Errandonnee Events


MG, who writes a blog called chasing mailboxes d.c., likes to set up challenges for her readers.  MG and her husband are hard core cyclists; an ordinary bicycling day for them would kill me. But I like reading about the events MG dreams up, and I may even give her current one a try.  Based, as it is, on errands and the normal activities of daily life, I’ve got a fighting chance of succeeding at this one.

The event is called an “Errandonnee” which is a word play on “randonneuring” events (rides of insane length meant to exhaust people beyond any reasonable endurance point which test cycling skills under interesting conditions) and the marginally related “coffeeneuring” events, which involve visiting a specific number of coffee shops within a particular time frame.

Category number 3 of the Errandonnee challenge is “coffee or dessert”.  Basil and I have now practiced, as you can see above.  For rules and other information, check out MG’s Errandonnee blog post here.  The event runs from February 9th through the 20th.

Basil and I may give this a shot, though I’ll have to figure out how to manage the night riding requirement (two rides).  Night riding is suicidal on my rural home turf, but Mr. Diarist may have figured out a legal, and less-harrowing, means of meeting the requirement.

My Brompton

Under the Arches

Late afternoon, in winter:

Basil next to the tracks at the entrance to the Schuylkill River Park.

My Brompton Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Fourth Progressive

It didn’t happen.  On Friday we had snow — a lovely, fluffy snow.  It had stopped by Saturday morning, so I got up at 5 AM, and Basil and I caught an early train to Philadelphia.

It was 18 degrees (F) (just about -8 C), which made it the coldest day I’d been out with Basil.  I was well-prepared, though, and, except for my hands, plenty warm enough, thanks to seven carefully arranged layers of clothing.

I rode from the train station to the group meeting point, as usual. The trail had been well-salted, and the portion up to the Art Museum was safe to ride.  For the first time, I saw very few joggers, and only three other bicyclists in the forty-five minutes I was in and around the trail.

Once past the most-used section, trail/sidewalk/road conditions were pretty bad.  I couldn’t quite capture them with my camera — in these photos, you can’t see the way lumpy ice and water puddles were co-existing, for example.  There was an amazing amount of ice under that fluffy snow, too.

It became clear, very quickly, that I didn’t have the skill necessary to deal with these conditions.  (I really wondered who did!)  Tim, our experienced and intrepid ride leader, had reminded me at the end of last week’s progressive that the rides were only canceled if it were snowing or raining an hour before the start — not for wind or cold.

I waited until a bit after the ride start time so that I could tell Tim that I was opting out.  (I’d pre-registered for the ride, so he’d have known I’d planned to come.)  When Tim didn’t materialize, I figured something was up.  Sure enough, when I got home and checked the club listing, I realized the ride had, indeed, been canceled.  (I’d only checked the weather before leaving at 6 AM.  Lesson learned!)

Later, I discovered that Tim had left a message on Mr. Diarist’s phone on Friday night, and Tim explained that he’d canceled due to ice on the roads and paths.  This was actually a great relief — apparently it isn’t a good idea for anyone to ride on ice!

So no 55 mile (88.5 km) grand finale to this series, but Tim’s going to do another progressive in March.  I can’t wait!


Less Compact than a Brompton Bicycle

Basil is by no means the most unusual commuter on the train:

This is not the first cello we’ve encountered.  Not useful for riding from the station, though I understand they play well, as do Bromptons.

Books Miscellaneous

Light and Angst

Underneath the George Washington Bridge on Manhattan’s West Side is a small red lighthouse, which I first wrote about in this post.

This is the sort of charming eccentricity that warms a traveler’s heart.  When I mentioned it to The Manhattanites,  with whom I stay when visiting, they pointed out that a children’s book had immortalized this adorable structure, and had probably been instrumental in saving it from extinction.

Naturally, I tracked down the book.

It’s the tale of the existential angst felt by an outmoded technology shoved aside by newer, shinier things.  As such, a tale for our times.

Inadvertently, though, the work also chronicles other by-gone technologies.

As with the best of books, this one transports the reader to a different world entirely.

There still are tug boats on the Hudson River, of course, but they aren’t exactly like this one.

Because the book was written in 1942, there’s a lot about character:  pride, gratitude, the shame of comeuppance and, eventually, validation.

