Thursday, June 18, 2015

National Dump the Pump Day Can Be Everyday

Today is National Dump the Pump Day. It’s primary focus is getting more people to use public transportation.

Here in the Bay Area, you definitely have a lot of options. As I wrote before, Silicon Valley's overall bikes on trains policy leaves Connecticut in the dust. 

Where Silicon Valley does fall behind - way behind -  is scale. When I lived in Stamford I wouldn’t bother checking the train schedule when going to the train station in the mornings as there was always a train within twenty or thirty minutes. From what I’ve seen so far - especially when I try to use Caltrain or VTA - there needs to be more trains. Otherwise, locking oneself in an individual 3,000 pound glass and metal capsule, massaging the brake and gas pedal while crawling along sounds better than choosing public transit. 

I #choosethebike for a lot of reasons - but now that I'm living in Mountain View (but not for long - more on this later) and see how much great company I have on two wheels (and how much easier it is to park a bike) I ride out of convenience. If public transit wants to succeed it needs to be a more convenient choice than a car. 

So today I hope you all participate in National Dump the Pump Day and remember two things: when you #choosethebike, everyday is dump the pump day. And the Bay Area will never truly be worthy of Peter Coyote's voiceover talents until it can figure out how to get all of these innovators and disruptors to work on time without traffic or environmental damage. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 9 - Truckee, California

Note: this is the final post of the Nine Mornings series, but I posted it Saturday night because this morning, Sunday morning, I am riding in the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure in Palo Alto. Please help me by making a donation to my ADA page...and then enjoy reading Morning 9. 

Morning 9:(Sunday, May 10) Truckee, California

I woke up in Truckee, California - at the site of the Donner Pass. People once ate people here. I ate pancakes. 

Let me back up a second. 

We were originally going to spend the night in Reno but in our effort to make the last day of driving as short as possible, we decided to drive over the California border and stay at the Truckee Donner Lodge - which gave us a view of the Endor-like trees outside the window. 

I went out biking in the chilly morning air and savored the ride. I had no specific destination. It was quiet. I didn’t have to pick up any groceries or run any errands. I just rode out into the woods.

I also thought about the Donner Party, stranded so long ago and forced to resort to cannibalism for the simple reason because they didn’t have the right transportation option available. Had they fat tire bikes and Bob trailers, their story would have had a different ending. 

I ended up logging about nine aimless miles. Nothing particularly exciting happened on that ride. But it was a fine ride nonetheless. And the pancakes at the Truckee Donner Lodge were good. 

Soon after breakfast, we hit the road and began the long descent toward Silicon Valley. Even though it was the shortest leg, it felt like it was the longest. The closer we got to the coast, the worse the traffic became. 

I saw more cars than I had ever seen before as we entered Redwood City. It immediately felt strange to be sitting in a car I’m familiar with and driving it in an unfamiliar place that was to be my home. 

We arrived at our temporary apartment in Redwood City and I shut off the engine and snapped one final photograph. I had driven more than 3,400 miles in the course of ten days with a Yoda action figure on the dashboard.

In the days that followed this trip, I removed the Yoda. I got a California driver’s license.  I learned what a ‘smog test’ is and ultimately used that knowledge to get California plates put on my Element. And every morning since these nine mornings, when I ride in Silicon Valley, I look around and think: 

Why aren’t more people cycling and what can I do to get them to #choosethebike? 

Hope you can help me ask and answer that question. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Just found Nine Mornings? Click here for Morning 1.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 8 - Ely, Nevada

Note: if you're reading this blog right now I could really use your help: I am riding in the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure in Palo Alto tomorrow. I normally don't do organized rides at all but I want to mingle with my new neighbors and, more importantly, raise money to fight diabetes. Please donate here and help sponsor my ride!  

Morning 8: (Saturday, May 9) Ely, Nevada

Another morning, another motel bed.
Another city waiting up ahead.
And another small memory to leave behind.

- Dave Alvin, ‘Harlan County Line’ 

It was raining in the morning, but unlike Wyoming a few days earlier, I knew I’d have another shot of riding in Nevada so I decided to forgo the morning bike ride. The hotel served breakfast early and we agreed that we could make it to Carson City for a late lunch if we were on the road before seven - and I’d still be able to ride a bike in the state of Nevada.

