Our House, In the Middle of Our Street


Whenever we hop on our bikes, we not only expose ourselves to all sorts of elements, but we also come face to face with other bike riders.

Despite that, riders do not tend to talk to one another. We share space, but generally our only apparent common goal is coming and going each day from home to work and back home again.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe we don’t need to be acting as though every commute is like the end of a Waltons episode (anyone besides me remember this show?).

For some of us, though, being a bike rider in the city means being open to connection in a way you can’t get by taking Metro or driving.

When riding, we tune into all the other people also on bikes. Our bikes identify us in a unique way. Our bikes make us nimble.

The street becomes more than a thoroughfare that paves our way to and from the office. It’s a spontaneous meeting spot with a friend. A welcome interruption from anonymity and get-there-itis.

This morning Felkerino and I encountered our friend Tony riding into work on his relatively “new to him” Rivendell. I was running late. Maybe Tony was, too. We were headed in opposite directions.

But upon seeing each other, we all turned around to hang out and talk. We talked bikes, gas cans, Surly junk straps, and bike touring in the brisk morning air. It was the highlight of my day.

Our house, in the middle of our street.

Devil’s Daughter 210K Permanent

Devil's Daughter 210K Permanent. Jerry and Andrea

The emerging warmth and green of spring days tempt us. Long days at the office interrupted by relatively brief spates of outdoor time urge us to spend weekends actively exploring.

This weekend Felkerino and I joined bicycling friends Andrea and Jerry to revisit the Devil’s Daughter 210K permanent, a ride carefully crafted by RUSA permanista Crista Borras.

Jerry on CR-12

Crista describes the Devil’s Daughter 210K as an “extremely scenic ride with five major climbs, including one ‘gut buster.’” Those familiar with Crista’s rides know that if she says scenic, she means it. Sure enough, our route offered plenty of vistas and almost 11,500 feet of climb over the full 131 miles. (See the Ride With GPS here.)

I don’t know that I would want to attempt a course akin to the Devil’s Daughter every weekend, but it suited my mood and ambitions Saturday. Cruising sections constituted about 40 miles, with the remainder of the ride rife with intense climbs, some longer than others, and lots of chop.

Forsythia and redbud. Devil's Daughter

While the ride starts and ends in Middletown, Virginia, the bulk of the course covers territory in West Virginia.

West Virginia is a spectacular place to spend the day, especially when weather is good and the forsythia and redbud are peeping out. It’s also a place where the road can be rather merciless.

You wonder how the road you traverse is even paved. You wonder when it will let up. It doesn’t let up. You wonder how that’s possible. Despite the unrelenting up, you still want to take a picture to try and remember it all.

Jerry and Felkerino on South Branch Mountain. Devil's Daughter

Felkerino and I spent the day in excellent company. Jerry and Andrea are such experienced and confident riders that they rode their own ride even as we all stayed within eyesight of each other throughout the day.

Andrea pedaled confidently away on the uphills while Jerry often would swoop by us on switchback descents. How are they doing that?

Felkerino and I smoothly managed every grade that took us up higher and higher and never relented on the pedals. I was so proud of us and our “Big Cat” tandem, which is really proving itself to be an excellent climber.


Perhaps another reason I enjoyed Saturday’s ride so much is because a ride with that kind of climbing obliges you to completely immerse yourself into it. Every up and down it throws at you requires focus. Distractions and worries of the day-to-day have no place.

Sometimes it’s good to go on a ride and mull life over. Other days, it’s an excellent reprieve to focus on nothing other than what’s coming your way.

Jerry's Independent

A delightful day in the mountains. Thank you, West Virginia. See you soon.

More photos where those came from. My full set here, and Andrea’s photos here.


Bikes and blossoms. Surly LHT

Present is a space I don’t occupy well, especially in the city.

My bike takes me places while my mind calculates where I’m going and where I’ll head next. Work. Appointment. Grocery store. Repeat.

I ponder the past. How did it go? What could have gone differently? The ride is a pass-through as my thoughts bounce forward and back.

