Goodbye 2013 – Hello 2014!

I had plans to go riding today but woke up with significant congestion and a sinus headache so I opted to stay home and rest today in hopes that tomorrow’s ride plans will still be on. I’ve spent the morning sipping warm beverages and reading many recaps of this year’s achievements. Truly I am blessed to be surrounded by so many awesome people, even if it is “just” on the internet.

(Although to be totally honest, my brain keeps thinking of ways I can still get out on my bike today. But I’m forcing myself to stay home. Better to rest today and ride tomorrow than suffer today and be worse tomorrow.)

A Look Back at the goals I set for this year – here’s how I fared:

  • 3,004.4 miles achieved!
  • Bike commuting gained traction this year.
  • Metric century in Colorado achieved with my marathon-running sister!
  • Completed four centuries (February, August, two in September-SSC and MS150)
  • Completed 150mi ride in one day (June)
  • Acquired a mountain bike and have been out several times – love it
  • Ran 58.1 miles (!!)
  • Walked 225 miles

Some goals just didn’t make the final tally, like biking to Brooklyn for dinner or both days of the MS 150, due to Life. Schedules changed, my dog died – it just didn’t work out. I feel like my GI issues took center stage from May through September, which inhibited some of my intended riding for sure. Of course, all but one test came back totally normal so who knows what’s going on there.

Recently I was at a 10,000 mile celebration for a friend and everyone around the room said where their total mileage was expected to end up. Everyone but myself and one other woman was 5,000 miles or more, with many hovering around 9,000 miles. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not doing too bad for a recreational cyclist with three kids still at home, a full-time job, a Girl Scout troop to lead, and serving on the board for the local bike club. My 3,000 miles seems paltry and there’s always something more I wish I could be doing.

Or as my friend says about my thoughts: “How can I be more awesome than I already am.”

(which is a really good point)

So for 2014, I’m setting no mileage goal. No event schedule. The only thing I’d like to do more of is ride my bike for fun. As if I ever ride my bike for any other reason.

  • Start bike commuting again once Daylight Savings Time comes back. Twice a week minimum.
  • Try bike touring. Maybe pack up for an overnight camping somewhere, just to get a taste. Plan a bike trip with my mom. Currently looking at Erie Canal or GAP/C&O.
  • Try some new cycling events or revisit the ones I skipped this year.
  • Ride with my kids more. Teach my middle child how to mountain bike. Take my oldest child on longer road rides. Find ways to make riding more enjoyable for my youngest child.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2014! See you on the road!

Review: Philly Bike Tour Co

Friends, today is my husband and I’s sixteenth wedding anniversary. Traditionally we took the day off so we could go to lunch together before splitting up between handing out candy and taking the little ones around trick or treating. Our children are now old enough to go out with their friends or stay home and hand out candy – so doing other things for our anniversary is a total option now.

Yesterday I saw a Twitter contest from Philly Bike Tour Co. to win passes on their bicycle tour of Philadelphia today. Of course I re-tweeted and *then* let the husband know there’s a chance we would be going on a bike tour. That’s just how things go with bicycles and myself, really. So late last night when I got the tweet that we had won, I was totally excited.

Philly Bike Tour Co. started fairly recently because there is a distinct void in how to tour Philadelphia by bicycle. With so many beautiful neighborhoods and historic sites in a dense urban area, the best way to get around the city is on two wheels. There are several options for tours such as a classic tour, northern neighborhoods, movie and tv sites, outdoor art, food & beer, and a tour of Fairmount Park. Each tour is rated for difficulty from Super Easy to Advanced – to you can pick the right tour for yourself and your guests. Most of the tours are rated Easy.

Philly Bike Tour Co. is in partnership with Fairmount Bicycles, a woman-owned bicycle shop that specializes in new and refurbished bikes for commuting, touring, and entry-level road riding. Each tour includes a rental bicycle, helmet, and keepsake water bottle. If you bring your own bike, there is a $5 discount.

