Coffeeneuring: Day 5

October 20th, 2014 No comments

With little time to spare, and some complicated plans in the offing over the next few weekends, Dr. Diarist and I took a brief, but exploratory, route to a chain bookstore’s coffee shop. We admit that this was a shameless ploy in order to get in a second Coffeeneuring trip, this weekend, as a hedge against an unknown future.

On Sunday, we set off on Basil and Argyll to check out the wild side of the asphalt wonder that is our largest local shopping center.

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We’re short on cycle-able independent coffee shops where we live, and long on shopping malls, strip and otherwise — and, sometimes, pockets of unused land behind or around said malls. We discovered these retention ponds — formerly unknown to us — behind a huge Big Box store, well-hidden by an appealing overgrowth of various kinds of flora.

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We drank very good coffee and shared an adequate, but only just, apple tart.

Day 5 Observations:  1) Say what you will about chain coffee shops — and there is much bad to be said of them — it is a good thing to find a predictably flavorful mug of coffee on a too-busy day on an unexpectedly stressed weekend and 2) hurray for Coffeeneuring, which got us out of the house for a second day in a row, when otherwise we’d never have considered it.

Tally for the day

Day 5 Location:  Chain Bookstore Coffee Shop

Mileage today:  2.6 miles/ 4.1 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date:  33.8 miles/  54.3 km

Trip: 5/7

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Coffeeneuring: Day 4

October 18th, 2014 4 comments

Day 4 didn’t go as planned.  We had a serious cat emergency, and shot off to the vet very early in the morning.  Our girl — a grey and white shorthair rescue — is OK, but will be on meds the rest of her life, which was a bit of a shock to all concerned. Once she was safely at home, we headed off.

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We got back to the house nearly too late to get to the farmers’ market.  There was no time to change; we wore street clothes, or, in my case, tattered and furry cat-wrangling clothing.  Dr. Diarist made coffee while I pumped up Basil’s and Argyll’s tires.  This trip, we did Coffee Shop Without Walls, in which Coffeeneurs sip out-of-doors.

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We made it to the market just before closing.  A lot of the stalls had already packed up, and there weren’t any food trucks in evidence.  Even so, there was no lack of variety in the vegetable department.

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Basil was laden with goodies in no time; however, Argyll took the basket home.  I think I heard Dr. Diarist say something about Basil being a wimp, but I’m sure my ears deceived me — particularly as the bottom of the basket was filled with Dr. Diarist’s own potatoes.  Naturally he and Argyll would only be happy to haul them home, right?

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The winds were very high:  Poor Argyll was blown over, after which I lay each Brompton, respectively, against tree and bench.  A vendor’s canopy blew down, too, and the vendor next to it spent a few minutes holding onto his lest it sail away, too.

c4-tpWe found a bench beneath a tree and drank our coffee.  (We might have had a bit of a treat, too.  Dr. Diarist chose a ham and cheese croissant from one booth, and I ate the best lemon pie I’ve ever had from another one: butter crust! tart, fresh, lemon with a minimum of sugar!)

c4-cfWe were a bit stressed from the morning’s events, and still a bit in shock, but we were pleased that our Coffeeneuring plans meant that we got out when we might otherwise have stayed home and fussed.  Drinking hot coffee amidst fall splendour was a much better way to reset our Saturday.

Day 4 Observations:   1) (From Dr. D) Farmers’ markets are so much better in the fall (!) and 2) (mine) Chemex coffee is the best ever!

Tally for the day

Day 4 Location:  Farmers’ Market

Mileage today:  2.4 miles/3.8 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date:  31.2 miles/50 km

Trip: 4/7

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Testing the Brooks Cambium Saddle

October 15th, 2014 11 comments

Back in September, after altering my riding geometry to allow for a longer leg extension, I borrowed a test saddle, a Brooks Cambium C17S, from a bike shop.  I liked a lot about the Cambium, but it didn’t turn out to be right for me.

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Until I changed the distance from pedals to seat, I’d been quite happy with the original Brompton saddle — more than 1800 miles/2 896.8 km worth of happy.  Then I took a longish ride and discovered that the Brompton saddle wasn’t going to work any longer.