Do you remember when I told you that I was sick of biking? I committed to 30 Days of Biking to see if I could change that somehow.

Surly LHT an blossoms by the Sculpture Garden

April has been a month spent shifting my mind to the present. I still come and go, but there is an added focus on where I am.

The mundane commute becomes a quest to discover something new to appreciate. Felkerino and I ride together. I welcome our morning conversations and our quick goodbye kiss.

The erratic spring weather surprises me each day, and reminds me that glorious warm days of summer are soon to follow.

Flowers and Surly LHT by the American History museum

I keep a watchful eye out for new splashes of springtime color. Longer days mean group projects with the sun to explore its long shadows and golden afternoon light.

The mind stops its whirring. All my senses open to the day, to the moment. As I rediscover the beauty of the urban everyday, I am present.

Cherry Blossom Farewell: Petals, Puddles, and Pavement

Surly LHT and cherry trees

One of my favorite times in Washington, D.C., is when the cherry blossoms reach out to say hello to all of us. Another is when these delicate petals fall, leaving a textured pink layer over grass and pavement.

D.C. residents knew the blossoms were preparing to take their leave. The downed magnolia petals gave us warning, as did emerging redbud, and the green leaves that began to eclipse the presence of pink on the cherry trees.

Magnolias and Surly LHT

Despite the steady rainfall, I departed for work by bike, hoping for quiet streets and a glimpse of the petals’ farewell to the city.

The rain cleared the roads of tourists and left only the most dedicated of bike commuters to contemplate the quiet, warm, damp of the morning.

I steadily pedaled toward the Tidal Basin and Ohio Drive, seeking out a special spot. I didn’t know where it was, only that I would know it when I came upon it.

I passed over petals, puddles and pavement until my bike steered me toward a tree peppered in tiny pink ovals. My special spot.

Propping my bike against the tree’s solid base, I soaked in the morning. Yes, like that.

Surly and cherry blossom trees

As I was taking photos, my friend Chris rode by. I said hello, thinking he would simply continue on his way, given the rainy morning.

Chris on Ohio Drive


To my surprise, Chris turned around. We exchanged photos, chatted a little, and contemplated the morning rain by the Potomac River.

Chris's Instagram of me


I took a few more photos, Chris pushed off, and I hopped on my bike to bid Ohio Drive goodbye. Suddenly the wind rushed, clouds fused, angry waves licked the shore of the Potomac, and the previously steady rain morphed into a pounding downpour.

My feet squished in my socks and shoes, and I wondered what the hell I’d been doing, pausing my commute to grasp that moment. I imagined Chris crossing the 14th Street Bridge. What were we thinking?

But the stormy beauty of the day brought an unrepentant smile to my face. Morning’s warmth and a peaceful moment with a friend and fellow bike commuter. My immediate view of the storm’s intense rising over the river, the swaying of trees, and the flurry of pink petals intersecting my path.

The intense pre-work soaking was well worth it. Farewell, dear blossoms.

Pure Bliss: D.C. Randonneurs 300K

Carol and D. Warrenton 300K Brevet 2014

The ride begins with warmth in the air. After a couple hours of darkness, the sun rises and bounces down the road with us. It must sense that we’re in for a 190-mile day of play.

The sun and I get along so well. The temperatures rise, but there are no uncomfortable flare-ups.

Carol, Bill. Warrenton 300K Brevet

I’m not sure how it happens, but Felkerino and I coalesce with other riders, forming a group that rides together through the first century.

We flow up and down the day’s rises. Everyone holds their space well and conversation is relaxed. We take photos. Of course.

Bill. 2014 Warrenton 300K Brevet

As energy levels change, the group disburses. Felkerino and I ride alone, basking in the glorious day. I almost wish we were riding a 400K so we could make the ride last longer. Almost.

Matt. Warrenton 300K brevet

My legs show up and urge us on throughout. Pedal pedal pedal. Let’s go! Felkerino and I are completely in tune with each other, both present in each pedal stroke and aware of the other.

