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Bike Week 2016

There are many, many things that bring me joy: being outside, snow days, vacation, spending time with my family, any kind of ice cream (duh). I try to incorporate these into my life as much as possible; while I haven’t had much luck conjuring up a good snow storm, I have been known to eat an indecent amount of ice cream while outside on a vacation to visit my family.

And then there are the joyful things I forget about. When my friend and I were deciding where on the east coast to go camping, I had no idea that camping on a beach where wild horses live would be an option. I mean…that’s amazing, right? Right. All other ideas = instantly tossed out.

We packed up the car (forgetting our camp chairs…again), loaded the bikes, and started the three hour drive. Since avoiding tolls would take an addition 2-3 hours, we decided to just pay extra and were pleasantly surprised to discover there was only one toll and it cost less than $5. Win.

As soon as we crossed the bridge onto Assateague Island, there they were, about eight wild horses chilling next to the road eating grass. Magical. Minus the 30+ tourists getting uncomfortably close to the animals to take selfies. These are wild animals. Some of them have rabies. I also noticed that in the large group, there were a lot of bikers. Not the spandex bikers like us but the leather bikers. But it was a nice day so I didn’t think much of them (other than how obnoxiously loud their bikes are).

We pulled into our camp site behind the dunes, unloaded the bikes, and took off on an easy 60 mile bike ride. I had the Blackfin (a nice bike I bought off my sister a few months ago) It’s so lightweight my baby nephew can bench press it. It’s not really practical for riding in the city because all the stop signs, lights, and potholes, but out there, it was fast. I can understand why Lance Armstrong was doping; going fast is FUN! (But I don’t endorse doping, obviously.)

img_1799Ten miles into it, we hit the outskirts of Ocean City.  The bicycling through Ocean City should be serene. Not only is it flat, blocks from the beach, but there is a full-sized lane on the road just for bicycles. Sounds like paradise. But then there were the motorcycles. Bike after bike after bike after bike. An obscene number of motorcycles. Everywhere we looked. And they were SO LOUD. Lo and behold, it was Ocean City Bike Week. Terrrrrrific.

I love the celebration of one’s hobby but please don’t park 100+ motorcycles in the bike lane just because you can. That’d be great. Thanks.

We crushed the bike ride. We were on our road bikes so we felt faster than fast. Then we turned around. HelLO headwind! Slower than slow. It was so tough we had to make a pitstop to refuel with a funnel cake on the boardwalk. Had to.

When we finally made it back to the park, img_1807we hopped off the  bike path to the road to avoid the horse that was blocking the trail. RUDE! (Jk, obviously the horses were amazing.) Camp didn’t take long to set up (although we did move the world’s heaviest picnic table to a new spot to try to block people cutting through our campsite on their way to the bathroom). Then we headed out to the nearest crab shack for a HUGE dinner. If post-ride to Harpers Ferry was fries on fries on fries, this was crab on crab on crab. Leather was definitely the dress code that night. We squeezed in though…nothing to see here.

img_1810Somehow we rolled our full bellies to the beach for some relaxing digestion under the full moon. Not too shabby of a way to spend the evening. Some might even call it romantic…until we stumbled across a fisherman who had caught an unidentifiable animal’s digestive track. That wasn’t so romantic.

A crappy night’s sleep (thanks to the world’s worst camp neighbors who were up talking/yelling until 3AM), a beautiful walk on the beach, and a three hour drive later and we were back home.

Because riding bikes isn’t insanely loud (like certain other bikes we saw that weekend), that’s why I love riding my bike.

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The 75 Mile Driveway

When I was invited to bike to the historic town of Harpers Ferry from DC, my first question was, “But which bike should I take?” While the trip is all trail, it was a gravel trail. The only experience I have riding on gravel is my parents’ driveway; I couldn’t imagine biking 75 miles on that but, I loaded up the Raleigh with camping supplies and food and headed out.

We hopped on the C&O Canal trail. img_1069A few spots were (annoyingly) overcrowded, like around the visitors’ center, but how can anyone complain about 75 miles of no cars?! It was incredible. People on trails are usually so friendly. Perhaps the friendliest person  was the woman who called out to us. We stopped our bikes as she walked towards us with several small green fruits in her hands. I’ve never seen these and can’t remember their name, but I still decided it was a good enough idea to eat half of one. The stranger held it for me. Up to my mouth. Weird. I felt like in 30 minutes we were either going to be higher than everyone in the ‘70s or waking up in a stupor in a cellar because we’d been kidnapped.

Luckily though, the fruits were harmless. The trek continued (with many stops and snacks). We took a short ferry ride and then kept pedaling. The C&O Canal trail is awesome because there are free campsites along the way; we pulled over about three miles north of Harpers Ferry, quickly setup camp, and biked back to town so we could nosh on some food. So many fries!

img_1081Sunday we ditched our bikes for a bit and hiked up to the overlook. My legs were not happy with the incline. We finally made it though and the view was killer. It’s quite a cute town with the adorable population size of 290.

