. The next stop was at Thurmont after 40 miles of slow progress over farmlands and the occasional hill and dip on quiet back roads. Here I had my classic final push treat of a Snickers ice cream bar and bottled ice tea. We joked about how the kid on the BMX bike in the parking lot was going to drop us on the way to Frederick.

Mary and I were, thankfully, invigorated for the final 18 miles – helped by some calories and lighter winds – and we arrived back in Frederick at 7:45 p.m. We came in at our normal mid-pack placing, a fair result for us given the winds.

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Pizza Time

Final Thoughts

Chris did a nice job with this ride. He asked riders to text him from Thurmont so that he would have hot pizza on hand, a smart idea. The pull of finishing pizza is strong and there was plenty when we rolled up, along with snacks and treats, including Easter-theme malted milk balls.

With the passing years (for me; Mary is as strong as ever)  this ride is getting harder, but it’s still a rewarding challenge, and I hope it stays on the calender.

Our next ride is the DCR Fleche next Saturday, where we will be riding with Team Once In A Blue Moon. Here’s our fleche route. See you!

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Winding Down

Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

 

Saturday

A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.

 

The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.

Sunday

The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary

 

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

 

Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me

 

A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain

 

Monday

Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

 

From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

 

Kick that Rut, the 2016 Version

At the beginning of the year I don’t make resolutions so much as I try to do something about the ruts I’ve fallen into. This is known in the Felkerino-Gersemalina household as the “kick that rut right in the butt” examination.

Ian, Ted and Me. Courtesy MG.

Ian, Ted and Me. Courtesy MG.

As adulthood continues on (thankfully!), ruts become a problem, it seems, as I try to figure out this living thing. Someone recently told me the trick to aging gracefully is not to die from the neck up.

In 2014 I realized I had spent too many years solely riding the bike as my main form of fitness exercise.  That was entirely justified, I figured, as I loathe gyms and my attempts at swimming are laughable.

I was a runner in high school and college, but had dropped it long ago in favor of cycling. Like, 30 years ago. So last year I decided to buy some running shoes, a GPS watch, and see if I could get my legs back in shape. Plus, MG and my daughter DF were running and I was sort of jealous.

It took a long time of mixed walking and running just to be able to run continuously without knee pain, and then run three miles. I finally got there in early March, finishing a 5K. My next goal was a 10K in the fall, which I accomplished in October.

For the year I managed 353 miles over 101 runs and didn’t ruin my knees.

My goal this year is to stick with it and run a 10-miler or half-marathon by the fall. I’ve enjoyed running again, expecially the contemplative aspect, so I expect to get there.

The other rut last year was planning my cycling life around the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K randonnee. I had gone the last four times dating back to 1999, with MG joining me in 2011 on tandem. It was a lot of fun, if exhausting.

We decided that it was an event we’d sorely miss in 2015 — FOMO, it only comes once every four years, and all that.

Yet we didn’t feel like flying to Paris just for a four-day event that we’d done before, and spending a ton of money and blowing two weeks of vacation in the process.

We took a pass and tandem toured for the third straight year, this time for two weeks in Montana and Idaho. That was right for us, though we really missed being there with all our fellow randonneurs in France.

On the other hand, Missoula was cool and we loved visiting the Adventure Cycling Association HQ.

We’ll try to go to PBP in 2019.

This year? We’re going to tandem tour again, likely two weeks from Sacramento to Portland via the Adventure Cycling Association’s Sierra Cascades Route. After riding the past summers in Colorado and the northern Rockies, it’s time to see other mountains by bike.

We’ve heard great things about Lake Tahoe, Crater Lake and the whole route. Plus we know some coffeeneurs in Portland and hopefully we can meet up before we return home.

We’re also going to try to put in more winter miles than last year, when circumstances and weather got in the way. To that end, Mary and I signed up for the Bike Arlington (Va.) Freezing Saddles challenge.

It runs from Jan. 1 to the beginning of spring. You get 10 points for each day you ride (1 mile minimum) plus a point per mile. They put you in teams weighted with both high- and low-mileage riders, so there is some friendly competition.

The competition is based on data uploaded to Strava, so we’ve both fired up our dormant accounts and linked our Garmin accounts. Last year I captured every bike ride, run and fitness walk on Garmin via GPS, so I’m in the groove.