At some points my feet say, “Hold on, legs, I need a break,” so we stop under the sunny skies and I sit in stocking feet while the breeze attends to my toes. Ahhh, so nice.

300K Brevet. Shoes and Camelbak

After miles of riding solo, we come upon another group of rando-buddies. We ride peacefully to the next control. Company makes the miles pass quickly.

Randonneur lifestyle. 2014 Warrenton 300K brevet

The cue sheet says 60 miles remain, and I have a moment of “Will we ever get to the end?” A helpful wind pushes us forward and says gently, “Of course you will.”

In the final miles, we reunite with Bill, who I was sure had already finished. We’ve spent many a good brevet mile with Bill over the years.  We ride in as a group while the late afternoon sun continues to keep us company.

Finished. Warrenton 300K Brevet 2014

To bookend this blissful day, I make sure to take one last photo. What a day.

More photos where those came from. Full set here.


Flow Like Water

The fleeting pink and white blossoms cover the city. Sun shines and spring breezes blow. Families and field trips congregate on our sidewalks. And hey, how about those tour buses! Yes, it’s cherry blossompalooza in Washington, D.C.

Hains Point, cherry blossoms, and the Surly LHT

In previous years I dreaded this scenario. But thanks to my regular midday runs that have exposed me to this sudden, yet annual, increase in activity I figured out a system to keep me moving (mostly) calmly.

As a self-confessed rule follower and righteous city dweller, I have held tightly to the believe that we all should follow certain rules. Walk on the right side of the sidewalk. Don’t run or walk in the bike lanes. Walk two abreast at most and single file in crowded zones.

Personally, I think these are really good rules. However, while I have not done any studies of the issue, few others seem to agree with me. Groups crowd the entire sidewalk, moving like schools of fish from point A to point B. Small children, and even grown ups, love walking at odd angles. They’re like human lightning bolts.

Photographers at the Tidal Basin

One day I was out on a run, weaving through the midday chaos, when I realized the rules I thought everyone should follow were maybe nice ideas, but mostly unrealistic.

I let go of my rigid views about space. I sidled in and out and around. I paused. I flowed like water.

Learning to move like this slowed my frustrations at those around me not adhering to what I perceived as the rules of the road and sidewalk.

Now I try to flow like water every time I step outside, be it on my bike or on my two feet. It’s totally changed how I look at my environment.

While more people than not make a half-hearted effort to operate in a predictable manner based on the rules of the road and sidewalk, it cannot be expected to occur all the time.

People may drift inadvertently into your path. Somebody might shoal you at a light. A tour bus may stop to unload all of its passengers at the exact moment that you are trying to pass it.

Cherry Blossoms, Surly, on the Potomac

Flow like water.

Touch the brakes, dodge where need be, and if someone gets in your space, slow down or change course. Try not to sweat it. As Felkerino likes to say, it’s all just pavement.

Sounds obvious, no? Not for me. It’s taken 10 years of commuting and more than a year of weekday runs on the National Mall to finally begin to relax my stance on the rules I was sure we all should follow. Finally, I’m unlocking the mysteries of how to flow like water.


Sick of Cycling? Try 30 Days of Biking

We’re eight days into April, a month that has become known to many in the Twitterverse as 30 Days of Biking, where riders pledge to ride every day of the month and document their efforts via social media.Surly LHT and cherry blossoms

I did not plan to sign up for 30 Days of Biking, but officially registered last week because I thought it would help cure what’s been ailing me of late– being sick of biking in the city.

Those of you who read this blog know that I like using my bike to go places. Usually when I ride, my commute becomes a mini-adventure.

Perhaps I seek out a street that I rarely ride down to alter up my route, or I check out an area that I have not seen in a while, just to remind myself what it looks like or see how it has changed. Spontaneous grocery runs to a store up the road from work or a meet-up for dinner by bike are not unusual.

Bartholdi Fountain and daffodils, U.S. Botanic Garden

Bartholdi Fountain and daffodils, U.S. Botanic Garden

However, over the last year I stopped appreciating my bike-centric lifestyle. I got sick of biking. Recently, I’ve been taking the most direct way to and from work. I seldom take the long way. I ride attuned to traffic, but with my head down. “What new is there to see,” says my jaded self.