Brompton riders tend to love the traditional Brooks leather saddles, but I was leery of the break-in time, and uncertain that I’d find a good fit.  The Cambium is Brooks’ “vegan” model — it’s rubber with a linen-like cover, which comes in this light-colored version and a dark gray.  I decided to start with The Cambium.  Testers are marked with a Brooks credo:

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The Cambium has a different shape to the Brompton, and a shorter nose.  This women’s model — or the “S”, for “shorter” — has a broader seat surface, too, and lacks the indentation at the back of the Brompton.

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The width turned out to be a problem:  The Cambium seat is too wide for me. Maybe that’s not surprising; I’m a smaller woman (5’2″/157 cm) with a slight bone structure. Brooks offers just two saddle sizes, nominally one for women and one for men; I’m definitely to one end of the scale rather than comfortably in the middle range when it comes to cyclist size.

The rail placement is a bit different, too.  In spite of that, I was able to install the Cambium effectively on Basil, though I had to place it at the extreme end of the rails to sustain the arm/leg/seat geometry I required.

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The Cambium ride was excellent; I loved the very natural feel of the cushioning provided by the rubber, which was easy without being soft.  And I particularly loved the fabric cover; it was impossible to slide around at all on the saddle. The Cambium, appropriately enough for a “vegan” product, felt quite organic — like a natural part of my Brompton.

However, my personal anatomy requires more of a cut-away at the front, so that my legs move more freely.  Returning the saddle to the shop was a sad moment; I’d love a Cambium that fit me, and I’ll probably always wistfully remember the comfort of the seat itself.  It’s a wonderful saddle; it’s just not right for me.

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Coffeeneuring 2014: Day 3

October 12th, 2014 6 comments

For Coffeeneuring Day 3, we took a circuitous route to a coffee shop on a somewhat distant highway.  Happily, we were able to take trails most of the way.  There was a certain amount of hill-climbing involved; we arrived hungry.  Dr. Diarist had coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich; I had a soy latte and a less-photogenic egg salad sandwich.

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We unexpectedly discovered a car show as we headed out:  Basil checked out this stunningly immaculate 1939 Oldsmobile.  Nothing we own has ever been so pristine — not even our beloved Brompton bicycles!

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Dr. Diarist wore street clothes; he’s working out the details of multi-modal commuting (train/bike).  This excursion turned out to be much longer than he’d calculated — he was missing his padded shorts by the time we returned home.

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The shop was quiet, and we found a comfortable corner in which to fit ourselves and Bromptons.  We then proceeded to continue the weekend’s primary task:  configuring our smart phones.  It was not relaxing.

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I’m a Luddite when it comes to phones:  this is the first smart phone I’ve used, a circumstance which didn’t exactly facilitate the process.  I’m getting used to the thing, though, and I like it.  It’s a lot easier to haul around than even a very small tablet.

We saw lots of fallen leaves, but colors were mostly muted. Argyll’s and Basil’s hues looked subdued, too, under this tree.

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I forgot to take the protective film off the lens on the phone, but that doesn’t seem to have mattered much.  This phone’s camera may actually be better than my specific-use camera, which is a sobering thought.  (Maybe I should have joined the 21st century sooner?)

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We noticed more earthy tones than bright ones, though autumn has just begun; this won’t be a flamboyant fall.  The weather, though, has been perfect:  cool and crisp.

Day 3 Observations: 1) Smart phone photo aspect ratios are all wrong!  and 2) Our usual coffee break conversations are a lot more invigorating than spending time programming phones.

Tally for the day

Day 3 Location:  Starbucks on Route 100

Mileage today:  19.8 miles/31.8 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date:  28.8 miles/46.2 km

Trip: 3/7

Householdly Duties, With Pecans. And Brie.

October 10th, 2014 6 comments

It’s been a very weird and frantic week around here, punctuated by short rides and errand-running on Basil, which, at times, involved coffee and possibly other treats.  That’s a pecan tart, below.  It was tasty.

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We own three driveable motor vehicles, and all three of them were in the shop this week.  (They are ancient; this goes with the territory.)  The shop is distant both from our home and from anything resembling useful public transportation.  In the old days, Dr. Diarist could run me up to the shop, but that’s all changed now that he has a far more rigid schedule.

