Monthly Archives: January 2013

Becoming Vulnerable to Change

For the past several months, whenever I have ventured to the gym for a weight workout on my own, I’ve repeated the same routine. A routine that works the basic muscle groups, I have felt locked into doing it because it’s what I know and I was at a loss for how to switch it up.

gym

Last week I asked one of the trainers whose group classes I regularly attend how he goes about developing a workout for himself. He had a quick response.

“You know how I go about developing a workout routine? I think about three things:

  1. Fitness goals. What are the kinds of activities you want to do outside of the gym?
  2. Weak areas. What are areas of your body that are not strong that you want to develop?
  3. Appearance. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is there some way that you want to look different and where is that area on your body?”

To my surprise, he then added, “Go home, look at yourself in a mirror, write down the answers to those three questions and get back to me next week. I’ll write a workout for you.”

That sounded terrifying. As I wrote recently, I have been enjoying my no-pressure no-goals workouts.

Also, standing in front of a mirror and assessing my weak areas tends to bring out my self-critical side. Not thin enough. Not strong enough. Not fit enough.

However, the trainer’s offer was an opportunity for change and self-improvement I couldn’t refuse. I’ve talked about my story of sameness, and how I want to make changes to my physical endeavors. This was a way to do that.

I went home and did as the trainer instructed. In order to avoid the pitfall of being paralyzed by self-criticism, I focused on my overall fitness goals for the year: ride brevets; run marathons; and bike tour.

I then thought about the areas of my fitness that I have not paid attention to due to my tendency to run and ride: flexibility; balance; upper back; and arms.

Finally, I took another look in the mirror and jotted down some notes about where I would not mind seeing a visual change. That felt a little vain and weird to do, but also honest.

I returned to the gym on Monday and handed in my homework, not expecting to hear anything back for at least a few days. Tuesday, I arrived at the gym and the trainer said, “I have your workout for you! Let’s do it today.”

“Great!” I answered. “Oh great,” I said in my head.

What followed was a series of exercises that focused on areas that, in line with my self-assessment, were not strong. I moved determinedly yet awkwardly from one activity to the next amid a group of men (as is the case in most weight rooms I’ve frequented) testing muscle groups I’ve mostly avoided. It challenged and humbled me.

When it was over I went back to the locker room, breathed deeply, took my time changing back into my cycling clothes, and thought about how difficult the day had been.

I was self-conscious about maneuvering my way through a weight room dominated by men. It also frustrated me to devote time to activities with which I have yet to feel any degree of competence. It took more concentration than I’m used to having to use in my workouts.

Much as I disliked my story of sameness that evolved over the last three years, trying something totally new that also focused on my areas of weakness was unnerving. It’s easier to stay within my comfort zone.

While I know that creating a new routine is how I develop and grow, I now see that making myself vulnerable to change is harder than I thought.

The Politics of Bike Parking at Work

I recently began a new job, and my lovely setup of parking my bike in my office is no more. I now work in a cube and have no space to park a bike. I could use my Tikit or Dahon folder, but I have not put the time in to make either of them what I would consider “commute ready.”

Instead, I continue to ride my Surly LHT and park my bike in one of two places at my building:

  1. The underground parking garage that has inverted U-shaped racks to accommodate about 20 bikes. 
  2. A prison bar-style outdoor bike rack that is mostly covered (depending on what direction the wind blows), and can theoretically fit 50 bikes, but from my point of view is basically worthless for those of us that use fenders and a U-lock with the exception of the end spaces.

During the winter months, I have made regular use of the garage. It reduces the time I need to spend in the cold locking and unlocking my bike and it keeps my bike decently warm so my hands do not immediately turn to ice when I put them on the handlebars.

However, I will still occasionally park outside and lock to what I consider the substandard prison bar-style rack.

Through commuting regularly to my job in this shared parking environment, I have begun to notice funny things about us bike commuters.

This is my spot

  • The early bird gets the primo parking.

The earlier I can get to work, the more choices I have about where to park. The closer to nine a.m., and the worse the selection becomes. This encourages me to get out the door with enough time to stake my claim at one of the indoor U-shaped racks.

  • If I have to park outside on the prison bar-style rack, I only want to use an end space. 

As I wrote previously, I have a tough time swallowing parking that requires me to lift my bike up and over a bike rack. It Is a pain to park with fenders installed and I am certain that I am scratching the BEEP out of the underside of my downtube when I do it.

Instead of having to deal with launching the front of the bike over the rack, I make an effort to get to the office early enough to score U-shaped rack or at least an end space on the outdoor bar-style rack.

