Bikepacking with the kiddo

School ended here on Wednesday, and I was off Thursday and Friday. My son has been talking about wanting to take the tandem and ride to Camden (I feel like we’re gonna get some good tongue twisters out of this idea) for about half the year, but I told him that a ride like that, even if you take a few days, requires some shorter practice runs to serve as training. He was down with that. Almost two years ago we attempted a trip to Freeport, one way, on our own individual bikes, but that was during a chillier time of year and we underprepared just enough to make it unpleasant. We still went fourteen miles before the wife came and picked us up. And we did have fun. He even mentioned some of the snacks we’d brought on that trip when we were planning this one.

In between he has done a lot of riding around with me, and we’ve gone on a few group rides that cover 10-20 miles. He’s into it, and he feels (properly) like a badass when we go out on the bike.

When I first got rid of my personal car I was limited by how far Ezra could ride if I didn’t want to do some sort of vehicular shuffle with my wife to get him from place to place. But since getting the tandem it’s been such a wonderful change. We can just chat, and boy does he love to chat! Plus that inherent closeness of a tandem means it’s not work to stay together or ride side by side, and no moving over and into single file occasionally when cars pass. PLUS I got him clipless shoes and pedals so he’s attached to the bike and can’t slack without me noticing. It is rarely an issue, though, to be honest. He’s pretty tough, and if he’s feeling tired I usually am too, so he helps me remember to stop and rest. We usually have great chats with folks we meet while we’re just chilling for a moment.

So what I’m trying to say is that he’s very familiar with the tandem, and he was super psyched to be doing this thing. He’s been listening to me talk about wanting to take a solo trip of a few days and just wander, but this ended up being the first such trip for both of us, and I’m so glad he was there to share it with me. He’s a lot of fun to hang out with.

I had originally planned to pack and prepare a day or two ahead of time, but with this being the last few days of school and things being so hectic all around, that didn’t much happen. But I did make a Don’t Forget list, and I only forgot a couple of things, nothing too important*. You don’t need forks or spoons to eat hot dogs and s’mores.

So on the day I woke up and gathered all the stuff I would need in a little pile. I tried to be as minimalist as possible, and I don’t think I brought anything we didn’t use. We brought a small, 2 person tent, a couple sleeping bags, most of a change of clothes, swim suits, and a few small things to keeps us occupied. I took my time loading up the packs and getting everything on the bike, so we ended up leaving after noon, but I had been aiming for 11am, so it wasn’t way behind schedule. I was concerned that the bike might handle poorly with so much extra weight loaded on the back, but it felt no different, really. The extra pounds might’ve even helped give us some momentum to keep rolling on the flats. We met up with my wife as we were getting onto Route 1 to pick up my helmet that I’d left in her car. Then we were off on a leisurely ride north.

We took Route 1 for a while, then veered onto 88 to keep the traffic light and the views scenic. That met back up with 1 in Yarmouth where we stopped into Rosemont market to see a friend (who wasn’t working), then had lunch at Otto’s pizza. After that we had a pretty straight shot into Freeport, although we did stop for a short rest around 3pm to try to play HQ, but the connection failed us.

We stopped at Bow Street market in Freeport to grab hotdog and s’mores fixins, then we had the final push through the hilliest part of the ride. We only had to walk the bike up one quarter of one hill, so I’d call that a success. We had really been casual in our pacing, so we arrived around 4:20, almost four hours after leaving Portland. We got checked in, found our site, unpacked and set up the tent, then headed to the office and café for fire wood and some French fries. However, without thinking we got the fries first, and by the time we were done the office was closed, so we couldn’t get firewood. My son stopped a gentleman on an ATV and I asked if we could get some wood, but the guy said he had a bunch and he lived nearby, so we told him our site number and he brought us a bundle for free! Thank goodness, too, because we had no other means of cooking our meal that evening.

We got back, built our fire, then chilled out and goofed around. We wandered down by the water and found some horseshoe crab shells. I taught Ezbert to shuffle playing cards. Then we cooked a couple of pouches of veggies in the coals and some corn on the cob, and finally we made hotdogs. We rode back to the office once again to wash up and do our bathroom stuff (*which was very minimal since I left behind all toiletries). We hung out a bit more, then climbed into our tent and I read a chapter from The Tao of Pooh (my father is currently reading it, so I’m refreshing my memory in order to answer any of his questions. And Ez was interested), then turned off our cool, inflatable, solar powered lamp and went to bed.

Now, I did make a couple obvious mistakes in my planning and execution. I had two sleeping pads, one twin sized and one queen sized. The queen wouldn’t fit in my little tent. *Rather than look for another small one, or even just buying an inflatable pool floaty, I opted to let the kid have the pad and I would just sleep on the softest part of the ground. Well guess what, there IS no softest part of the ground. So I lay there zoning out until I finally got exhausted enough to fall asleep around 2am. Ez did a better job.