Along came 30 Days of Biking and I told myself I did not need to register. Over the last three Aprils (2013, 2012, and 2011) I have ridden at least 25 days. It’s not like I’m not getting out on my bike.

But I then began thinking of how I could use 30 Days of Biking as an opportunity to bring adventure and enjoyment back to my urban riding. I signed up.

And guess what? To my surprise, it’s been working. Being part of 30 Days of Biking encourages me to pause and see something new on my regular route. Some days it inspires me to extend my regular ride in search of a new site to document. Every day I take at least one photo of my commute.


Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park

30 Days of Biking is just what the doctor ordered to help cure me of my sick of cycling sentiments. While spring’s colorful arrival has certainly been refreshing, it’s largely my participation in 30 Days of Biking that has rekindled my enthusiasm for everyday cycling.

The number of miles and days I ride has not changed (at least not yet), but 30 Days of Biking has given me a much-needed new set of eyes to appreciate my bike-centric life and the beauty of Washington, D.C.

To see more of my 30 Days of Biking, you can click over to my set on flickr, or follow my Instagram posts. 

Why Ride Brevets?

Randonneuring requires a certain level of commitment (no, not that kind of commitment). Early rises, car rides, bike maintenance and tuning, convenience store dining, and long days and even evenings in the saddle are all part of the randonneur lifestyle.

Photo by Bill Beck

Photo by Bill Beck

Given that most of us do not have unlimited leisure time, what is it about the brevets that appeals enough that we’re willing to dedicate so much of our spring and summer (for some, even more) to it?

Pre-planned weekend escapes. You know those conversations “What should we do this weekend?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Sign up for brevets and you will significantly reduce the frequency with which you have these kinds of talks. Instead, you will have an immediate answer that covers many weekends from late February through June, either “I’m doing a training ride” or “I’m riding x brevet. See? Here’s the cue sheet.”

Training rides require some planning, but go for some rides, hit some hills, and get your miles in and you are set when it comes time for the brevet. Follow whatever the cue sheet says until it tells you that you’re done. The brevet drives the planning for you.

Many of the brevet courses I’ve ridden have been quite scenic and pleasant. We have some gorgeous riding in our area, including the Catoctins and the Blue Ridge. Brevets give me an excellent excuse to explore them a little more.

Strength. Successful completion of brevet distances requires both mental and physical strength. Over the last several years of doing brevets, I have seen my strength build as the year goes on.

Over the winter, I was talking with one of my riding friends about the surreality of knowing that your body is capable to doing a 400K distance when, in January, you’re happy to stop after grinding out a century.

Every year, though, I see my body’s response to the increase in miles. The early wake-ups never get easy, but eventually they become another part of the event. Going longer seems less of an overall effort. My ability to mentally break down the ride into manageable pieces becomes easier.

There is also something about the steady effort of a brevet that makes other parts of life seem more manageable. Maybe randonneuring imparts patience, helps us expand our limits, or teaches us strategies that apply to other facets of our lives.

Camaraderie. It’s always interesting to see who you will end up riding with on brevets and what types of conversations you’ll have. Randonneur conversation potpourri!

Often I end up discussing rides gone by or current randonneuring and riding plans with others, but you never know what interesting topics may arise. Randonneurs are a rather eclectic bunch.

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

Time with my randonneur spouse. I ride almost all brevets on tandem with my husband. I suppose this is somewhat unusual, as I hear stories of people who have to negotiate time on the bike with their non-randonneuring partners.

Over the years Felkerino and I have become pretty in tune with each other. He’s more of an early bird. I like the later miles.

I often wonder if I would ride brevets solo if Felkerino and I had not met. Maybe, but I am not generally the type of person who likes to do solo rides longer than a century.

I prefer a social component and Felkerino’s and my team of two works quite nicely in that regard. We like sharing the ride experience and spending the weekend outdoors together.

