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Cycling in and around Medellin

Cycling is among Colombia’s most popular sports, second only to football (soccer), and you will find all sorts of riders out training or commuting on the roads both inside and outside of the cities.

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A mural outside of Parque Salado in Envigado

 

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One of the ciclovias on Avenida Poblado

Aside from the heavy traffic and air pollution, Medellin and its surrounding areas are incredibly conducive to cycling. Following Bogota’s lead, Medellin also hosts a Ciclovia every Sunday from 7am to 1pm, closing 42 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles so people can feel safe to bike, run, walk or skate freely. Some of these same roads host a smaller version of Ciclovia every Tuesday and Thursday night between 8 and 10pm. Additionally, there are over 100km of ciclorutas (separated bike paths) within the city. For the BMX riders, there are parks and pumptracks sprinkled throughout the city, including a pretty big one named after world champion Mariana Pajon, a native of Medellin. While there’s no velodrome (yet) in Medellin, there is a decent track where roadies can train, riding circles as fast as they want out of traffic.

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Bike touring through Antioquia and Caldas along one of the highways

If you’re comfortable riding with traffic, the autopista (highway) is one of the fastest ways to get around town, and it is not off limits to cyclists. While there are many bike routes throughout the city, they can be slow due to the numerous pedestrians who are not paying attention to their surroundings while strolling down the bike paths. Most road cyclists will end up riding out of the city on one of the highways and inevitably end up climbing switchbacks up one of the steep mountains on the outskirts of town. It is not uncommon to see pelotons of professional cycling teams training on these roads every week. Possibly the most popular spot to ride on the weekends is the road leading to the airport in Rio Negro. It’s basically straight up a mountain for 16 kilometers, but you can find hundreds of riders on both road and mountain bikes cycling up Avenida Las Palmas on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

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The ciclorutas throughout Medellin are painted at intersections

The worst part about riding in Medellin is undoubtedly the pollution. Medellin is currently the 8th most polluted city in South America, and you can really feel it when you ride a bike. Most of the buses and trucks emit thick clouds of black smoke that encompass you and your bike as they accelerate away from you, and the numerous motos are not much better. Traffic can be very slow, and you really have to be careful when going around buses and taxis because the motos are usually speeding along in between the lanes of cars. I regret not having a GoPro to take video footage of one of my rides through traffic, because I think the video would be quite exciting.

bicitourOn our first full day in Medellin, Dallas and I took a tour of the city with BiciTour Medellin. Carlos and Mateo were excellent guides, and I was lucky to be able to ride with both of them a few weeks later when I had finally acquired my own bike. The tour is a great way to learn about Medellin while seeing more of the city than you would be able to on foot. They will teach you about the city’s violent history, show you some of the graffiti, buy you salpicon, and take you to Pueblito Paisa, a model colonial village with one of the best views of the city.

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Taking a break in a park during one of the Sicleadas

Every Wednesday night SiClas organizes a ride called Sicleada that leaves from Carlos E. Restrepo park at 8pm. The route changes weekly and is never repeated. It varies from easy, flat rides within the city to fairly difficult rides that include climbing the surrounding mountains of Medellin. This ride draws over 1000 riders every single week and is a great way to meet people and make friends. The ride is usually more or less 20 kilometers, and very slow. Volunteers block cars from intruding on the ride from side streets, and the front of the group waits at the top of every hill for the rest of the group to catch up before moving on. There is always a break about halfway through, where some of the riders sell homemade sandwiches, cookies and juice. People are talking, laughing, whistling, playing music, and generally having a blast throughout the entire ride. If you ever find yourself in Medellin on a Wednesday night, you should rent a bike from SiClas and do it – this is an experienced not to be missed.

enciclaAnother encouraging program in the city is EnCicla, a free bike share service. Drawbacks to this are that it can take a few days to get a card to use the program, since you have to apply with ID and a utility bill to prove you are a resident. The other down side is that the service is only available on weekdays from 5:30am until 7pm. There are some stations that are manned by a person and others that are automatic. Because it’s a free program and doesn’t generate any income, it’s expensive to operate. Maybe in the future it will be more like existing bike share systems in the US that are all automatic and available 24 hours a day, but this will probably require them to charge a small fee to rent the bikes.

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Mountain bikers bomb down a trail from Tres Cruces, in the heart of the city.

The cycling community in Medellin is expansive, and there is something for every type of rider. Groups on Facebook, Meetup, and Couchsurfing exist for mountain bikers, road cyclists, and casual riders who just want to socialize. The people are friendly, and it’s very easy to make friends and find people with whom to ride. I did have a bit of trouble finding a good road bike, and it’s not easy to find a good, inexpensive second-hand bike. Most shops sell new bikes for the same price that they would cost in the US. They do come with an ownership card that includes the serial number in case your bike ever gets stolen, which is a system I think should be adopted everywhere. If you know where to look for used bikes, they can be very cheap (30,000-100,000 pesos). But depending on what kind of riding you plan on doing, I’m not sure how reliable these bikes are.