We woke up at 7:30 and I sent the kid out to do some bird watching while I caught 30 blissful minutes of sleep on the pad. Then we packed up much of the camp and went over to the café for some breakfast sandwiches and yogurt. The food here is really good, and the fries were especially so. After that we loaded up the bike and headed on out for our ride home.

My phone was almost dead, so no pics of the return trip. You’ll just have to trust that I made it home and am not currently wandering through some alternate dimension with my son, solving mysteries and using our newly found super powers for good (mostly). Would that this hoodie were a time hoodie!

Once again we had to walk up one of the hills, but again just a little bit at the end, and it was the last hill before we were back in Freeport. We stopped at the market to get snacks and some Gatorade, and the kid ended up chatting with the lady who had checked us out the day before and telling her all about our trip. She was also a cyclist and was very enthusiastic, which suits Ezra well. Once we got back on the road properly we ended up just taking route one all the way home. We stopped to rest a few times but ultimately made it home in under two hours. Our last stop was just before Back Cove at a lemonade stand run by two little girls. No ice unfortunately, but it still hit the spot, or at least somewhere near the spot. When we pulled into the house I quickly unloaded everything off the bike and took it upstairs. We checked ourselves over for ticks, and then showered and finally brushed our teeth.

I have to say, because if I don’t people might think I am torturing my child, that on the way there and especially on the way home my son kept repeatedly yelling about how much fun he was having and how glad he was that we were doing this. It really made me feel like I was doing something right as a father. To be fair that is not always the case. His one and only complaint was that his butt hurt by the time we got home. This is not a huge surprise since I don’t have any really appropriate seats for long distance writing that I can put on that tandem. But even before we went on this ride I was already searching for something that I knew would work well for him in the stoker position. As luck would have it I found that and something perhaps even better the following day, but that is a story for another time.

My son and I always manage to have fun when we are out on adventures together, and this was no different. Later this summer he wants to do some more long rides that involve camping, so here’s hoping I can get my shit together and make that happen before school starts up again.

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It’s Bike Swap time again!

The Great Maine Bike Swap is coming up soon! On Sunday, April 22 at 10am the doors of the Sullivan Center gym will open and folks will be allowed to peruse thousands of bikes being sold by Mainers. Every sale will benefit the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, too. There will be opportunities to test ride bikes on site, and there will be helmets to use and mechanics on hand to verify the bike’s safety before you try it out.

This event is always fun and exciting, and it’s such a great opportunity to get ready for the good riding weather. Plus this year you can grab your bike at the Swap, then ride it over to Standard Baking Co where the Portland Gear Hub will have a table set up to do quick tune ups and inspections while you sip coffee, eat pastries, and ask any questions you might have. What a way to get your bike sorted out!

And the Gear Hub itself will be having its annual yard sale that day (and the day before) so be sure to stop by and pick up anything you might still need for your new bike, your upcoming camping trips, or perhaps your upcoming bikepacking adventure.

Basically the weekend of the 20th will be jam packed full of fun bicycle happenings. I hope to see you there.

http://www.bikemaine.org/maine-swap

http://portlandgearhub.org/events-calendar/

Winter Alley Cat – January 28th!

Just a heads up that we are having a winter alley cat race this month, Sunday the 28th. It begins at noon in Monument Square, and it ends somewhere else where we can all party hearty well into the afternoon. This race will replace the annual Snowman Adventure Race that the Gear Hub has been hosting the past three or four years, but it will involve a fair amount of outdoor winter activities.

If you’ve never been a part of an alley cat it’s a kind of bike race/scavenger hunt with no set route. Instead there’s a list of stops around town that you have to hit in order to get a stamp before making it to the final stop. They’re always fun, and there are prizes for the normal race categories as well as best costume (encouraged, not required), bonus points, dead last, etc. I highly recommend showing up for these events when we put them on. You can race individually or in teams of up to six people, so drag some friends along.

I hope to see some of you fine folks there!

My first metric century

<DISCLAIMER: I am bad at remembering to take pictures, so they are so few as to be almost nonexistent. But it’s all true, I swear>

   This week I was as invited on a ride with a coworker and some other folks to ride to Kennebunk and back to Portland, a trip that totaled 68 miles. I was excited the whole week leading up to it, but busy too, so the excitement never got out of hand.  When I mentioned that I was planning to do the ride friends and family were flabbergasted. They couldn’t wish me enough luck or remind me sufficiently that I had to be especially careful for cars, hydration, Governer LePage, etc. I was never worried about my legs. I’ve done several 30ish miles rides and none have ever kicked my ass. The first one sent me into a hilarious cramp spiral, but I did a bad job that time and learned some valuable lessons. 

