Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seattle : Bellevue :: Washington, DC : [fill in the blank]

The weekend before last (basically forever ago in internet time) this popped up on Twitter regarding Rosslyn's aspirations as a neighborhood:

First of all, I've never been to Brooklyn or Cambridge, but I'm pretty sure Bellevue is the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others in that grouping. I hear Brooklyn or Cambridge and I think, "reputation as cool area near the main city, perhaps bike-friendly and/or full of hipsters." My family lived in Bellevue for many years, and I worked in Downtown Bellevue for a year as well, and neither "cool" nor "bike-friendly" are words I would use to describe the city. I follow #bikeSEA and it sounds like there's been some progress since I lived there last, but Bellevue to my mind is still mostly a suburb; in fact here's a recent post about walkability in a Seattle urban neighborhood proper vs. Bellevue (my family lived right around this map):

The idea that any city would aspire to be Bellevue cracked me up, and I immediately had to share with my sister:

Magic Mike XXL as standard by which to judge a city's fun factor

Besides, I'm pretty sure that Washington, DC already has its own Bellevue: Bethesda + Friendship Heights. My mother the inveterate shopper would find herself right at home walking amongst the retails chains (including high-end luxury stores) and hotels and even Microsoft offices. Bel Square is basically indistinguishable from the Westfield Montgomery mall. The main difference is that the office parks in Bellevue are surrounded by evergreens.

Anyway, I've spent this whole post knocking Bellevue (and by extension Bethesda), but I have to say that I still miss the King County Library System's Bellevue branch. Also, Bellevue has some pretty good Asian restaurants and supermarkets if you know how to find them--yet another characteristic that it has in common with Bethesda, though decidedly a good thing. And the Capital Crescent / Georgetown Branch Trails have more than their match in the East/West Lake Sammamish Trails!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reading and Commuting: An Offshoot

I am playing with writing about the books I'm reading in this blog. Part of it is to help me process them, rather than just devour them unreflectively. What does this all have to do with commuting? Well, I realized that these days I get most of my reading done on the Metro or shuttle (or waiting for them). I noticed this last summer too: when I was picking up multi-modal commuting again, I got more extracurricular reading done than I had at any other time of the year.

Finding time to read is basically the best thing about my commute. When I'm home, there are so many other things I'm "supposed" to do, and sometimes even reading becomes just another thing on that list. But when I'm on the bus or the Metro or the shuttle, well, what else is there to do? I've already heard the latest news on NPR (and I can't stream on the Metro anyway), I often don't want to knit during the summer, and my Neko Atsume kitties have been tended to. It's the closest thing to protected, unplugged time I get. I'm just lucky that I can read without getting sick during transport.

I've also been inspired by a recent recommendation that I started yesterday on a very multi-modal trip to Baltimore (bus to Metro to train, then back again): Nick Hornby's Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books, which is a collection based on a column Hornby wrote for The Believer for a decade about books he'd read for the month, as well as books he bought. First of all this book made me feel better about buying books even if I don't always getting around to reading them right away (and let's face it, may never get to them):
Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the TubGenome [by Matt Ridley] and Six Days of War [by Michael B. Oren] I bought on a visit to the London Review of Books' slightly scary new shop near the British Museum. I'm not entirely sure why I chose those two in particular, beyond the usual attempts at reinvention that periodically seizes one in a bookstore. (When I'm arguing with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, I'm going to tell him to ignore the Books Read column, and focus on the Books Bought instead. "This is really who I am," I'll tell him. "I'm actually much more of a Genome guy than an Arsene Wnger guy. And if you let me in, I'm going to prove it, honest") (November 2003, p. 42)
It's comforting to know that even writers of Nick Hornby's status feel that What I Want to Read/What I Should Read tug when they buy books, and the Should sometimes wins out, regardless of how realistic those aspirations are. I always feel like a little bit of a fraud keeping around these books when I haven't read them yet, like who I am trying to fool? And the weight of that sometimes makes it even harder to read them, or read at all. But I'm trying to get over that; we'll see how successful I am.

