Coffeenuering with Susana

I met Susana several years ago at a get together in Meridian Hill Park. Although I’ve talked to her only a few times, it quickly became apparent me that she’s about as kind a human being as you could find. Earlier this year she didn’t hesitate to meet with my friend Jessica who was moving to Chile, Susana’s home country, this summer to teach English.

Susana’s athletic thing is rock climbing, not a bicycling. (I said she was kind, not sane!) I was a bit surprised when she contacted me over the summer to hear about my bike tour. After a long delay, we sat down this afternoon to chat at Firehook Coffeehouse and Bakery in Cleveland Park.

Of course, I took this as an opportunity to get a ride in. I chose The Mule so that Susana could see the bike I rode during my tour.

I rode my baby into a headwind up the Mount Vernon Trail, across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge, up Rock Creek Park to Cathedral Avenue then up the long hill to Cleveland Park. The entire way, The Mule felt like it was an extension of my body. Sweet.

We sat in the sunny window and much talk ensued. Mostly I recounted my decade of foibles in learning how to bike tour by failing. Along the way, we covered hostels, Warmshowers, Crazyguyonabike.com, and Adventure Cycling Association maps. Time and again the conversation returned to familiar themes. No hill is too high, no tour too long that you can’t reduce it to a series of manageable efforts. People are just plain nice. Solitude is wonderful. Montana, North Dakota, Iowa,….are beautiful, each in its own way. Blood clots and collapsed lungs suck. Random conversations with plant nerds, elevator technicians, and rolfing artists are gold.

My sense is that Susana wants to bike tour. We talked about buying a bike, what to avoid (big box stores) and what to insist on (a bike that fits). One of these days , we just may see her riding from Pittsburgh to DC along the Gap and C&O Canal trails. (Hey, Susana, want to do a tour in Chile?)

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Coffeeneuring notes: I rode 38 miles round trip for my second coffeeneuring adventure. Susana had chai tea. I had the house coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. Observation: We talked for 3 hours. During that time the temperature dropped about 15 degrees. Even with a tailwind and an additional layer of clothing, I froze on my ride home. Weren’t we complaining about the heat and humidity just a few days ago?

The Incompetent Coffeeneur Rides Again

The Coffeeneuring event is up an running again thanks to Mary’s tireless dedication to destroying my central nervous system with gallons of caffeine.

Of course, I wasn’t really paying attention so I accidentally coffeeneured (is it a verb?) today by riding 30 round trip miles to Swing’s House of Jitters in DC to see my peeps at Friday Coffee Club.

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Did I mention we went from 80s and muggy to windy and 55 overnight here in DC? I had on tights and two shirts (one with long sleeves) and I still froze. I have to admit it felt pretty terrific.

I rode into town in the pitch dark and slalomed around scores of limbs downed by the overnight passing of the remnants of hurricane Michael. In Jones Point Park I dismounted to try to remove a small tree that had landed across the trail. I didn’t bring my axe so rootchopping wasn’t in the cars so I snapped the top off to clear half the trail.

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At Swing’s I celebrated with an apple fritter along side my Nicaraguan brew. (Actually, as far as I know this coffee could have come from Dubuque. But it said “Nicaragua” on the urn so I’ll go with that.)

The brew and the fritter put my heart and pancreas into overdrive. On the way home I stopped at the gym to lift weights. You wouldn’t like me when I’m mangry.

So ends my first day of coffeeneuring. I am coffeeneuring again tomorrow because my friend Susana wants me to tell her all the things about my Any Road bike tour.

The Coffeeneuring rules say that I can’t count Friday Coffee Club again. And, despite tomorrow’s coffee meet up, I don’t normally drink coffee anywhere else but home. Therefore, I’ll probably fail to successfully complete the challenge and qualify for the Golden Coffee Urn or other fabulous prizes.

Now if I could only get to sleep….

Coffeeneuring Wrap Up 2014

I finished the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge with a weekend to spare, thanks to some super nice Veterans Day weather. Here’s the run down of my seven excursions.

Veterans Day Coffeeclub

Trip No. 1: This trip was facilitated by a gift certificate that was burning a whole in my wallet for two months. The Grounded Coffee Shop was a fun, family friendly place located on one of the least bike friendly roads in Fairfax County. The coffee was good. The soup was outstanding. The bike parking non-existent. Still I’ll go back if only to finish off my rest of my gift certificate.

Trip No. 2: Back in my New England days I lived on Dunkin Donuts coffee and chocolate chip cookies. So I thought I’d give it another go during the challenge. Maybe my tastes have changed but I thought the coffee was lousy. Not a very good choice. Sorry, Dunks. I;m over you.