Now that I’ve written enough material for three blog posts (and I could go on), I should conclude by saying that cycling around here is really great, no matter what kind of biking you’re into. There are obvious concerns with exercising in such heavy air pollution, but I think my positive experiences and the excellent views have outweighed the risks.

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New Job for Nomadic Cyclists

Dreary Providence at the cusp of winter and spring

Dreary Providence at the cusp of winter and spring

Dallas and I have persevered through the worst of winter in New England, while apparently the rest of the country has had the warmest winter on record.  It’s probably the worst timing for us to be leaving, when we should be reaping the reward of spring and summer after having suffered through such misery for the past 3-4 months.  Summertime is really the only reason to ever live in Rhode Island.  I’m sad that I won’t get to experience it to it’s fullest in the Ocean State, but we have a pretty good reason for leaving now.

Hiking in sunny Boulder, after our job interview

Hiking in sunny Boulder, where it’s warm enough to go topless, after our job interview

We applied as a team for a job with PeopleForBikes, a non-profit based in Boulder, Colorado, whose mission is to increase cycling (and cycling infrastructure) in the US five-fold by 2025.  This is a seasonal job, and the ultimate opportunity for Dallas and I to play an active role in bicycle advocacy while remaining nomadic and (hopefully) still cycling every day.  The job is sponsored by Volkswagen, so we will be getting a brand new car to travel around the country to various events, setting up our tent and giving out prizes to people who sign on to our movement.  We are very excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives, but at the same time very sad to be leaving Providence so suddenly.  We will be back.

Multi-use paths are everywhere in Boulder!

Multi-use paths are everywhere in Boulder!

Dallas and I are going to be the East Coast Crew – they are still looking for the ideal candidates for a West Coast Crew, so if you’re ready to drop everything and travel around the western half of the US for the next 6 months, you can apply here!  Part of our job involves blogging and posting to instagram – so if you’d like to follow us on our PeopleForBikes journey, the blogs will be posted here, and you can follow PeopleForBikes on instagram (and if you don’t already, follow nomadiccycling on instagram too!).  And, after reading all of this, if you haven’t already joined the movement, you can sign up here!

Winter Cycling

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

So many people have been shocked and maybe impressed that Dallas and I are riding our bikes through the winter.  At least once a day someone tells me, “I can’t believe you’re still riding in this!”  Well, to be honest, I would much rather ride my bike in this snow than drive a car.  Don’t get me wrong.  Cycling in the winter has its own drawbacks and discomforts, but I feel I have no right to complain about the choice I made not to have a car, even in the worst of winter conditions.  I have no regrets and am happier than ever to ride my bike instead of drive.  Here’s a few reasons why.

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

I am still getting outside and incorporating activity into my daily commute (and sometimes for fun as well, although we have both been heavier on the yoga and other indoor forms of exercise these past few months) – as long as I’m dressed appropriately, I feel much better than I would if I were sitting in a car (and in the crawling traffic jams that seem to be everywhere during snowy rush hours).  From the moment I step outside I am moving, keeping my body warm.  The snow adds a bit of a balance challenge, and the cars sliding around add a danger factor (how exciting).  I have to ride my bike differently in the winter, watching out for snow and ice and taking my turns cautiously.  I may have to change my course to avoid hills or roads that present hazards I would rather not deal with.  I have a little more trouble looking over my shoulder for cars because I have to turn half my body around to see beyond my hood, which I have pulled up over my helmet.  I adapt to these challenges, and I even enjoy them for a time.  I feel more confidence on my bike as I learn how to improve my balance on these challenging surfaces.

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Driving a car in this weather actually seems like hell.  There is no room on the roads for cars to pass each other on many of the side streets, because the snow is stacked so high along the sides of the roads.  The sidewalks are so inconsistently cleared that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street, creating yet more obstacles for drivers.  Cyclists are forced to ride in the middle of the road, if there ever was a bike lane, because all the snow is in the parking lane and cars are parking in the bike lanes.  Where there are parked cars, they stick out, adding to the difficulty of navigation.  Why drive when you end up sitting in a line of traffic, catching the same red light for 3 or 4 (or more) cycles before you finally arrive at the intersection?  Why drive when there’s nowhere for you to park your car?  What are you supposed to do when you finally do arrive are your destination and there’s a parking ban because of the snow?  It’s more work to have a car in the winter than it is to bike, in my opinion.  If you’re not spending hours shoveling your car out of your driveway, you’re spending money for someone else to do it for you.  Unless you keep your car in a heated garage, you spend the first 10 minutes of your trip just sitting there freezing, waiting for the heat to kick in.

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Skiing in the park near our house – look at all that snow!

The one thing I could live without are cars.  And salt on the road.  I know the salt makes the roads less slippery, but it really destroys my bike.  If you are riding in the winter, make sure you clean off the salt to prevent corrosion on your bike.  It’s not an easy task.  If it weren’t for cars, the roads probably wouldn’t get salted.  I wouldn’t have to worry about them slipping on ice and sliding into me, or driving way too close because the roads are half as wide as they normally are.  I wouldn’t have to turn around so far to look behind me before making a left turn because there would be no cars to plow me down from behind.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work. You can see form the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little...different, in the winter.