  • Some commuters are possessive of “their spot.” 

Through this shared parking experience, I’ve realized that I am not possessive about one particular spot. Rather, I like to have types of parking from which to choose. I want to be able to park at any of the U-shaped racks that are available or, if none are available, I want one of the end spots on the bar-style rack outside the building. OK, I concede that I am possessive about those end spaces!

Other than that, I do not care. However, there are some people who DO care. They have specific spots where they want to be. I’m not sure how they feel if someone inadvertently takes their spot, but I imagine they do experience a little disappointment. Why? Who knows. Like I said, we commuters can be funny.

Locks on racks

At least five locks on this rack

  • Some people like to leave their locks at the office.

Many of the spaces indoors have multiple locks on them. I don’t know if this is somehow related to people having “their spot” and this is one of the ways they mark it, or if it is because people don’t like to carry their locks on their bikes.  I tend to think the latter.

As a person who uses my bike not only to get to work but to run errands after work, I do not leave my lock at the office. I never know when I will need it. This apparently is not be the case for other commuters, whose path must be directly from home to work and back again. These locks can junk up the racks a little, but not so much that it makes parking an issue.

  • Some people think it’s fine to leave their bikes in long-term parking at the office.

I could not imagine leaving my bike at the office for anything more than the occasional overnight due to extreme weather or other unexpected circumstances. However, there are some commuters who do not think like that, and are completely ok with leaving their bikes at the office for several days, if not longer.

There is also one individual who uses his bike exclusively for sport. He or she does not commute on the bike, but rather, leaves the bike at work (in one of the primo indoor parking spots) to ride either over lunch or after work or I don’t know when.

I find this situation  peculiar because it conflicts with what I believe the purpose of the bike racks to be, which is to provide a space for people who are using their bikes for tranportation to and from the office. At the same time, it’s great that the person is riding their bike to exercise. I think if we had the luxury of more indoor parking I would not notice this bike or care as much. However, we don’t.

Look mom, no fenders!

Look mom, no fenders!

  • Some people don’t care as much as I do about where they park their bikes.

At least three or four commuters consistently park their steeds in the prison bar-style rack. Even when there is an end space available on these racks, they have no qualms hefting their bikes and locking them up in the middle of the rack. I also notice that these riders do not have fenders on their bikes. Part of me envies their carefree ways, but mostly, I think we should get a better rack for outside our building.

  • I compare my bike to other bikes.

If you read this blog at all, you know that my Surly Long Haul Trucker is my primary commuter and I’m quite proud of it. I like how it looks, it rides well, and I’m please with how I have accessorized it. Whenever I park my bike, I check out the other bikes around me to see what people are riding: road bikes with no fenders (what?!); Linus bikes; hybrids; mountain bikes; and many others. I look at the lights, racks, and other accessories people choose to adorn their bikes and light up their rides.

On rare occasions I spy a person with tastes I admire. I’ve even seen someone in our garage who rides a Surly and uses a Carradice (like me!). Unfortunately, we are not on the same work schedule so I can only imagine what he or she must be like in real life.

Checking out how other people choose to bike to work is fun.

Inverted U racks, and a bike I admire

Inverted U racks, and a bike I admire

  • I am sensitive about people parking next to me.

Due to our limited spaces, parking will be tight. Even so, it’s taking me time to adjust to sharing space at the bike racks. I attribute this to being from Iowa, where I grew up accustomed to a lot of personal space.

My lack of comfort about the proximity of other bikes to mine is strange because when I’m outside running errands, I don’t care nearly as much. I park wherever I can, and if others park next to me, I just don’t want them to accidentally lock their bike to mine. I’m trying my best to transfer this mentality to my daily parking at the office, but it’s taking time.

Bike parking is an area of improvement for many businesses. In my case, we do alright, but I wish we had space for 20 more bikes in the underground parking garage. I think that would  allow all those who bike commute to park inside if they choose and I would not care so much about a person (or two) who leaves his or her bike at the office for midday or post-work sport riding.

Man, I did not realize all the stuff I was missing when I could park my bike in my office with me. Parking in shared space has given me much more food for thought.

What about you? How does your bike parking situation compare and what things have you noticed?

Pitter Patter: Cold Winter Days in D.C.

A midday run on the Mall. A bitingly cold commute to work.

The city looks different, feels distinct over a light powdering of snow.

image

Tourists head indoors, to museums and gift shops. Runners dwindle, leaving only those undeterred by the chill.

