Monday, June 11, 2012

This is the Commute That IS

Last year I wrote about my bike commute from my Old Louisville home to Layne Elementary in Valley Station. I received many touching comments about that post, ranging from "yikes!" to "get a f**ing job! LOSER!!" to "an inspiring melodrama sure to be a hit with grandparents and teenagers alike".  Very gratifying stuff.  So gratifying, that I just have to share my latest commute with the digiterati, even though it's with me only in the past (I'll be at a different school next year). 

The school year is almost over, and so is the sweetest lil' commute I've ever had.  I've been at a different school, Cochran "in the city", this year.  It's real close to U of L, between the fire station and "24 hour Plate Lunch" on Gaulbert.  Fortunately, I've been able to bike to work almost every day this year.  Despite rain, snow, hail, blizzards, tornados, and wind storms, none of the severe weather events from the past decade kept me from bike commuting over the past school year. 
Firstly, check out my ride.

To the untrained eye it may look like just another girly bike, but this is a 40+ year old Belknap Bluegrass (remember Belknap Hardware?  HQ here in Louisville?  Closed in the early 80s? This is one of their bikes, though built by a different company, possibly Raleigh).  Here's what I like best about it:

- 3 speed internal gear (everything old is new again, Nexus fans)
- front basket (very convenient)
- chain guard (wear khakis with confidence!)
- green (everything old is new again)
- fenders (stop the splat)

This is the perfect tool for the job.  While this bike wouldn't cut it on my epic Layne Elementary commute, it is just the thing for my less-than-epic 4 block ride to work.  Sweet, sweet slowness, cruising down the street.  Very nice, indeed (do you hear the soulful soundtrack?  sounds like a Barry White song?  listen a little harder).

As the kids down on the corner don't say anymore, this is how I roll:
Down the street,

                                         Around the corner,

                                                                       and past Central Park on 6th Street.

This church at 6th and Magnolia is now a home.  I once went to a birthday party here.
There was dancing in the pews.

                         Belgravia Court.

I can see the fire engines come and go from my classroom window.

Ahhh, the sun shines on Cochran Elementary and BOOM I am at work! 

Door-to-door takes about 5 minutes.  Sometimes it takes longer because of a long light at Hill Street. 

It all feels so, well, so civilized.  Peaceful.  Unhurried.  Very nice.  It was like a dream, especially since I have woken to harsh reality that the Leviathan that is our school system wants me to teach somewhere else (I just wish I knew where). 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red River Gorge!!!

Despite the fact that some of my favorite people have their birthdays in February, it has long been one of my least favorite months. 28, or 29, days of grey wet are the norm. Seasonal Affective Disorder is known to be diagnosed more in February than in any other month. Prozac and Celexa purchases climb steeply in February. Netflix sees an increase in requests for the Swedish favorite Grey, or, Not Quite Black But Damn Close in February. Personally, I make up more especially ridiculous "facts" in February than in any other month (with the possible exception of August, when everything melts).

So THIS February saw the beginning of a new approach to this malaise - the geographic cure. We loaded up the dog and various children and roared off to RED RIVER GORGE!! I took my bike, too.

It was sunny, snowy, and, I almost forgot, in a GORGE. Here is the beginning of my ride.

But within five minutes I was climbing this hill up to the Nada Tunnel. I felt like a badass.

I wasn't sure about cycling through the tunnel. I forgot to bring any lights and I'm scared of dark, damp, cave-like structures that can bring death if one meets a Yahoo coming the other way.

I decided to turn around and head back down the hill.

Lovely lovely lovely.

I started up another hill and soon realized that I was not in Red River Gently-Sloping Valley, but Red River GORGE.

It just kept going up. For a mile and a half.

Eventually I got to the top and saw the sign warning me not to poop off a cliff.

You really have to be careful when you're out in the woods.

Here some Sisters of Charity have a house with solar panels and a straw bale addition. They drive Priuses.

This is a neighbor. I think the good sisters could help this family reduce their heating bills.

I rode along the Red River.

And then I was back at the cabin. There was food, warmth, and a hot shower. The Winter Malaise was in retreat.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Was The Commute That Was, Part IVb

Is it possible? Can a bike be ridden from the far western reaches of Louisville Metro to the city center . . . without getting on Dixie??