You can see from the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little…different, in the winter.

As I mentioned, cycling does have its own drawbacks and discomforts during the winter season.  But I believe they are far outweighed by the positives.  The worst part about winter cycling (besides having to watch out for scary cars) is that my body can never seem to distribute heat evenly.  My hands and feet and face are most vulnerable, while the rest of my body will be overheating.  Maybe I just haven’t figured out the right gear – and this changes daily depending on the outside conditions.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present – before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

My dad gave me a set of Bar Mitts for Christmas, which have been a lifesaver (or hand saver).  They keep the wind off my hands and I’m able to wear lighter gloves, but depending on the temperature, but hands will still freeze with heavy winter cycling gloves inside the Bar Mitts, or they will be sweating profusely along with the rest of my body, while my feet are still solid ice cubes.  This is a personal problem, and everyone needs to experiment with different layers in different conditions to determine what works for their own body.  I’m afraid I’m just doomed to have perpetually cold feet (even in the summer).  A face mask can help keep the cold wind off my face, but then my glasses usually fog up if I breathe.  These are problems I can deal with temporarily, but they do require that I bring a dry change of clothes with me wherever I’m going.  I still think it’s better than driving.  All that said, I am ready for winter to be over!

Goodbye to a good summer

Since our last update, Dallas and I have ridden in the MS bike tour (Ride the Rhode) and raised nearly $2000 for the cause, thanks to our wonderful friends and family who supported us.  We’re not sure where we’re going to be for next year’s tour, but registration is already open if anyone wants to sign up and get an early start on fundraising!  This year, we opted to ride a full century (which ended up being 105 miles) the first day and 75 miles the second day.  We lucked out with perfect weather and no incidents on the road.  The terrain was not too challenging, but not too flat and certainly not boring.

What Cheer? Brigade's 2014 west coast tour poster

What Cheer? Brigade’s 2014 west coast tour poster

Immediately after the bike tour, I set off for the west coast to meet the band on tour, where we continued down from Portland, Oregon all the way to Tijuana and back up to finish at a beautiful wedding in the redwoods outside of the bay area.  After playing every day for two weeks, I couldn’t help but improve my mediocre trumpet-playing skills.  I’m afraid that after not playing for two weeks (on our most recent vacation to Costa Rica), I am probably worse off that I was before tour.

Dallas and I ran together for the entirety of the LOCO marathon in Newmarket, NH this October

Dallas and I ran together for the entirety of the LOCO marathon in Newmarket, NH this October

While not bike touring this year, we have been able to do a few races together, including the 10 mile Blessing of the Fleet race in Narragansett, a half marathon in Worcester, MA and two marathons in Erie, PA and in Newmarket, NH.  I also participated in several cycling events, including a few Women Bike RI group rides, the Woony River Ride, and the Gran Fondo New England.

The summer in Rhode Island was one of the better ones that I can remember, with almost no rain and not too much heat.  As always, it ended too soon.  We have been incredibly fortunate to have barely any excuses not to be outside every day, but I still feel like I didn’t get my fill of outdoor activities before it turned cold.

My first (unofficial) cyclocross race

My first (unofficial) cyclocross race

Still in Providence, Dallas and I are buckling down here for the winter, but in an attempt to combat the depression that comes with this season I bought myself a cyclocross bike.  I’m not very good at it yet, and so far every time I start riding on a cross course I find myself thinking that maybe I’m not cut out for this sport.  That feeling usually subsides after 2 minutes or so, as my mind is consumed with staying on my bike and not crashing into anyone else.  By signing up for races this winter, I hope to motivate myself to get outside during the dark months to practice (and hopefully get better).

Dallas and me on a boat outside of Quepos, Costa Rica

Dallas and I on a boat outside of Quepos, Costa Rica

Speaking of trying things outside of our comfort zone, Dallas and I went to Costa Rica for the first two weeks of November.  While traveling comes naturally to us both, we did get to try some new things while we were there.  Dallas let me practice my Spanish (which is worse than my trumpet playing) on some of the locals whenever we went out.  Dallas also went surfing – I could not, because of a knee injury from my cyclocross bike, but I watched.  It was apparent that he was having enough fun to abandon his usual apprehensive feelings about being in the ocean.  This trip was our first time traveling together internationally, so while we were concerned at first about how we would do, we came out of it only wanting to go back out and experience more new places together.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I’m taking this day off from work at the cave in order to write and bake lots of desserts for tomorrow’s gathering with family.  On Friday, while all the crazy people are out battling each other to buy stuff, Dallas and I will be celebrating Buy Nothing Day by bringing our coats to a coat swap (just when we need them most)!