Trip No. 3: Bread and Water is a new bakery next to my local bike store. It’s kind of a discombobulated shop but they make excellent bread and the coffee gets a passing grade. This one is worth checking out. It’s about 1/2 mile off the Mount Vernon Trail in the Belle View Shopping center.

Trip No. 4: I had intended to go to Old Town to eat some fish and chips. By the time I got there, my stomach had changed its mind. So I walked across the street to Bittersweet Bakery. It took forever to pay for the privilege of serving myself watered down Swings coffee. Skip this one.

Trip No. 5: Peet’s has expanded into the suburban car nightmare known as Hybla Valley. This is what they call Mount Vernon when you get away from the trees and hit Richmond Highway. I can’t say that Peet’s is bad coffee. The place had a decent enough vibe, but the area is soulless and worth avoiding.

Trip No. 6: Mount Vernon may be the home of George Washington but the food court there needs some decent coffee STAT. Not a bad ride though.

Trip No. 7: This was more like it. All my other Coffeeneuring excursions had been solo affairs. Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon decided to post a coffee get togther on Veteran’s Day morning at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub. I really like the vibe of this place. The neighborhood is very bike friendly too. They even have a bike corral on the street in front of the shop. The coffee’s not bad either.

Coffeeneuring on Veteran’s Day

Today was my last coffeeneuring ride of the challenge and it turned out to be the best one of the seven. Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon invited folks to meet up at St. Elmo’s Coffee shop in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. It gave me a good excuse to get out of bed and get something useful out of an odd Tuesday off from work.

Veterans Day Coffeeclub

It was in the 30s when I left the house but warmed up very quickly on the 45 minute ride to Del Ray. Big Nellie got the call because my neck was barking at me yesterday. It was an effortless ride and my mind just blanked during most of it.

By the time I reached the coffee shop I was warmed up. Bike commuter Dana was already there and taking in the sun over coffee outside. So I grabbed a house coffee, a couple of cookies and a blueberry muffin and joined him. Other folks started arriving shortly thereafter. A few folks came and went but about eight people hung out for an hour as the temperatures rose into the 60s. Bob’s wife Liz brought her dog named Evil. He seemed pretty good hearted to me. Rod Smith had come from Maryland pulling an huge flatbed trailer. I met Sara and Bomber (I think) who were prepping to drive up to Sugarloaf for a 50 mile ride. Steve O was there too. As was Kathy the godmother of social bike riding in Arlington.

After way too much coffee we went our separate ways. The thought of hanging on my deck in the sun one last time before winter’s chill arrived was more tempting than the prospect of a lengthy bike ride, so I headed home.

Along the way I saw evidence of a car mishap that must have been pretty interesting.

This must have been an interesting event

Tomorrow we get one more warm day before it’s time to break out the woolies. Thanks autumn, I had a blast.

Coffeeneuring Check List

Place: St. Elmo’s, 2300 Mt. Vernon Ave, Del Ray, Alexandria VA http://stelmoscoffeepub.com/

Drink: House roast. Tasty but two tall cups was too much. I’m all jittery.

Observation: There is a bike corral on the street directly in front of the shop. Very good accomodations. Also, an art bike rack to the side of the front of the shop.

MIles: 15.5

Photo op:

Veterans Day Coffeeclub

Coffeeneuring with George Washington Foodcourt

I waited to long to go on my bike ride today. You see, last night I attended a bike poster art thing called Artcrank in DC. There were bike themed posters on display. They were very creative. As it turns out, my favorite was from Friday Coffee Club member Aaron. His poster was called No Bad Day and it showed a bike rider in silouette, half riding in foul weather and half in fair. It reminded me of my running days. My wife would look out the window and say, the weather sucks. My response would invariably there is no bad weather for a run. And out I would go.

The real highlight of the Artcrank event was the fact that there were 20 or 30 #bikedc people I knew there. (No way I’m naming names since I would surely leave some out.) And I met several people who I hope to see again soon. I’d say the first edition of Artcrank DC was a big, big success.

Aaron, is a year round, indefatigable bike commuter. He commuted in Minneapolis which is either badass or insane. Or, actually, both. We were talking with beer cans in their cozies in our hands when he mentioned that the cozies make excellent toe warmers for winter cycling. This is either badass or insane, but it is an economical (actually free) alternative to the stupid toes covers I bought a couple of years ago. They lasted all of two weeks before shredding.