According to the city bike dept (yes, we do have one) my best option is to ride to the Louisville Loop near Farnsley-Moreman, take the bike path down to Chickasaw Park, and then head east to home. I did this ride a few times. It is very lovely and after TWO HOURS I was finally home. Once I was stuck for 45 MINUTES when a train stopped. Could there be a better, shorter, way?

I tried riding the sidewalk along Dixie and nearly passed out from the exhaust, and from fear.

I tried riding Dixie's Wide Wide Shoulder to St. Andrews Church Rd and heading home that way. St. Andy has no shoulder, lots of traffic, and a corresponding high level of fear. Uh-uh.

Finally I had a revelation: is this a road? why not ride down this little road? what's at the end of that road? WHOA . . . IT WORKS!!

Here, then, is the secret of the Golden Route Home, the Mostest, Epic-est, Bestest Bike Commute Ever.

First, I leave the workplace with a smile on my face and my helmet firmly planted on my head (hint for newbies - don't push the helmet back off your forehead; you risk forehead injury and serious dorkitude). I sleekly glide through the surrounding neighborhood, heading for Genius Insight #1, Pages Lane.
This may not look like a good choice, but don't be fooled. I've pulled over into a driveway to let these kind people and their death-machines pass me by.

See how much room they give me? And no one honks or yells at me to get off the road.

I ride until I can pull over, they don't kill me. It's not perfect, but it works.

I think this might be a gate up to Waverly Sanitorium. I'd kind of like to check it out, but only with someone taller than me.

So far my ride has been fairly pedestrian, so to speak, but now things get fun. I lift the metal rope and plow ahead.

I spy 4 or 5 deer, but only get this shot of two of them.

Look! I get to ride through giant puddles with no idea of what lies underneath!

Okay, I made that up. I've ridden this in Dry Times and I know there are lots of rocks and broken concrete down there. It's rideable.

This ride also has Mystery.

Who lives here? Or is it just a garage? Why are there always several busses parked out front? Will I be shot by a Valley Station Stereotype?

I just ride harder.

Turn up the gravel road and . . . where am I?


Christian Academy SW!

St. Andy's with NO DIXIE!!

God must be smiling on me . . . .

We all have things we don't want to do, but must do. In all oil a fly may lurk. Every jar of Vaseline may get sand in it. Even my Golden Route has a smudge.

St. Andy's is that smudge. No way around it, over it, or even under it. I steel myself to ride through it, fast.

Go go go go go go go go go go go . . . . yeehaw! A sidewalk!!

Now, a word about cycling on sidewalks. First, you need to know that if you are over 11 years old (or is it 12?) it is illegal to ride your bike on sidewalks. I eschew the sidewalk 95% of the time. They are bumpy, dangerous to cyclists (think driveways, entrances to parking lots, and the like), and dangerous to pedestrians. Bicycles belong on the road.
HOWEVER, I make some exceptions. I will happily break the law when:
1) the road has no shoulder, is only two lanes, and is too heavily travelled to be safe; and 2) there are no pedestrians (which is usually the case here in Louisville. We just don't walk places.) This stretch of St. Andy's has lots of traffic, no shoulder, and there is a sidewalk that almost never has a pedestrian on it. When I did encounter two walkers I swung wide through the grass and said "Hello" before I passed ( to politely warn them).

Trolls used to live on this bridge and grabbed at me everytime I crossed it. Someone trimmed the shrubbery and now the trolls seem to have moved on. Maybe they are in a storm drain at Dixie and Lower Hunters Trace.

Soon I am past Doss and onto the secret sidewalk. This blissful little pathway soon peters out and I'm left to wrestle with a few hundred yards of more St. Andy, mostly by riding through parking lots.

A right turn onto Palatka, and then a left down a mysterious street.

Soon, it becomes apparent that "No Outlet" has no meaning to me!
I'm trail-riding in Iroquois Park - Bwuahhahahahaha!!

I exit near the stables and head up the no-cars-allowed hills. As you can see, daylight is fading. That's why I carry a headlight and taillight. I put both on the blinky to-be-seen setting, as the city has plenty of streetlights to light my way.