National Bike Summit 2014

Since returning to Rhode Island, I have resumed my involvement with the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition so I can try to be a better bike activist.  My timing was such that I was able to attend my first National Bike Summit in Washington, DC this year, and RIBike reimbursed my registration fee!  It was very exciting to be surrounded by so many like-minded cyclists and advocates from around the country.

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Fortunately, I was able to use the credit from the flight I missed in January (from Denver to Detroit) towards a round-trip ticket to Baltimore, with credit to spare – I have one dollar remaining to use towards a Southwest flight this year.  My cousin, Rosheen, was kind enough to host me on Sunday night at her house in Annandale.  Thinking I was escaping the brutal winter we had been having in Providence, I was in for a big surprise on Monday morning.  By the time I was ready to leave the house, the snow was piled up so high on each of the front steps that it was level with the step above it.  The buses were all shut down (along with the Federal government) for the entire day, so what would have been a 2-block walk to the bus stop turned into a 5.2 mile walk to the nearest metro station.  At least there wasn’t a lot of traffic.  The snow was so deep that I walked on the street for most of the walk, while big, wet snowflakes were blown straight into my face by the icy headwind.  Two hours later, I reached the metro station, drenched in sweat, and subsequently chilled off sitting on the almost empty train while the passenger across from me informed me that I had hat hair.  I was already very late to the first day of the summit, and off to a not so great start.

Eventually I reached the Renaissance hotel, picked up my registration materials, and realized that the meeting for first-timers was in an hour.  I considered waiting around in my many layers of sweaty clothing for this meeting, but then pictured myself having to sit next to people, dreading the feeling of being the smelly kid in a crowded room.  So, I moved on, back outside and onto another metro to bring my belongings to my friends’ Tobias and Michelle’s house and use their shower.  These friends moved from Providence two summers ago, and I have missed their cooking.  Monday was the day for the Women’s Bike Summit, for which I hadn’t registered, and bulk of the summit started on Tuesday, so I would start my day fresh from there.

Tuesday was a day full of speakers and panels, including a lunchtime plenary session. After the 30-minute metro ride from Tobias and Michelle’s house, I was only a little bit late to the opening plenary talk, which included Douglas Meyer from Bernuth & Williamson, who presented us with useful data on the perceptions of cycling followed by newly elected mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, who gave us hope for cycling in any city in the US by showing how he has already helped to improve cycling conditions in Pittsburgh. After this, we were free to choose between 6 break-out sessions that went on simultaneously from 9:30-10:45 and another 7 sessions from 11:15-12:45.

For the first session, I ended up at the same one (“Quantifying Bike Benefits”) as Jen and Bari, from RIBike and Bike Newport, respectively. The first panelist was from the US DOT and discussed how they decide who gets funding for the TIGER grant (which just opened up for a 6th round of funding). The second man was from Massachusett’s Green DOT program, and he described the state’s recent efforts to support bicycling and their lofty goals for the future of cycling.

The second panel I attended, aimed at bike dealers, was titled, “Retailers Best Practices for Advocacy”.  We heard local bike shop owners from around the country discuss how they have advocated for cycling in their communities, whether by sponsoring local races or by showing up to town meetings to ask for more bike lanes.

During lunch, we heard from US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, a wonderfully refreshing speaker who really cares about giving bicyclists more attention nationally. He understands that cycling is about more than getting some exercise on a Saturday afternoon, and he emphasized the importance of bicycling for getting people to work and strengthening the economy. We also heard from John Cayer from Kimberly-Clark, who announced the 2014 National Bike Challenge. This is exciting to me, since it relates to my master’s thesis topic, which explored strategies for encouraging more people to commute by bicycle.

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The last break-out session of the day for me was also very relevant to my master’s thesis, and I even recall researching the very companies that the speakers were representing. The panel consisted of people who worked for companies that were awarded Bicycle Friendly Business status by the League of American Bicyclists, and each of the panelists presented on what their companies were doing and how they earned their designation as a Bicycle Friendly Business. Companies included The World Bank in DC, 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota, National Geographic in DC, and PayPal in Omaha, Nebraska.

Before leaving for the East Coast Greenways Alliance (ECGA) reception, the three of us from RI met as a state (along with all the other attendees, separated by their states) and listened to advice from advocacy guru Stephanie Vance as she instructed us in detail how not to embarrass her when we went to lobby at the Senate.

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Wednesday was lobby day, and the Rhode Islanders met up that morning for breakfast in Union Station before heading to our first meeting. There were six of us that day, as ECGA’s Eric and Molly (whose flight had been canceled on Monday) arrived by train the previous evening and we were also joined by Richard Fries, the race director for the Providence Cyclocross Festival. All of our meetings went splendidly well, and we felt a little bad for the advocates from states like Texas, who not only had to coordinate exponentially more meetings than we did, but whose Senators and Representatives were more likely not going to be on board with bicyclists’ interests. However, I don’t believe the three bills we were asking Congress to support were too much of a stretch for anyone to see their benefits. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, the Safe Streets Act (aka Complete Streets) and the New Opportunities Act all aim to increase safety for vulnerable road users, and none of them require any money to be budgeted toward them.  Another ask we included was for our congressmen to join the Congressional Bike Caucus, provided they weren’t already a member. Our first two meetings were at the offices of Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, who met with us in person, and Jack Reed, whose aid met with us. In the afternoon we met with Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline. We were lucky enough for Cicilline to step outside of a voting session to talk with us personally for a few minutes. All four meetings went well, and I think our asks were largely supported.

