Coffeeneuring #1: There Ought to be an App

dark roast at La Colombe

Washington, DC, has an endless appetite for coffee. While there are tons of coffee shops downtown, it’s not always easy to get a seat in one. And the more photogenic the shop, the more crowded it is. For if there’s one thing that millennials like more than coffee, it’s pictures of themselves drinking coffee.

Case in point: La Colombe. Super-cute shop with great coffee. However, on the weekends, all the chairs and tables are taken by young people taking selfies with soy lattes. Shakes first at cloud! If there’s one thing I can’t stand is getting a cappuccino and then finding every table taken by chatty youths. I prefer to drink my coffee in silence, possibly with a book.

Fortunately, this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven coffee shops over seven weeks) includes an important rule change – weekday rides are now allowed! Coffeeneuring is no longer just a weekend activity but can occur on any day of the week.

So, on an overcast Friday afternoon, I took advantage of the new proviso to visit La Colombe in Chinatown. There are three La Colombes in DC but I guessed the Eye Street venue would be the least crowded. Two miles later, I was enjoying a simple mug of coffee, able to read in peace while sipping a dark roast. And when I came out, the sun had emerged for the first time in days. It’s a coffeeneuring miracle!

This trip got me wondering: I used the Spotcycle app before I left home to make sure that the neighborhood Capital Bikeshare station had bikes. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something similar for coffee shops? There should be an app that tells me which coffee shops have available seating. Sensors could be attached to chairs and the data could be reported real-time, like bikeshare does. I’m sure some nerds could figure it out, fueled by enough coffee.

 

Like Bikes and Coffee? Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

23322185411_eaaf6fd22a_kCoffeeneuring has returned! For those not familiar with this bike activity, it’s a challenge to ride your bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. The Coffeeneuring Challenge runs from October 7 – November 10.

Coffeeneuring is something that I look forward to every year. As a lover of bikes and coffee, my motto is: Always Be Coffeeneuring. It’s a caffeinated, two-wheel lifestyle for me, something that I did years before I even knew there was such as thing as coffeeneuring.

Bikes and coffee are perfect together, especially when the weather is cool. What else are you going to do on a Sunday? Watch the Redskins lose? Better to hop on your bike and go explore someplace new. Listen to the leaves crunch under your wheels. Catch up with a friend. Sip cappuccino outside on a chilly October afternoon.

You won’t be alone. Coffeeneuring is a worldwide activity, with people taking part in this challenge across the United States, Europe and other parts of the globe.

And you’ll be doing it for more than yourself. More bikes means safer biking for all. By taking a coffee ride, you’re making a statement and encouraging others to hit the roads or trails on their bikes.

Banish those fall blues away with caffeine and exercise. Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

 

Happy Birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

me and bikeshareLaunched six years ago today, Capital Bikeshare changed the way DC gets around. These ubiquitous red bike bikes revolutionized biking in this city, bringing cycling to the masses. Biking is no longer just the provence of fearless young males. With thousands of Capital Bikeshare bikes on the streets, it’s now something that everyone does – from office workers commuting downtown to tourists visiting from overseas.

More bikes means safer biking for all. Capital Bikeshare made drivers accustomed to seeing bikes on the streets. This not only made the streets safer for cyclists, it made things safer for pedestrians, by forcing drivers to slow down and be slightly more aware. God knows that the city doesn’t enforce traffic laws. But the presence of people on big red bikes has a “traffic calming” effect that has probably saved lives.

I was an intermittent CaBi user until this year. Joining in February, I’ve already racked up 286 miles on bikeshare. Most of the these miles were back and forth trips to the Metro, in which I used bikeshare for the “last mile” between public transportation and my home. While I have a bike, I also use CaBi for trips where I don’t want to take my real bike. Some examples:

  • Don’t want to leave my bike at Union Station where it could get stolen – take bikeshare.
  • Metro breaks down – take bikeshare.
  • Going out for drinks – take bikeshare to bar, Uber home
  • It’s raining/snowing and don’t want to get my bike dirty – take bikeshare.

It’s very handy to have this network of bikes available to you any time of the day or night. Capital Bikeshare is ideal for a compact city like DC, where parking is limited.

Spotcycle is key to the regular CaBi user, providing a real-time map of bikeshare stations and available bikes. I use it every day.