Hornby's collection also reminds me how much fun it is to read! (Yes, I often vacillate from feeling like I should be reading, to feeling like I shouldn't be reading. Apparently, if it's fun I feel like I shouldn't be doing it, but I know it's supposed to be "good" for me so I should be doing it?) Even if I don't necessarily want to read the books he's writing about (though there are a few I will be looking into), I can still appreciate his enjoyment of it, which basically makes me want to read even more. Reading even leads to fun, unplanned moments like this:

Anyway, I live a block away from a fantastic bookstore, and for once of my life have enough income that I can actually buy real books and support this industry (though I still buy used books too, and may hit up the library). I hope to have more reading, and hopefully more writing on that reading, in irregular installments. Besides, I can't write about my favorite DC bike routes all the time, can I?

So, in the spirit of Ten Years in the Tub, I'm going to start documenting books bought and read (even though I'm supposed to be on a book moratorium, until I finish some of the books I already have in DC, oops).

Reading about reading begets more reading

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My First Bike to Work Day!

So I've been riding my bikes around on weekends and to run errands, but I haven't actually biked to work all year. I know, I know, it's just so hard to get myself out the door that early in the morning until I make it a habit. I even got packed and dressed a couple of days this week, then promptly sat down and fell asleep again. But for Bike to Work Day, one makes the effort. I was still pretty out of it when I got up though, and tried to put my bag on my Brompton's front reflector rather than on the carrier block, oops. Luckily I only have to go about a mile to get to the Metro for the first leg of my multi-modal commute, and could use the train time to wake up for the rest of my ride.

Train segment of my multi-modal commute

To market, to market #quaxing

I actually haven't been to the farmers' market in a while--my Saturday mornings feel like they get away from me especially since I moved, with cleaning or unpacking or other things I want to do. But today seemed like a good day to go since I've been out of groceries all week after being in Pittsburgh last weekend. Also, I'm stuck on Grim Fandango, so I didn't have anything to tempt me to stay in.

I tried a different route to get there than usual which was longer but involved minimal sidewalk riding. Admittedly this was mostly because some car got in my path right as I was setting off, and rather than dismount I just decided to change course. This route wasn't enough for me to avoid riding up a big (for me) hill, which made me appreciate even more that D and I put a granny ring on the Betty. It's much more manageable, especially given how out of shape I am right now.

Anyway, got to the market, where there were still mostly greens and root vegetables but I got some good things. I like going to the market because I can just get what looks good, and then plan my grocery shopping around that. It forces me to learn how to cook new things, and spares me from having to think about what I have to make for the week.

My morning haul: Pea shoots, French sorrel, sweet potatoes (Beauregards), strawberries, a mini-quiche, a Liege-style waffle, lemonade, a whole chicken, and a half-dozen peonies
Also notable at the market:
  • Girl scouts doing public calisthenics to Taylor Swift ("Shake It Off" is and always will be by Mariah Carey) and what I think was a kid's version of a Nicki Minaj song (yes these exists, for I have heard them at the roller rink). All while one of their moms was taking pictures/video with an iPad. Also, they were ostensibly there to do some public engagement as part of a "Healthy Eating and Fitness Campaign" promoting farmers' markets. I didn't have the heart to explain the concept of "preaching to the choir" to the girls, who were trying to hand me their flyer as a I set off on my bike carrying my vegetables, but I do appreciate having a list of other markets I could ride to and their hours of operation. 
  • The meat guys stopped selling longanisa, a Filipino sausage that I love but can never find out here unless I drive out to Rockville, and then only in highly preserved and imported form. Despite the supposed arrival of Filipino food in DC, I guess I'm not really surprised that Longanisa didn't really take off with the customers. The guys selling them didn't realize that it was a breakfast sausage, so not only did I have to explain that to them, I also had to tell them how it's best eaten: served in a trio along with garlic fried rice and eggs (a.k.a. longsilog). So I'm sad at this loss--maybe it's an opportunity to learn how to make my own? But I have no desire to work with hog casings.
  • The meat guys made up for no longer carrying longanisa by having hot pink peonies, which are meaningful for my family on this day. They smell faintly of gardenias.
  • A man with his little girl in a bakefiets, which  He even had her little playhouse in the bakefiets itself, so presumably she rode over while in it, very adorable. Also, I've seen very few bakefiets in person, and I'm always fascinated by any non-standard bike. 
Perfect timing for hot pink peonies
The ride home was mostly uneventful, though I tried yet another new route to try to avoid sidewalk riding. I passed by the Connecticut Ave. NW and Livingston intersection and nearly ran into the back of someone's car who had stopped to parallel park. This intersection is the start of the shopping area in Chevy Chase DC, and it's the worst in terms of cars attempting to find parking since it's basically narrow neighborhood streets. I used to live by there, and in the mornings I would be wary someone backing over me on their way to getting their coffee before work. Also, I attempted to save a fledgling bird that was in the middle of the street (perhaps inspired by Chasing Mailboxes' interview with Deb of Women BikeDC), though mostly I just scared it into making short little flights until it landed in a lavender bush.