On to our next activity: img_1092the lazy river. We’d picked what we thought was a close place, but ended up being up and down two brutal hills. They dropped us in the river and we floated. So relaxing. The cool thing about this place is that they’ll bus you from the end back to the beginning as many times as you want; you just have to be back to the end by 5:30 or they charge you extra. We thought we had enough time for a second run…and we did, but barely. If we hadn’t aggressively paddled the last 15 minutes, we wouldn’t have made it. Nothing lazy about it!

Another fry-fest, topped off with some ice cream to go so we could go on the ghost tour. Those of you who know me know that being scared isn’t my thing, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (afterwards there was a rule we couldn’t discuss any of the ghost stories we heard). I don’t believe in ghosts but the man made some pretty compelling arguments and that town has seen more than its fair share of tragedy.

I did not sleep well that night.

Monday morning it was back to biking. I love to bike. Obviously. However, the last 10 or 15 miles on that gravel trail broke me. I wanted to give my bike a Viking funeral in the river just so I wouldn’t have to ride it anymore.

Because a biking trip doesn’t have to be all about biking, that’s why I love riding my bike.

(And maybe because it allows me to eat an obscene amount of ice cream.)

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RIP the Fallen

A lot has happened since that magical Puerto Rico bikation (bike + vacation). My fleet has changed pretty drastically since then.

Shiny Schwinn was returned to Amazon due to 100_5839 the fact that it began to show rust within one week of use. I’m grateful for the beast of burden it was in Puerto Rico but after that experience I’ve realized folding bikes aren’t for me. Not only are they heavy but those tiny 20” tires make me feel like a circus clown.

IMG_2066Creamsicle (an orange folder) was also returned. Citizen’s customer service is excellent and they allowed me to return it well past the return date. While it was a cute bike, I couldn’t justify keeping it based on color alone. Taking the wheels on and off to change flats proved to be next to impossible. From now on no quick release = no purchase! I didn’t like that the back fender was riveted on or that after one tire change the nuts and bolts were almost stripped. No thank you!

Since I spend a lot of time in DC now, I purchased the Cereza, IMG_2641a gravel worthy bike with fenders and a back rack already installed. Cereza means “cherry” in Spanish and, while the bike itself is blue and silver, it was purchased around the time of the elusive blossom schedule of the cherry trees around the tidal basin (which I frustratingly KEEP MISSING). Sadly, Cereza was stolen from my friend’s apartment in a burglary. After only a few short rides, Cereza is gone.

After hauling Bow, named for the delicious Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, from San Francisco to Cincinnati to Chicago to Frederick,
MD to DC…it has been sold! It was a good road bike that made being in San Francisco much more fun; I’ll never forget those hills! I had to make some IMG_0583sacrifices and let Bow go for someone else to enjoy out on the open road. I did get one last ride in at the DC Bike Ride: me and thousands of new friends biking through the streets of DC eeeeearly in the morning…I guess that’s the only time of day the police were willing to shut down the streets. All in all, a fun day.

They all served their purpose but in the end, had to go.

Because finding a new bike to ride is a great feeling, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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Gracias Puerto Rico!

We hightailed it out of the forest and made it to the nearest town’s bakery for breakfast by 6AM. That is an early-morning record for us. Our asses were beyond sore; thank goodness chamois butt’r exists. (In case you’re unfamiliar, it is basically butt cream.)

Speaking of butts, pretty sure I mooned about 20 people. I had to pee and thought this one tree on the side of the road would offer enough coverage. It did not. So people of Puerto Rico, you’re welcome for the show! The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, except when GVP was being chased by a dog. I just kept pedaling at my slow speed and was pretty much left alone. I did almost had a meltdown because I thought I’d miscalculated the miles again and it was going to be over 30 miles instead of the 21.3 I was mentally prepared for. Crisis averted though; it was 21.3.

We rolled into our last camping location at lunchtime. I checked in at the Cerro Gordo National Parks office and paid for one night. One of the employees said he’d seen us biking yesterday. How cool is that? Local celebs? Not quite but we did run into a few people at restaurants and gas stations that said they’d seen us the day before or earlier that day. Kinda cool.

After we enjoyed our LAST mofongo with fries and sodas, we headed to a shady spot on the beach and relaxed. We did a little swimming and a lot of people watching. I swear we saw a guy who looks just like Bernie Sanders. Maybe he was taking a vacation from the campaign? There was also a guy we nicknamed Leather. I wanted to pass him our leftover SPF 90.