One more thing: those bikes are damn attractive. The beauty of bikeshare is part of their appeal. They’ve made DC a better-looking place and are an irresistable photo subject. Here’s a selection of bikeshare photos over the years. Happy birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

bikeshare girl

bikeshare in the snow fall bikeshare at Navy Yard bikeshare and tulips Santa bikeshare bikeshare in snow cherry blossom bikesharetour de bike lane bikeshare 28891575276_8483e9f826_o

 

Tour de Bike Lane Cheers on City Cyclists

tour de bike lane

Sponsored by the Awesome Foundation (really), Tour de Bike Lane is designed to cheer on bike commuters as if they were in the Tour de France.

Bells, horns, vuvuzela, cheers, glitter and even free flowers greeted very surprised people biking up the 15th St bike lane in Washington, DC, on Friday, August 5th.

I heard about the event thanks to a Washington Post article. I bike 15th St every day of the week. Anything that gets more people biking is a good thing. More biking means safer biking because it habituates crazed Maryland drivers to cyclists. Maybe it will get them to slow down and be more cautious. Maybe!

DC is filled with events for people who bike, everything from WABA’s group rides to the rolling carnival known as DC Bike Party. It’s what makes biking in the city so much fun.

See more photos from Tour de Bike Lane.

Will Bike for Virtual Trophies

Will bike for virtual trophies. The thought occurred to me as as I biked up the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda. Ordinarily, I’d ride up to Bethesda, look at some books at Barnes and Noble, then turn around and fly back down the trail to DC.

But Strava was in the back of the mind. The fitness social network has occupied an increasing chunk of it this year. I even purchased a premier membership to better track my rides and runs.

I couldn’t just bike to Bethesda – I was being tracked! I had to put more miles in, especially after I saw some of my Strava friends off on a hundred-mile ride to Sugarloaf Mountain. What would they think of my little jaunt to the book store?

Nice people, Mary and Ed. But following them on Strava will make you feel like a slacker.
Nice people, Mary and Ed. But following them on Strava will make you feel like a slacker.

It was a lovely day anyway. I didn’t even stop in Bethesda but followed the Capital Crescent Trail until it connected with Rock Creek Park. Then I took that back home, racking up 26 miles and 22 different Strava medals, lol. Strava is more generous than a helicopter mom handing out post-soccer treats.

Stopping the Strava for a selfie in Rock Creek Park.
Stopping the Strava for a selfie in Rock Creek Park.

I once scoffed at the ride-tracking service, thinking it was only for MAMILs. I’m a slow-cyclist, more apt to bike a couple miles for coffee then do a century with a pack of lycra-clad men (yuck).

But then Strava started giving me more trophies than a Millennial spelling bee, awarding me Personal Records, Second and Third Place medals for biking tiny little segments of DC. Even though it was absurd, I felt honored to achieve a new record for biking a .7 mile segment of 15th St, giving me the self-esteem of a selfie-obsessed teen as she passes the thousand-follower mark on Instagram.

We respond best to rewards, even virtual ones, a topic that Jane McGonigal explores in SuperBetter. I saw her speak at SXSW ten years ago. Her message stuck with me because she changed my mind about online gaming.

McGonigal extolled the virtues of gaming and the reasons for their appeal. Unlike life, games have fixed rules and rewards. It’s no surprise that people find more meaning in games than our chaotic and uncertain world.

Lessons learned from games are now being applied to real-world challenges. It’s called the gamification of life. From the Apple Watch to Pokemon Go, gamification encourages us to be our best selves.

This is bewildering for a GenXer. We never got trophies! Unless, you won, of course.

But, now, with apps like Strava, I can win scores of trophies, like the only child of suburban parents in Montessori school. Game on, Strava, game on!

Del Ray Ramble: Going Back for Biscuits

I'm in historic, sweaty Del Ray.
I’m in historic, sweaty Del Ray.

Record heat is predicted this weekend. But last weekend was plenty hot for me, so I got my biking in early Sunday morning.

I was up at 7 and out the door not too long after. Sunday morning is the best time to bike in DC, with very little traffic in the city and before the tourists arrive. I cruised over the Memorial Bridge and on to the Mount Vernon Trail. Destination: Alexandria.

Approaching the boardwalk on Daingerfield Island, a cyclist going the opposite way shouted an incoherent warning to me. Wonder what that was about?

Then I saw:

Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.
Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.

There had been a storm overnight, leaving a massive tree branch across the trail. The bridge was damaged – chunks were missing from it and debris was scattered everywhere. I walked my bike through this mess, stepping over the missing boards.