Figuring out the puzzle. Even though I have been riding brevets off and on since 2005, I still find myself tweaking my system. For example, what I used to eat on brevets (lots more sugary food) my stomach no longer tolerates. Over time, I have become better at riding longer without a break and have learned how to take active breaks on the bike.

In a weird way, I like seeing how my body has changed over time. What works to successfully complete a brevet is never an exact formula.

Customization. In her On Writing & Riding interview, fellow randonneur mmmmbike! discussed how randonneuring’s non-competitive foundation allows people to interpret it in their own ways.

You can ride a brevet like a race. You can treat it as a long group ride, or you can approach it as a more solitary experience. In the end, it’s all randonneuring.

I know this list of why we ride brevets is far from comprehensive. Please, all you randos out there, help me fill in the gaps.

Old Rag 200K Permanent: Hills, Vistas, and Math Word Problems

This weekend Felkerino and I hightailed it out of the city to escape the crowds that have descended on Washington, D.C., and arranged to do the lovely Old Rag 200K out of Warrenton, Virginia, with bicycling buddies Andrea and Mike.


The D.C. Randonneurs site describes the Old Rag 200K as follows:

From Warrenton we head generally southwest passing through rolling horse farm country with the Blue Ridge Mountains as our backdrop. We parallel the Blue Ridge as far south as Madison where we begin our return to Warrenton after a stop at the friendly, well-stocked Yoder’s Country Market.

The route is fairly gentle as we wind our way to Syria in the shadow of Grave’s Mountain. A moderate climb followed by a 3-mile descent puts us up and over the Old Rag Grinder.

A series of steep and unrelenting rollers–lovingly known as The Three Kings and The Meanies–will consume us for the next hour or so prompting many to re-fuel at the Laurel Mills store with the sweet, spring water that flows nearby.

Country roads bordered by stone fences carry us through Ben Venue and into Flint Hill and the final control at the reopened Orlean Store. A final climb over Piney Mountain brings us back to Warrenton.

Estimated total elevation gain : 8,000 feet.

This course is an old friend to Felkerino and me. It was the first 200K brevet course he ever rode (in 1996), and my second (in 2005). Saturday’s temperatures were good for riding, the wind swirled around in its springtime way, and the sun shone. Felkerino and I had great company.

Andrea and Mike, and a dog we surprised as it was out for a stroll

Andrea and Mike, and a dog we surprised as it was out for a stroll

I was glad for the urban reprieve, but unprepared for how mentally challenging this ride would prove for me. I have not been logging the bike miles like I hoped this year (although my running miles are up, woo!). Dispirited by the colder weather, getting sick on a couple of weekends I hoped to spend on the bike, blah blah blah. I’m full of good excuses, but the bottom line is that my confidence going into this ride was not where I wanted it.

My mind also kept wandering back to personal concerns. I forget how the things going on in our lives can affect our energy levels and focus. Usually, I can shake stuff, but it wasn’t happening on Saturday. I’d chew on things for a while and then refocus on the ride for a bit, only to be distracted again by all the thoughts banging around in my brain.

Heading toward Etlan Road

Heading toward Etlan Road

My usual mental approach to a 200K is fairly simple.

  1. Divide the ride into two main parts, the first 60+ miles and the last 60+.
  2. Knock off the first 25 miles and get the ride down to a conceptually manageable century distance (easy peasy!).
  3. Pedal steadily with minimal breaks until the halfway point, eating out of the back-pocket cafe as needed.
  4. Eat something more substantial at the halfway mark, like a sandwich.
  5. Ride steadily from lunch and stop once more for a little snack at around mile 100 or so. Only 25 miles left (Surely you’ve ridden 25 miles before?).
  6. The end!

This ride required the use of these ride management strategies and more to push through. I rode the first half or so according to plan, but struggled mightily after the first 60 miles. It was strange because my body felt fine, but my brain wanted to be back in bed, resting on my pillow.

The delicious Etlan Road is just past this red barn, and so is a steep climb.

The delicious Etlan Road is just past this red barn, and so is a steep climb.