In a blurb on the back, the New York Herald Tribune is quoted as describing the book’s message as “Each to his own place, little brother”.  Whew — what a message for the ages.

(Just for the record, I think they got it wrong.  I think the real message is closer to “sometimes you can keep old, enchanting, things and have new, shiny, ones, too”.  What kind of a message is “each to his own place” here in the good old USA, where everyone believes “place” is utterly mutable?)

The book’s value now lies in the images capture of a by-gone time, which are as charming as the little lighthouse itself.

The images are also anthropomorphized, but far more subtly than is common today; the illustrator cleverly morphs, ever-so-slightly, the actual features of each object he draws.

Working in just three colors (red, blue, black, against the neutral background), the illustrator does a beautiful job of evoking mood.  The author covers the little lighthouse’s inner turmoil, but also describes the building of the mighty bridge, and throws in a little gratuitous drama, just to keep the story moving, and to resolve the central question of the book:  Can one small lighthouse find meaning in a world in which it is overshadowed, quite literally, by that which is newer and “better”?

You’ll have to read the book to find out:  The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward,  ISBN 0-15-204573-2.  This version is a “restored edition”, replicating the original, with notes about author, illustrator, and an overview of the history of the little red lighthouse, whose checkered history involves more than one flirtation with obsolescence.




30th Street Spikes

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, home of regional rail and Amtrak, has open air gates with these metal arches above:

There are rows of long slender spikes along the upper edge of the horizontal ribs.

They are staggered.  And lethal looking, though they look more like confused icicles here than like the miniature spears they really are.

They’re also on the edges of signs, but not, as far as I can tell, across the top.

Why are these spikes installed high above travelers’ heads?  I saw them on a sign first, which made me wonder if the idea was to discourage enterprising youth from climbing. (As, perhaps, they do.)  But now I’m thinking birds.

Notably, I’ve never seen a bird at these gates. Nor bird droppings. But seriously, are these few spikes sufficient to discourage our avian friends from availing themselves of roosting anywhere nearby?  Somehow, that seems to suggest a lack of enterprise — on the part of the birds, that is, not the humans.


Novara Edgewater Jacket

I thought I’d make it through this winter without having to buy a new coat, but when the temperatures plummeted to below 20 degrees, I realized I was in trouble.  However, what I needed more than anything was a coat I could also use as a final cycling layer — but no way did I want to end up with specialty clothing just for the coldest of temperatures.  It just isn’t usually all that cold where Basil and I ride most frequently.

Plowing through the coat racks at a variety of stores, including REI, didn’t yield anything I thought would fit my requirements.  On my way out of REI, though, I passed through the cycling section, which, for the last month, has been stocked with nothing but windbreakers and jerseys, in anticipation of spring.  And there it was, looking oddly out of place: a trim, well-cut coat, looking interestingly as if it just might do.

It’s the Novara Edgewater, a water-repellent jacket with cyclist-friendly features, including reflective trim.  See the cuff, right, in the photo?  When the cuffs are turned back, the jacket just looks like a “normal” coat.  Turn them out, and the cuff  becomes a serious nighttime visual, as on the left.  Ditto for the belt; turn the reflective stripe in, and you’d never guess that the other side shines like a beacon when light hits it.  And, yes, that’s a double-vented flap in back — plenty of seat coverage, but lots of room to move, too.

The upper back is open, and mesh lined, for breathability, but this feature also increases mobility significantly.  This is a very comfortable jacket to wear.

There’s a hidden (and large!) pocket at the center back, that I found surprisingly easy to use.  I’m not much of a fan of branding, but even I was amused by the rear belt carriers:  see the “N” for Novara?  Nice, and understated (sort of!).

There are two front pockets, one with a media port, which I devoutly hope no cyclist will use.  The zippers are “invisible”, meaning that they hide in the seams, giving the jacket a slim profile, even though the pockets themselves are generously sized.

Since the pockets are bagged, there are effectively two more pockets on the inside of the coat.  Though they are open, they are deep enough that it’s unlikely that most items would fall out inadvertently, unless you were doing some serious coat-tossing.  This colorway is called “Black/Radish” in deference to the unusual (and rather attractive) interior color.