My husband and I arrived a few minutes early to sign the usual waivers and get situated on our rental bikes. The rentals were perfect for urban riding – the 7 speed Jamis Hudson Sport. The saddle was extremely comfortable, the upright riding position felt confident, and the wide tires rolled over everything we threw at it, including an entire block of cobblestones. Philadelphia is a fairly flat city – we didn’t have to use the gears much at all.

snapshot of us at the Water Works stop
snapshot of us at the Water Works stop

The tour itself was very good. Our knowledgeable guide, Thom, keep the group together and had just enough history behind each stop on the tour to keep it interesting and not like a crazy-long history lesson. We were predominately on streets with bike lanes or on bike paths with a few sections necessary to be either on the sidewalk or taking the lane. Our friendly sweep, Josh, had more tidbits and was a wonderful conversationalist as we pedaled down the street. The pace was excellent – not too fast, not too slow.

There was a mid-tour break for food in the famous Italian Market. Thom had been talking about taco trucks all morning so naturally we gravitated to the Tacos El Rodeo truck at 10th & Washington. We were not disappointed. I had chicken and my husband had carnitas – both were fresh, authentic, and supremely delicious. $4 for two tacos is a great price.

On our tour we covered about 12 miles in a little less than 3 hours and saw many Philadelphia institutions: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Water Works, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square, Italian Market, Washington Square, Independence Mall, Penn’s Landing, Race St Pier, Elfreth Alley, Betsy Ross House, and the Edgar Allan Poe House. It was a wonderful time – one that I wish was around when my in-laws had visited this past summer. The tour took me to so many great gems in Philadelphia that we don’t usually get to because we don’t live in the city. I genuinely look forward to taking visiting family and friends on these tours.

Overall, if you are in the Philadelphia area – live, work, or visiting – take a tour through Philly Bike Tours Co. The bike shop is top-notch, the staff friendly, the tour guide and sweep helpful and knowledgeable. Prices range from $45 to $65 per person, including bike rental, helmet, lock (if needed), water bottle (to take home) and a sense of happiness in the City of Brotherly Love.

**Disclaimer: This review was in no way influenced by the prize passes for the tour. I was so thrilled with the tour I asked if I could review it on my blog. **

Scenic Schuylkill, City to Shore, and Me

Friends, if you are ever in the Philadelphia area the second weekend in September, I highly encourage you to sign up for Philly Bike Club’s Scenic Schuylkill Century. This year was my second year riding and I hope to keep going as long as I have friends to help the miles pass.

discussing the day ahead (I'm in the foreground)
discussing the day ahead (I’m in the foreground) / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

The Scenic Schuylkill is an incredibly well-supported ride that showcases the beauty of the area just outside Philly. Starting at the iconic Boathouse Row and winding north into the hills of Manayunk to Cedar Grove then on to Evansburg State Park. The view of Philly from Potshop Rd is unmatched – the city so far away it’s ethereal. From Evansburg you can choose to head back to the city (and complete a metric) or head northwest to Schwenksville. Do not be discouraged by the 6,000+ feet of elevation gain – there are very few monster hills. The hills are really after the second rest stop in Evansburg State Park and are more rolling-hills than Super-Steep-Why-Am-I-Doing-This.

omg my back hurts from all that climbing!
omg my back hurts from all that climbing! / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

 

Which, if you like sudden steep and long climbs, go ride the Suburban Cyclists Unlimited’s Quad County with ICU Option and Lake Nockamixon Century, both of which will punish your legs and lungs (and lower back). Or move to Colorado. I’m sure my Colorado friends are laughing at me right now …

Another rest stop at Camp Hope then more climbing before you see more downhills than uphills. Do not be fooled though – there are still some hills on the way back into the city. But nothing compares to bombing down Main Street in Manayunk on the way back to pizza and liquid refreshment.

great shot of the countryside's beauty and rolling hills
great shot of the countryside’s beauty and rolling hills / photo by the guy at 2WheelsAndSomeNuts

Improved my time this year as well – 102 miles in 7:40 last year; 103 miles in 7:20 this year. And yes, I made it back to the start in time to get a few plain slices and two full-sugar sodas. No, I didn’t feel bad about that.

 

Three weeks and not enough riding later, I set off on another century, the annual Bike MS: City to Shore ride from Cherry Hill, NJ to Ocean City, NJ. This is most people’s Big Ride of the year and they train all summer for it. As a year-round cyclist who tries to keep her base miles around 50, this is probably the easiest century in the area. It’s mostly flat – only about 1900′ of elevation gain and probably only because of the two bridges at the end of the ride to get over the harbour to the Shore. It is incredibly well-supported – the century alone has about seven opportunities to take a break.