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On a side note, in between meetings with the senators and representatives, Eric, Jen and I stepped into DC’s Botanical Gardens for a moment, where there was an orchid show going on. I had never been to a botanical garden like this before, and it was incredible. I highly recommend it for anyone visiting DC. In fact, when looking back at my camera at photos over the past week, this was the only place where I had taken any photos.

I learned some important tools for advocacy at the bike summit, and I’m excited to put them to use. I felt like I was receiving similar messages in all of the presentations. For example, it’s important to have a plan if you want to get support for bicycle infrastructure. Funding is much more likely if you already have a well thought plan for action, and you are almost certain to be turned down for a TIGER grant if the main focus of your plan is not transportation (it is in the name, after all). Recreational purposes are important but not the purpose of the TIGER grant. From the second panel I attended, I learned that advocacy and local bike shops depend on one another for survival. To get more people cycling, you need to support your local bike shop and make good bikes (and service) available locally. And of course, bike shops need people to want to ride and buy bikes. When bike shop owners become invested in their customers by helping them to create and achieve their goals, they ultimately will sell more bikes!

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From the very beginning, the bike summit was full of positive energy, and it left me with an even more positive outlook and plenty of hope that we are well on our way to overcoming the challenges of empowering and providing access for cyclists in this country. My only disappointment lies in that it was so hard to choose between the many break-out sessions, and I wish I could have attended all of them!

Picking Up Again

Where to begin?  In waiting for the perfect inspiration to post, I have allowed too much time to go by and too many things to happen that writing a thorough update has become overwhelming.  I will do my best now.

Time has a way of passing faster when you’re not paying attention.  I am lucky to have enjoyed my time so much in the past few months that I was barely aware of its passing until another notch on my personal timeline hit and I am celebrating, or experiencing, my 30th birthday.  While I wouldn’t call it a celebration, it is an experience – and a little reminder that time does keep going, and nobody has yet figured out how to control that.

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Liza Jane, during a trail run in Durango

Dallas and I were dog sitting and house sitting in Durango, Colorado for about 6 weeks.  Dallas went back to California on Christmas Eve to sell our bikes and collect some belongings while spending the holidays with his family.  I stayed until New Year’s Eve, and attempted to rent a car to drive to Denver to catch a flight to Detroit for my cousin’s wedding.  After walking around Durango for 3 hours between a few different car rental companies, I conceded to defeat.  Despite having plenty of savings in the bank to buy a car, let alone rent one for a day, I was turned down by every rental company because I didn’t have a credit card.  This is one of the most ridiculous things about the US.  These companies would be perfectly fine renting a car to someone who is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt as long as they have a credit card, while the people who are careful never to spend more than what they have are punished for not having any credit.  I had to get to the Denver airport the next day, and there was literally no way to do it.  For $400 and an expensive cab ride to the Durango airport, I could have bought a plane ticket to Denver that would have gotten me there a few minutes after my flight to Detroit took off.  I felt utterly defeated and helpless.

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This is Coda

  Naturally, I began scouring craigslist for…anything.  Durango doesn’t have enough of a presence to require its own craigslist page, so I was searching the entire western slope of Colorado, with no luck.  I began expanding my range to areas south of Durango. Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Farmington, Phoenix…I was desperate.  Eventually, I found someone who was driving from Phoenix to Cleveland.  While I was originally hoping for a ride to the airport, I ended up securing a ride for myself all the way to Michigan.  AND I got to stay in Durango for an extra day and hang out with Liza and Coda, the two dogs I was sitting.  As luck would have it, my flight out of Denver was canceled and I was able to get full credit for the price of the flight I would have missed anyway.  The drive took two days, but Ray had done the drive many times before and dropped me off safely at the hotel where my family was staying in time for the wedding rehearsal dinner.

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My beautiful cousin Rachel and her new husband, Ben, along with the rest of the wedding party

While I love my cousin Rachel, I wonder about her sanity when it came to picking a time and location for her wedding.  I’m pretty sure everyone who was flying in had trouble related to snowy weather conditions, and there were just as many delays or cancellations on the way out.  I amazingly managed to fly out of Detroit somewhat on time, but the plane I was destined to take from DC to Providence was stuck somewhere else so I ended up spending an extra 7 hours in the airport after that flight was canceled.  Had I been allowed to rent a car, I probably could have driven to Providence in less time.

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Back in Providence, I am dog sitting again. This time for Kyla, the husky.

