Pedal to Work

 

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I’m lucky to have a job where nobody cares if I arrive to work bit sweaty. (And it’s only 5 miles from home).  I teach martial arts, and by the end of class, everybody else is sweaty too, so I fit right in.  The bonuses are more fitness, less wear and tear on my car (we only have old cars at our house) and less money spent on gas.  I often go 3 or 4 weeks without having to put gas in my car.  The downside (and I only see one) is winter.  I’ve told you before that I hate everything about winter, the cold, the dark, the snow. And you really get to experience the cold on a bike.  Still worth it to ride to work, though.

A few years back, I got a nice flat-bar road bike.  I rode all over town, and my daughter and I rode rail trails all over Massachusetts.

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Panniers made it useful for taking stuff to work, and as a bonus, it’s pretty bike.  But (and this is a big but) those narrow tires make it really scary to ride in traffic.  Always worrying about hitting a bump, hole, or patch of sand that will throw  me out into the path of a car.

It seemed that my mountain bike would be better for riding to work.  But a rack on a mountain bike seemed like a bad idea.  It would interfere with the rear suspension and get caught on stuff in the woods.  So, I decided to get a hardtail mountain bike, and set it up with a rack and panniers to use for commuting and running errands.  Besides, there’s this. You know, n+1 and all 😉

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So, a bit over a year ago, I got a new commuter bike.  It’s not as pretty as the first one.  (I think all bikes should be black.  Pops of color are okay, but the main color should be black).  This bike is white.  Not as bad as a pastel color, I guess, and it has neon green trim which is pretty cool.

Some towns are great places to bike.  When my kids went to UMASS, I was jealous of the great rail trail there, and all the bike racks in Northampton.  I have to take my bike in with me everywhere (bank, post office, CVS, grocery store) because there are no bike racks.  (The lady at the center post office does NOT like my bike inside). And lots of cities have bikeshare.  But there is a move across the country to increase safe cycling.  Some of the leaders are at MassBike and Bike League. Check them out.

It’s easy to ride in the summer.  Shorts and a tank top, and I’m ready to go.  (More than ready, I love everything about summer!)  Spring and fall are not too bad, but never as good as summer.  Winter though, is a different story.  I had an adult student tell me one day last winter that I was crazy, and it was too cold to ride.  (On the flip side, the parent of one of the little students told me last summer that it was too hot to ride and I was going to die of heatstroke – not a bad way to go.) But seriously, how cold is too cold?  If you say that below freezing is the cutoff, what do you do when it’s 31 degrees out?  That’s not much different than 32.  From there, it’s easy to stop riding because it’s “too cold”.  And I really do enjoy riding.

Dress for it.  Liner leggings, fleece leggings, underarmour, fleece, parka, liner socks, wool socks, winter bike shoes, liner gloves, heavy gloves, balaclava, helmet.  Takes a long time to get out the door on a cold day.  It probably would be really hard to start the habit of bike commuting on a cold, dark day.  But start now, get used to the ride, and what you need to take.  Then as the weather gets colder (did I say I hate winter?) you just start adding layers and adapting.

I’ve also found that bringing extra uniforms to work on days when I drive, makes the biking days easier.  And I do drive sometimes.  I  go grocery shopping after morning classes on Monday, and I’m still a bit too afraid of traffic to ride at 9pm.

Using a mountain bike to commute, also has a huge side benefit – trails!!!  On the way to work, I ride the last mile on trails.  And coming home, I ride the first mile on trails, and then, about 2 miles from home, I drop into the woods at Greenbrier, and ride as much as I want (or as much as I tolerate without lunch!) At first, the pannier messed with my balance a bit on the trail.  But once I got used to it, it’s gotten easier.  I stay off the more technical trails with the pannier though.

Try it for yourself.  See the benefits of more exercise,  and less gas used.  Plus, being outside everyday is good for you.  We tend not to get enough outside time in the winter, just going from one heated space to the next.  (Although I guess people do the same with air conditioned spaces in the summer).  I realize you don’t all have ideal conditions to ride to work, but please try to get outside every day.  Thanks.

 

 

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Signs

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Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’my mind

Do this, don’ do that

Can’t you read the sign?

                               ( Five Man Electrical Band)

Here is the sign at the top of the dam.  There are things happening here that aren’t on the sign, like running, and disc golf.  This got me thinking about all the sign in the woods.

A few years back, I was running with a friend, and we saw two teenage boys dragging their BMX bikes through the brush.  We asked what they were doing, and they said trying to follow the red and white trail.  What they didn’t realize, is that the red and white markers aren’t a trail, they’re the Corps of Engineers boundary markers.  Well, that explained why they were having such a hard time staying on the trail!  Helps to know what you’re looking for.

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If you look really hard, sometimes you can find little poles marking the boundaries, too.

I talk to lots of people in the woods.  (Ya, really.  And no, I didn’t teach my kids not to talk to strangers either.)  It’s funny how many people think they are following the blue trail. or following the orange trail.  No such thing.  All the trails on the east side are marked with blue blazes.

And all the trails on the west side are marked with orange blazes.

Black dots in the middle of the blaze mean you’re heading back toward the dam.  No dot, means you’re heading away (usually north).  Funny (well maybe not so funny) how little attention people pay to where they’re going.  I’ve been asked directions many times by hikers who say “I was on the blue trail, but it disappeared and now I’m on the orange one.  What happened?”  When I reply that they crossed the river, they will often deny it.  Well, you know that big metal bridge you went across?  Ya?  Well that was over the river.