My neighbor and bike commuting friend and I carpooled to the start again. This time instead of sitting in off-ramp traffic, we opted to go one more exit further and parked within minutes. Unfortunately this also meant not getting to the festivities at the main start but we were only a quarter of a mile up the (not very well maintained) road. We hit the road around 6:15am – before the sun came up. Totally didn’t think it though so I borrowed my friend’s long-sleeve lightweight shirt to stay warm until we got past the first rest stop.

I also opted for my new lightweight thermal three-quarter tights from Twin Six. Picked them up at an incredible deal during a sale and they are supremely comfortable. Perfect for the chilly autumnal mornings when you need a little more now that won’t overheat you later.

We ended up skipping the second rest stop option (“Lunch Stop Ahead!” “wait – it’s only 8:30am … too early!”) and also the century loop rest stop, averaging about 25 miles between rest stops. We took only 15 minutes at each stop – enough time to use the port-o-let, refill water, shove some food in our faces and hit the road again.

I should note two things here:

1. I was having stomach issues again leading up to this ride and sure enough there was about a 25-30 mile portion in the middle of the day where I struggled to keep it together. I felt really bad for my friend because I had to dial down my speed a bit because I was hardly eating and didn’t want to bonk from over-exertion/under-nutrition. And I wasn’t talking at all because I felt incredibly nauseous. I eventually got back on the level, picked up the speed, and finished strong.

2. I have decided to improve my spinning and stayed in the little ring all day. Averaging 17+ mph on significantly more miles than not was incredibly gratifying and my legs still felt relatively fresh at the end of the ride. I’m hoping this winter will continue to be fairly mild (let’s be honest, I miss big snows) so I can continue to work on increasing my cadence enough to switch to the big ring and spin the hell out of a bigger gear.

The weather was perfect for the ride. My favorite moment was between the two bridges when you are on a little two-lane road right up against the beach, the ocean waves crashing and rolling up the sand. SO PERFECT. I was so sad that I wasn’t going to be spending one last weekend Down The Shore.

 

But the reason I wasn’t staying down the Shore was because I had an appointment to get some new ink. I was supposed to get it last year but it didn’t work out. This year I made it happen.

my new ink
my new ink

My tattoo artist is the best in the biz and she was guest spotting at a shop on Long Island, a few hours from Philly. The piece is Cycles Perfecta by Alphonse Mucha (1902 bicycle company advertisement) that perfectly captures the essence of a girl and her bicycle.  Four hours of line work with minimal breaks (like 10 min each hour). Next time I see her it will be to get this colored in.

In health news, I had an endoscopy this past week and they biopsied some tissue for testing. Hoping to know more next week – praying for a relatively easy fix. I’m tired of feeling terrible all the time. My diet is severely limited some days. I lost five pounds in a few weeks due to dwindling appetite. Funny how fasting the day of the procedure was NBD because not eating keeps me feeling relatively normal. Totally unsustainable, I know. That’s why I’m getting help.

 

This weekend is expected to be gorgeous but I’m going to take a quick break from my bike. Even though I really want to go mountain biking.

 

1. Tattoo needs to stay out of the sun. It’s going to be too warm for long-sleeves and it’s not ready to put sun sleeves on (elastic at the top).

2. Health. I need to take care of myself until I hear back from my GI doc. I can tell you 100% I did not eat enough on my City to Shore century – less than I did for the Scenic Schuylkill (and that wasn’t much). And I still need to get back into running – my 5k is in about a month. And it’s been that long since my last attempt at running.

 

So maybe not this weekend, but I’ll see you on the road or the trail soon.

 

Dialed In

My earlier post and poll was a barometer for my gut. I had signed up for an event through my cycling club that would take me from pastoral Pennsylvania in the early morning hours through northern New Jersey for lunch and into Brooklyn, New York for dinner. I’d get a shower and then dinner with friends, marveling at the fun we’d had all day, before boarding a motor coach bus back to the small river town where we started. It wasn’t cheap and came highly anticipated by newcomers like myself and repeat riders like my friends.