Dallas met me in Providence a few days after I arrived.  It was his idea to come back to Rhode Island and try it out for a while.  We hadn’t had an income since September, and we really needed to take some time to rebuild our bank account balances.  I vaguely questioned Dallas’s sanity as well for choosing to come to Providence in January, but he really didn’t know any better.  I am happy to be back in an area where I’m surrounded by familiar faces and places, and I think my friends and family are happy that we’re here (for now).  Now I just need to figure out how I’m going to save enough money to hit the road again in a few years.  Dallas just started a job at Brown, so send him congratulatory messages!  He will be working part time with full time benefits, and he may choose to stay long enough to earn a degree while he’s here.  This means we could be here for a few years!  But I have every intention of still completing my bicycle journey around the world.  During this pause, I am thinking about starting a business to help support our goals and mission of promoting bicycling!  I will update as things unfold…

Cycling in the City vs. Nature: A Collaborative Article

While I love the way cycling through a bustling city gives me a rush of adrenaline, heightening my awareness of my surroundings, since going to Alaska I have been gravitating towards a different kind of cycling.  A fellow blogger pointed out that there are many ways to enjoy exercise, and we agreed to collaborate on a post to highlight the differences.  Whether you live in a city or in the middle of nowhere, exercise is a necessary outlet for most people, and it can be enjoyed at both extremes.

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Teaching kids how to ride safely on city roads

When I lived in Montreal, I would regularly go running.  I trained for and ran my first marathon in Montreal, and most of those miles were on busy city streets.  City running (and cycling) is my favorite way to learn a new city, or get even more familiar with a city you’ve lived in for years.  As I steadily increased the distance of my long runs in Montreal, I familiarized myself with more streets and parks than I ever knew existed during my first 3 years of living there.  However, something can be said for escaping the city and getting out into nature.

In Alaska, nature was more accessible to me than ever before, and my love for trail running and mountain biking grew stronger.  Fortunately, many cities have huge parks where you can run, safe from traffic – I have utilized many of these parks in various cities where I’ve lived or visited.  If it weren’t for the noises of the city, you might actually believe that you were far from civilization while you lose yourself on their trails.  In between our bike tours, stopping for a few weeks or months at a time allows us to explore and find some of our favorite ways to stay in shape while we’re not touring. 

It may seem like bicycling from place to place every day is plenty of exercise, but if it weren’t for these in between times, I’m pretty sure I would be ten pounds heavier.  We’re actually pretty energy efficient when touring, and our bodies quickly adapt to cycling 50-60 miles daily.  These miles become predictable to our muscles and are rather slow – the miles are more of a mental challenge than a physical one after the first week or so of touring.  The mental fatigue from the long hours on a bicycle prevents us from doing much of anything at the end of each day on the road, and we probably end of eating more calories than we burn.  Variation is needed – whether it’s a different sport or just a different style of riding – so we don’t plateau and lose fitness.  I like to run on my days off from cycling – but city commuting or mountain biking (without 40 additional pounds of gear) is a great way to mix it up. 

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At opposite ends of the spectrum, both city cycling and mountain biking are totally different from touring.  I was surprised by how many different muscles, including upper body, that I used when I was mountain biking in Alaska.  It was so different – so fun and challenging, and something I wish I could do more frequently.  Likewise, city commuting really conditions your legs to accelerating from a stop after every stop sign and light (which can be quite frequent).  I also enjoy the challenge of racing up hills and having my own secret races against other commuters who have no idea (or maybe are racing me in their minds).  And then there’s trail running.  Trail running is like playing Tetris with your feet.  You have to figure out where to plant them before they hit the ground, and there are plenty of obstacles to make that challenging on your ankles.  Each type of exercise comes with its own mental game, and the variation really helps me to not burn out. 

While some people are able to go to the gym and run on a treadmill every day, I know I could never do that.  Here in Durango, it has been incredibly cold and snowy, but I would still prefer to bundle up and go snowshoeing or ice skating outside than to concede to the gym. I will make exceptions for swimming, and I have been going to use the pool, but if it were warm enough I would choose to swim in a lake or ocean any day.  The problem with winter sports for me is the cost, but many people around here ski or snowboard during the winter and there are enough professional athletes living in the area to either motivate or depress me (I haven’t decided yet). Read Bridget’s perspective, below, on exercise and cycling from a totally different city.

A Cyclist Makes Friends with Las Vegas

It’s amazing what some of us will do to get our exercise. I used to spend almost all my free time at the gym. After work, I’d head there and stay most of the evening before going home. I didn’t exactly enjoy spending so much time in that cramped space with sweaty people running nowhere like so many hamsters in a cage. Like many others, I simply hadn’t found a better way to stay fit. Sure, I knew that some folks ran outside and others would cycle around town on errands, but those options seemed unsafe. Then I moved, and my life and habits changed radically.

A move to Las Vegas seems an unlikely catalyst for becoming an outdoor enthusiast, but that’s exactly what my move became for me. Although I originally thought that outdoor exercise in Sin City likely entailed too much to drink and a faltering march along the strip, I found out that many outdoor activities lay waiting for those willing to participate here.