The collar is pure genius.  Unlike the way most coats are constructed, the zipper comes only to the collar seam, meaning that there is no zipper bulk against the neck or chin.  Instead, the coat front is cut asymmetrically, which allows the collar to overlap to cover the throat area.  As you move, the collar adapts without restriction, ensuring that the neck is covered at all times.  I’ve folded the collar down in the photo above, to show the top of the zipper, and the generous overlap.

The inner facing is cut generously, too, so that there is no struggling with a skinny zipper flap, and the chest area, too, is amply protected against the elements.  The entire coat is faced with a napped, slightly textured, lining, that, amusingly, really does evoke a bit of a radish aesthetic.  Assuming there is such a thing.

This is by no means a winter jacket.  Though the tags say it’s windproof to 60 MPH, and it is well-lined, it is not insulated to the extent that one expects in a winter coat.  However, when I wore it out for the first time on a 21 degree day, layering my winter cycling apparel beneath (six layers!), I was very comfortable.  I have not yet cycled while wearing it, but it is so easy to move while wearing this coat that I am confident that it will become a valuable part of my cycling gear through the cool seasons.

Normally, I will not buy cycling apparel that isn’t high-visibility.  In this case, I will wear a hi-vis vest over this jacket, as its reflective qualities aren’t useful in the daytime, when I generally ride.  In addition, I will probably make hi-vis sleeve covers, too, to ensure that my signaling arms are readily seen in daylight.

This purchase, though, seemed like a good choice because the coat will fill multiple roles.  Fashionistas, and those who wish to preserve the illusion of riding in street wear, can enjoy the beautiful style and cut of this jacket while benefiting from its very functional attributes.  Cyclists who care most about function will find nothing wanting here, either, and gain the added benefit of a comfortable, practical coat that can be worn whether cycling or not.  Leave your cycle at home, and no one will guess that this is a sport-specific design.

A woman who was trying this jacket on at the same time I was said to her companion “This would make a great travel jacket”.  She’s absolutely right, and I suspect it will become my go-to adventure coat.  At nearly half the price of similar jackets, it’s a genuine deal for travel or for cycling.

My Brompton Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Third Progressive

Basil and I set out to catch the train, as usual, early in the morning, for the third in Tim’s BCP progressive series.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art was looking majestic and quite wintery.

Two of us met up with our fearless leader.  Last week’s ride was 35 miles, so this one was ten more, bringing us up to 45 on our third Saturday in a row.

Our first stop was for coffee and sandwiches at the Outward Bound in Conshohocken. Yet again, I failed to get a picture of this nifty little cafe.  Just off the Schuylkill Trail, it’s a perfect spot for a warm drink and a quick bite.  Next time, I’ll make sure to get a snap before I cross the threshold.

Mila (I hope I’ve spelled her name correctly) was colder than she expected to be, and ended up heading back while Tim and I forged on.  We reached our mid-point — the Betzwood Trailhood on the Schuylkill River Trail, and checked out the map.

We started off the map to the southeast, and turned around at the northern border of Valley Forge Park.  You can probably just about make out the “Betzwood Trailhead” caption near the center, above.

When we returned to Manayunk, it was time for more libation.  We stopped at Salon L’Etoile, which really is a coffee shop, though it’s hard to tell that it’s here, in a glimpse from the street.  Tim is very fond of latte; I had a lovely, adult, cocoa. (Update 2/1/13, see below.)

Basil fit right behind my chair, and just under the counter.

Total mileage for me was just over 46 miles, and I deeply regretted not doing the additional four to make it to fifty.  However, this ride, though not much further than a couple of previous rides, had been much more difficult.  I was well and truly worn by the time Basil and I made it home.

WeatherSpark explained it:  These were the highest winds I’ve experienced while cycling:  17-24 MPH (roughly 27 to 38 KPH) with bursts to 27 MPH (roughly 43 KPH).

Map image from Schuylkill River Trail.

Update 2/1/13 — an observant correspondent has pointed out that there really is a salon beneath that canopy, and suggests that the coffee shop is not named “Salon L’Etoile”.  A little research confirms the truth of this: The coffee shop is to the right, under the canopy in the photo, and is called either Cafe Volo (just about everywhere) or Volo Coffeehouse (on their unfinished website).   Thanks, Saul!