One more new thing I tried: instead of using the front door to get into my building, which is usually a disaster when I have a loaded down bike, I used the back door. What was stopping me before was this  hairpin turn down three steps with a steep ramp to get to the elevator, but I found that even that was better than getting up the fronts steps and holding a heavy door open.

ETA Observation: Thus far the Brompton appears to turn more heads on the street than the Betty, but I've never had someone ride up to me and say "nice bike" while I was on the Brompton. I'll have to keep gathering data on this...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Inaugural Rides on the Betty

Have I really not posted anything since November? I guess the main bike activity I've had going on since then was building up my new bike. I'll probably post about it soon, now that we've finished and I have more to say than just, "we watched this YouTube video on dialing in a rear derailleur."

Anyway, we (mostly D, but I helped some) put together the bike in PGH, and I finally brought it to DC when I got back last Sunday. This was great timing because it appears that the weather has finally turned the corner, judging by the tree outside my windows:

April 8
April 18
D took the bike through its paces when he was fine-tuning the shifting, but I hadn't really gotten to ride it beyond going up and down the street. This week was the first time I actually really used my bike, and I got a couple of rides in.


Of course, the first thing I did was run a few errands after work. I didn't have to go very far, maybe 3 miles overall, so it seemed like a good way to start getting a feel for the bike. Getting out the door was a comedy of errors though. There's a step right when you walk out of my building, and I caught my front fender on it, so that the stays came off the little bracket holding them in place. Oops. Before I even got on the saddle, I already had to pull off to the side and do a little maintenance, but luckily I could force them back in with minimal force. Then, when I got to my first destination to mail a package, I was pulling out my U-lock keys when one fell off of the zip tie holding it. A zip lock fail!  For the one key for which I don't have the serial number! (I have three back-up keys, but still).

Luckily the rest of my errands didn't involve any further equipment fails, but apparently I'd forgotten the little ritual involved in locking up my bike and gathering my various bags and possessions. There's a proper order of operations to make the process less awkward and it becomes habit after a couple of rides, but I've been riding my Brompton mostly so I've avoided all of that. I did get my bike parked at the grocery store, but it look longer than it should have, and then I ended up leaving my front light on the handlebars! My light was a gift from D, and it's wonderful and bright, so I would have hated to lose it. I didn't realize what I had done until I was already in the check-out line, but luckily when I got back to the bike my light was still there.

So, I got everything loaded up and made my way home. I took some quiet streets and confirmed that there was in fact a weird periodic rubbing sound coming from my bike. Also, the front rack mounted directly above the wheel feels more stable than a standard Wald front basket, but you can definitely still feel the weight affecting the handling. Otherwise, all the groceries made it back home in one piece.

Post-gocery run

Nitto Big Back Rack: An endorsement/review
Let me take a moment to put a plug in for the Nitto rear pannier rack. I had thought about maybe skipping the rear rack and saving myself some money and cutting weight, but now I'm glad I got it. This model in particular is fantastic; I believe it's an updated version that has an added rail running under the "platform" on top (I'm guessing on the terminology). Because of this, I can bungee my very large U-lock to the platform, but it doesn't interfere with the panniers clipping on to the rail. Without that second rail, this would not have been possible. Also, there's a little place at the bottom for my bungees to hook on to. This is curiously missing from the larger version (mine is the medium, there is no small)--couldn't the bungee hooks just slip off? Plus there's a place to mount a rear light, which I think is much more visible than having it on my seat post. This rack is just about perfect for my usage, and it was very easy to install too.