If you’ve seen pictures of the Las Vegas strip lit up in all its promotional glory, you may tend to forget that the city lies in the heart of the Mojave Desert. This natural landscape features miles of bike trails, and I love taking rides through the area. Of course, getting lost here would be a travesty, so I use this handy resource to help me keep my bearings.

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Bridget's boyfriend helps her fix her bicycle

I also enjoy cycling in urbanized areas near my home. Las Vegas earned the designation of one of America’s Cycle-Friendly Cities from the League of American Bicyclists. In part, this has to do with the 390 miles of bike lanes located in the city. Downtown, several new bike racks and lockers have also been installed for the convenience of cyclists.

Travelers also benefit from the culture of fitness here. Hotels in Las Vegas offer a myriad of fitness amenities. In addition to well-equipped gyms, many local accommodations provide exercise sessions and outdoor fitness recommendations to guests. In order to find activities and accommodations that suit your personal fitness needs, use that link to filter pretty much every establishment in Las Vegas based on your travel and fitness preferences.

You don’t have to be a fitness nut to know that exercise is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. The fitness culture in Las Vegas has also given rise to a number of healthy eating and drinking establishments. Vegetarian fare isn’t hard to find, and several restaurants offer healthy menu options that accommodate those on the paleo diet or similar healthy food plans. If you find a juice bar more appealing than a tavern, you’ll easily find several from which to choose here in Vegas. I hope you have a chance to visit my city soon and experience all this for yourself.

Review of North St’s Woodward Convertible Pannier

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Riding to the grocery store using my new bag as a pannier

I am writing this review on a bag that I purchased with a preconceived bias, so keep that in mind if it sounds slightly like I may be searching for a reason to love this bag.  The Woodward Convertible is a bike pannier that can also be worn as a backpack.  North St Bags, which is located in Portland, Oregon, was named for the street the owner grew up on in Montpelier, Vermont.  Unfortunately, I left Portland just before discovering this amazing local company, and had to wait for the bag to arrive in the mail.  Since I don’t remain in one place for very long, it was a bit tricky to coordinate where to have the bag shipped, and to make sure I would actually be there.  Consequently, by the time I did receive the bag, I was over a thousand miles away from my bike, so I had to test it out as just a backpack first.

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The bag converts easily between a pannier and backpack, with a zippered flap that contains the backpack straps while being used as a pannier and a velcro strap to secure the pannier hooks and bungee while wearing as a backpack.  The bag is also waterproof, so there’s no need for rain covers if it starts to rain on you during your ride.  There are good reflective stripes all over the bag, and my favorite part is that you can customize the colors of both the main bag and the reflective stripes.  

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Inside the main bag is a padded compartment for a laptop (or papers that you don’t want to get crinkled), and there are two velcro pockets on the outside as well as a pocket that perfectly fits a U-lock.  The side velcro pocket is perfect for my water bottle when I’m walking around town or already have my coffee thermos in the water bottle cage on my bike.

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I did get to try the bag out as a pannier when our friends, Dustin and Katie, from Alaska came through Durango after bicycle touring around Arizona and New Mexico.  The bag fits best on a rear rack, since it would hang pretty low and may hit the ground if you were to try it out as a front pannier.  There is a bungee cord with a hook that hooks onto the bottom part of the pannier rack, and two hooks at the top of the bag that hook over the top of the rack.  It does allow the bag to bounce away from the rack, since there’s nothing securing the bottom of the bungee to the bag, but it seems pretty secure and I don’t think it would easily fall off of the rack.

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This bag has been perfect for biking and walking around town and is wonderful for grocery shopping.  I am extremely happy with it so far, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who commutes by bicycle or even occasionally would use their bicycle for a shopping excursion into town.  It’s a pretty durable material, and while a bit costly for me, I think it could last a lifetime, and I feel good about supporting a local company that’s making handmade bags in the USA.

For anyone who is interested in purchasing from North St Bags, use the code “bagforlife” to receive a 20% discount on all orders over $100! This discount code is good until December 14th of this year.

Trying to be good travelers

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What happened on Dallas’s last day of riding before he reached San Francisco remains a mystery for now, as I have given him ample time to update us and cannot wait any longer to update our readers on where we are and what we’re doing now!  Not that it’s very exciting.  We have paused our bicycle touring again to spend time with family in the bay area and to figure out our next move.  We have been considering a variety of options, which I wasn’t going to reveal until we made a final decision, but maybe writing it all out and sharing the possibilities with everyone will help us come to a conclusion in a more timely manner.  So, here they are:

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Option 1: Go sailing!
We have been fortunate enough to meet up with David, a sailor who owns a hand built 40 foot catamaran sailboat and is looking for crew for some segments of his sail around the world.  He is very much like us in that he has been traveling and working random jobs wherever he stops, literally going wherever the wind blows him.  We started talking to him via e-mail after the website, findacrew.net, matched our profiles.  He was in Alaska for the summer, but never made it far enough north to see us while we were in Skagway.  We finally caught up to him in San Francisco where he is anchored while working on replacing the hatches, and we had the chance to go sailing with him around San Francisco Bay last week.  I have to admit that sailing across the ocean would be my number one choice, since I started my journey two years ago with the hopes of combining bicycling and sailing, and still I have yet to actually sail anywhere.  However, the boat is a work in progress, and David has not done an ocean crossing yet.  I have no doubt that he is taking all the appropriate safety precautions and am confident in his sailing ability as a captain, but we are still not ready to trust our lives to a small sailboat that is untested on such a long journey.  If David decides to head south first, to San Diego, before going west, we do want to join him.  Hopefully we will know more about his plans by the end of November.