And just to complicate matters, one vehicle made return trips to the shop; time constraints meant that riding Basil home on death-defying roads, and then returning the same day to pick up each car wasn’t practical.

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I made the best of the wait on another day and had Brie, also with pecans, for brunch.  (Oh, the sacrifices one makes!)  It was delicious, though next time I’d skip the bread and ask for more apples.  The Brie requires a few minutes to fix; it’s oven-baked, just the way it should be.

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The charming little restaurant was once (I think) a tea shop.  It’s hidden away in a dismal little strip-mall-cum-shopping center, which just goes to illustrate that making assumptions based on appearance isn’t always a good thing.  (The only wrong note inside the cozy shop was struck by the cheap paper napkin tucked inside a perfectly nice metal napkin ring.  That was kind of sad.)

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Even cute little over-stuffed shops often have room for a Brompton.  If it weren’t for my screaming yellow helmet, Basil would be almost invisible.

Dr. Diarist pointed out that I should really have taken quite a different bicycle all together — my little vintage folder.  Photo here; in the text beneath the image you’ll see why he pointed this out — the café and Basil’s predecessor share a name.

Disclaimer:  It has been pointed out by an astute regular reader that this looks suspiciously like a Coffeeneuring post, without the usual tag marks.  Appearances can be deceptive (see above)! 

This is not a Coffeeneuring post . . . weekday Coffeeneuring is allowed only under specific circumstances.  The Diarist gang does not meet the exception rule.

This post is just evidence that I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops this week.

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Coffeeneuring 2014: Day 2

October 5th, 2014 4 comments

The day did not start out with Coffeeneuring, but stay  with me; it ended up that way!  Dr. Diarist, Argyll, Basil and I joined Bicycle Club of Philadelphia leader George’s Sunday ride, along with five others.

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Our route took us through parts of Fairmont Park in areas neither we nor our Bromptons had previously ridden, on a lovely crisp fall day.

George pointed out a community project on the way:  It looked oddly like an over-sized ant hill but turned out to be a ramped dirt track for stunt bicycling.

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We eventually cycled through the Bala Cynwyd train station — one we hadn’t seen before — and rode on the Cynwyd Heritage Trail.  Downhill, as it happens, all the way to Manayunk, coasting all the way; Dr. D  pointed out that the reverse trip might have been a lot more arduous.

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On the way we were treated to a spectacular view of Manayunk, which is in the northwestern section of Philadelphia, with an identity all its own.

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George shared local lore along the way, mentioning, among other things, that the trail we had ridden goes past West Laurel Cemetery.

c2-ftWe had seen stone gates as we’d gone by; George explained that the entrance had only been discovered, buried in overgrowth, when a old rail bed was cleared to make the trail. The tracks were formerly used for funeral trains.

We stopped at a coffee shop in Manayunk that I will always think of as the Salon Coffeehouse; it has a stealth location beneath this awning.  The first time I went there — on a different BCP ride — I thought that “Salon L’Etoile” was a most peculiar name for a beverage business.

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This was a correct assessment: it’s actually called Volo Coffeehouse, and a fine place it is.  However, Dr. Diarist and I did not have coffee here.  That would have been a violation of both the regulations and the spirit of Coffeeneuring:  Group rides may not be used to fulfil the requirements!

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After some light snacking, the group headed out.  Kelly Drive was closed to traffic, which made the last stretch of the group ride blissful. The ride started and ended at the Azalea Garden, beneath the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a traditional cyclists’ meeting spot.

That part of our excursion wasn’t Coffeeneuring . . .  but we are permitted to count cycling either to or from a group event, as long as the ride is at least two miles/3.2 km, and, of course, we indulge in coffee or similar beverage.

Therefore, we rode two full miles, not exactly directly, back to 30th Street Station (which is under a mile from the art museum), and drank chai at Saxbys.

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We’ve been to other Saxbys locations and liked them very much.  Sadly, this one was a bust. One of the employees (a manager?) fought with another employee in an attempt to get her to serve us, while simultaneously managing to never acknowledge us, himself, at any point during the prolonged and wretched transaction.

