Monday, November 24, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

Coffeeneuring turns four this year. Not coincidentally, this is the fourth year I've participated in this event. It's not a difficult challenge: ride a bike more than two miles round trip to get coffee (or another seasonal beverage), seven times over a seven week span. Also, document the rides in photos and words.

One change from previous years is that I didn't do it alone. Where in the past I tried to fit these rides between other life events, or occasionally sought company from people who were not attempting the series, this year I rode all seven rides with a single partner. I can attribute this change to several factors, but the biggest is that this year Jean and I have a tandem bike. So, this is a team entry to commemorate our team effort.

The biggest change though is that I (we) actually completed the challenge! The other years I've participated, somewhere between life and other things I either didn't make enough trips or didn't ride far enough - or more regularly, didn't fully document the outing.

Thus I present my first official, complete, and thorough Coffeeneuring report - after the jump.

Coffeeneuring ride #1
28.1 miles, Sunday 10/19, 2014 (ride details)
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, 7263 Woodmont Ave, Bethesda MD

Jean and I originally considered getting on a tandem in 2002. Better late than never, I guess? We enjoyed the process of hunting for the perfect bike, and after a dozen test rides and a trip to Tandems East in New Jersey we brought home a Co-Motion Speedster that came up only a coat of paint short of everything we could want. Ah well, it'll need a new coat eventually. This was our inaugural ride, across town and up the Capital Crescent trail, as she mastered the balance and power required of a tandem stoker and I explored controlling such a big bike in a fun and safe way.

This trail is a familiar route to us, though we had generally avoided it for most of the last decade. It was interesting to see how it has evolved to become a well-loved multipurpose trail, complete with signage and wayfinding, well kept and well maintained. It's always quite busy, even on a chilly October morning, and we passed many other cyclists, joggers, strollers, and skaters who all were taking thorough advantage of the facility.

It's also an endangered route. Long-term plans to connect it to the Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, and then to the Metropolitan Branch Trail into DC are in jeopardy due to a development project in Bethesda just beyond where we rode. The current trail uses a temporary easement along railroad tracks, and a proposed redevelopment would take that away. If that isn't changed, the trail will route on roads and will require all trail users to cross Wisconsin Avenue at street level.

We rode this route because we knew we wouldn't encounter difficult traffic, and were unaware that we'd find the 17th Annual Bethesda Row Arts Festival in progress. We enjoyed walking the exhibits, seeing the various handiworks and wares. I tried hard to find either a bicycle or coffee themed piece we could carry home, but came up empty. Along the way we sampled an incredible hot chocolate, and decided full cups would be perfect on this bright and chilly day. Jean asked for hers extra milky and light on the chocolate, so I asked for her surplus chocolate to be added to my Mexican-inspired cup. Warmed, we then shared a crabcake from a street stand, and then rode home.

Coffeeneuring ride #2
3.1 miles, Sunday 10/26/2014 (ride details)
Peregrine Espresso @ Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, Washington DC

Our 2014 attempt at the Coffeeneuring Challenge was nearly derailed right at the start when we realized our schedules were quite fully booked, and we couldn't really afford to skip a weekend. We came to this realization around lunchtime Sunday while we were planning the rest of that busy weekend. This trip would need to be pretty short - but not too short.

Peregrine Espresso by Eastern Market is one of my favorite regular coffee sources, but I had never been to their Union Market location. In fact, even though it's straight up the street where I live I had never been to Union Market.

Union Market sits just north of the urban highway of Florida Avenue. I've ridden both 6th St and Florida Avenue frequently, and know it as an area that is challenging for bicycles due to its industrial nature and heavy traffic. That has started to change, and just that week DDOT began carving out space for a protected two-way cycletrack on 6th in order to shorten the pedestrian crossing between Gallaudet University and Union Market. This adds barely a block to DC's cycleway network, but it's a critical block to encourage cycling to the very bicycle friendly market.

I ordered a double espresso, Jean had a hot chocolate (not as good as Max Brenner's), both in to-go cups so we could tour the market while enjoying our drinks. We ran into Loren and Beth (of The Daily Rider) and met Michael (of &pizza), but had to cut our visit very short to drive KidO to her softball game.