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Option 2: Bike South
We can always hop back on our bikes, but it’s going to get a lot colder before it starts getting warmer.  It only makes sense to go south.  We could bike to San Diego, and potentially crew on a sailboat from there, or keep biking south.  There are a completely different set of risks associated with this plan, but we would get to work on our Spanish.  Dallas was hoping to have saved up some more money before getting into South America, since it may be hard to find legitimate work outside of the US.  If we do go this route, we could spend the next year or two bicycling around South America.

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Option 3: Work seasonally in Durango, CO
Out friends, Anna and Brendan, from Sockeye, live in Durango, Colorado.  We really enjoyed getting to know them while we were all living in Skagway, and we even got to witness their wedding in July!  They have extended an offer for us to live with them for the winter season.  Durango Mountain Resort is hiring people for the ski and snowboard season, and it would be a good way for us to earn some extra income before leaving the country.  It would also be cold, and would delay our departure from the US for a little bit longer.  Although, we would get to be a little closer to friends and family for a little bit longer.

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Option 4: House sit and work odd jobs through the holiday season, and then bike south or sail across the Pacific.
Thanksgiving is approaching quickly, and it would be nice to stay close and accessible to family throughout the holidays (and so I can attend my cousin’s wedding).  While we’re already in the country, we may as well stay a little bit longer so we can afford to visit with family.  House-sitting is a great way to stay somewhere, rent-free, and lots of people need house-sitters during the holidays (including our friends in Durango).

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We recently discovered a very cool website that connects homeowners to trustworthy house-sitters while they are away for extended vacations or business trips.  The website is called trustedhousesitters.com and we have just started exploring the possibilities of living in beautiful homes in all parts of the world, watching over the house and sometimes caring for pets and plants while the owners are away. There are several websites like this, but trustedhousesitters.com seems like the best so far.  Membership is required in order to apply for house-sitting jobs, and there are ways for previous homeowners, employers, or others to leave references on the house-sitter’s character and caretaking abilities.  There’s even a section for a police check, so you can show that you have no criminal record.  We see the site as a great tool for helping us find places to stay without the commitment of a lease or the cost of rent, while also providing homeowners or pet owners a piece of mind, knowing their home will be in good hands.  If we do land a gig through this site, I will update our readers with a more detailed review.

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We have been entertaining all of these options, and are open to other wild and crazy suggestions that people may throw our way.  Don’t hesitate to comment on this section!  It may not affect our decision, but it’s good to hear what y’all think.  While in the bay area, Dallas and I have been lucky enough to stay with his sister, Sherilyn, and her family, his friend, Linus, and his family, and his step-mom, Sandra.  We are working temporary jobs until we move on to the next locale!

“A good traveler has no plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Day 12 – Weott to Leggett, CA

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It was too cold to sit and eat breakfast in the forest, so after breaking down our tent, Dallas and I rode about 3.5 miles before we found a space where the sun penetrated through the trees.  We sat in the warm sun and shared an apple, banana, pear, and an energy bar.  We only had to ride another mile before coming to a coffee shop in the town of Myers Flat.  Three shots of espresso and two cookies later, we were back on the road.

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This was one of those rare days where I was ahead of Dallas for most of the day.  I was able to keep a fairly good pace once I got going, but would stop and wait for Dallas every few miles.  The stopping and going was draining though, and overall we progressed at a slow pace.  We stopped again outside of Garberville to eat our tuna and crackers with some pistachios, a grapefruit and dark chocolate.  Even though we were on the road before 10am, we had only gone just over 20 miles by 2pm.  As the day went on, the terrain grew hillier, and the second half of our ride involved a LOT of climbing.  Dallas was feeling undernourished and sluggish, and I was feeling frustrated for having to stop and wait.

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As we crested a hill just a mile or two before Leggett, I saw signs for food across the street.  I suggested we fuel up over there (The Peg Room) while deciding our next move.  The burgers we ordered there were incredible, and they had outdoor picnic tables where we could sit with our bikes.  It was starting to get dark, and we had completed just under 50 miles since morning.  A couple that showed up while we were eating told us they had biked the coast two years ago and that there is a pretty tough hill coming up to Leggett.  It didn’t look like there were any other campground options for another 27 miles, so we ultimately ended up camping across the street from the Peg Room.  Maybe we can get breakfast there too!