Cozy toes? We'll soon find out

I put them on today but it wasn’t cold enough to make a difference. I’ll get another chance soon enough. (There is of course the possibility that Aaron was putting me on. I am unshamable, however.)

Fort Hunt Park never disappoints in the fall

My ride today was my sixth coffeeneuring ride. I decided to roll down to Mount Vernon and check out the food court. I’ll bet you didn’t know George Washington invented the food court. He was badass, too. On the way I took a lap around Fort Hunt Park. The trees in the park were a little past peak but they still impressed with their bold colors.

New bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail

Further down river on the Mount Vernon Trail I came upon a brand new bridge. This is really quite nice and was much needed. Thank you, National Park Service.

SS Minnow found at last

Just past the bridge I came upon a boat parked at the river bank behind some yellow tape. It could have been the S.S. Minnow, but maybe not.

Coffeeneuring No. 6: MV Foodcourt coffee

The food court was ‘Merica. Burgers and fries and pizza and other things that didn’t make my nose too happy. I bought a decaf coffee and a soft pretzel. The pre-ride coffee I made with my new coffee maker was more better by far. The soft pretzel was salty and took up sufficient space in my digestive tract that it might be classified as actual food.

The ride home along the river was lovely. It had warmed up a bit while I was decaffeinating and so it was quite comfortable.

Chain love with the Nellies

Back at home I had a chain lube party with my three favorite bikes. They are my favorites because they are the only three I have.

Coffeeneruing Rap Sheet

Place: Mount Vernon estate food court at the end of the Mount Vernon Trail

Drink: House decaf as bland as coffee gets

Miles: 13

Observation: There used to be a Starbucks in the foodcourt but now it’s just generic weak joe. The coffeeneuring pickings sure are few and far between in SE Fairfax County. The ride, however, is pretty darn nice.

Coffeeneuring No. 5: Going Wireless

For the last few days, the bike computer on The Mule has been on the fritz. It’s a wired Trip 2 computer sold, I think, under the Trek brand. It has always been buggy but lately it’s been downright useless. The display was working fine but no matter what I did to the set up it wouldn’t pick up the rotations of the tire.

I started my ride intending to go a mile to a new Peet’s coffee shop near my home. Once I saw that I was going 0 miles per hour, I decided toride the 3 1/2 miles to my local bike shop, Spokes Etc. in Belle View Shopping Center. They had a wireless computer that did pretty much exactly what I wanted. So I bought it (and used my WABA discount, yay WABA). The nice folks at Spokes installed it for me for free. Good on you, Spokes.

I turned aroung and headed for Peet’s. Despite the address (below), it’s on US 1 in the heart of Hybla Valley. To say that this road is bike hostile would be a gross understatement. True to form, there was no bike parking anywhere near Pete’s. To be fair, there is no proper bike parking within 5 miles of my house. Fairfax County has a long way to go before it can be considered bike friendly.

The coffee was the house medium roast. I’d give it a 5 out of 10. Nothing remarkable but certainly drinkable. The shop itself had a couple of comfy chairs and some tables.

Date: Sunday, November 2

Location: Peet’s Coffee, 7707 Fordson Rd, Alexandria, VA

Drink: House medium brew. Okay. I drank it. I can make better.

Observation: I didn’t expect much from a chain coffee shop in a strip mall on US 1. It met my expectations. No bike parking.

Miles: 8.5

Coffeeneuring #5: Peet's Medium Roast

Coffeenuering No. 4: Stalking the Queen of Caffeine

Today was the running of the Marine Corps Marathon. Since the Mary, Queen of Caffeine, was running, I knew there was just one thing to do: ride to the marathon and have some coffee en route. And so I did.

I hopped on The Mule and headed up the Mount Vernon Trail despite the fact that my legs are pretty much toast after two weeks of biking commutes, event rides, and a hike. I stopped in at Firehook Bakery on Washington Street in Old Town for a coffee and everything bar (it was a blondie with all kinds of other stuff in it, coconut, pumpkin, and maybe some meth). The coffee was okay. After drinking half of it, I put the cup in my waterbottle cage and set off for my marathon watching perch at the  Virginia end of the 14th Street Bridge at around mile 21. When I got there the runners were thick and moving pretty fast. I didn’t know what Mary was wearing so spotting her was sure to be a challenge. I checked my Twitter feed and found out that Ed, King of Caffeine, had spotted her at mile 20 some 30 minutes earlier. Oops.