100_5899Our campsite was beautiful (once we moved away from the first spot we picked with the rotting dead iguana). This was the best campsite (which we deserved after the horrors from Cambalache); the bathrooms were usable but the showers looked like a scene from Saw so we decided to hold off until the Ritz the following day. We set up on a bluff overlooking a cove where waves crashed all night; we headed out to some rocks and enjoyed the panorama of nothing but ocean.

IMG_470219.5 miles to go. We packed up our things one last time and headed out. I’m not going to lie, for being under 20 miles it was still rough. Everything hurt. GVP kept me motivated with his positive attitude though and we finally made it to the ferry to Old San Juan. We wheeled aboard and were at the Ritz one annoyingly long cab ride later (it’s way too dangerous to bike from Old San Juan to the hotel).

I have never had such a glorious shower.

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GVP’s things are Chicago bound!

Then it was down to business: making cocktails and packing up the bikes. GVP would take his home in his suitcase. My brand new Schwinn had started to rust so I was shipping that sucker right back to where it came from. We ordered two large pizzas, which we devoured and subsequently felt sick. No regrets though. Isn’t the first time I’ve done it and probably won’t be the last.

GVP realized his flight was cancelled due to a blizzard in DC so he dealt with that (two day layover with ME in Chicago! So much for him never going there in the winter!).

Because GVP is fun to bike with, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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Arachnophobia Anyone?

We decided to treat ourselves by sleeping in until 7AM. After all, we only had 22.3 miles to bike that day.

However, we couldn’t leave the campsite until we had a good ol’ fashion photo shoot. This place was by far the weirdest place we stayed. There was a playground off the beach that had cement dinosaurs, farm animals, a blonde wonder woman, a giant hand, and more. How did kids play on this and not get hurt? In the U.S. it would definitely be a lawsuit.

Even though it was only 22.3 miles, it was still a hard day. I should have built in another rest day but I hadn’t so we pedaled on. The waves on the north shore were the biggest we’d seen after Culebra. I also saw the grossest bathroom to date that day. Desperate times though.

IMG_0160We stopped for lunch at this huge restaurant and had the best fish tacos of my life. Then there was a minor panic as we thought I’d lost GVP’s wallet. He’d given it to me that morning to hold and it was nowhere in my backpack. I searched my panniers. Nothing. After a few minutes of him assuring me he wasn’t mad (I wouldn’t have blamed him if he was and I’m sure he had to have been, at least a little), I FOUND IT! It was in my backpack in this little zippered part I normally don’t use; I put it there so I would remember where it was. Ridiculous.

It was of course another beautiful day. We stopped at a bakery for dinner and then headed to Cambalache State Forest where we were spending the night. I’d applied for a permit ahead of time as required and while they cashed my check, they never sent me the permit. I printed off a copy of the cashed check as proof and we headed to the office. Of course no one was there. Who works on a weekday at 3:30? After rolling my eyes so hard I thought I’d pass out, we wheeled our bikes a mile into the forest and set up camp under the picnic shelter in the camping area.

It all started out so great. We were there early. There weren’t many mosquitos. One of the bathrooms was unlocked. There was a shower house! What could go wrong? GVP went to check out the shower house. It was creepy, twists and turns around cement walls to get to the spigot with a drain below it. Then he looked up. In the rafters were tons of HUGE spider carcasses! We’re talking 4-5 inch long legs here people! Needless to say, we did not shower that night.

We only saw a couple of dead bodies in the rafters of the picnic shelter. We carefully zipped up our bags and didn’t leave anything out, just in case one had made it through the fumigation. We decided we would leave early so we could be out of the woods by daylight.

There I was sleeping when a quiet noise woke me up. I didn’t know what it was so I turned on my flashlight and looked outside the tent. There on our tarp was a spider. Please note that this spider was so big that it walking on our tarp WOKE ME UP. I woke up GVP who said it was fine. He wouldn’t be so calm when he had a close encounter in the morning! Let’s just say when he was untying the tent our friend was there waiting. GVP poked it with a stick to encourage it to move and it SWATTED AT THE STICK! We were out of there real quick after that, before it could get its friends together for an attack.

Because you don’t always know where you’ll end up, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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Heaven and Hell

We walked. A lot. There were so many big hills/mountains. Just when we got down the side of one there would be another. It wasn’t a long mileage day though…or at least it wasn’t supposed to be. We were going to camp at Tres Hermanos National Park for a total of 25 miles. Then I realized my calculations for the following day were off by 10 miles! That may not seem like a lot but between the tiny tires and the mountains and the gear…it was. And that day was already scheduled to be 43.2 miles with four mountains. Add another 10 miles? No thank you.

While we were at Applebees (I swear we really did have a lot of local food…mostly mofongo, but chain/American food was sometimes necessary but sorry not sorry because their blonde brownie dessert is just what we needed) for lunch I quickly Air B&B’ed a place in Rincon: 10 miles and one mountain ahead. Luckily people were attentive to their account.