It was going to be awesome.

Then my husband had to book a business trip back to Colorado. He decided to stay the weekend to see our friends and relax a bit. He didn’t think about the plans I’d already made.

I admit I was mad at first, then disappointed. I struggled with whether or not to leave my kids at home while I headed out on the ride. They are certainly old enough to stay home alone for a day and we have wonderful neighbors who would gladly be there for them if they needed it.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to stay home with them. What if what if what if.

So I decided to listen to my gut and not ride. Like most cycling events, this one comes with a no-refunds policy so I reached out to the organizers to ask if I could donate my spot to a cyclist who wanted to go but couldn’t afford the fee ($75). They loved the idea so I posted to our social media outlets. I had a taker very quickly who was overjoyed at the opportunity. Another cyclist was so moved to donate his spot as well due to a last-minute change in plans and I was able to put the second cyclist who responded to my post in touch with the organizers.

Beautiful how those things work out. I no longer felt upset about missing the ride because some very deserving folks were able to go now. But I was still a little sad to miss the ride all my friends are going on today.

I studied Kabbalah for three years under the excellent Dr. David Sanders at Kabbalah Experience in Denver, Co. There are so many layers to Kabbalah but one of them is being in tune with the universe and paying attention to the signs of what you need to be doing. I am a firm believer that when once you have tuned in to the universe the signs of what you should do become clearer … And the most in tune you are, the clearer the signs become. For example, when was being laid off and the job in Philly opened up at the last possible second, I knew in my gut moving my family across the country was the right thing to do for us. It would be hard and was probably one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do in adult life but I know on another level that we need to be here for now. I don’t know why but that will come in time.

To that end, I was taking a lunchtime walk with my bike commute friend and explaining my dilemma. I mentioned that for whatever reason I probably should stay home, that I didn’t know why but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the ride knowing my kids were home without anyone if they needed someone.

Sure enough, this is the week my middle dog got very ill. She stopped eating, she lost her energy, and she was drinking a lot (and peeing a lot too). A trip to the vet yielded nothing. A second trip to the vet yielded her to be hospitalized for a day for intravenous fluids and pain medications. She perked up and we brought her home. She spent Friday much like her old self. But yesterday she woke and wouldn’t eat. She moped. She started to drool excessively. I called the vet and they gave us an afternoon appointment.

I rode out to meet some friends for a fun ride, knowing I was on a time crunch. I made great time into the city, where we met up with a woman my commuter friend works with. We invited her to join us on the trail and she agreed. We took the speed down and enjoyed a social ride to the cycling themed coffeehouse where we met up with another cycling friend who is recovering from an IT band injury. I was explaining how no one knows what’s wrong with my dog but I had to get back to take her to the vet.

We departed a little later than intended and once we got to the end of the trail and back on city streets I realized I needed to book it home. We kicked up the speed but our other friend couldn’t keep up so my commuter friend agreed to stay back with her and he’d catch up to me later.

I’ve never ridden so hard ever … A total sufferfest. Heat, humidity, cranking a solid 22-24mph for almost 8 miles mostly uphill (my Garmin averaged each mile around 18-20 mph). I thought I was going to puke. Got home in time to take a very quick cool shower, shove a protein bar in my mouth, and get my dog to the vet.

This visit gave us the reason she was so ill with no hope for recovery. I had to make the difficult decision to allow her to move on. I gathered my kids and we said our goodbyes. I stroked her ears until she stopped breathing. She was 10 or 11, we don’t know. We rescued her from a shelter that told us she wasn’t getting any visitors because nobody wants a hound dog. She was the right dog for our family. She is survived by our two other dogs.

This is why I couldn’t go on the ride. Because my kids needed me to be home today as we work through our grief.

 

our last few moments with Nixon
our last few moments with Nixon. RIP girl – we loved you

 

See you on the road.

 

Experimentation

This past week has been an experiment in Me.

 

My family was scattered across the country, enjoying their summers as they desire (or for business, depending on who you are). So I had a week of being responsible for only myself. And the dogs but they generally stay home and sleep. As a wife and mom, I just don’t have a lot of time like this and let me tell you …

 

it’s fabulous.

