Photo by Jason DeVarennes



Sunday, February 10, 2013

No one!

According to Wikipedia, Nemo is a Latin word meaning "no man" or "no one".  So it seems that "no one" banned vehicle traffic from Massachusetts roads for a day (much to the delight of the plow drivers, not to mention local pedestrians and cyclists). "No one" shut down public transportation for almost two days, much to the chagrin of folks trying to get in and out of town without a car, bike or xc-skis. "No one" helped sell every bit of bread and milk and batteries in the region. Then "no one" came to town and left more than 2 feet of snow at our door. Interestingly "no one" seemingly told folks in Long Island about the pending storm, but that's a different story, although maybe those folks should upgrade their smart phones, so they get the message next time.

Finally, and the point of this post, is that "no one" made me use and abuse lots of non-cycling muscles over the weekend.

Before Nemo

Partway through the storm

While "no one" now ranks as the 5th snowiest storm in Boston, it actually didn't earn official blizzard status, according to this seemingly cranky guy at boston.com, having less than 3 hours of 35mph sustained winds.  But the winds that kept us awake overnight certainly were impressive, and they made for some interesting drifts and differences in the depth of snow. Our deck out back didn't look that impressive, but the driveway in the front of the house was a whole different story.

Saturday morning, we planned to head out for a walk by the river before doing any shoveling, but the thigh deep snow in the driveway forced us to do a little just to get out the door!

Those two antennae are the windshield wipers on my car!

Pamela holding a metre stick.

Yes, that is the same metre stick!

Pamela successfully summit-ed the mountain at the end of the driveway. Clearing this will be a chore!
This is what lay beyond the driveway!
And this is a numbered highway.

The Charles River

Snow-covered pedestrian bridge over the Charles...

...and the view from it.

Plows, regrouping for the next round

Fortunately we have a good place to store snow. Our neighbors who put their cars IN the garage aren't so lucky. Not only do they have to clear the entire driveway. They have to find a place to put it.

And given how close together the houses are, that's the real challenge. In years gone by, some of our neighboars have had to have front-end loaders haul away their snow. We just keep piling it up in the lower part of the driveway.

The reward for all that hard work (well, once the driving ban was lifted and the trails had been groomed) was that we could head 5 miles away and enjoy some lovely x-c skiing! Sunday turned sunny and warm and made for a perfect day to be outside. The powdery snow was a bit challenging for skating, so Pamela opted for classical, but John decided to abuse his skating muscles.

At this stage neither of us can move! We've tortured all our non-cycling muscles, and our massage therapist is going to be the beneficiary! Still, a change is as good as a rest! So I am still happy that "no one" came to town.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Southern Hospitality

Today as I write this, I am back home in Massachusetts, looking out at snow falling on our eerily quiet street, as our governor has taken the almost unprecedented measure of banning all non-essential driving on roads state-wide, with the threat of 1 year in jail for violators.  I was surprised to learn that in addition to exceptions made for public safety, there are also exceptions granted to the media. This will enable them to interrupt regular television programming with frequent updates on the growing height of snowbanks, as well as demonstrating how dangerous it is to be out, by showing a low-in-the-pecking-order reporter standing in the surf without a hat or gloves, so we can appreciate the blizzard-force wind-speed based on the frozen reporter's soggy and windswept hair. But the more surprising (to me) exceptions are for vehicles supplying essential businesses like convenience stores and hardware stores.  I was one of the lucky folks who got that very loud blaring blizzard warning through my smart phone a day before the storm even started. After I changed my underwear, I headed out to the shops to join everyone else in the northeast stocking up on bread, milk, beer and driveway salt. Actually, since I don't really live under a rock, I was already well aware of the storm forecast from many news sources (both traditional and new media) and had already purchased plenty of fresh bread and milk before that panic-inducing alert was sounded. But I can say that this new cell phone based Emergency Warning System was very effective in causing general panic and clearing the shelves through the northeast of all bread and milk.

According to the Channel 7 weather blog, we haven't had a proper blizzard ("Using old school requirements of sustained wind speed 35mph--not gusts") here since 2005. In my recent memory, we've had so little snow, that it took a bit of excavating for me to find the snow shovels [Ed. That may be because someone else did all the shovelling!]. Maybe that's why hardware stores are considered essential services, since due to global warming and last winter's non-winter,  everyone here apparently tossed out their snow removal tools and now many folks may need to go buy new snow blowers and flashlights and batteries and such in the middle of the storm. But then the question is: am I allowed to drive to the hardware store to buy the stuff, or is it only the delivery truck that can restock the shelves for customers who aren't allowed to drive there to buy it? I'm so confused.