After much scrutiny of the cue sheet, I ended up breaking the ride down into 10-15 mile segments. I spent a lot of time challenging myself to basic math word problems, and compared the distances we covered to the everyday riding I do.

Three rides to Whole Foods and back until we reach the next control. Two trips to work until we are at X miles. Two trips to the doctor, taking the long way. This made the distances easier to conceptualize, while also taking my mind off other things.

Ride management strategy: time for math.

Ride management strategy: time for math.

I also rewarded myself at mile 94 with homemade monster cookies I purchased earlier in the day. I try to avoid rewarding myself with food, especially during rides. Not this ride. This ride needed a dose of monster cookies!

Strangely, my legs felt decent throughout the day. At some points they fatigued (particularly during parts of what we call the three kings), but overall my physical output felt solid.

It was my head that was out of sorts. I struggled to be present in the ride. I don’t know if this is worse to experience on a tandem or a single bike. On one hand, you can start to think about how you are dragging the other person down, how much faster they could go if you were not there. On the other hand, your teamwork can be a source of encouragement. Fortunately for me, Felkerino was a good tandem partner on this ride.

Laurel Mills Store, where I rewarded myself by devouring monster cookies.

Laurel Mills Store, where I rewarded myself by devouring monster cookies.

Despite my difficulties focusing, I’m still glad we got out. I had to get away from the District. It felt good to meet up with others and pedal our way over the choppy and scenic Virginia countryside, with all of its trees poised to blossom.

One day after the ride, my legs are tired, but I am far from wiped out. This ride built my confidence that we can handle hills and go further than 200K if/when we need to do so.

My head was not in the space I wanted it during the ride, but I feel much better about life today. Nothing like a 200K in the spring sunshine and lots of made-up math story problems to clear the head.

Thanks to Mike and Andrea for riding with us. And Felkerino, you’re the best.

Lessons Learned From My First Tandem Bicycle Tour

This week I had the opportunity to reflect on my very first tandem bike tour with Felkerino, an eight-day, 775-mile excursion from Rockville, Maryland, to Niagara Falls.

I wrote about our 2005 tour experience on The Bicycle Story (an excellent blog, and not just because I have a guest post on it). You can see my story here.

Checking the map en route to Niagara Falls

Checking the map en route to Niagara Falls

Our Niagara Falls bike tour continues to inform the touring we do today. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned. Most of these are taken directly from the notes I jotted down immediately after the tour:

  • You do not need four panniers to credit card tour in the middle of summer.
  • Guest laundry at hotels is exciting, and so much better than hand-washing the day’s clothes in the bathroom sink and squeeze-drying it in a hotel towel.
  • When riding loaded, consider shorter days than 100 miles. During our 2005 Niagara Falls tour, we averaged 97 miles per day. In general, when Ed and I now tour we ride a few days that are close to a century, and mix it up with shorter days. I wrote in my notes from 2005, consider two days hard, and one day lighter to recover. Now I would revise that to ride a century one day, and ride the next couple of days at, say, 60-80 miles. It helps keep touring a treat.
  • If you ride long days (100 or more per day) with bags, you will not get to stop very much. (Insert sad face here.)
  • Sleep is bliss on a bike tour.
  • The fourth or fifth day on a tour are emotionally tough as tour legs start to set in. (I wrote that in 2005, but have found that if we keep our mileage less than a century per day, this does not happen to me as intensely.)
  • Plan out lunch and other food stops before leaving on tour.
  • Take photos and notes of the places you’ve been. They are fun to revisit later. In 2005, I took terrible notes and took no photos. While I have no regrets about that, I take notes and photos of our trips. I like seeing where we toured each day and having some photos I took that help capture each day.

So that’s my short list of lessons learned about bike touring. Feel free to add anything I left out or that you’ve learned from your own experiences on the road.

Taking a break to soak in the view.

Taking a break to soak in the view.

Despite our follies, Felkerino and I had an unforgettable adventure in 2005 that made us want to take time every year to bike tour. Bike touring… it’s the best!