The cold shocks me initially. A few steps and warmth returns, allowing me to assess my surroundings and appreciate the day.

Pitter patter. Pitter patter. My shoes fall softly on the snow-dusted ground. Their sound is meditative.

image

Faster runners pass me. My path intersects with others approaching from the opposite direction. Many of us smile as we pass or give a wave from the hip.

I don’t know where these feelings of fellowship originate. Maybe it’s the manner in which these conditions invigorate us.

Ironic, I think, that these chilly winter days make us warm to each other. I continue on my way, stepping lightly. Pitter patter. Pitter patter.

Winter Weather: Testing Your Mettle and Your Wardrobe

It is unusual for D.C. to go into the deep freeze, but it happened this week. We’re experiencing the coldest weather we’ve had since March 2009, according to Capital Weather Gang.

Winter commuting on the Surly

Given that we seldom have snow or ice during the winter months, the cold and wind are the primary deterrents to riding, as opposed to the actual street conditions. Now is the time when commuters test their tolerance of the frigid conditions as well as their gear.

Regarding tolerance for cold, I confess a big fail. I am still riding, but each day I find myself procrastinating my ride to work in the cozy warmth of my home. I don multiple layers and it’s only after I begin to overheat that I reluctantly roll my bike out of the house.

This morning, while parking in my building, a fellow commuter arrived saying, “We’re hardcore. The cold can’t stop us.”

My response? “Maybe not, but I sure whined a lot.”

When Felkerino and I first started seeing each other and riding together, I was much more stoic. Highs in the 20s, but no snow on the ground? Count me in for a century!

This was also my first year of randonneuring, and I was much more committed to getting out in any kind of weather. I thought suffering through the winter cold would pay off if I could avoid discomfort during the spring brevets.

These days, much of my stoicism is gone, though I do force myself out the door to ward off cabin fever and to go to work.

Hat and balaclava layers

The cold weather is also an excellent opportunity for testing out the winter gear. Perhaps that hat you thought worked in any kind of weather does nothing for you in the cold but give you an ice cream headache. Those thick gloves you thought would keep your fingers toasty? Not so after all.

For my part, I’ve been riding with the following:

Head

  1. Rivendell wool balaclava
  2. Little Package medium-weight wool earflap cap

Until this week, I’d been sufficiently warm using a wool gaiter and one earflap cap. This week, though, I found that combination does not cut it. I need extra warmth this combo won’t provide.

The balaclava exposes less of my skin and is thicker than most of the gaiters I own. Combined with an earflap cap, my head stays sufficiently warm. The cap’s brim also gives added protection from the wind.

Since I work out at the gym after work, I want to expose as little of my sweaty head as possible for my return. Frigid air on a damp head is the worst. The balaclava with cap is the way I minimize exposure.

My husband has been using a skull cap, balaclava, and helmet cover combination which works well for him in these temps.

Torso

  1. Patagonia merino wool base layer
  2. An additional lightweight wool base layer if I feel like I need it
  3. Ibex Shak jersey
  4. Haglof’s Vig Jacket – Soft shell

The torso and head are tricky layering areas. Too many layers and you sweat, which then results in a chill that haunts you the rest of the ride. Not enough and you never warm up, also resulting in unshakeable cold and discomfort.

The layers allow me to make changes along the way so that if temperatures do rise I can remove a layer. A couple days this week, I rode with my wool base layer and Ibex Shak jersey, with an extra wool layer in my Carradice just in case.

The Ibex Shak is a close-knit heavy wool weave that offers plenty of warmth given its weight. Basically, I think every commuter should own a Shak jersey if he or she plans to ride through cold months. They are expensive, but totally worth it (and you can often find them on sale).

The Haglof’s Vig Jacket is a technical soft shell that I purchased this year and am quickly falling in love with. The jacket is wind and water-resistant, lightly lined, and has a two-way zipper, pit zips, ample pockets (including a chest pocket), adjustable cuffs. I find the cut of the jacket flattering. It’s also bright red, which I like for commuting purposes.

I initially purchased this jacket because I wanted a sturdy piece beneath which I could wear one layer and still be warm, but it is going the distance for me on these cold winter rides. The two-way zipper and easily accessible pit zips allow me to adjust for varying temperatures (though if temps are above 45, this jacket would be way too warm). It’s a fantastic piece, and I hope it proves to be a durable one.

winter wardrobe

Another aspect I like about this jacket is that I can wear it with work pants and it does not look too odd. Usually, I keep a regular wool coat at the office, but I have not done that this year and I have relied on my Haglof’s jacket to get me to and from  meetings. No, it is not a business coat, but it will work if I have to go out in the elements and walk to a meeting or want to run and grab lunch with a friend.