Coffeeneuring ride #3
19.4 miles, Saturday 11/1/2014 (ride details)
Killer E. S. P., 1012 King St., Alexandria, VA

Returning to familiar routes with our new bike, we decided to visit Alexandria by tandem for the first time on this cool, windy day with rain threatening.

There are exciting things happening in Alexandria. The city itself was originally encompassed by DC's boundaries when that federal district was established, though Alexandria was there first. It was reclaimed by Virginia in a vain attempt to prevent civil war, and while it's fairly progressive and liberal by the standards of that state it's always been far less urban than DC, far more suburban. It's the collar suburb closest to the city center, and it has come into modern times as a commuter center. Which means lots of cars and lots of highways, with little thought for people who travel by bicycle.

That is starting to change, and it's changing in big ways, in a big hurry. Advocates for bicycle rights and for building bicycle spaces are making very strong cases for adding bike lanes, bringing bikeshare, and changing rules of the road to promote bicycle use. And just like everywhere else, bicycle-driven change is being challenged by people who are comfortable with the way things have been.

Also like everywhere else, the increased presence of bicycles on the streets is increasing acceptance of bicycles everywhere. We rode the Mount Vernon Trail to Royal Street, then across town on King Street, and at every stop sign we were waved through or took our turn as regular traffic. We were given lots of room by passing vehicles, driven by patient people, and felt perfectly comfortable on this big moose of a bicycle at all times.

Our destination was Killer E. S. P., a shop I visited previously and wanted to share with Jean. Last time I had plain coffee and no food, so we made sure to test some of the other options: I had a latte inspired by the flavors of Mexican chocolate, Jean had an herbed latte, and we shared a slice of curried tofu pie and a slice of pulled pork pie.

Parking for bicycles was a little sparse, so we were glad to get a window seat to watch ours and even happier to find it warm and cozy. It was on the return trip we realized how even the stoker's weather can be different - I got spritzed the whole way, but she stayed totally dry behind me!

Coffeeneuring ride #4
2.7 miles, Sunday 1/2/2014 (ride details)
Bullfrog Bagels, 1341 H St. NE, Washington, DC

Another Sunday, another day short on time for riding. Jean and I rolled out the door with this destination in mind. I had heard several glowing recommendations about the new bagel place on H, and all I needed to do was steer us there.

H St. NE is a problematic place for bicycles. The traffic level has always been high during rush hours, and the street doesn't have a lot of spare space. The development of new businesses and attractions on H St. has also increased traffic outside rush hours, extending well into the night and on weekends. Those factors made it seem sensible to improve transit choices, so a streetcar system was developed.

Whether the streetcar system will ease congestion remains to be seen after the cars carry paying passengers for a while, but in the interim cyclists have had to contend with a new hazard: streetcar tracks. Cyclists who aren't expecting these ruts, or who are but don't have a technique to ride around them, have caught wheels in the gaps and fallen, sometimes leading to serious and painful injuries. DDOT has created space for bicycles on two parallel streets and has been talked down from prohibiting bicycles from H St., but the actual hazard remains.

Perfect place to take the tandem, in other words.

I approached H St. from the south, within one block of the bagel store (which coincidentally is inside an Irish / Jewish bar), and meant to ride on the street between the rails. As soon as I looked right at them from the captain's saddle, I bailed on that idea and steered us onto the sidewalk. That's my choice, not my vote.

Couple of bagels with salmon to eat at the bar, couple of cups of Zeke's coffee, plus half a dozen to go, was our order. We waited patiently for nearly 30 minutes to place it, and then another 15 for it to be filled, but the bagels were indeed delicious and the coffee is almost worth the trip itself. While we were waiting we guessed we were perhaps the oldest people there, perhaps by almost 20 years. If you ever go there, best bet would probably be to order ahead, and perhaps to bring some knitting.

Rode the sidewalk to get off H St., then back via Maryland Ave.