I zoom down Southern Parkway . . .

("Zoom," by the way, is highly relative term. I am confident my zooming is zoomier than some others, yet I also humbly acknowledge that most people who regularly cycle would put my zooming to shame. Just as in childhood, I remain a solidly mediocre, but determined, athlete.)

On 4th Street I pass my benefactor, Catholic Charities. Without them bringing so many refugees to Louisville I wouldn't have a job, or so many tasty dinner options.

Also on 4th Street is the mosque where many of my students and their families go to pray. People of many different nationalities pray here.

This is the old Masterson's Restaurant site. Soon there will be apartments for U of L students and, more importantly, FOOD.

Heine Bros., Papalino's Pizza, and Comfy Cow Ice Cream - the trifecta of Incredibly Good Local Eats - are all going to be here.

It's so nice to know I can replace all of the calories I burn cycling while staying close to home.

I turn off 4th Street, past Cochran Elementary, and through St. James Court. I am so lucky to live in this neighborhood.

And then I'm home! It took me just over an hour and I got to ride roads, trails, through a beautiful park, and through giant puddles on a not-road.

Unlike when I drive home ( in half the time) I am alert, refreshed, happy, and already have my workout done. All of those things make the extra commuting time completely worth it.

And I didn't burn any gasoline.
And I got to be in the woods, at least for a little bit.
And I earned a guilt-free beer.
And I get to feel self-righteous.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"This Was The Commute That Was" Part IVa

Many, many gigabytes have been devoted to the whys and wherefores of bicycle commuting. So many "tips" and "how-tos" are available, I have become bored by the genre. It is much more interesting to figure out how to make a particular ride work, especially one I am on (but I am fond of Chris Balish's How to Live Well Without Owning a Car.

I have spent countless hours trying to work out the particulars of biking to work. Many people just reverse their route for am and pm commuting, but that doesn't work for me. You see, I must commute to Valley Station. For Louisvillians, this is equivalent to saying "I want to commit suicide on Dixie Die-way." For non-Louisvillians, this is equivalent to saying "I am cycling to Dante's 7th level of Hell." Not only is DIXIE a Bad Road, it is ugly (stripmallstripmallstripmall-redlight-stripmallstripmallstripmall-redlight-stripmallstripmallstripmall-adultentertainment-stripmallstripmallstripmall-accidentscene) But for many Louisvillians it is the only known route to Valley Station.

Can a bike survive it? With the rider intact?

Well, yes, with some important modifications to the route, the most important being Don't Bike On Dixie. This is how I managed getting to work car-free one morning this past fall (coming home is another story, literally).

First I get someone else to take godson to preschool. Once that's done I can head off to meet my Destiny.

I leave about 25 minutes earlier than if I was driving and head west down Hill Street to DIXIE (it only takes about 10 minutes to get there).

Like many bus riders, I wait somewhat impatiently, "Where is the bus? Where is the bus? YES! There it is!"

My bike and I get on board and settle in for the long ride out to Valley Station. Usually I happily listen to the Two Johns Podcast. Occasionally I'll chat with a fellow commuter. The guy with the blue bandanna is friendly. Once I was engaged for the whole ride by a guy on work-release. It's nice to interact with different sorts of people. Sometimes.

I have noticed that most Louisvillians eschew the bus. I used to do this, too, until I was stuck without a car in my early twenties. I discovered that riding the bus wasn't scary or difficult. When I used public transit in other cities I realized that only using a car was really silly. Why should I drive around looking for a parking place when the bus stop is right by the front door? TARC isn't always the best choice, but sometimes it is just right(like on my morning no-car commute).

And did you notice that cool bike rack on the front of the bus?

Hey! Here's my stop (think. of course!)

Get it? "ponder"?
"De Nada"? . . . . nevermind

I have to wait a little to cross Dixie . . .

. . . but once I do I'm ready to cross the RR Tracks (which head straight to my neighborhood; if only I could bike on the rails), roll through the little neighborhood by my school and then head up to little ol' Layne Elementary.

The whole journey takes about an hour, twice as long as driving. It isn't faster than a car. It depends on an infernal internal combustion engine i.e. polluting metal beastie. It isn't free ($1.50 bus fare). Why do it at all?