Several people in my building have said things to me like, “Are you going to be warm enough in that?” or “I hope you have another jacket.” In fact, once I get going, I’m quite comfortable. A jacket does not need to be bulky or fluffy to be warm. It’s all about wind-proofing and clever layering!

Legs and Feet

  1. Long underwear (either Ibex or Cuddle Duds)
  2. Title Nine 1000 Pant
  3. Serfas booties
  4. Two pairs of wool socks (one thinner, one thicker, and one knee-high length)
  5. Diadora mountain shoes (one size bigger than normal to accommodate my socks)

While some riders will commute in cycling or other heavy tights, I prefer to wear regular pants on the commute. Maybe that seems arbitrary, given that I’m also wearing a balaclava and lobster gloves, but some of us have to draw the line somewhere.

Currently, I have been wearing some pants from Title 9 called the “1000 pant.” They are narrow in the leg, which I like because I don’t have to roll up my pantleg to avoid hitting the crank and they also have an articulated knee. These pants are good for days in the 40s, but anything below freezing and they need a boost. Enter long underwear.

Throbbing toes are a bummer. To keep my tootsies warm I purchased a pair of Diadora mountain shoes a few years back (I just can’t give up my SPDs!) in one size larger than the one I usually take. That way, I can wear heavier socks, or even two pairs of socks, and not worry about the shoes feeling too tight. As extra insurance, I wear booties.

Balaclava and lobster gloves

Hands

  1. Polyester liner gloves
  2. Louis Garneau lobster gloves

You know what’s worse than throbbing feet? Throbbing hands. Ok, maybe it’s a toss-up. They’re both awful.

For temps in the 20s, I have been using my Louis Garneau lobsters, which are less heavy duty and bulky than the Pearl Izumi lobster gloves that I only wear in the most sever of temperatures.

To increase warmth, I use a thinnish pair of polyester liner gloves, too. This is a tip I picked up from Felkerino, and I’m impressed with how much of a difference adding thin liner gloves makes.

Winter Commuting on the Surly LHT

So far, my system is working well. I would probably add a little more insulation on the legs if I was going to ride any  more than 10 miles one-way, as a little chill sneaks into my quads even with the pants/long underwear combo.

The other parts of my body do well with this layering, even though a kind of primal protest courses through my body when I take the initial pedal strokes out into the frigid mornings. There’s also another protest that manifests in my mind if I look in the mirror when dressed in all my winter garb.

Cold winter days take away any glamour of the commute. Balaclavas, lobster gloves, booties… I mean, really, who likes wearing them? However, when I’m pedaling through the streets with toasty ears, toes, and feet I’m glad I let my winter wardrobe choices be dominated by pragmatism and the desire to be comfortable. And I give myself permission to whine a little along the way.

Inauguration Weekend & Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes

The city is almost ready for Inauguration Day. Yesterday I tried to capture the final preparations from a perspective slightly higher than ground level.

Capitol down the Mall

On my commute home I took the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes in order to see the Art of Weiwei projection on the exterior of the Newseum. This is only on display from January 17th through the 19th in honor of the inauguration so if you are in town, Saturday is your last chance to see it.

Weiwei 2

Weiwei

A cold evening with little traffic, I stood with my bike, absorbed the quiet scene displayed on the First Amendment tablet of the Newseum, and contemplated Weiwei’s images and words.

Pennsylvania Ave Bike Lane

Today (Saturday) Felkerino and I went for an outing that included a lap on Pennsylvania Avenue and a brief stroll across the National Mall.

Signage displayed on various buildings celebrated the upcoming inauguration.

The Willard Intercontinental Salutes America's 44th President

The Willard Intercontinental Salutes America’s 44th President

Newseum Welcomes President Obama

Newseum Welcomes President Obama

Canada Salutes President Obama

Canada Salutes President Obama, Vice President Biden

The upcoming festivities combined with warmer temperatures (creeping up on 50) and bright sun brought out the people.

Pedicabs. Hi!

Pedicabs. Hi!

The result was a downtown mishmosh of gleeful tourists, grumpy locals, excited locals, frazzled families, and haggard motorists who were continually being shunted off some of the main streets due to the inauguration road closures.

Felkerino. Excited local? Disgruntled local? You make the call.

Felkerino. Excited local? Disgruntled local? You make the call.