After having coffee at the Starbucks in Old Town, I decided to take a different route home, to avoid the tree across the trail.

From Strava: detail of route.
From Strava: detail of route.

Cameron makes a nice alternative to King Street, a low-traffic route that led me up from the river and to the Potomac Yards Trail, which parallels the train tracks into DC. I followed this new trail for about a mile before detouring into Del Ray on Monroe Av.

There, I passed a beautiful-looking Swing’s Coffee across from a park – that’s where I should’ve had breakfast! I filed that way for next time.

Making a right on Mount Vernon (the avenue, not the trail), I idled through Del Ray. It’s like hipster Alexandria. It was early but there was a line to get in to a place called Stomping Grounds. If only I knew they had biscuits! Another place filed away for next time.

My bike in historic Del Ray.
My bike in historic Del Ray.

Mount Vernon takes you back to Four Mile Run. Along the way, I passed this bus, which I found very interesting. Traveling the country in a rolling coffee house – that sounds like a dream.

Bus owned by Cllegro Coffee Company.
Bus owned by Allegro Coffee Company.

Rather than take Four Mile Run to the Mount Vernon Trail, I went through Crystal City, stopping to take in this spooky bit of art near some new apartments off Route 1.

eyes watching you
eyes watching you

Then I got back on the Mt Vernon Trail and returned to DC, just as buses began disgorging hordes of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial. The day only got hotter after that. Glad that I got in my Del Ray ramble early.

I’m going back for biscuits.

Ivy City: The End of the Line

Ivy City ride detail
Ivy City ride detail

I originally only knew Ivy City as the end of the line, the final destination of the D4 bus that I would sometimes ride downtown. “Ivy City – wonder where that is?” I would think to myself as the bus chugged its way through K Street traffic,

If you live in Northwest DC, vast sections of the city exist only as vague and mysterious notions, sort of like that infamous view of the world from New York poster. Of the other quadrants of the city, you know Southeast as Capitol Hill, Southwest as the place with the brutalist architecture and Northeast… what the hell is in Northeast?

But it’s a big city, bigger than you imagined, sprawling north and east into neighborhoods that look like suburbia and others that look like Newark.

The best way to discover it is by bike. As Hemingway said:

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best

On a bike, you have a chance to look around in a way that you can’t on a car. It was by bike that I first encountered Ivy City, during last year’s Plaid Ride, sponsored by BicycleSpace. Cyclists dressed in plaid biked down 18th Street, then east across the city on K, before a gentle incline on West Virginia Avenue past Gallaudet University.

When we got to Ivy City, it was an industrial zone of razor-wire fences and and buildings that were being repurposed. BicycleSpace wanted us to see where their new space was going to be.

I recognized the old Hecht’s Warehouse and my mental map of the city reoriented itself – we’re off New York Avenue, I realized. The Hecht’s building is a landmark if you’re driving on New York Av.

Ivy City is being redeveloped. According to the Washington Post, it’s the next cool neighborhood you haven’t heard of.

Hecht's Warehouse

This pocket-sized industrial district is now home to a brewery, a gin distillery and hot yoga. You can also pay a fortune for a loft in the old Hecht’s building too.

It’s also home to a new BicycleSpace store. I biked into Northeast to check it out and Ivy City.

I was also tempted by bike deals. They had a Jamis Commuter on sale which was sadly gone by the time I got there. No major loss – my Specialized Sirrus is really similar to the Jamis, even if it isn’t as cute.

interior of BicycleSpace - Ivy City

seats

pretty little bikes all in a row

I ogled the Bromptons, as I do, lusting after these British folding bikes, but then was massively distracted by the Salsa Marrakesh. Such a solidly-built bike, it looks like it could survive the apocalypse. If I ever drop out of society, and travel the world on two wheels, I will do it on one of these bikes.

Ivy City may be the next cool neighborhood but it’s still the end of the line to me. Not near the Metro, and hemmed in by busy New York Av, I don’t get the attraction – there’s a lot of concrete and not many trees. And paying Logan Circle prices to live there? Doesn’t make sense to me but DC real estate left the territory of rational explanation a long time ago.

At BicycleSpace, I bought socks. Figured I had come this far, may as well get something. Then I headed back downtown, where I could get lunch and coffee.

DC to Leesburg by Bike and Metro: A Multimodal Adventure

Last weekend, I rode to Reston, taking a 50-mile bike ride from DC into the outer suburbs of the nation’s capital.