IMG_0135A couple of hours later we were in Rincon. While we are in general, slow (we’re on vacation!), we also stopped for our first coco frio (cold coconut). It is exactly what it sounds like. The streetside vendor quickly chopped off the top and popped in a straw. I dare to say it was more refreshing than the Sprites (me) and Cokes (GVP) were guzzling down every chance we got. Then the man made another quick swipe with his machete to cut the coconuts open and chopped a coconut spoon off the side so we could eat what was left.

Rincon was my favorite town. After making a much needed stop at the laundromat, picking up a couple of frozen pizzas for dinner (uuuuhhhh…local frozen pizzas…?), we went to the beach. The Discovery Channel can call Culebra the second most beautiful beach in the world all it wants but…this one was a close contender. The waves were the perfect size (not knocking me over) and there was a rain storm out at sea. In fact it was so beautiful, GVP asked me if we could wake up early and come here for the sunrise. “No,” I said. “We’re on the west coast.” Not every ocean is a sunrise ocean.

Then we went back and enjoyed some pizza in our room.

The next day…I don’t even want to write about but I suppose I should. It was the day from hell. I have

We did see a couple of cool places that day, like this training facility.

We did see a couple of cool places that day, like this training facility.

wrecked my bike and not been in as much pain as this day. We left Rincon at 6:45AM and arrived to our campsite in Carizzales (a mere 43.2 miles mind you) AT 6PM. The thing is, we have no idea how this happened. Sure, we had to walk up four mountains…or maybe it was six. All I remember are endless mountains. The day included a scary isolated road where the bridge was out but the (one) car we saw used it so we did too, multiple BIG highways with active construction sites, GVP’s back wheel got stuck in a grate and he almost bit it (but gracefully did not), HUGE and scary downhills with no end in sight, and did I mention ALL OF THE MOUNTAINS.

We went to Subway for dinner. And frankly I don’t care if you do judge us because you don’t know what we went through that day. It SUCKED.

Because GVP sat on about 500 ants but couldn’t tell because bike shorts are so thick, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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Toothpaste to the Rescue

Heat is not my friend. The sun is not my friend. And will someone puh-LEASE explain to me why the 38.9 miles from Ponce to La Parguera seemed so much further?! Could it be my lack of training? Could it be my heavy bike? Or perhaps the tiny 20” wheels? Or the unexpected mountains? Perhaps.

Literally all that day was for me was mountains and heat. And fun of course. Every day on a bike is fun, even when it’s not. (Okay that’s not true.) There was also our lunchtime restaurant where we had cheap mofongo. It wasn’t our best one yet but it wouldn’t be the last.

We finally rolled into La Parguera. We were staying Yolanda’s, a hostel that was advertised on Air B&B. Normally I wouldn’t be stoked about staying in a room with no windows but that evening I was okay with not seeing the outside world. Once we got the cockroach issue sorted out (we switched rooms), the relaxing could begin. Or so I thought.

Sooo itchy! I don't even think I got 100% of them covered.

Sooo itchy! I don’t even think I got 100% of them covered.

When I got out of the shower (which was of course aaaaamazing) I realized just how many mosquito bites I had. My arms and legs looked like I had the chicken pox. GVP had apparently been attacked by ants so his ankles and feet were also pocked. I honestly don’t understand HOW we didn’t notice when we were under siege. Dinner was delicious but I was so distracted by shredding my skin open while I scratched my legs that I could barely enjoy it. Something had to be done. Enter paste (not gel) toothpaste. I’d read that if you put it on your bug bites overnight, it will dry it out and basically make them disappear! And…it worked.

100_5873The following day we had an excellent plan to beat the heat, and it didn’t  involve starting to bike at midnight. We left La Parguera and headed to the lighthouse and beaches of Rojo Cabo. If all went according to plan (spoiler alert, it did) we would be there by 10:30 and would be able to hang out at the beach until 3PM. The lighthouse was a lighthouse. The cliffs in front of it were dramatic and the water at the bottom that perfect clear green/blue color everyone wishes for. We looked into the cove at the beach and headed down. It looked surprisingly empty.

Little did we know everyone was seeking shelter from the sun under the surrounding low hanging trees; the place was PACKED! We found a patch of shade to call our own, blew up our pool floatie pillows, and promptly took the best nap ever. We never did get in the water but we sure did enjoy the coconut ice cream.

Eventually we packed up and headed to Boqueron for a daily total of 29.6 miles where we’d be staying in an Air B&B. This place was the one that was listed for $150 that he let us have for $20. People can be so cool. Showers, AC, free beer. It was terrific! Top it off with dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant and you have two happy bikers.

Because when bike camping, an issue needs MacGyver creativity to solve (because you probably don’t have what you need), that’s why I love riding my bike.