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We got our chais, eventually, from a highly distracted server who was having a loud discussion with a friend, and two napkins from the guy, who tore them grudgingly from a dispenser that was jammed into position facing the inside of the kiosk, and inaccessible to patrons.

So:  ewww. Not quite the experience we had hoped for.  Clearly, Volo would have been the better choice!

Day 2 Observations:  1) The chai was excellent.  (Go figure!)  2) Worst customer experience either of us could remember having had in a long, long time.   It’s a toss-up as to who claims which observation — two Coffeeneuring teams are involved here — but, since Dr. Diarist and were in complete concordance, it hardly matters who claims which.

Tally for the day

Day 2 Location:  Saxby’s at 30th Street Amtrak Station

Mileage today:  2 miles/3.2 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date:  9 miles/14.4 km

Trip: 2/7

Categories: Coffeeneuring, Events Tags:

Coffeeneuring 2014: Day 1

October 4th, 2014 4 comments

Basil and I have never done Coffeeneuring, owing to a scarcity of coffee shops within reasonable cycling distance.  This year we’re taking advantage of some flexibility in the rules, and stepping up to the challenge.  Also, we’ve drafted Argyll and Dr. Diarist.

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We got our alternative Coffeeneuring beverages (hot chocolate on the left, chai on the right) at an alternative coffee shop — a “café” inside an upscale grocery store.  (Yeah, we live in a suburban wasteland.  Not our fault!) (Maybe our fault a little, actually, but hey, cut us some slack, OK?)

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This was Day 1 for both teams, and a lovely, first-of-fall day it was.  (That’s observation 1; we need two, since there are two human/bike teams participating here.)  Observation 2 is that the faux patina on the faux copper in the faux courtyard in the faux coffeehouse in which we drank our beverages is pretty amusing.

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Observation 3 (not required):  That was decent cocoa, and not made from powder.

The Brompton Brothers posed for fall portraits on the way back.  Here’s Argyll:

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Basil hopped up on a stone wall overlooking a pond:

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Tally for the day:

Day 1 Location: In-Store Café

Mileage today:  7 miles/11.2 km

Total Mileage for Coffeeneuring 2014 to date:  7 miles/11.2 km

Trip 1/7

Categories: Brompton Duo, Coffeeneuring, Events Tags:

Argyll’s In!

September 30th, 2014 6 comments

You know, there’s always that nervous period when someone joins the family.  Is that new sister-in-law really going to be a keeper?

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It took a while, but everyone was relieved once Argyll had passed the Maine Coon inspection.

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Exton CVT Extension

September 29th, 2014 4 comments

The Exton to Church Farm School extension of the Chester Valley Trial is now open!  Basil and Argyll can now romp all the way from King of Prussia to the Main Street Mall in Exton (or vice-versa) if they want to.  And they do!

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There are some issues, if you start at the Main Street shopping center — which you might do, considering that there’s a huge empty lot behind a long-vacant big box store that once was a Circuit City, and hence plenty of unused asphalt.  The trail runs along the north (?) side of the shopping center, next to Commerce street.  Crossing the major intersection at Commerce and Route 100 is the big issue; the process is a little bizarre, and probably fairly hazardous.

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The trail follows the right side of the road, so if you’re traveling with traffic, it’s possible to just go through the light as a vehicle. Walking across the road is prohibited on the trail side.

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However, the bike trail is signed in a manner that requires you to leave the trail to cross Commerce (illegally, if you’re riding your bike, since you’re crossing against traffic, on the wrong side of the road), then crossing 100, and then crossing Commerce again to rejoin the trail.

And if you’re a pedestrian, you must also take that circuitous route to return to the trail — crossing three streets instead of one to rejoin the path.

That’s messy, and involves traversing an infelicitously designed traffic island — 100 is a high-speed, divided, six-lane, highway.

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Worse, though, is that the pedestrian signal for crossing 100, which should offer protection to walkers and dismounted cyclists alike, operates only when the left arrow releases traffic from Commerce to 100 — sending cars and trucks directly across the pedestrian/cyclist walkway when it is occupied.  Vehicles are used to making quick, impatient, turns here; not one stopped to allow either pedestrian or cyclist across 100 during our maiden trip here.