The ride down Pennsylvania was beautiful, not only weather-wise, but because vehicular access to the street was limited, almost equalizing the number of bicycles to cars on the street for once. And no nasty car U-turns!

Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a bike lane. It's a parade route! It has almost no cars on it today!

Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a bike lane. It’s a parade route! It has almost no cars on it today!

Washington, D.C., is a city that loves ceremony.

The bleachers are up.

Port o’potties align the Mall.

Port O' Potty closeup by National Archives.

Port O’ Potty closeup by National Archives.

Mobile command centers are in position.

The freshly seeded green grass looks pristine and ready to be tromped on.

DC and USA flags - Inauguration Day

Can’t wait for Monday.

I’m Not Training; I’m Having Fun

Panda

Earlier this week I read a brief but informative article in the New York Times called “Training Insights from Star Athletes.”  The Times interviewed three elite athletes who discussed various facets of their training, including the importance of making it focused and structured.

When Felkerino and I agreed to ride Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 2011, I spent much of the two years before it doing what I would call more training-type things. I worked deliberately on strengthening my upper and lower body in my gym workouts, bought a heart rate monitor for doing intervals in spin classes and pushing myself to Zone whatever in cardio classes, and developed a weekend ride training program designed for Felkerino and I to peak at PBP.

As I read the Times piece it dawned on me that since PBP I have not really been training, even though I am still engaged in activities that are similar to those I was doing in 2010 and ’11.

I still go to the gym several times a week. I hit a spin class or two and use my heart rate monitor to help with my effort. I ride my bike regularly and go long on the weekends. I even fit in a run here and there. But these activities are not training.

My weekly routine is now geared around being active for the fun of it. “Fun” is a nonspecific term so let me break down what it means to me. For me, fun is:

  • Riding a winter century with Felkerino and feeling like it did not shatter me.
  • Watching myself improve when I put my mind to it. For example, this year I’ve gotten a thrill out of seeing the increase in the number of pushups I can do and testing how long I can hold a plank. I’m still pretty bad at pushups, but I’m getting better!
  • The pleasant rise of my heart rate rise in a gym class, knowing that I can keep pushing myself even harder.
  • Doing jumping jacks as fast as I can. For some reason, I am really into jumping jacks these days.
  • Going for a steady 10-mile run and not hurting during or after it.
  • Sweating from the effort of a good workout.
  • Staying healthy with no other specific end-goal in mind.

Even though I have made it part of my daily routine, working out does not feel boring or stale. Lately, being active is when I feel most authentic and real. I’m physically engaged from head to toe and my mind elevates into a happy and sometimes meditative state.

Working out unleashes my joy for life.

When the time comes that I feel a need to return to more focused training, I will buckle down and do it. For now I’m doing it for fun and loving it.

A Run in Rock Creek with Ultrarunnergirl

Rock Creek 2

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my friend Kirstin, aka Ultrarunnergirl, inviting me to go trail running with her in Rock Creek Park.

Her timing could not have been better, as I had just been lamenting my “story of sameness” and the need to mix it up with other activities this year. I immediately responded yes.

Even though I do some road running, I seldom run trails and have never done so in Rock Creek Park, which is an easy five-mile ride from my house.

Rock Creek Park is a popular urban park nestled in the middle of Washington, D.C. Even though I have ridden my bike plenty of times through Rock Creek (the main road is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends, making it a weekend haunt for some of the local cyclists), I had no idea what lay beyond the pavement.

I had spied some of the trails from the main road, but had no idea where they went. Given my poor sense of direction, I stuck to the pavement whenever I visited Rock Creek. I did not want to end up lost in the middle of the city.

Until last weekend, that is. Ultrarunnergirl graciously guided me off the pavement into this urban oasis.

According to the National Park Service, the park is technically about three square miles, but it seems to expand once you enter it. Bigger on the inside, a Dr. Who fan might say. I don’t know how the national parkland is measured, but I’m pretty sure that the amount of overall green space we call Rock Creek is significantly larger than the three square miles cited by the Park Service.

Rock Creek 4

Trails abound in Rock Creek. They twist throughout the park and converge with each other only to wind away again. The terrain was rolling throughout our run, more than I anticipated. I did not summit any mountains during my outing with Ultrarunnergirl, but my legs told me that I climbed a few real hills.

The paths were not overly technical, which allowed me to follow Ultrarunnergirl’s footsteps without too much trouble. Strategically placed stones made creek crossings manageable, and I am happy to report that I did not fall once.