Coffeeneuring ride #5
35.6 miles, Sunday, 11/9/2014 (ride details)
Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, Washington, DC

Having survived H St. NE and really starting to get the hang of how we do as a tandem team (we're awesome and it's so much fun!) on trails we wanted to try a slightly longer ride, maybe even on open roads. We heard a group would be riding from Bikenetic to DC and back, so we met up with them near Arlington National Cemetery and rode through town with the group to Baked & Wired, a Bike DC favorite stop.

The morning was cool and crisp, and many many people shared our idea to bike there and get that, so we leaned our bikes against the building and fences as we went inside and placed our orders: hot chocolate and bananananana bread for Jean, Americano and "Hippie Crack" granola for me, and a chai latte for our friend out watching the bikes. The day had warmed nicely too, so we returned outside to chat and sip our drinks while watching the people go by.

We were not a subtle group, and our presence invited a question from a nice older lady who was walking her dog in her new neighborhood (her exact phrasing was "since you all are obviously professionals at this...").  She asked:

"Do you know of a nice trail or park where someone like me could perhaps ride a bike? I don't want to ride in traffic because it scares me, and I have a bike and a rack to carry it on my car, so where should I go?"

(Photo by Pete Beers, ganked without shame from Facebook)
If you're not familiar with this shop, it's in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC. It's on a bit of a hill that slopes down toward the Potomac river. The street at the bottom of the hill carries a very high number of cyclists every day because it is also the on-street portion of one of the busiest car-free trails in the area, the Capital Crescent to Bethesda (seen before in ride #1 above). In the other direction, though not entirely without traffic, is the Rock Creek trail, which leads on weekends to a closed roads section of Beach Drive. I can think of few better places nearby to ride without traffic, yet she was unaware of them.

Oh, and, of course, she was asking that question while standing on the small bridge over the C&O Canal, a gentle gravel trail that stretches for 185 nearly flat miles without interruption. No traffic there, no reason to drive to get there, and the gravel surface and natural wonder discourages faster riders from speeding through.

For the rest of the ride I pondered what can be done to make treasures like that better known. It's entirely understandable that a newcomer to the area might not know about these great places to ride, but it shouldn't take a chance encounter with "professionals" to find a trail you're essentially standing on. Bike friendliness has to include letting people know it's there.

The rest of the ride meandered on-road to Falls Church, where I noted how bicycle signs and lanes varied greatly between municipalities even on a single roadway. Markings and rules remain a patchwork across our region, and every little hamlet and burgh is struggling with the best ways to include bicycles in their plans. The return to DC was on the W&OD trail where I once again missed the turn toward the Custis trail and Georgetown, instead taking Four Mile Run to the Mount Vernon trail to home. Even "professionals" like us sometimes need reminders about where to ride, I guess.

(At lunch after the ride I realized this effort might not technically qualify for coffeeneuring, so we shared a small coffee with our barbecue, beer, and lemonade just in case - but the Baked & Wired story is better.)

Coffeeneuring ride #6
16 miles, Saturday 11/15/2014 (ride details)
Coffee Nature, 4224 Fessenden St. NW, Washington, DC

With our increased confidence on the tandem, we decided we were ready to tackle some of the hairier streets of DC and make a long crosstown trip with minimal use of bike lanes. I had spotted a little coffee shop near DC's northwest edge, so I steered us in that general direction to visit some places where perhaps we could use some improvements.

Improvement #1 has to be to get rid of that big climb up Massachusetts Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue, though with the two of us pushing well together it was merely long and not as difficult as it is solo. Also, neither the road nor the sidewalk there are especially comfortable places to ride. It was somewhat challenging to ride Wisconsin Ave, due to construction that reduced several lanes to one or two in places. Even where there were several clear lanes, drivers came much closer to us than I liked. As captain I feel responsible for picking our course and setting our place in the lane, but that only goes so far if drivers won't respect our presence there. It seemed like drivers saw us as a normal single bike and gave us exactly the fore-and-aft clearance they would give one rider, which meant cutting way to close to at least one half of the long black bike.