Getting to Carson City meant driving on Highway 50 (sometimes known as the I-50). Dubbed ’The Loneliest Road in America’ I had trouble deciding if it was so boring it was interesting or so interesting it was boring. 

“We warn motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills,” said an unnamed AAA rep in the July 1986 edition of Life magazine. I was ready: I had oatmeal cookies my mother had given us, a case of bottled water crammed between the Element’s seats, and had watched several episodes of Discovery’s Dual Survival before beginning the trip. 

Life magazine’s story checks out. It’s a lot of nothingness I wouldn’t attempt with a less reliable car. Anyone who bikes it is a brave soul - I saw only two cyclists on the entire length of the 50. Luckily there are a couple of places to stop to stretch ones legs and pause whatever Michael Connelly audiobook we had playing (Good storytelling, Mr. Connelly: the short Harry Bosch mysteries did make the miles go faster).

In the sleepy, aging mining town of Eureka an effortlessly charming bartender named Susan poured me a cup of hot coffee in a plastic Budweiser cup at the Owl Club Bar and Steakhouse and, after I told her I was a drifter passing through town (though I didn’t phrase it quite that way) she insisted I stay to look at ‘all the ladies’ along the main thoroughfare. As my wife sketched Eureka, I wandered around to look at the classic cars Susan was referring to - and hoped the rain would clear up for the Eureka Car Show, which was taking place that very morning.

Soon after we left Eureka the rain cleared up and gave us a clear view of the nearly hypnotic road. I kept expecting to see Lord Humungus’s truck in the rearview mirror but we saw only one or two normal cars an hour (sorry I don't have a more up-to-date Mad Max reference but I haven't seen Fury Road yet).

After a few thousand years of this, we made it to Carson City for our late lunch. Since my wife didn’t feel like sketching the city and I didn’t feel like biking it, we continued on to Lake Tahoe so we could indulge in the passions that chose us. 

I unpacked the bike at Lake Tahoe State Park and rode on Rt. 28 - nearly unable to believe that California was just on the other side of the lake. Near the Tunnel Creek Cafe I found a bike shop called Flume Trail Bikes that was just visible from the road.

I diverted up the nearby trail to see if I could find a better place to see the lake. I succeeded and could actually see California - the place I would eventually be permanently living in - across the water.

I’d have to wait for another visit to ride on the Flume Trail (which looks irresistible looking at the pictures on Flume Trail Bikes' website), so I turned around and headed back to the beach to meet my wife and check out the sketch she had made of Lake Tahoe while I was riding. 

We continued driving on Rt. 28 and crossed the Nevada border into California. We were officially in the home stretch of our trip and there was only one morning to go - Truckee, California - a town the infamous Donner Party put on the map. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 7: Moab, Utah II

Morning 7: (Friday, May 8) Moab, UT

Our second and final morning in Moab had my wife and I in agreement that we had to return someday. We had a long drive to get to Nevada but I wanted one last ride before we’d have to hit the road. 

For the first time in the whole trip she joined me - and it was her first bike ride of the season (I had crammed her Trek in the car by outfitting it with folding pedals borrowed from the Mystery of South Norwalk and bungeeing it to the inside wall of the Element). We started at the Moab Canyon Pathway and pedaled on the trail along the Colorado River.

The trail only runs about two and a half miles from Lion’s Park (but will hopefully be expanded further than that soon) and was just a great way to experience the area and not feel like you need to bring survival gear.

We wrapped up the ride and I packed the bikes back into the Element with skills usually seen doing level seven of Tetris. 

After changing into my driving shoes (I found my junky pair of loose fitting watershoes is the most comfortable thing to wear when behind the wheel for hours) and checking out of the hotel, we picked up some good sandwiches at a grocery store in Moab - where my parting shot of the area captured the essence of the place: not one vehicle in the parking lot did not have a bike rack of some kind.

After driving a little over an hour, we stopped at Green River Park for lunch and found a picnic table near a boat launch ramp where a group of women with stand-up paddleboards were gathered. As they were getting on their boards to head downstream, one of them fell in and I went over to see if she needed help - she was fine and I ended up holding her board and paddle as she climbed back on. She told me they were on a four day trip down the river and thanked me as my wife snapped a picture with my camera. Hope they all had as much fun in Utah as we did. 

We drove on, and the elevation changed to the point where at Connors Pass I stopped so I could throw snowballs at my own car while my wife laughed. It made for as good a diversion on the drive as any. 