It was an odd feeling that a place so known to me was simultaneously foreign. Running the trails in Rock Creek was something like going down the rabbit hole and emerging in an urban Wonderland.

Kirstin was an ideal guide. She slowed her pace so I could keep up with her. She explained how the trails worked and interconnected. She routed us over a comfortable distance so that I felt like I had a great run, but was not uncomfortable or physically hurting at the end.

Rock Creek 3

There’s nothing better than a friend who says “we should do blah blah blah sometime” and then follows through so that you both actually do it.

I felt so happy about discovering a new place in the city and for trying something new. It was a beautiful day to be a runner, and I look forward to my next visit to the Rock Creek trails. Thanks for being my trail guide and taking me beyond the pavement, Ultrarunnergirl!

The Wheel of Influence

Why did you start riding a bicycle? Who are the people that influenced you?

I’ve been giving these questions heavy consideration as I think about the reasons that I started to ride and continue to do so today, especially when I see the numbers showing how few people ride bikes.

Surly LHT. Morning commute on the Mall

Surly LHT. Morning commute on the Mall

While the data I’ve come across varies, it shows that around 3 percent of the overall D.C. commuter population are cyclists. Dang, that is low!

Another figure I have read is that that women make around 30 percent of the bike trips in the District. League of American Bicyclists published data stating that 32 percent of D.C. bike commuters were women. So for every three women I see on a bike, I see another seven men riding one. I’d like to see more people commute by bike and I would love to see the ratio of men to women riders be more equal.

I don’t know all of the reasons why more people don’t ride, or why so many fewer women than men cycle. However, when I think about the reasons that I began pedaling around and continue to do so today, I see the huge role that people around me played in my development as a bike rider.

Rawland in D.C.

My story starts in a small town in the Midwest. A place where everybody knew everybody and the edge of town was always within sight, no matter where you found yourself standing.

The Big Kids

The first group to pique my interest in cycling were the “big kids” in town. Kids slightly older than I who had made the leap to riding a bicycle. Man, I envied them.

No longer constrained by their two feet, they had wheels to take them from one end of town to the other. They had left their Big Wheels behind for bigger and better things. I watched them zip up and down the street at a pace I could only imagine. I wanted to be one of the big kids.

Parents

After I added a bicycle to my wish list, my parents gathered the money together for me to have one. Initially equipped with training wheels, they watched my progress as I toodled unsteadily up and down our unpaved driveway.

Eventually, the training wheels came off. I practiced doggedly, out of view of prying eyes so no one (especially not my sisters) could monitor my progress. After hours of practice, I made the triumphant transition to big kid on two wheels.

My sisters were not far behind in mastering bicycling basics, and as we grew more confident on the bike, Mom and Dad organized occasional family rides. These rides extended my radius past the edge of town to the county roads beyond it.

Our parents exhibited great patience, teaching us how to cycle safely, and herding us slowly along the outskirts of town as the farm traffic passed us by. I will always be grateful to them for encouraging us to get outside, be active, and explore our surroundings.

Cyclists on the RAGBRAI Route

Cyclists on the RAGBRAI Route

Sisters

My sisters and I were each other’s constant companions growing up. Being close to me in age, we reached many developmental milestones perhaps not simultaneously, but within months of each other. If one sibling mastered something new, more than likely the other two took an interest in it, too.

I learned to ride, and Middle Gersemalina soon followed. It wasn’t always fun to ride alone so we spent many hours riding together. We challenged each other to try new things, like skid stops and riding no-handed.

Sometimes our trips were short jaunts to the park. Other times we meandered, exploring the streets together.

Iowans

I took up riding again as an adult for various reasons, primarily because I saw how useful it was for transport around Washington, D.C.

As I regained my cycling skills and my fitness increased, I developed an interest in bike touring. Growing up, my home state hosted the largest cross-state cycling tour in the country the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).

None of us lived in Iowa anymore, but I suggested it to my sisters as a way for us to simultaneously catch up with each other and reconnect with our home state. We made arrangements to ride it together that summer.

Our mom even agreed to follow the route (by car) and carry our cycling gear from town to town. Ultimately, only one of my two siblings was able to ride it, but we loved it.

There is nothing quite like seeing people come from all parts of the country to ride in the state where you spent your childhood, especially when tourism is not a big draw to that part of the country. My sister and I liked RAGBRAI so much that we did it together a couple of times.