Maybe I should have stayed in North Carolina a bit longer. Oh right, that's what this post is supposed to be about - my ride in NC last weekend. So let's get on with it!
The randonneuring community is pretty awesome. 

Last week, I was down in NC visiting my dad again. I had a very nice solo ride on my previous trip.  Just in time for this visit, I got approved to join the NC Randoneeurs email list.  I decided to see if I might be able to find some company for my next long ride there.  So Thursday evening, I sent out email to the list looking for some fixies or fixie-tolerant folks to ride with on Saturday. 

I got a reply almost right away from Martin Shipp, who told me about a 100km permanent that he would be doing on Saturday, with at least one rider on a fixed gear. Jerry Phelps was next to reply, confirming that he'd be there on fixed, his ride of choice these days. Next up was an email from Branson Kimball, also known as bullcitybiker. We had corresponded over email in the past but had never met. Branson couldn't make the full ride, but would meet us en route on his fixie. Mike Dayton, newly elected RUSA president, chimed in next. He was still dealing with a sore achilles, after doing a mere 600km ride in freezing conditions the prior weekend, but would come out on fixed if we kept the speed down! Ha, like I can ride any other way. Mike and I had also corresponded in email before, and we were both excited to meet face to face.

Over the next few hours, lots of emails were exchanged, including a final one from Martin telling us the original plan for the ride was to introduce some new folks to randonneuring, so we should be on best behavior. 

Brad had done a couple of populaire-permanents in the fall and now had enticed his friend Greg to come on Greg's first ever randonnee, as well as his longest ever ride. Rounding out the crew was Robert, who in 2011, came oh so close to going from 0 to 1200km in one year. 

Jerry, Mike, Branson and I were on fixed bikes, with Martin, Robert, Brad and Greg riding broken bikes - well OK, bikes with multiple gears and the ability to coast. 

The start was cold - almost Boston-cold. I saw a prediction of 20F for the morning low, but mercifully, it had warmed up a bit by our 10AM scheduled start. It was still below freezing though. I had brought slightly warmer clothes than on my previous trip, but I would have been much happier with an even heavier pair of gloves and some overshoes - all of which I left in Boston, of course.

We had a slightly late start, as Greg wasn't quite ready to go on time, and we all tried to be kind to the new guy. He'll learn! But it was darn cold, and after standing around a bit, we were all chilled. Of course the best way to get warm is to ride hard, but this broke the group up a bit. We regrouped a couple of times, but at some point, the terrain and fixie dynamics made it such that the fixies formed one group and the geared folks were in another. 

The ride started in North Raleigh and headed out to Bahama. For those non-locals, the pronunciation is Ba-Hey-Ma. Bahama was named for the three leading families in town - Ball, Harris and Mangum. My grandmother was a Mangum, and I don't know, but I may be the first rider of this particular event to have this kind of connection to the town! We had our first information control in Bahama, near the Methodist Church where the tobacco industrialist and philanthropist, who's name is almost synonymous with Durham, attended Sunday school as a child. This family also had a great influence on my life, as the foundation created by one of the family members paid most of my way through college!

We passed the beach at Lake Michie and climbed up one of the many hills en route. In one of the emails, Martin said "The course is NOT flat, but has no long climbs, and I assert that it has no hills -- only creek valleys to cross". Long time readers know that I like my hills, so I certainly wasn't bothered, and in fact was quite happy to have some variation in the terrain, but I did feel bad for the unsuspecting newcomer, doing his longest ever ride, when we hit the three toughest climbs in the waning miles of the event. 

But I've gotten ahead of myself, which is easy to do when spinning a fixie wildly down a hill!

Branson had family obligations, so just came out to intercept us for a short while along the way. Our meeting was all too brief, and I look forward to having another chance to ride together in the future.

Not too long after Branson left us, we entered the town of Stem, where eagle-eyed Mike and Jerry spotted a bar-b-q truck. The sandwiches were awesome, but the outdoor seating violated all my rules about how not to get chilled on a randonnee. The geared folks rolled up just as we were finishing our sandwiches and gave us their blessing to roll on and warm back up.

Given that this control was in Stem, I asked if the next control might be in a town called Crank or Saddle. Among several firsts for me today, this was my first randonnee with a control in a town named for a bike part! 