Since it seems it's not going to get warm again for at least a few weeks, we decided to stop at Hudson Trail Outfitters to shop for some warm wardrobe additions. They had some, nothing wonderful, but we did like some little purple LEDs to mount to the spokes. These, I hoped, would help drivers notice that we're a bit longer than some bikes.

Then we rode a bit further up Wisconsin, and found the shop. I realized when we stopped that I hadn't mentioned the destination to Jean, who was pleased if slightly confused that I was taking her to Pete's Pizza? No, Coffee Nature is just a few doors down. There was a single bike rack, not close to the coffee shop, but not far and easily visible.

The selection of coffee drinks and food was amazing, especially considering the tiny size of the shop and kitchen. I ordered a flat white, Jean ordered a hot chocolate, and we shared a bulgogi quesadilla while we watched night fall.

At dark we finished our drinks and mounted the lights. I was still a bit nervous, concerned that if drivers couldn't give us comfortable space in broad daylight they would be even less able to do so at night. I remembered that I had brought a spare headlight, so I mounted it on the stoker bars pointing downward at our feet. Just as a way to show that there was more to this bike than just the front.

I'm glad to say the trip back was uneventful, and we used the L St. cycletrack to cross downtown toward home.

Coffeeneuring ride #7
6.5 miles, Sunday 11/16/2015 (ride details)
MOM's Organic Market, 1501 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC

This trip started as a special outing to a cooking class as part of the Barracks Row Culinary Crawl. We learned how to make Tibetan momos, a common street food that's a lot like a Chinese dumpling. The chef demonstrated how to mix a filling, but did not have yak meat available so we made do with a beef and pork mix, plus vegetables and spices. We made both steamed and fried versions (using wonton wrappers, which are apparently universal across many cuisines) and then ate our assignments.

Yet again our riding time was limited by other Sunday activities, so we decided to combine this coffeeneuring trip with a bit of grocery shopping visit to the new MOM's Organic Market in the "Hecht's District" on NY Ave. I was unsure of the exact address but knew it was near West Virginia Avenue, so we rode across Capitol Hill and Trinidad.

I expected that traffic on NY Ave would at least be manageable on a Sunday afternoon, with three or four lanes and fewer travelers than usual, but that was not exactly the case. I established our position in the lane for the two block ride, but realized as we approached MOM's that there didn't seem to be a reasonable way to get across. I found a break in the median where we could wait for an opening, then quickly rode into a driveway. We walked the half block from there to the store doors.

Bicycle parking was simply insufficient. There was a single narrow-U rack near the doors (already occupied by two bikes), with no signs of other locking points. We used the end of a bench and two locks, and I felt nervous the whole time we were in the store. (MOM's responded to this observation positively.)

Inside I tasted an intriguing coffee drink made with coffee, cacao, and matcha, with spices. I liked it, but I wasn't sure I'd like more, so I selected two bags of locally produced French roast and checked out. It was the second day of operation for that store, and I was given a shopping bag with samples and bonus goodies and sent on my way.

For the ride home I saw that even the sidewalk of NY Ave was obstructed, so I rode behind the store on faith that I'd find some familiar road toward a better place. At 16th I saw the facility where my favorite local tortillas ("Casa Blanca" brand) are made, which I used as a landmark to find WV Ave. again. Even so, I was all turned around and I had to pause for a moment to figure out which way to go - which was aided by a green sign depicting a bicycle with the legend "CAPITOL HILL" and an arrow.

In about a month we covered slightly more than 100 miles on our beautiful new bike. We tanked up on coffee and hot chocolate variations, ate crabcake, pie, bread, granola, and multi-culti bread-cheese-meat mashups, and really enjoyed spending time together as a team and couple to complete this challenge. I write this at the end of the first post-coffeeneuring weekend, realizing that I didn't actually ride at all this weekend, but I think we'll get back to the habit of making coffee runs very soon.

1 comment :

  1. Man, the day that West Virginia Avenue is turned into the proper cycling highway that it was meant to be, and the old Pennsylvania RR bridge over NY Ave is part of that cycling highway...