Andrea on the 2012 D.C. Randonneurs 600K

Andrea on the 2012 D.C. Randonneurs 600K

My Friend Andrea

During one of my RAGBRAI trips, I met an avid D.C.-area cyclist, Andrea M. She took me under her wing after RAGBRAI, and introducing me to road riding and the great places to ride outside of Washington, D.C. She showed me the roads around Poolesville, Maryland; the popular cycling highway that is River Road; and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Up until that time, my D.C. riding had been limited primarily to multi-use paths. Thanks to Andrea, a whole new cycling world opened up to me. I even discovered randonneuring when Andrea invited me to be part of an all-woman fleche team.

Felkerino

Because of Andrea, I reacquainted myself with groups of people who liked riding for sport and recreation, and in the process I realized how much cycling meant to me. I loved meeting people who shared my passions for being active.

It was through this group that I met my tandem partner, and now-husband, Felkerino. Felkerino not only possessed knowledge about good places to cycle, but he was also a smarty-pants about how the bicycle worked. He taught me enough mechanical skills to muddle through basic roadside repairs (emphasis on basic).

Felkerino, Crista, and Chuck

Randonneuring and Touring Friends

Felkerino and I also learned the ins and outs of light/”credit card” bicycle touring together, thanks in large part to some of our randonneuring friends who welcomed us to tour with them. They taught us about route and distance planning, and how to plot one- to two-week tours.

Felkerino and I then set off on our own, basing our routes on much of the touring knowledge we acquired from then.

Felkerino and me, with Rob Hawks on PBP 2011 (c) Antoinette Galon

Felkerino and me, with Rob Hawks on PBP 2011 (c) Antoinette Galon

And so it goes.

In a time where so much information is available to us and often only a keyboard click away, I have found that it can only take me so far.

Ultimately, I needed the people around me, the spokes of my wheel of influence, to send me on my way. They taught me about the bicycle and fostered my cycling pursuits. They invested their time in helping me. It’s hard to imagine where I would be without them.

I’m forever grateful to the many people who opened my world to bicycling, and to those who continue to influence and inspire my two-wheeled adventures.

D.C. Commute Scenes: Getting Ready

Commute shadows

It’s been a while since my last “D.C. Commute Scenes” post. Guess everything became routine landscape the past few months. Not lately, though. Right now, big things are happening right here in Washington, D.C. (Insert snide comment here if you feel like doing so.)

The city is rapidly preparing for the presidential inauguration. People are out and about from morning until evening making it happen.

I don’t know exactly where all this stuff comes from or how it gets there, but one day you’re walking along a sidewalk swinging your arms wide in a carefree manner, and the next your having to shrink up your shoulders to scrunch past rows of bleachers, asking yourself if you should walk in the bike lane. (Answer: Don’t walk in the bike lane.)

The temporary White House Plaza structures have left about one-third of the normal walking space. I don’t have a picture of it because every time I ride by that area I’m just trying to get out of the way.

U.S. Capitol and lawn chairs

Save me a spot in the second row, please!

The Capitol lawn is even more blocked off than normal as folding chairs are placed just so. As a person looks west down the Mall, electronics, speakers, wire fencing, and other obstacles mar the landscape. The city is under construction.

I feel a pinch sorry for the tourists. The city looks much nicer without all this extra stuff everywhere. I don’t know anyone who would say that port o’potties make for a better looking city. I’m glad we have them, though. They may not look pretty, but they do make life better in the end. And in the interim, it’s a runner’s dream out there.

Capitol and port o'potties

In addition to the upcoming inauguration, I’ve been noticing that a lost glove epidemic has seized the city.

lost glamour glove

Today alone I came upon three that had become separated from their other half. Take care of your gloves, people. It’s a mean world. Cars run gloves over. People, seeing they have no mate, toss them into trash cans. A single glove = a lost future.

Lost glove

Finally, the fox and raccoons have officially taken over Hains Point for the winter. I rode there late last week and encountered five fox and one raccoon. None of them were riding bikes. Neither was anyone else but me. Hains Point is at its best in the wintertime.

Last year, two eagles regularly hung out in one of the trees at the southern tip of the Point, but I’ve not seem them this year. Anyone know if they are still around?

There you have it, folks. January in D.C. It’s not so bad.

Employers: Setting the Tone for Bike Commuters

Surly at Dupont Circle

Since I began commuting nine years ago, I’ve worked for three four different employers. All have been located within five miles of my residence at the time, and that short distance encouraged me to leave the Metro behind and either bike or walk to work. Now I exclusively bike or walk to my office, something that I know I’m extremely lucky to be able to do.