MG is going to have to start using her phone or Garmin watch more than she has, but she’s already liking the “kudos!” you get from Strava.

I’d like to get 600 miles a month through March. We’ll see how that goes — my fallback is 150 miles a week when certain events don’t get in the way.

We’re also going to ride the DCR Fleche this year after skipping last year. We’ve glommed onto a new team and plans are being made with a certain English gentleman who loves to draw up routes, so stay tuned for more.

This weekend MG and I rode our first rando ride of the year, the easy RaceYaToRocco’s 102mi/165K RUSA permanent from Frederick, Md. to East Berlin, Pa. and back. Here’s a map and our GPS data.

It was hard to get up early, drive an hour to Frederick, and start out in the cold — I’ll acknowledge that up front. Getting in the base miles now means we’ll have more fun on the spring brevets and the fleche, though. Plus, we like riding in the winter once we warm up. Tandeming is always fun with MG.

Cold and damp, let's ride a century

Cold and damp, let’s ride a century

The weather was dreary to start — cold mist, in the 30s — but dried out mid-day, though the day was quite gray and foggy.

If you're wearing a buff, let it be reflective!

If you’re wearing a buff, let it be reflective!

The ham-and-bean soup at Rocco’s Pizza was a welcome warmup and tasted great. The folks there have been and always are nice to us randonneurs, and Saturday was no exception.

Rocco's, the randonneur destination

Rocco’s, the randonneur destination

We also had a nice visit at Gravel & Grind bike and coffee shop in Frederick before driving home.

We took the Co-Motion Java touring tandem, and it rode like a champ, comfy and confident. Nothing daunts that bike.

One tough randonneur

One tough randonneur

The new go-faster Spectrum tandem rides nicely needs a bit of tweaking next Saturday back at Tom Kellogg’s place in Pennsylvania before we’ll put it to hard use. Once I finish outfitting with the final bits I’ll write up a post with lots of flattering photos.

Today it was unseasonably warm in DC and I got out for a Freezing Saddles ride with Ted N. and we met up with Ian F. on Hains Point. I was tired but it was fun and we saw MG while she was out and her run.

MG, Ian and Ted

MG, Ian and Ted

If you too are riding more this winter, keep up the good work and let us know in the comments how to follow you on the social media.

If you are local to DC, see you out there!

Coffeeneuring 2015 No. 2: Mary and I Go to Baked and Wired, and See Ted

Destination: Baked and Wired Washington, D.C. Oct. 4.

Distance: 11.8 miles. See our route here.

Company: Mary for coffee and cake. Ted for a lap around Hains Point. A kingfisher bird.

Bike Friendly? Not really. There’s a lone rack across the street. We usually lock to the fence along the C&O Canal Lock nearby. A few outside tables and chairs let you watch your bike, but they are usually occupied.

Observation: The espresso here is high-quality. Mary got a gourmet hot chocolate. This is one of our favorite coffee stops — we always go there when we come into D.C. from the C&O Canal Trail or Capital Crescent Trail. Don’t let the line scare you off if you’re just having coffee.

Sunday was another dreary day in D.C., though warmer than Saturday, and the rain stopped. Mary and I finally got ourselves out the door in the afternoon, mostly to get some fresh air, and to snag another coffeeneuring outing.

I’d like to get 14 coffeeneuring rides in seven weeks — the unofficial perfect season — so this would complete the first weekend.

See the line back there?

See the line back there?

The many, many social media postings from the coffeeneurs around the country and overseas also gave us a lot of motivation. Twitter and Instagram have been so busy with all the updates.

We rode our single bikes around the Jefferson Memorial, past the few tour buses and Segway riders, who were sightseeing regardless of the heavy clouds and blustery fall wind.

Instead of riding north to the many hip coffee spots in the city center, we decided to go to one of our favorites over in Georgetown — Baked and Wired. They are known for their gourmet cupcakes, and have a line out the door on weekend afternoons to prove it.

The coffee side of Baked and Wired.

The coffee side of Baked and Wired.

But they also have a high-end coffee bar on the other side of the shop with its own much shorter line. They also sell some baked goods on the coffee side.