The Midstate Trail runs across the Hodges project.  The trail is about 95 miles long (that changes sometimes when re-routing is done due to changes in conditions. The Oxford section was re-routed when the Rocky Hill bridge was built).  It starts at the NH state line, and runs all the way to RI.  Find out more about the Midstate Trail here. The halfway marker is in Treasure Valley Boy Scout camp.  The midstate markers are yellow triangles.  Some are just painted on trees, but many are very professional looking markers nailed to the trees (wonder how the trees feel  about that?)

Some of the signs are warnings.  The trails run close to a quarry, and trail users and big dump trucks need to watch out for each other.

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Some of the signs are handmade.  I know a trail dog named Sammy, but I don’t think this is his trail.  So whose is it?

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If you just barrel down the middle of the trail, with your only goal getting to the end, you will miss so much.  Slow down, look at what’s around you, and take some pictures.  What can you find in the woods today?

 

A chunk of green and dirt in the middle of NYC!

A few months ago, my daughter moved to New York City, the Bronx to be exact.  I spent a week helping her move, and have been to visit a few more times since.  There are some things I really love about NYC.  (#1 of course, is that my kid lives there!)  Parts of the city are very walkable.  From her home, we walked to the Bronx Zoo, and to the registry.  It’s only about 1.5 miles to Target.  Although that seemed a lot longer in the pouring rain, dragging one of those old lady shopping trolleys.  There are a bunch of grocery stores within a few blocks, and we found a nice little hardware store.

And the public transportation…how I love public transportation!   There is nothing better than chatting, or reading a book while somebody else gets you where you need to go.   Instead of driving for 4 hours, I only have to drive about 1 hour to Connecticut, and then there is commuter rail to within 1 mile of her home.  Uphill walk from the station, but all downhill at the end of my stay.  We have taken the subway to Coney Island, and the New York Aquarium (wonderful sea lion show there!).  We have taken it to the Staten Island Ferry.  And that is a free (Yes, Free!) ferry ride to Staten Island with a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty.

There is a downside though (isn’t there always?)  Not enough woods. I admit to being spoiled.  My woods at Hodges are only about 1/2 mile up the hill, and once there I have access to 1200 acres of dirt and trees.  Well, turns out there are almost as many woods in the Bronx as at the dam.  According to Wikipedia “Van Cortlandt Park is a 1,146-acre park located in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. It is the third largest park in New York City, behind Pelham Bay Park and Staten Island Greenbelt.”  To give you an idea of the size, check this out

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Last time I visited, we spent Saturday going to the ferry, and then walking all over Manhattan.  Sunday we decided to relax and take a walk in the park…turned out to be a pretty long walk.  There are two golf courses in the park (just 1 golf course is awfully big).  There are playing fields, and lots of smooth flat trails.  There were a lot of people biking, made me miss my bike.  It’s possible to take a bike on the train, but I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the hassle.  We sat by a lake and watched some swans.

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One of the things I most enjoy about being in the woods, is finding weird stuff.  I’m not a fast biker, or runner, and there is always time to step off the trail and take pictures of stuff that doesn’t seem to belong.  Well, we found these things in the middle of the woods, along a small trail connecting two larger ones.  What are they?  Giants’ grave markers?

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Evidently, finding weird stuff, leads to more odd stuff happening.  I posted this picture on Instagram, and got a response from somebody at “Friends of Van Cortlandt Park”.  They said that these are called Grand Central Stones.  When the city was building Grand Central Station, these were put up as test stones to see which would weather the best.  However, the winner was limestone, because it was the cheapest. No idea which one weathered the best.  Grand Central station (which has a huge Apple store:) ) seems really old to me, but the park is so much older.  If you visit the Bronx, check out the Friends of Van Cortland Park here.

So, I guess if you look hard enough, there is dirt to be found almost everywhere.  I challenge you to find some, and get out and play in it!

 

Milkweed and Monarchs

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One day last week, riding down the railbed, I noticed these weird, reddish, flowery things.  So, of course, I had to stop and take a picture.  As I pulled my phone out of my pack, 2 butterflies landed and stayed to pose for pictures.

Turns out the plants are milkweed, and the butterflies are monarchs.  I spend a lot of time in the woods, and see many more moths than butterflies, but suddenly, it seems that there are butterflies everywhere.  Well, monarchs can be found almost everywhere in the US, and their food of choice is milkweed.

I always thought of milkweed as plants with puffy, white seed pods breaking open in the fall.  But this is what they look like earlier in the year.  I took this picture last summer, and didn’t realize what it was.  IMG_1691.JPG

Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants, and when the eggs hatch, the little caterpillars eat the plants.  When they transform to butterflies, the adults eat nectar from many plants, including milkweed.  Milkweed plants are toxic, so please don’t eat them.  The toxins remain in the butterflies (so please don’t eat them either ;)).  The monarchs’ orange color is a warning to predators that they aren’t good to eat.

It would be easy to go out into the woods and focus only on the ride, run, or hike.  But there is so much more than that.  Most of us will never be world class athletes, so a few minutes break from a workout isn’t a big deal.  So tomorrow, when you’re out in the woods, stop and smell the flowers.  Or in this case, check out the flowers…and the butterflies!