Over the course of commuting to these jobs, I’ve seen how employers can influence and even encourage people to bike commute. The following are my experiences commuting to three different places and a description of the various bike commute setups used by each employer.

These environments helped shape my opinions about employers’ roles in creating a conducive environment for bike commuting. Bike commuting isn’t only the ride from home to work. It’s also about what happens once you and your bike arrive at the office.

Job 1.

  • Office or Cubicle:  Cubicle
  • Parking:  Outside only, Uncovered, Not within eyesight of building security
  • Type of Rack:  Prison bar-style rack that can take several bikes in theory, but unless you park on the ends, requires you to lift your bike up over the rack (a vile proposition for bikes with fenders) to then lock your front wheel and bike to it.
  • Shower facilities:  None

Discussion:  Minimally acceptable, this commute environment made me a mostly fair-weather commuter. I detested leaving my bike out in the elements on rainy days, and never looked forward to a ride home on a wet bike. I did so on rare occasions, but I wasn’t happy about it.

A good bike lock and proper locking technique were mandatory. Even then, I still had moments of worry about my bike and I would often go out to check on it a couple times during the day.

The lack of shower facilities was not a huge deal given my proximity to the office, but another inconvenience. I always felt slightly undignified having to change in a bathroom stall in the event that I did not wear my work clothes on my commute.

Job 2.

  • Office or Cubicle:  Cubicle
  • Parking:  Covered parking garage in the building, Within eyesight of parking garage staff
  • Type of Rack:  Prison bar-style rack that can take several bikes, but unless you park on the ends, requires you to lift your bike up over the rack to then lock your front wheel and bike to it (as previously mentioned, not good for any bike, but really does not work for bikes with fenders).
  • Shower facilities:  Workout Club in the building, Membership required for use, but the club membership was offered at a discount

Discussion:  You never know what you got until it’s gone. Man, that Workout Club was nice. I should have spent more time appreciating it. It allowed me a place to change out of my cycling clothes if I needed, workout after work, and I didn’t even have to bring my own towel.

The covered bike parking in a garage within eyesight of the staff who worked there gave me peace of mind. Yeah, the bike rack was rather crappy, but normally not enough cyclists parked there to make it an issue most days.

For a while, the building attempted to add an additional bike rack in an obscure corner of the garage, but 1. I did not feel safe using that space at night; and 2. The rack was lodged in a corner between two perpendicular rows of parking divided by a pillar. That visual might not be coming together for you, so I drew it for you.

Almost inaccessible bike rack in the parking garage

Inaccessible bike rack in the parking garage

Use of the rack required a person to squeeze his or her body between the pillar and the front corner of the car while hefting their bike up to fit their bike into the rack. Ridiculous. I returned to that parking garage one day and checked on that rack. No one is using it.

Job 3.

  • Office or Cubicle:  Office! With a door!
  • Parking:  Two options

Option A.
Covered parking garage in the building
Well-designed bike rack (the inverted “U” shape) that can take several bikes
Not visible by security

U-shaped bike racks

Option B.
Park your bike in your office!

  • Shower facilities:  Showers and locker rooms in building (and happened to be located on the same floor where I worked).
  • Other perks:  $20 per month in bicycle benefits. The money could be used for repairs, bike rentals, lights, cables, helmets, tires, and to offset the cost of a bicycle.

Discussion:  This employer made me feel like I hit the bike commuter jackpot. The simple act of letting me keep my bike in the office encouraged me to commute. I did not have to leave my bike outside, uncovered, and unsecure. It spent the day hanging out with me. My office was small, but as I did not host meetings in it, the limited space was not an issue.

In addition, people saw bikes coming in and out of the building all day long, which I think helped normalize bike riding. It communicated, “We welcome bike riders here.”

Cycling was not treated as some weird fringe form of transport. It was viewed as simply another way of getting to and from work. Bike commuting was not common in my building by any means, but it was not something pushed to the side, either.

Regularly seeing bikes can also plant the seed in someone’s mind about the possibility of bike commuting as opposed to Metro or driving.

The $20 per month bicycle commute reimbursement added up to an annual benefit of $240. That money helped me pay for some work at the bike shop, a new helmet, and part of a new bike frame. It may not be much compared to what some receive for a Metro or parking subsidy (which I have my own feelings about), but it’s a solid step in the right direction.

Through bike commuting to different places, I’ve learned a lot about how employers set the tone for bike commuters. Are we an afterthought, a  sad little bike rack that holds hardly any bikes left out in the elements to rust away, or are we a welcome transportation method that employers actually put thought into and encourage?