I hopped on the bike and headed for mile 25 or so. This was at the northern end of the vast Pentagon parking lot. As I was about to ride a  road down to the race course, a Pentagon Security Officer told me that the area was off limits. I literally said, “You’re kidding me, right?” Nope. I have watched the marathon from this very spot over a dozen times in the past. There was, of course, absolutely nothing about this vantage point that was in need of security any more than the other 26.2 miles of the course. There were even people already lined up along the road! Still Mr. Security would not budge. Whoever made the security decisions or empower this knucklehead to enforce them really needs to find another job. Maybe they can put him on the ebola watch.

I rode away and was soon perched along side the course near mile 26 with hundreds of other folks causing security mayhem by cheering on friends and family.

I even found Ed who told me that Mary was wearing a red Washington Nationals shirt. (Most excellent fashion choice!) Despite now knowing what to look for I managed not to see her run past. About 30 minutes later Ed tweeted that she had finished in 4:29:50. Bravo, Mary. I recommend a warm beverage in celebration.

Date: Sunday, October 26

Location: Firehook Bakery, South Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria

Drink: House brew with super duper blondie bar. Bar was better than coffee.

Observation: It was a good thing I didn’t have two cups of coffee or I might have told the cop to go eff himself causing me to become the first incarcerated coffeeneur.

Miles: 24.5

Coffee, now cold, at the marathon
Coffee, now cold, at the marathon

Bread and Water and Coffee and Scone

I had planned to go for a long hike today with my friend Florencia but she is under the weather and, come to think of it, so is the weather. So we are postponing our adventure until next weekend.

It was gray and drizzly out but I can’t stand to sit still on a weekend. Luckily, the Queen of Caffeine has laid down the Coffeeneuring Challenge. It’s as if she anticipated days like this. She is wise.

After the rain let up around midday, I hopped on Little Nellie, destination unknown. I decided after 4 miles of pedaling toward Old Town on the Mount Vernon Trail to bang a left on Belle View Boulevard and head toward Bread and Water, a new-ish cafe in the Belle View Shopping Center. The inside was rather warm with some loud toddlers so I took my mocha and chocolate chip scone outside to eat. I chose wisely. Usually scones are triangular in shape and very dry. Not this one. It was square and moist with a crumble topping. Way tasty!  And the mocha was also right up my alley.

Appropriately fortified I headed out on my bike only to be greeted with drizzle. What a shame. The temperature was just right for a bit of a ramble but the wet and gray pretty much ruined my mood. So I rode back toward home in a wide arc of sidestreets.

Coffeeneuring Run #3

Date: October 13

Location: Bread and Water, Belle View Shopping Center. http://www.breadandwatercompany.com

Drink: Large mocha with a chocolate chip scone. Both were delicious.

Observation: I would much rather be hiking but this little trip put a bright spot in a dreary day.

Miles: 20

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Coffee and Contrabands

I haven’t ridden in four days. I was away on a business trip Wednesday through Friday. I brought my Bike Friday and intended to ride it after work on Fridat but, alas, twas raining so I just drove home. Yesterday was rainy and cold. Not very inviting biking weather. By evening I was getting irritable, which is a sure thing when I don’t get enough exercise.

So despite feeling really not into it, I jumped on Little Nellie and headed out for a short ride. I took the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town. The trail was covered in wet leaves so I was extra careful to avoid sudden moves. On Union Street in Old Town I stopped at a stop sign so that a huge SUV coming from my left could (a) not yield to me and (b) roll through its stop sign. Bikes are obviously the problem.

A few blocks further north, I saw a dad and his toddler son get out of an SUV on the opposite side of the street. The little boy had on a plastic green army helmet under a hoodie. As dad turned to close his car door, little boy bolted across the street directly in front of me. I said, “Whoa, dude!” Dad turned around and said, “Sorry.” You might want to keep you “sorries” for mom when you get your kid killed through your negligence, dad.

I rode up King Street in search of coffee. There are about a dozen coffee places to choose from. I made it all the way to the Metro station and turned around. I settled for Dunkin’ Donuts or Dunks as friend of the blog @lkono calls it.  (We used to call it Drunkin’ Donuts because most of its late night customers in Providence were piss drunk.)  If you ever lived in Massacusetts or Rhode Island you’d know that there are more Dunkin Donuts than traffic lights. In my 11 years in Boston and Providence I must have gone to Dunks 200 of 300 times. I really liked the coffee and minchies. Not anymore. It just tastes funky to me now. The coffee cake muffin I had wasn’t bad though.