Hot chocolate on a cool day.

Hot chocolate on a cool day.

Today we got a soy cappuccino for me and a hot chocolate for Mary. We also got a rare empty table outside, where we enjoyed our drinks and a fabulous piece of mandarin orange coffee cake.

If there is a theme to our 2015 coffeeneuring so far, cake has been a part of both outings so far, so there you go.

Mary and Ted, on Hains Point.

Mary and Ted, on Hains Point.

We rode back towards the Jefferson Monument, and decided to go see how much of Hains Point was underwater from all the rain. Our Friday Coffee Club pal Ted N. was out on his Surly and we rode a lap at conversational pace.

The flooding had receded, so no swamps to report, but Ted pointed out a kingfisher bird that was hunting along the water. That was pretty cool.

Us.

Us.

Ted.

Ted.


 

Until next weekend!

 

Coffeeneuring 2014: The best of Washington & Philly

Let me get something off my chest: I love coffeeneuring! And, not just because it is the creation of my lovely and strong spouse, Ms. Coffeeneur herself, though that certainly helps.

MG created The Coffeeneuring Challenge, but sometimes wonders if she should keep it going. Heck yes, I say!

I’m glad to be a part of it. I am one of the original coffeeneurs who have completed all four editions, and I don’t want my streak to end.

One of life’s simple pleasures is to ride to a coffee shop — in any season, but especially in the fall after all the year’s big events are done and the temperatures cool down. Good coffee shops are a real oasis among the urban jungle and offer a welcoming respite from the road when we tour.

What made this year special was that the coffeeneuring season coincided with a mostly-warm East Coast autumn, and included our 2nd annual jaunt to the Philadelphia Bike Expo, where we stopped at two of our favorite places in that fine city.

I’ll dispense with the further pleasantries and get down to recapping my final four rides. My great plans to blog each ride were waylaid by my job and my need for sleep, and of course, coffeeneuring outings. My earlier rides are here and here.

Adding the love at Nagadi Roasters.

Adding the love at Nagadi Roasters.

 

Coffeeneur Stop 4: Nagadi Coffee Roasters, 9325 Fraser Ave., Silver Spring, Md.
Oct. 25
Distance: 53 miles
Bike Friendly? Enough. Located in a warehouse complex, there’s no bike racks but plenty of places to lean the bike.

Our touring friends Steve and Lynn invited us up to their neck of the woods to Nagadi, a small roastery that opens its doors in the mornings. The owner has a couple of chairs and a table in the front of their workspace, but not much else.

Steve and Lynn. It was great to see them.

Steve and Lynn. It was great to see them.

 

I rode up from our place in Southwest D.C. solo (MG sat this one out) via the Metropolitan Branch trail and then zig-zagged at the direction of  my GPS computer. It was hard to find, set off in a group of warehouse spaces near Linden Road with no obvious signage. Steve came out to the road and waved me in after I stopped to call him.

After some warm greetings, I ordered espresso, the true test of a high-end coffee roaster. The espresso beans were were carefully ground on a custom machine and weighed before a shot was pulled.

It was about perfect. Strong yet smooth. Tons of flavor and a heart-quickening kick.

 

Seriously good espresso.

Seriously good espresso.

 

I bought a bag of whole beans to take home. It wasn’t cheap, but was worth the trip. I rode back via the Sligo Creek Trail, which was new to me, and treated myself to a bonus stop the The Coffee Bar in Northwest D.C., which was awesome as always.

Rating: Five stars.

 

My Rivendell Atlantis on the Sligo Creek Trail

My Rivendell Atlantis on the Sligo Creek Trail

 

Coffeeneur Stop 5: Compass Coffee, 1535 7th St N.W., Washington, D.C.
Oct. 25
Distance: 8.5 miles
Bike Friendly? Not so much. Typical D.C. urban setup, no dedicated bike parking. I locked to a fence guarding the adjacent property.

Compass Coffee, sparse bike parking.

Compass Coffee, sparse bike parking.

MG got up early to run the Marine Corps Marathon and I was on my own until she came around the course and I had a chance to cheer for her. I rode up 7th Street Northwest in warm weather to check out Compass, a new shop that opened this fall just north of the Washington Convention Center.