Around dinnertime, we pulled in to the sleepy town of Ely, Nevada. It made me think of what Moab would look like if you took away all the biking and replaced it with casinos with aging facades. My wife sketched the main thoroughfare in the parked car while while I sat in the driver’s seat looking for cyclists. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 6 - Moab, Utah

Morning 6: (Thursday, May 7) Moab, UT

I didn’t sleep much the night before. I was too excited because the only driving that I was to do today was to trailheads. We couldn’t have picked a better place to interrupt our seven-day streak of filling the gas tank at least once daily. 

Moab. Where the mountain bikes roam free. Where the dune buggies parallel park in front of the ice cream shop. Where muddy clothes are socially acceptable yet infrequently spotted. Where I got a haircut - at Legends Barber Shop.

It’s also a place where I was reminded of the differences between road bike culture and mountain bike culture. While I can't, for the life of me, understand the whippet-looking, metric system-using, Strava-worshipping road bike culture I do identify with them more for the following reason: when I turn into a parking lot and successfully stop, I don’t do it again to show my friends or break out the GoPro to tape them doing the same maneuver. 

Likewise, when I look at a map and realize that my hotel is only three and a half miles to the legendary SlickRock Trail my first impulse is to #choosethebike.

This was one of those times it’s wrong to #choosethebike, and I blame my road bike mentality for my error. 3.5 miles is a warmup on a road bike. In Moab, 3.5 miles - almost completely straight up - requires a full stomach, first-aid kit, spare tube, patch kit, wire ties, tire levers, minitool, pump, paper towels, crescent wrench, Otter case for the iPhone, signal flares, a half a gallon of water and snacks. 

I’ve found the key to climbs like this - especially if you didn’t drink any coffee or eat anything before leaving the hotel - is to slow your pace as soon as you feel like you are going to die. 

Really. It helps.

Also it’s good to occasionally look down to see how far you’ve come.

Every time I thought I neared the top it seemed like more road stretched ahead. 

Eventually, I arrived at signs indicating that I was very close…and I realized that whoever named these trails was equally inventive as the Kingdom Trails people in Vermont.

Shortly after passing this sign I passed a campground with about a dozen RV’s on the left and came to the SlickRock bike trail parking lot that had only two cars. It was, after all, pretty early in the morning on a weekday. Even though I was pretty tired from my climb and wanted coffee, I pedaled eagerly inside.

No matter where you’ve mountain biked in the past nothing really prepares you for the SlickRock trail. I felt as though I was riding along the contours of an asteroid or a three-dimensional Salvador Dali painting of sand dunes. The sandstone isn’t ‘slick’ and my tires had plenty of grip as I bounced toward the sunlight.

And when I got there, the landscape took my breath away.

All I needed was C-3PO standing next to me saying: “What a desolate place this is.”

The SlickRock bike trail has to be seen to be believed. It is the most otherworldly place I have ever ridden and just an extraordinary place to ride.

After taking this one selfie, I blasted back down the hill to the hotel and finally had coffee. I rejoined my wife and after breakfast we drove into Arches National Park - which is among the many national parks in the U.S. that is endangered by the massive numbers of cars that lumber through each day - especially in the summer. We learned that a new parking lot had been built in the park to accommodate more guests, but even today it was quite full - and I hope it will eventually go the route of Denali National Park in Alaska and only allow buses through. 

So for now, we drove through and even though parking was a hassle it didn’t stop us from enjoying a hike through a stunning place - that is also featured in the opening sequence of ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.’

We did a nice hike up to the arch that is featured in Utah’s license plates (and, hilariously enough, on the back of a Cruise America RV we followed into the park).

When we stopped to rest, my wife sketched Delicate Arch while I just marveled, took pictures of tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of the arch, and marveled some more. 

Later that afternoon, when we were done with our hike, we returned to downtown Moab and enjoyed some pretty extraordinary quesadillas from the Quesadillas Mobilla food truck. If you go to Moab, it won’t be hard to find. 

Thus fueled, I returned to SlickRock trail. Only this time, I brought my car and my wife - who said she’d sketch the bikers while I rode on the trail and send a search party if I didn't come back before nightfall.

I rode on the big loop first until I realized I’d never be able to ride the full 13 miles  before we’d have to go to dinner. I slowly let go of the road bike mindset, turned back, and hit the practice loop - which didn't seem less difficult, terrain-wise, as the main trail.