On the way home, I stopped at the Freeman’s Cemetery. This cemetery is actually a memorial to a cemetery that was established in 1864 for the runaway slaves who found their way to Union-occupied Alexandria during the Civil War. The Contrabands (as the were originally called on a account of their legal status as property) lived in squalor. Many succumbed to smallpox. Over 1,700 were laid to rest in this cemetery. Over the years the cemetery was repeatedly disturbed by road building and other ventures. The last venture was a Mobil gas station. When the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was replaced, the gas station was removed and a cemetery was restored as a memorial.

Some pix of the cemetery can be found on my Flickr page

Cofffeeneuring Scorecard

Date: October 12

Location: Dunks on King Street near the Metro station in Old Town, Alexandria

Drink: House brew with coffee cake muffin. The muffin was way better than the coffee.

Observation: Dunkin Donuts used to be my default coffee shop when I was in school. What the hell do students know about coffee, anyway?

Miles: 18.5

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Coffeeneuring in Car Hell

The fourth annual coffeeneuring challenge is upon us. This challenge entails riding your bike to coffee shops on the weekends and meeting rules that only a randonneur would love. I wasn’t going to do it this year but I had a Sunday to burn and a gift certificate to a new coffee shop burning a whole in my saddle bag.

To me rolling out to get a cup of coffee seems kind of silly since I have a perfectly good coffee maker in my kitchen. So I combined today’s coffee trek with some errands. I started with a ride to the hardware store for some bird seed. Little Nellie, my New Wrold Tourist with little wheels, does a terrifc job of carrying the unbalanced load without making me feel like I’m going to tip over.

Once the seeds were off loaded at home, I turned around and rode the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town to use an ATM. I could have done this at the Safeway near home but I needed some therapy miles. Call it bikescendental meditation. My brain shuts off, I sing songs badly, I look at the egrets and herons. All is calm.

After ATMing, I headed off to the coffee shop on Telegraph Road south of the beltway. I rode over to the Eisenhower Valley (why does this invoke tanks in my mind) and used the nifty newish trail over the beltway at Telegraph. It drops you right smack dab in the middle of a spaghetti bowl of ramps and traffic lanes going every which way. This being Sunday traffic was light. Riding this on a weekday would take nerves of steel. This sort of road pattern is what I call Car Hell. Car Hell is why Fairfax County is a bike hostile community.

After waiting three minutes for a traffic light, I headed south on Telegraph. The shoulder comes and goes so taking the lane is the only option. People were driving their cars responsible though so it was not an entirely unpleasant experience. Telegraph wends through a hilly area. There was one hill I had to climb (right after Climbhill Rd., I kid you not) and I made it without breathing hard.

A fun downhill led to a left hand turn (always fun) into a strip mall (planned American retail blight). There I found the Grounded Coffee Shop.

I locked Little Nellie to a street sign because, this being Car Hell, there was no bike parking to be found.

Inside I found a very pleasant, kid friendly place (toys and games were placed on shelves and a Lego pit was off to one side). A young man was playing guitar and singing songs for tips.The customers ranged in age from 1 to 70. A student did homework on a laptop.

I ordered tomato soup with chicken and orzo, a banana, and a 16-ounce house coffee (dark roast from the Congo). This being the first crisp fall weekend day in these parts, the warmth of the soup and coffee alone would have made me happy, but they were both top notch. (The banana lacked a certain je ne said quoi, but it is an essential bike food.)

Grounded Coffee Shop

The ride home involved South Kings Highway which included one whopper of a hill. The road has a paved shoulder that comes and goes. And when it goes it just drops off in an way that would mean a trip to the ER. Way to go VDOT!

I managed the hill with the forebearance of some drivers.  When confronted with the next, steeper hill bailed out and took side streets until I popped out at US 1 and the entrance to the Hybla Valley strip mall farm. That this monstrosity was actually planned by someone is simply astounding. Fearlessly, Little Nellie took on the mass of cars and we made it through somehow. In fact, in about 5 minutes I was turning onto Parkers Lane using the turn lane and ironically not 30 yards from the spot where my wife was mowed down (actually thrown in the air) by an ex-con driving an SUV, when a driver honked at me. I wasn’t in her way. I wasn’t doing anything illegal. My offense was I was not in a car. Some people need remedial driver’s ed.

So I arrived home unscathed from my first coffeeneuring adventure. Here are some stats:

Date: October 5.

Place: Grounded Coffee Shop, 6919 Telegraph Avenue, Alexandria VA. http://www.groundedcoffeeshop.com

Drink: Congo dark roast, most delicious. Also, pretty darn good tomato chicken and orzo soup.

Observation: Grounded Coffee is a real find. I have $6+ left on my gift certificate and look forward to going back. I’l probably drive though because it’s located in Car Hell.

Miles:19.5

Grounded Coffee Shop