I wanted to ride the WO&D Trail again but wanted to skip over the parts of the trail that I had already done. I would use Metro for that purpose, since you can take your bike on the train on the weekends. With the new Silver Line running out to Reston, it seemed like the perfect solution, allowing me to leapfrog ahead to where I left off last weekend. Bikes and trains – a perfect multimodal adventure!

But, of course, there was track work on the weekend, as always with Metro. Orange line trains were running only every 20 minutes and the Silver Line was terminating at Ballston rather than running into DC.

Bike over I-66

I checked wmata.com for the next Orange Line train before leaving home. I hurried to Farragut West and was so proud of myself for making the train!

Unfortunately, I blanked on switching to the Silver Line at Ballston and so just stayed on the train to the end of the line in Vienna. Then I biked through the neighborhoods and back to the WO&D.

It’s a beautiful trail that just gets better the further west you go. Every few miles, there’s another town, with a brewery, bike shop and coffee place. I don’t know how people bike the length of it without stopping multiple times. I biked through Reston, Herndon and Sterling without stopping.

Herndon on the WO&D Trail

But when I smelled the barbecue at Carolina Brothers in Ashburn, I had to stop. Located right next to the trail, it’s awfully tempting.

I actually went past it, thought about it and then turned around and came back. I’m glad I did. It’s a great spot. Casual, fast and filled with cyclists enjoying a mild Sunday afternoon.

Carolina Brothers BBQ

Cyclists passes lots of bikes at Carolina Brothers BBQ

I prefer my biking with a side of BBQ #bikedc

Once you get past Ashburn, the trail really opens up. With its long straightaways and miles between road crossings, it attracts the road biking crowd.

WO&D trail is long and straight

For me, I kept on to Leesburg, where I stopped for coffee, of course! My motto: Always Be Coffeeneuring. I had cappuccino at King Street Coffee along with a new doggie friend. Cute place and excellent coffee.

Coffeeneuring with a new doggie friend #bikedc #coffee #coffeeneuring

Moi in Leesburg

Purcellville and the end of the trail was another ten miles. I decided to save that for a future trip. I turned around and headed back, passing many tempting trailside breweries.

This time I would catch the Silver Line in Reston. The Wiehle Avenue station is right off the trail, though you have to navigate a bit of construction to find your way into it. The station was really anticlimactic. I was expecting something more glamorous. But it looked just any other Metro station complete with a 1970s-era train waiting at the platform. Got on the train and sat there for a good twenty minutes, along with tourists coming from Dulles. Yup, it’s always this way, I wanted to tell them.

The Silver Line train then slowly chugged its way past Tyson’s Corner then down the middle of I-66 before ending in Ballston. Getting off the train, a crowd of confused passengers waited on the platform. The next train into DC wasn’t for another 20 minutes (at least).

Feel like I'm cheating on #bikedc but I wanted to check out the Silver Line so put my bike on the Metro at Wiehle Av for the journey back to DC. #va #metro #wmata

Abandoning train, returning to #bikedc

Thank god I had a bike! I abandoned Metro and headed for the Custis Trail, flying downhill into Rosslyn, then over the Memorial Bridge to home.

Lesson Learned: Using Metro to leapfrog ahead on the WO&D would be great if the transit system actually worked. But a bike is more reliable.

 

Let’s Ride to Reston!

It was one of those perfect Sundays in April that forced you outside. Tulips were blooming, the skies were cloud-free and the temperature was inching toward 60 degrees.

No way was I staying inside. I wanted the WO&D Trail, an old rail route that runs for 45 miles and escapes the DC metro sprawl. The furthest I’ve biked on the trail was Vienna. This time, I would go further.

And with my Specialized Sirrus tuned up by Bike Rack, I had the perfect vehicle to get me there. So I biked and biked and biked – up the long hill in Rosslyn, around the fun corkscrew on the Custis Trail, and then the ascent into Arlington, Falls Church and Vienna. Then I kept on to Reston, where I had lunch in their ersatz town center, and turned around.

Strangely, for me, I hardly took any pictures. I was focused on riding.

lovely day to bike to Vienna

After 33 miles, I need this to get me back to DC #bikedc #igdc

On the return leg, I started to flag near Vienna so I stopped for cappuccino at Caffe Amouri. The great thing about the WO&D is that every few miles there are breweries, restaurants, bike shops and coffee places. The caffeine was enough to push me back down the trail, where I got to fly downhill on the Custis Trail and back to DC.