 

I bike commuted three out of four days.

(my legs felt great all week)

I ran a neighborhood 5k just because.

(and because running no longer hurts the next day)

I ate Snack Dinners of cheese, hummus, and crackers.

(but mostly because I’m lazy and dislike cooking)

I paid zero attention to chores or housekeeping.

(because no one was making any messes around here anyway)

 

Good morning, Philadelphia!
Good morning, Philadelphia!

 

I missed the ruckus and chaos though, the happiness and tears, that comes with having five people under one roof. Sure I won’t have as much time anymore for the things that I’ve been doing – but I’m be back to being more than just a kick-ass girl. The reason I could enjoy the time off so much was because I have so many other rich elements to  my life.

 

I also took the time to fill my late August and September weekends with events. And I signed up for the Lemon Run again, for this November. My first 5k last year, I’m hoping to smoke my earlier time. And contemplating a 1/4 marathon trail race in September (at the urging of my friend G-Dawg … that’s a 6.5 mile run for those of you playing at home).

 

See you on the road.

* * * * *

In other news, I’m contemplating writing up full reviews of items I’ve used on my own accord and items that I have started receiving promotionally because I fully believe that if you love something, you need to tell everyone about it so they can also benefit from Awesome Stuff. Stay tuned.

 

Safety First

There’s a lot of information out on the internet on how to bike commute (or just ride) safely – things like Avoid the Door Zone, Be Visible and Predictable, and Get Used To Being Honked At. It’s all true and great information. But if I may, I’d like to share another piece of safety advice that is often overlooked: your emergency pack. Sure you probably toss a spare tube, some tire levers, and either CO2 or a hand pump in your saddle bag or rack pack … but I’m not talking about gear.

Every ride, you need to have the following on you so that Go-d forbid something were to happen you can get help quickly.

  • Government-issued photo ID or driver’s license
  • Medical insurance card
  • Cash. $20 will cover a number of situations.
  • Emergency contact info, be it on paper or tagged as ICE in your smartphone.
  • The code for your smartphone if you use password protect.

Also, if you are riding solo – tell someone you know and trust where you are going and when you plan to return. Bike safe, friends!

* * * * *

I’m on Week Two of bike commuting twice a week and it’s going amazing. I had one day where I failed to have an afternoon snack before I rode home from work and even though our time didn’t increase, I felt horribly sluggish and full of effort. Lady Rainicorn doesn’t have climbing gears so steep hills are a challenge – but worth it. I can feel my quads getting stronger. I’ve also noticed that technique counts – when I mash my pedals, I tire quickly but when I focus on round pedalstrokes, the hill doesn’t seem so hard.

I’ve also been exploring multi-modal commuting – commuting using a combination of cycling and public transportation. On the days I am not able to bike all the way to work, I’ve been riding to the train station and locking up there. It’s actually quite nice to zip down the street in the morning and then be home at the end of the day in under 5 minutes.

 

part of my bike commute. in the city.
part of my bike commute. in the city.

 

Yesterday I rode to work and back with my commuter friend. On the way home we detoured up through Forbidden Drive. It was a lovely jaunt through the Wissahickon Valley Park at a lower speed, admiring the old stone bridges and beautiful surroundings. The 1.2 mile uphill slog from the creek back up to Mount Airy was better than I expected. It’s great because you come out of the creek basin and suddenly you are almost home. Refreshing and relaxing!

Keep on truckin’ friends – see you on the road!

 

Surprise!

Rode my bike to work this morning, even though it was cold and dark when I woke up. It’s going to be about 50* F today so the ride home will be excellent. But it’s still hard to want to wake up at 5:30am to hit the road by 6:30am.

 

I’m just not a morning person.

 

+5 points for Gryffindor: I wore my winter cycling shoes, thermal liners, and thermal insoles. Toes were chilly but definitely not cold or worse, frozen. Conversation was great. Re-acclimating to Lady Rainicorn was smooth. SPD pedals made me very happy (no more toe clips here!).

 

-100 points: forgot my lock.

 

*facepalm*

 

(at least I didn’t forget my pants. or underwear. That would be awkward.)

 

Fortunately my commuter friend keeps a lock on the rack at his office, which is across the street from my office. And the day is saved.