  Even though this was twice as far as my longest ride I knew that it was doable, and I find that riding with a small group makes the miles feel easier somehow. No one was in a hurry. Everyone was nice and pleasant to talk to. There was just enough familiarity between the different riders that one could always drop in or out of a conversation, moving back and forth between the small pods of two or three cyclists. We stopped a couple of times each way to snack, chat, and fill up on water. 


   I had never been on most of the Eastern Trail system that links up southern coastal maine. It’s so picturesque and well maintained. I kept thinking of how fun it will be to come down with the family and ride through the salt marshes in Scarborough and down into Saco Biddeford. Maybe we can visit some friends there before riding back north. The only parts that weren’t woodsy gravel trails were a short stint in south portland and pretty much all of Biddeford. There you had to ride through town, but there were still signs to guide you back to the trails and the roads we took were minimally trafficked. 

   After that we got back on the trail until we met up with the Kennebunk exit on 95, and from there we took the road into town for some much needed food and coffee. Everyone remained in good spirits as we mounted up to head right back the way we’d just come. The return trip went faster as it always seems to do, though it might have been the lengthy discussion of modern poets and poetry I ended up having for over half that trip with my younger, collegiate doppelgänger.  What an experience!

   We ended the ride at the Gear Hub for their Grand Opening Party. The band was playing, the BBQ was…flowing?  The yard sale was in full effect, as was the four square tournament. I left my fellow riders there so I could run home, shower, roll out my legs, gather my family, and finally return in time to see the festivities come to an end. I did pick up a few items from the yard sale bins, and my son did get a new, more legit game of four square going (legit because of the presence of a school child). 

   I ended a longish day of riding my bike by riding my bike home with my son, a trip that was mostly directed into the sunset. But we had our sunglasses. So it was cool. 

The Long and Windy Road

   I took a ride out to Freeport yesterday, then turned around and headed right back. The funny thing is, all the way up Route One I was getting hit with a mild but noticeable headwind, and so when I got to Freeport and saw that I needed to head back in order to deal with some prior obligations I was looking forward to some sort of tailwind pushing me along.  But when I began my return journey I found myself riding into a much stronger headwind. This one was enough to slow me down on a descent, and it didn’t let up the whole time.

None shall pass!!!

   I stopped in Yarmouth for a slice of pizza to refuel. My legs had been feeling less and less willing to keep up the revolutions, and I had made the whole trip to that point on one fried egg, a piece of buttered toast, and two cups of coffee. I knew I was going to be late by then so I contacted people and rescheduled enough things that I could relax and enjoy my lunch in the sunlight. 

   I got back on the bike and after about five minutes of riding and digesting I felt much better able to haul my butt through the shoving, bullying wind. Bridges presented the most challenging sections, but only the Martin Point bridge was bad enough to get me weaving across the bike line in my lowest gear.  I let out a barbaric yawp or two since I so rarely get a reasonable opportunity to do so these days. 

   I eventually made it home with just enough time to let the dog out, “enjoy” a quick visit from my soigneur, Monsieur Le Foam, and then take a short, scorching hot soak before I had to meet someone about a bike. But I was happy to see that all of that exertion didn’t wipe me out. When I got home I felt like I could have kept going much longer if I hadn’t had responsibilities. But since it was my first long ride since last summer it’s probably best that I took it easy. 

Monsieur Le Foam

   I definitely did much better than on my first 25 mile ride. That one ended in double leg cramps that propelled me off the couch and onto the floor where I remained until I was finally able to drag myself down the hall and into the bath tub where I sat punching my thighs until the hot water covered them. It wasn’t my best moment, but luckily I was alone. And also luckily, the action of dragging myself backwards down the hallway rug helped to pull my pants down for me so that I didn’t have to bend my intensely cramped legs to get them off. Ah, memories. 

   I took this ride to scout things out for a near future ride with my son. The last time that we rode, or attempted to ride to Freeport it was autumn and it got way too cold for us about 14 miles in.  Also that time we rode up Route Nine which is not as bike friendly as Route One. Route Nine has many sections where the bike lane disappears and you are left to hug a very scrappy and unsafe few inches of the road while cards whiz past you, sometimes giving you a little leeway. Route One has a bike lane all the way up, I was happy to find.  And it is also significantly less hilly than Route Nine. Although I should mention that they are currently doing construction on a few parts and in those areas it is down to one lane.  They have to stop you in one direction and let traffic continue before you are allowed to go. But the cars were content to let me ride along and no one tried to crowd me out since there were construction people watching. And maybe out of the goodness of their hearts.  So now my son and I just need to pick a nice, wind free day for our adventure to the north.  And I look forward to trying it again by myself on a pleasant afternoon to see how my time compares. It’s not so much that I really care about my average speed, but I do tend to notice it from time to time.