It was during this period I realized I was putting an incredible amount of faith in the mountain bike I had built. However, it had served me well up to this point and the Avid brakes I had installed after my disaster in Vermont with the ‘RC Cola’ brand equivalent, I could go very slowly on downhills, which on a lot of stretches is necessary. However, it put a lot of strain on my back tire and my valve was unexpectedly severed by the rim of the bike on one of the downhills. The sudden sound of air rushing out threw me off my game just a little.

I wasn’t hurt when this happened. In fact I bailed onto my feet - graceful and cat-like I’m sure - when I reached to the bottom of the hill.

However the tire was irreparable. Lucky for me - and a must for anyone attempting to do this on this trail - I know how to fix a flat tire (and, accidentally separated from most of my mountain bike kit when I moved out of my house in Connecticut, I had a spare tube bought the day before at University Bikes in Boulder).

I may take this photo and put big, old fashioned cursive letters on it that read: Greetings from Moab!

Sitting next to a cactus, in almost complete silence, I fixed the tire in less than ten minutes and continued on. I wished my cousin, the Mountain Bike Jedi Master himself, was there with me. Mostly for the company but also so I’d have someone to ride ahead of me so I could see how he’d handle the terrain.  

While we’re on the subject of my cousin: he was also helpful in putting me in touch with a couple of area friends of his who knew the trails well and wanted to give me advice where to go. Both, who didn’t know me from Adam, sent me detailed emails - which I thanked them for profusely and shall keep for future reference. 

I rejoined my wife, made her swear not to sell her beautiful sketch of the mountain bikers to anyone but me, and we put the SlickRock trail in the rearview mirror. 

But I'll see it through the windshield again someday. 

Click here for Morning 7. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nine Mornings to California: Morning 5 - Cheyenne, Wyoming

Morning 5:  (Wednesday, May 6) Cheyenne, WY

Staying on the edge of Cheyenne, I was dismayed to see rain this morning. I already ruled out sending an invitation to Dick Cheney to go biking with me like the invitation I sent Warren Buffet the day before since I didn’t think he’d have a good time biking in the rain (I also wasn’t sure if he still lived in Wyoming or was still in an undisclosed location). 

While the rain bucketed down, I realized that I couldn’t remember a single, solitary time I was glad I decided not to take a bike ride. So I asked the guy behind the hotel’s front desk if I could snag a shower cap and, after stretching it over my helmet, biked off. I was soaking wet before I left the parking lot. 

There wasn’t a lot to see other than ranches. But the pickup trucks that passed me gave me plenty of space.

As annoying as the rain was, I was still happy I got to do at least five miles before saying goodbye to Cheyenne and setting off in the car once again.

My wife and I were both pleased that, a few minutes after that photo was taken, we were able to finally leave the mind numbing I-80 behind and head south into Colorado. 

The landscape began to look more interesting the closer we got to Boulder, where we joined a friend for lunch. Since the rain had stopped, I took a short ride - first stretching the shower cap over my bike seat since that was still wet from Cheyenne.

You may know Boulder because I believe the city appears on a lot of ‘top fittest cities’ and/or ‘top happiest cities’ lists. It’s also the place Mother Abigail leads the survivors in Stephen King’s The Stand. I think the line in the book was something along the lines of: 99% of the human race died of the flu, you're being stalked by a half man/half crow mutant, so we may as well live in a bike-friendly community.

While there are a lot of cars you get the feeling the bike infrastructure has a lot to do with the friendly and happy reputation. The more bike friendly the city, the more livable it is. Boulder is the anti-Cherry Hill

There’s also a correlation between cities like this and the number of awesome bike shops, such as University Bikes, which I got to visit briefly. Not only do they have an excellent selection, but they have a bathroom that just warmed my heart and make me yearn to have a place to plug in my welder once again. 

The shop is just as much a cool bike store as it is a museum with a lot of fun and interesting exhibits - including a 1910 Montauk camera cycle which they dubbed as ‘The World’s First GoPro.’

After leaving University Bikes, I pedaled uphill, away from town, hoping to get a good photograph of Colorado's stunning landscape. I wasn’t successful, but I did get to ride about 100 feet of single track, which was just as gratifying.

 I couldn’t leave Colorado without doing single track - I believe that is in their state constitution - but I knew that after another long stretch of afternoon driving we’d end up in a place I could really put my mountain bike through its paces. 

Click here for Morning 6