Compass Coffee, modern interior.

Compass Coffee, modern interior.

It has a big airy room and modern furniture, and built-in espresso machines at the service bar. A gleaming roasting machine sits in the rear behind glass. There was a lot of thought put into Compass in terms of aesthetics.

I decided to employ the espresso test again and Compass passed handily. The pull was excellent, full of flavor. I didn’t get too much warmth from the staff, but they looked pretty busy trying to get the shop up and running for a busy Sunday morning ahead. Service was fast and efficient.

I wouldn’t hesitate to return, though they do need a bike rack out front. After my stop there I had plenty of get-up-and-go to find MG on the course. She had a great run, as always.

Rating: Four stars.

MG got the finisher's medal!

MG got the finisher’s medal!

 

Coffeeneur Stop 6: Volo Coffeehouse, 4360 Main St., Manayunk, Philadelphia
Nov. 8
Distance: 30 miles
Bike Friendly? Not really. There are some places to lock up on the sidewalk.

For the second year in a row, MG and I took out single bikes by car up to Phoenixville, Pa. and rode the Schuylkill River Trail into the city to attend the Philadelphia Bike Expo.

The trail comes into lively Manayunk just before downtown, and Volo is a regular stop for the recreational and sport riders heading to and fro from the city. The interior is bright and clean, if cramped with lots of tables full of people out and about on a brisk autumn day.

Volo has a line, for a good reason.

Volo has a line, for a good reason.

We got there around the lunch hour and the line was long but their service was very efficient.

Very happy to be here.

Very happy to be here.

I had a soy latte and lo, it was good. They just know what they’re doing there. I like to explore new coffee places by bike, but some, like Volo, will always have a place on our coffeeneuring itinerary if we are passing by.

The show was a lot of fun. We attended both days and stayed overnight at a downtown hotel.

Outside the Philly Bike Expo.

Outside the Philly Bike Expo.

On Sunday we had morning coffee at tony Elixr Coffee with the sweet gang from Velo Orange, who let us tag along to dinner with them the night before. An artist left postcards out that she was to send after you dropped it in a box. I sent one to my daughter, that felt kind of cool.

Rating: Five stars.

 

With the Velo Orange folks at Elixr.

With the Velo Orange folks at Elixr.

 

Coffeeneur Stop 7: The Wydown, 1924 14th St. N.W., Washington, D.C.
Nov. 15
Distance: 8.6 miles
Bike Friendly? Sorta. Planter fencing out front suitable for locking.

MG and I decided to take it easy on the final coffeeneuring weekend, and rode out from home for a fun-odyssey to check out The Wydown, which MG had read about, and Slipstream, an ultra-modern combination coffeeshop and cafe, both on 14th Street Northwest.

We stopped first at Slipstream. No bike parking, but we were able to lock the bikes together outside the expansive front glass doors. The setup was confusing; the front area is a cafe with tables and table service, while there is a takeout coffee bar farther back.

A mixup ensued in figuring how to get served. We ordered at the bar in the front area (I unwisely waved off the menus offered to us), then after awhile with no espresso coming, I motioned to the server that we’d order from the back bar — or so I thought. Then he brought our drinks in fancy glasses, just after I put in our order at the back bar.

The guy at the back bar had not pulled our shots, and was cool about my mistake. He gave us our pastries and an extra macaroon cookie for the trouble.

It turns out items ordered from the front bar are pretty expensive — not the $3 espresso posted on a sign when you walk in. That’s for the back bar. The bill for two double espresso shots ($8.50) and two pastries ($4 each) with tax was $17.60. I’m not used to a place with different prices for the same thing.

The espresso was fantastic, I’ll give them that. I mean, it was awesome. But Slipstream got knocked out of my coffeeneuring lineup this year with the funny business.

We did run into a BikeDC acquaintance there, Andrew, who works nearby. He told us the place had grown on him. I’ll give them another try sometime and pay more attention.

Hey it's Andrew at Slipstream.

Hey it’s Andrew at Slipstream.

The Wydown, farther up 14th Street, was a more straightforward high-end coffee experience. Get in line, place your order, pay, wait to hear your name called.

We locked up the bikes to planter fencing outside The Wydown.