Chilled, but with full bellies, the three fixies rolled out in search of our next info control. But we had to fight a strong headwind to get there. For those newbies who don't know this, there is no such thing as a tailwind in cycling. There are headwinds, crosswinds, or "I'm feeling good!" Apparently we'd been feeling really good heading out, because we now had a very stiff wind in our faces for the ride home. Fortunately Jerry and Mike are both big enough for a pixie to tuck in behind and benefit greatly. 

Next thing I knew we were back at the start, where the temperature now showed an almost balmy 43F. This was such a wonderful ride, and it was so nice being able to hook up with a group of like-minded folks for a fun ride. I'll definitely try to do more riding with the NC Randonneurs on future trips. 

I definitely missed my handlebar bag (and camera - sorry for the lack of photos)- so I'll have to pack it next time, along with my overshoes and heavy gloves! Thanks again to everyone for such a warm welcome on a chilly day!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Strange But Familiar

I headed out on unfamiliar roads. A change is as good as a rest, some say. So this should make for a nice adventure.

But let me back up a little first. 

I'm a little removed from my usual stomping grounds here. My father moved to a retirement community in Durham a few months ago, and the only riding I have done here so far is to and from his old home in Sanford. Not needing to ride to Sanford on this day, I decided to look for some new roads in a different direction. I looked around on various online bike route mapping sites trying to find a good route. I wanted something relatively rural and quiet and rolling, maybe about 60 miles.

A few years back, as my parents' health declined and I started making more frequent trips to North Carolina, I bought an inexpensive fixie to keep at their house. It's been great to have a bike I can just hop on and go for a quick spin, without having to deal with packing and flying it there. I love that the whole hipster, single-speed fascination has made bikes like these more readily available and inexpensive. I've had a great time slipping out for rides around Sanford when I have been down and have mapped out a few regular routes in that area.

But now that my father has moved to Durham, I have a whole new region to explore. Despite having been born nearby and growing up only 50 miles away, I shamefully have never explored this area on a bike. I looked around briefly for a club to ride with, but it can be hard mixing fixie dynamics with geared riders. And I also wasn't sure what time I might be able to head out and how much time I might really have, so a solo ride was in the cards on this day.

I found a 60 mile ride, with rolling terrain, that started not too far from my father's new place. As it turned out, I paid much more attention to the route profile than the actual map. I saw that it went north, but didn't zoom in to look at details, just that the elevation never varied by more than 200 feet, and nothing looked steep. I figured I should be okay with my 72 inch fixed gear.

When I headed out, it wasn't Boston-cold, but was still a bit chillier than I had packed for on this trip. I did at least have arm and leg warmers, light gloves and a vest with me. So I bundled up as best I could. While I never took anything off during the ride, it wasn't as cold as I had feared and my clothing choice was perfect. I managed to warm up nicely on the first few hills, and the sunshine worked some magic too. I was surprised to spot a few folks out in shorts. What do these people wear when it gets hot?

BTW, my GPS is my best-friend. I call her Gigi, a name I stole from friends, who named their unit "Gravel Garmin," for its tendency to route them down gravel roads. Gigi is my constant companion on bike rides, especially in unfamiliar places. Thanks to Gigi and ridewithgps.com, and the kindness of strangers who post their rides there, along with the ability to pick out some good roads on a map myself, I am able to explore new places on small quiet roads. I admit that I don't just take any routes off the site. I do look around for hints that the route is one I'll like (very few number roads, more small than large roads, etc). The route I found had actually been uploaded by a few different people. It turned out it had been an organized ride last fall, put on for the benefit of Habitat for Humanity in Durham. So that gave me even more confidence that it would be a nice route.

I'd not been out for a few days, and it felt so good to have wind in my face, and sunshine on my back. I rolled out of town and onto some lovely quiet back roads. As I mentioned, I hadn't ridden a bike around this area before, but as a child, I had been a passenger traveling to my grandparents' homes, north of Durham, many, many times. As I rode along, I recognized a few road names, either as those that crossed the highway we took to Grandma's house, or as some shortcut my dad would take, or an aunt or uncle's street address.  So while riding on these roads was mostly new for me, in someways it was vaguely familiar.