Rack w. bungeed U-lock and pannier 

Out on the Trail

I haven't ridden for any distance in several months (it's been a rough winter in many ways), but I want to get my legs back and some endurance so I could attempt a full bike commute home again. I had resolved that this weekend I would try to build up to longer rides. I live near the Georgetown Branch Trail (which I had mistakenly been calling the Capital Crescent Trail last year, not realizing that Bethesda marked a name change), but I had only ever ridden a half-mile of it as part of my commute home last summer. I wanted to see where it went, especially as I had heard that there was a nice bridge over Rock Creek Park that was part of the trail. Luckily, Saturday cooperated, what with the nice weather and me waking up early and not being able to fall asleep again. 

I am not a morning person, especially when my caffeine hasn't had time to kick in. As noted above, I'm still off my riding ritual, so of course I walked out my front door and locked it before realizing that I had forgotten my helmet. And then I was already a mile or two away from home when I remembered that my water bottle and toolkit were still sitting at home. Luckily neither of these was an issue for the rest ride. Actually it was pretty uneventful, though that at that hour of the morning the streets/paths are full of people who are outdoors for fitness reasons. I'm more of a gym person myself (please don't tell me that riding by itself is somehow equivalent to strength training; also riding for me is not about exercise), but I was wearing yoga pants so maybe that counts.

The other week, @sharrowsDC had a great post about city people and country people. I am decidedly a city person. Not that I don't appreciate parks and green spaces, but I prefer these to be near an urban setting. My thoughts as I was traversing the Georgetown Branch Trail:
  • Hmmm there's that weird rubbing sound on my bike again
  • I think I smell skunk
  • Is that a leaf stuck in my fender?
  • That's definitely a twig stuck in my fender (twice)
  • Is that mud? Can I avoid that?? Note: My fear of mud may be because the first time I ever really fell off my bike was when my wheel got sucked into some mud.
  • Is this yet another golf course? Are there seriously two in the Chevy Chase area?? Note: Seriously, there are two golf courses within a mile of each other along Connecticut Ave., meanwhile it took several attempts for me to find an acceptable meandering route from the northern part of Bethesda heading southeast home. I find this not cool.
  • Oh god, I'm going to get stuck in previous bikes' tracks, why isn't this trail paved???
  • I should really adjust my mirror when I get home, I don't need to see that much of my hand and arm
I still enjoyed myself though, and when I got to the bridge the view was not bad:

Rock Creek Park looking South toward DC 

Rock Creek Park looking North towards the Beltway

Not that I don't have anxiety when riding the city, but it's somehow different. For example, last year we rode to see the cherry blossoms during their peak weekend which coincided with the Cherry Blossom festival, and there were people everywhere and we had to keep dodging them on the path. I don't think D was too thrilled, but it was the city next to the water and we rode by the Kennedy Center and into the Tidal Basin, and I remember it fondly. Actually, maybe I'm not a city person, but rather a water person--I'll gladly ride along any body of water (Rock Creek doesn't count).

So, I didn't get all the way to the terminus of the trail because ewww mud, but I wasn't that far from Silver Spring, and maybe when it's dry I'll try again in a few weeks. I have to say though that I enjoyed riding around the neighborhoods more. For one thing, the roads are paved, and the geography is more varied. As much as hate hills, I know some of them are actually good for me.

Anyway, it was a good ride, and felt like my first real ride on my new bike. I even ended it at the perfect place, the local farmer's market where I got some tulips and my favorite breakfast sausages. All in all, not a bad first week with my Betty.

Observation: I have a not yet said much about the ride quality of my new bike. I'll have more to write later, but for now I'll observe that this bike takes hills noticeably better than my silver step-through. D said I shouldn't be surprised, and in theory I'm not, but the difference is still amazing to me.