1. I am SOOOO much happier and more relaxed when I get to work.

2. I get to ride my bike home.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This Was The Ride That Was, Part III

In the Spring of 2010 I tried cyclocross for the first time. In Shelbyville there was a little race organized by Main Street Bikes that was perfect for me - almost no one was there and there wasn't any mud. It turns out the women's race had three contenders -me, a very good 13 year old, and SURPRISE!! the gf. She was a last minute entry, lured into the race by the guarantee of getting a workout in and the vibe being so mellow and non-competitive. A bike shop dude lent her his schwanky mountain bike and she borrowed a helmet from her son. A true iconoclast, she even chose to forgo spandex and race in her khakis. Thank god I beat her (but the 13year old beat me, easily, by more yards than I could count; frankly, I lost sight of her early on).

I don't have a broken nose, but I do have chronic allergies and wear one of those nose strips. It helps a lot and wouldn't you know? People are so kind, always asking if I'm okay while they stare at my nose.
I'm riding a decade-or-so-old Kestrel mountain bike. For those of you aren't in the know, this means that I'm not serious about 'cross e.g. fat tires with too-big tread, carrying water bottle, not a cyclocross bike, visor on my helmet, not enough vents in my helmet (as a more race-worthy helmet would have), and I'm not wearing cycling shoes with clipless pedals.

That disgusted look on my face? I can't believe how far ahead the gf is!! How is this possible?! How much harder must I ride?! Roll on, Columbia . . . .

I love this picture. The sky, the field . . . and me hunting down my unsuspecting prey - ha ha ha.

"I will not be beat by khaki pants. I will not be beat by khaki pants. I will not be beat by khaki pants."

The photographer can only catch me from the back as I sweep past him, and his mom. Ha ha ha!!

I did some other races in the summer and fall. Races with clipless pedals, skinnier tires, and the same commuter helmet. But none of them had the memorable elements of this race: a competitor wearing khaki cotton twill pants and a competitor whom I passed.

I have higher hopes for 2011.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"this was the ride that was" part 2

Last Spring I spent 3 days biking across central Ky with my friend Anna. We started at Long Run Park (eastern Jefferson County; we considered starting from my house, but that would mean 15-20 miles of city biking which is where we usually ride, why do that again?) and ended in Maysville. Neither of us had done any bike touring before this trip.

On our first day we went to Frankfort. No, we did not go on US 60 (too much traffic). Instead, I cobbled together a route of backroads for a beautiful and mostly low-traffic trip (I highly recommend the Kentucky Atlas and Gazetteer).

We got to downtown Frankfort and quickly found a bar with a good happy hour special on PBR. After a few of those we got directions to our campsite from a nice lady on the street. ADVICE: don't get directions when you've had a few beers. We accidentally got on a highway (ack!!), but eventually made it to the campground (as you can see, my tent is bit jacked-up).

The next day we took a few wrong turns, but eventually made it to Cynthiana. More beer (with Mexican food this time) and we soon realized there was not a campground anywhere around. After riding around for awhile we finally asked the firefighters hanging out at the station where we could camp. The Chief called up the Mayor and we got permission to stay at the city park (view from the tent). Small towns can be so cool.

We breakfasted (see below) and then took off for Maysville. Below is Anna's bike.

In Maysville we found another bar with fries and beer right downtown (although getting to downtown required getting on four-lane highway - sorry about that, Anna). We camped near the river right outside town. It would have been lovely, but a barge blew its horn all night and in the morning it rained. That's how I found out my tent leaks. When I woke up I was floating, there was so much water on the floor.

Lunch in Bagdad, birthplace of Martha Layne Collins (1st woman governor of KY). There is a grassy spot out back to picnic in and inside is a wee deli.

A sweet little road on the way to Cynthiana.

I made a mistake and took us a few miles out of the way. This view is down the hill we just climbed. It may not look like much, but around the bend it gets scaaaaarrrrryyyy.

At the top of a ridge - it was very windy and with all our gear packed onto our bikes it was a fight sometimes to keep from swerving across the road.

A friendly Cynthiana firefighter.

I'm hoping to do another trip this coming Spring.