We locked up the bikes to planter fencing outside The Wydown.

It’s a small modern place that was filled with folks on their Saturday morning outings. We had more espresso, which came quickly and was just great. It had more of a high-volume feel, space was tight, but you felt kinda cool going in there.

Rating: Four stars.

The Wydown. No surprises. All good.

The Wydown. No surprises. All good.

 

And so ends another fun year of coffeeneuring. Too bad. Can’t wait for 2015.

I’d like to thank my spouse MG, my parents, my teachers, all the gentle people at Friday Coffee Club (Rootchopper! Mr. T in DC! Bilsko!), and everybody else out there who get around by bike and keep these fine coffee establishments in business.

See you on the road and in line for espresso/coffee/tea/and hot chocolate, fellow coffeeneurs!

Coffeeneuring, with Some Tea in the Shenandoah Valley

Coffeneuring this year has been a stop-start affair. My first five stops were on the first, third and fourth weekends of the coffeeneuring season, with the other two taken up with family visits. I enjoy those visits a lot, but I don’t always get on the bike when we’re hosting.

That’s made me appreciate the available coffeeneuring weekends all the more. I really like the coffeeneuring-both-days weekends. It give the weekend some destinations, and of course, the promise of a relaxing cafe visit.

Every year I try to go to new places for all my stops. It’s not always possible, but the goal seems worthy: a new destination, a new experience, a chance to find something great, by bike. This is very definition of coffeeneuring, in my book.

In this, the third of the seven required stops, I even strayed from espresso drinks into the world of gourmet tea, out of necessity.

Bike parking outside Earth and Tea Cafe

Bike parking outside Earth and Tea Cafe

Coffeeneur Stop 3: Earth and Tea Cafe, Harrisonburg, Va.
Oct. 18
Distance: 43 miles
Bike Friendly? Not really. No racks. There was a large sidewalk planter box outside that was big enough to lay the bike down on.
Rating: Three stars.

MG and I went to Harrisonburg last month to check in on some randonneur friends, Matt and Kurt, and get to know more about the bike scene. Harrisonburg is close by a lot of good paved and gravel back roads in the Massanutten Mountain area and toward the West Virginia line, and has an active mountain bike community.

We have always passed through on brevets and tours, so we wanted to go have a closer look around. We ended up taking two very pretty rides, one in the valley on Saturday and another on Sunday up towards the West Virgina line.

A gorgeous Sunday ride.

A gorgeous Sunday ride.

After our arrival on Saturday morning, we intended to have the we-don’t-really-know-much-about-espresso espresso drinks they make at the Artful Dodger, a funky student cafe on the downtown square. We’d been there before, it was OK. There isn’t much else for espresso in Harrisonburg.

It was not happening this time. We were on the tandem, which is always a handful to park. Then we got shoo’d off by one of the smoking-break employees from leaving the bike out front even though there were no customers out there. None.

We decided not to bother and took a chance on Earth and Tea Cafe, just off the town square. The vibe was totally mellow, with none of that nervous energy of coffee shops. There were lots of college town folks in there, all looking and talking groovy.

So, this is how tea works. At least you get a whole pot of the stuff.

So, this is how tea works. At least you get a whole pot of the stuff.

I ordered a slice of cake (I tend to get nauseous if I drink hot tea on an empty stomach) and chose the closest thing they had to espresso: a black tea called Double Chococcino. Their menu description — yes, they had a menu for tea — was simply “with chocolate cappuccino taste.”

What arrived looked like very weak coffee when I poured it out. I could see through it to the bottom of the cup. Warily I took a sip and found it had a sweet chocolatey taste and a bit of bite. With the cake I managed to drink the entire precious little pot.

I should not have underestimated that tea. It had a real caffeine kick. I was buzzing for an hour. The cake was pretty good as well. We ate it all.

Tea. Not Coffee. Hmmm.

Tea. Not Coffee. Hmmm.

Had I not been on the coffeeneuring hunt, I don’t think I would have tried Earth and Tea. But now that we’ve been there, I’ll probably go back. Maybe they will have some bike parking next time.

Riding with Matt H. near Massanutten Mountain

Riding with Matt H. near Massanutten Mountain