That’s a pretty dangerous situation, particularly if cyclists are traveling with kids.  A minimum of three signal changes are required to cross 100; more if traffic flow prevents crossing 100 on one light.

This is an intersection that begs for a signal that stops all traffic while pedestrians or trail users cross in any direction.  It’s common sense:  shut down the intersection to allow more vulnerable users safe passage, then resume the usual traffic patterns.

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As soon as we crossed 100, we encountered this sign:  Authorized Vehicles Only.  We just assumed we were authorized.  Maybe it’s a relic left over from construction?

Then it’s a left turn, and a brand-new spiffy sign pointing the way across Route 30/Lincoln Highway, where there is a genuine, useful, signal to allow safe crossing.  And far more considerate motorists, too — perhaps because the signal, and its function, are clearer here.

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The bright yellow gates on the new section are terrific — extremely visible now, as they will be in winter.

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For comparison, check out these white gates further along:

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Pretty lousy visibility, no?  In snow, they completely disappear.  The yellow won’t.

This extension, which crosses Ship Road, is fairly short, but quite varied; there are some houses along the way, gas storage tanks, a smattering of small businesses, and lots of greenery.

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Along with the obvious recreational aspects, there’s a lot of potential here for commuting to work, and for running errands.  If you sneak off the trail to the side, where it crosses Route 30, you can ride through parking lots with access to a group of small storefronts, including Exton Bicycle (though it’s the back of the store that you’ll encounter first).

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Go a little further — a very little further — and you’re at the Exton Square Mall.  That’s not my idea of an adequate destination, but bearing around to the right brings you to the Chester County Library.  A small trail spur, or even a sidewalk, leading into the library/mall/business areas here could be a nice move, and potentially increase the utility quotient of this section of the CVT.

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Besides housing all those wonderful books and media, the library has a lawn featuring a stream, and dotted with picnic tables.  Pick up a sandwich (there must be food places in the mall?), check out a book, and have a lovely mid-ride interlude.

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If you wend your way back to the trail by exiting on an Exton Square Mall access road, you’ll see a big box office supply store across the street, another bike store, and a Starbucks coffee shop, none of which are accessible from the trail, which runs just behind them — but they are accessible by bike along Route 30.

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Returning to our starting point in a parking lot at the Main Street shopping center meant riding alongside this bucolic scene. The juxtaposition of strip malls, derelict businesses, light industry, homes and malls against lovely views of countryside — artificially created, in this case, but still — is one of the major pleasures of the weird and wacky world that is Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Categories: Tours, Trails & Group Rides Tags:

Valdeon, Amusingly Squashed

September 25th, 2014 4 comments

When Basil and I took another trip to the Exton end of the Chester Valley trail, we discovered some competition for the road on the way to the parking lot. There was no one behind us, so I parked on the access road and immortalized the wait.

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Then we took a ten mile ride on a third saddle — a Specialized I already owned.  The test went well, and I may have finally found Basil’s new saddle.  Details to come!

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This was the last trip before the strap on my Mini O failed, but more on that later, too.  Am I the only one who relies heavily on the strap on that most useful of small Brompton bags?

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The Mini O is an odd duck.  It’s kind of crudely put together, with nubs on interior.  The Brompton frame is bolted on, with no cover plate or anything designed to disguise or mitigate the lumps made on the inside by the bolt heads.  Given the Mini O’s size, that may be a good thing, since it maximizes useful interior space — though maybe flat head bolts would have been a better choice.

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I was amused to see that the bolt heads dented the cheese during the ride down the trail from Wegman’s.  (Excellent reason to ride this stretch of the Chester Valley Trail:  The Wegman’s Cheese Stop at the grocery along the trail.)  “Room temperature” cheese . . oh yeah!

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We picked up a cheddar and a provolone for Dr. D’s lunches, and a Valdeon, which got consumed on Cheese Night, an important weekly event.

The Mini O is by far my favorite everyday bag when not traveling (and sometimes worth taking along even when on a trip) but the strap has failed;  that’s an issue that’s more important than dents in cheese.  More on it later; resolution may be at hand.

Related: 

Mini O

Argyll’s Brompton Mini O Bag

 

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