I returned exhausted, a little sunburned and strangely un-hungry. I’m not that much of a Strava fanatic (it’s a fitness-tracking app) but I’m embedding this ride because 50 miles – that’s a record for me!

The Year of the Capital Weather Gang

2015 was the perfect storm, in which my love of digital photography met the opportunity to be featured in the Capital Weather Gang. I was already wandering around the city taking photos so why not submit them to the Washington Post’s weather blog? By the end of the year, my photos were appearing about once a week on the site.

Here are some of my favorite CWG photos, along with notes about how, when and where they were created.

A little bit of color on a snowy day on Rhode Island Av

This photo was featured in a roundup of snow photos in February. It was one of the first photos I took with the iPhone 6 and it stunned me. There is such a qualitative leap from the iPhone 5 to 6. The 6 is so good that it’s become tough for me to distinguish DSLR shots from iPhone 6 shots. Especially when you get soft, bright light like under an overcast sky with fresh snow. I kept taking photos until my hands froze.

15th St Cycletrack is now a tulip-track

While we didn’t get much snow, it was a very long and cold winter, the year of the polar vortex. When spring finally arrived, I had tulipmania. Everywhere you looked, flowers were blooming, like this photo I captured for an April CWG forecast. Landscape photos look better with people in them so I waited until someone biked by on 15th Street – this is just a block from the Washington Post building.

Bikeshare, tulips an the Capitol

And more flowers and bikes on the following day.  

Look out - mutant spores along the cycletrack #bikedc #pollen #igdc

You tend to return to the same spot for pictures, like this photo from May. I like this spot along the cycletrack, especially when flowers are in the foreground.

One interesting sidewalk sale #igdc #dc #dupontcircle

This Instagram photo from May is one of those moments that you never forget. It was a Saturday and I was returning from Glen’s Garden Market. I was on my bike and had a six-pack of beer in my backpack. I passed this cinematic scene on 19th Street and turned around and came back to get a picture of it. The faded brick, the overgrown vegetation, the funky yard sale – it’s everything I like about city life in one photo.    

CCT detour in Georgetown

I take a lot of pictures of bikes. Most of my CWG photos were taken either while running or biking around the city, like this photo from June.  It’s from the end of the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown.

Silver Spring on a blue sky day

Little-known fact: I work for the National Weather Service. (Ironic/fitting that I have so many photos in CWG? A little of both.) I’m a contractor in Silver Spring. I am not a meteorologist nor do I play one on TV. This is from the 18th floor of NOAA Building 2, looking toward the Discovery building, on a very hot day in July.

Wilson Bridge

I don’t take a lot of black and white but, when I do, it’s architecture, like this photo of the Wilson Bridge from September.

Cyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue

It was a long and lingering fall, starting in mid-October and stretching nearly to the end of the year. This is the car-free 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, home to you know who.

Key Bridge on a mild Veterans Day

This is a non-iPhone photo. Can you tell? Late in the year, I got a deal on a refurbished Canon Rebel SL1 and took this photo of the Key Bridge in November. The camera can do things the iPhone can’t, like zoom, it’s sharper, better exposure, etc… but it can’t fit in my pocket.

December cherry bossoms

I have a rival. It’s Mary Gersemalina, the Coffeeneur! When she’s not organizing bike/coffee challenges, she runs and bikes around the city taking photos. Her trademark is something I can’t do: jumping. For a while toward the end of the year, Capital Weather Gang was the Joe and Mary show, with one of the other of us every week. After she posted a photo of blooming blossoms by the Washington Monument, I took this Canon SL1 photo of cherry blossoms in December.

I’ve been asked more than once: do you get paid for your shots? I do not. Then why do I do it? I enjoy wandering the city and taking photos. I’m doing that no matter what. Submitting the photos to Capital Weather Gang is easy to do via Flickr. And I like seeing my photos in the (online) paper.

Also, I enjoy sharing my view of the city. I want to show people that there’s a Washington beyond the monuments.

There’s a lot of bikes in my photos. You take photos of what you enjoy. DC is a city that bikes – from tourists tottering on red Capital Bikeshare bikes to the flood of commuters down the 15th Street cycletrack every morning. BikeDC we call it, a two-wheeled community of people who bike. I’m happy to create images that share this community with the readers of the Washington Post. And I plan on continuing to do so in 2016. Here’s to the new year!