As I kept recognizing road names, I began to wonder why I hadn't looked closer at where I would be riding that day. Then I spotted Rougemont Road on a street sign and began to think I might actually end up in very familiar territory, since both sets of grandparents had lived in Rougemont. But it has been almost 30 years since I'd been at either place. The homes had been sold long ago, as grandparents and aunts and uncles passed away over time. I really had not been back to the area as an adult, so the scale, if you will, was all wrong! I had also noticed this when I first started going back to Sanford a few years ago. Hills that seemed steep as a child, really weren't. Places that seemed a million miles away as a youngster ... well they were actually just a few miles away.
I'm not the sentimental type, but I did find myself a little whimsical as I started to recognize not just street names, but actual places from my childhood, and then there it was: Grandma's house. I'd heard from a cousin that there was a fire a few months ago. The windows were now boarded up, and it was obviously vacant, but the house was still standing and from the road it looked the same, well, except that Papa's car wasn't out front and neither were the rocking chairs on the porch or cousins and uncles sitting or standing on that big covered front porch. And there weren't a bunch of feral cats at the back door waiting for Grandma to toss out some scraps from the big Sunday dinner. And there wasn't the smell of homemade biscuits baking away. But for a brief moment, I was there, back in the pantry, helping mix the batter and roll out the dough, and Grandma was letting me make my own biscuit man. I could almost smell and taste her fried chicken and okra and corn and butterbeans. I rolled along another mile and spied Nanny and Granddaddy's house. As a kid the distance from one to the other seemed much longer. And I remember when I'd spend my two weeks up there every summer, that I was absolutely not allowed to walk down that busy road from one to the other. And there was a monster steep hill up to Granddaddy's place. But now the road wasn't busy and there wasn't much of a hill. The distances were shorter, the houses were smaller. It was all really still the same, but the perspective was so different, from a little girl to a grown woman.

I've returned to other places from earlier days and barely recognized them. When I bought my first house years ago, it was on a dirt road. When I tried to find it recently, that dirt road had been transformed into a major highway, and it was not recognizable. But this area was almost exactly the same. Sure a few newer houses could be found here and there, but it really hadn't changed much from my childhood days. Well except for the family being gone and the scale - everything was just smaller and closer together.

I continued riding, now hungry for Grandma's home cooking, but having to make do with whatever I had in my pockets. There were no cafes or diners to be found out here. Again I passed through more familiar places, past the home of an aunt who was long gone and another home that had belonged to a cousin.

Suddenly I was surprised by the sight of a couple of very big ostriches, behind a tall wire fence. Those weren't Grandma's chickens! Dorothy and Toto were clearly not in Kansas anymore.

Then I spotted a tattered rebel flag flying on a pole in front of an old country store, a flag that once may have represented southern pride, and now may or may not have been intended to offend, but surely today sends a signal to a large part of the local population that you are just not welcome here. But I reminded myself that bigotry exists everywhere, not just here. And that southern hospitality is real and genuine. Boston can be a cold place. People stand inches apart on a crowded bus and never speak to each other. But everywhere I go around here, I am met with warm friendly greetings. Complete strangers strike up conversation in the line at the grocery. It is strange, but familiar.

I continued along these lovely quiet roads. Although there was no spectacular scenery. In fact, it was a bit drab, and brown. Most folks seem to have summer grass, the kind that is pretty and green in the summer, but very brown in the winter. With no snow on the ground, even on a bright sunny day, it just seems a bit drab. But at the same time, there were pansies blooming and I even spied some daffodils despite it being January. Dashes of color in the midst of the drabness. Daffodils in the Boston area, to me mean that the days are stretching out longer, and rides are too, but that it can still snow at anytime and don't get your hopes up. It's not summer after-all! Daffodils are bittersweet for me!

There was very little traffic and what I did see was polite. When I've been driving, I have observed that folks seem to drive really fast around here. New England back roads are twisty and tree-lined and the limited visibility almost acts as a natural speed deterrent. But here many of the small roads are pretty straight and wide, and the trees aren't right up next to the road, and people just drive much faster than the posted speeds. I've noticed this far more when I'm driving though, where I get tailgaters if I obey the speed limit. But I didn't get the same feeling on the bike! Odd that.

Soon I found myself back at the start, having passed a few familiar shops. There are so many chain stores these days, that one can be plopped down into any American city and not be able to tell it apart from any other American city, with a few subtle outliers, again to make it strange, but familiar.

Finally, I am happy to report that the route for the Habitat for Humanity Halloween ride was indeed quite nice. If in the area next fall, I'll have to try the organized event.


Sorry for such a long dry spell with the blog. I've been in NC a lot recently, and other things have just taken priority. There are more posts backing up in the queue though and hopefully I can return to the regular more frequent posting schedule.