The Great Maine Bike Swap was…pretty great!

   

   The Bike Swap was this morning at the USM Sullivan Center. The line began around 8, and by 10 when it officially began the line had filled out very nicely. There were over 1,000 bikes inside and more kid’s bikes and bargain bikes for less than $50 outside. There was a coffee truck from The Gorham Grind. Eventually there was pizza for the volunteers. So really everything you need to survive in this crazy, mixed up world.    


   Just before ten they made their announcements and then got the line moving. Within five minutes there were people coming out the doors with bikes, giving them the once over with the on-site mechanics, then taking them out for a test ride and, one hopes, falling instantly in love with the new bicycle in their lives. 


   As a volunteer I can tell you that the flow of people didn’t stop for the full three hours of the event. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, both volunteers and attendees. Lots of smiles and giddy excitement as folks queued up for their test rides. Several people commented on how nice it was to be able to grab a bike inside, then grab a helmet and a lock at one of the booths outside. It’s a regular one stop shop. 


   I really enjoy the bike swap as an event!  The folks who work it are always very bikey people in the best possible way. They’re all big fans of bikes and cycling, and they all get so animated when they get to talk about bikes with someone else who is at least almost equally interested. As a bicycle-type person myself I understand this emotional response. Pretty much all of the people in my life with whom I’m the closest have minimal to no interest in bikes, and many of them seem to find it strange how high the percentage of bicycle related books and movies I ingest on a regular basis. They also find it difficult to imagine that so many such books and movies exist. 

“Didn’t you already read that book?”

“No. That was a different book about cycling infrastructure.”  

“So <pregnant pause> does this one cover a lot of new ground?”

“Ummmm…”

  And so many people who show up there really want to get people on bikes. It’s the best part of the whole event for me. I only sell bikes that are as fresh and as road ready as possible there, and I always include a new bottle of lube and a small multi tool for adjustments because I don’t want to leave any room for excuses not to get out and ride one of the bikes I’ve worked on. Any time I see one of my former bikes locked up around town (or being ridden, though that happens less often) I get a swelling of pride.  Egoitis, some might call it. But it fills me with joy to know that I took a useful object that had been lacking for use, fixed it up and made it as desireable as possible, and that someone else is doing the exact thing that I had hoped for; making good use of that really useful object.  It makes all my efforts feel worthwhile. It makes me feel appreciated, even if I only see it locked up outside the library one random afternoon. And it is that kind of sentiment that everyone at the bike swap seems to share. I love attending and volunteering because I find myself surrounded by kindred spirits. 

   If you would like to feel that way you should do any number of the following:

-Continue to read this blog.  

-Check out http://www.Bikemaine.org (or your local equivalent) and see what they’re working on. While you’re there maybe make a donation or consider joining. 

-Keep an eye out for upcoming bike events in your area. The swap is great fun, but I also love our local alley cat races. And the Gold Sprints was a blast-and-a-half. 

Gold Sprints stationary bike race at Oxbow Brewing

   

   This past Saturday the new bike club in town, the WHARF Cats, put on its first planned event at Oxbow Brewing on Washington Ave. They had two stationary bikes with identical gearing set up on rollers, which were hooked up to a computer. People could then race head-to-head in a virtual 250 meter race. The results were displayed on a large screen behind them, so the audience had to participate, shouting out the countdowns and wildly flailing their arms to tell the racers when they could stop pedaling. And that was necessary because there was no resistance on the rollers, so racers were really focusing on spinning their legs and not much else. 


   After each race the board would show your time and your top speed, which usually landed between 65 and 75mph. 

   Racers showed up and signed in between 7:00 and 8:00, brackets were filled in, and then the races began. I won my first race (as well as a preliminary test race…ahem) but lost my second bout. Although I lost to the eventual winner, so I can’t feel too bad. But then again, first prize was a brand new, unpainted track frame in whatever size you required, so I can feel a tiny bit bad.  


   There were buttons for the WHARF Cats and buttons for the Gold Sprints event itself. And some really cool wood cut printed posters. There are several talented artists and creative types in this new bike club, and it shows. 

   The group was in great spirits since the beer was amazing, as always.  And the space was really perfect for the event. I really enjoy Oxbow on a lot of levels, and I’m definitely not a big beer guy. But they do great things and I love the staff in general. Plus it feels like a speakeasy that I’m cool enough to know about. Just explaining its location to people makes them think I must be “in the know”. 

   Overall this was a wonderful, fun, successful event that helped benefit the Portland Gear Hub’s move from St John St to Washington Ave. They will be relocating to the old Casale’s Garage sometime next month. To see what other events theWHARF Cats have in the works you can keep an eye on this site or look around at all the bulletin boards in town on a regular basis. For now, at least.