Sunday, April 29, 2018

Trip Report: Joe's Ride - Olney, MD

Bottom Line

Fun, inexpensive party ride. Not a race - all riders expected to start together. I'll add this to my list of annual rides - it's a great way to start the season - but there are some things I hope will change.

The Five Ws

  • Joe Sanford died of brain cancer at 10 years old. 
  • Rides (45K, 30K, 10K) and a stride (5K). The 45K and 30K were $25, the 10K ride and 5K walk were $10, and there was a free kids' bike rodeo.
  • 2018 date was April 28 (reportedly earlier than in previous years). 
  • Start and End at Oakdale Emory Church - 3425 Emory Church Rd, Olney, MD.
  • The event is in memory of and benefits children in the Olney community who have died. Proceeds go to the Joseph Patrick Sanford Foundation.
  • Here's a link

What to Expect

The longer rides (30K and 45K) started at 0700. Seemed like fewer than 50 riders, maybe 35 or so. The scene is a party scene - there was a DJ, a couple of vendor booths, and a light breakfast. Check-in was super-smooth. I gave my name and they handed me my swag (a t-shirt, a tote bag, and a water bottle among other things), though the organizers had encouraged riders to have registration info - a QR code - ready.

We all set out after a brief prayer. The majority of the route in the beginning was roads that had been closed for the ride. After the 30K riders split off, roads were mostly lightly trafficked. The route was very well marked with the kind of signs you stick in the ground.

There were a LOT of farms, some woods, and some residential areas on the route. One house early on the route had people on the porch cheering us on. It was rolling hills throughout, with beautiful scenery. The day was really foggy, but that added to the beauty. There was one support stop, where the 30K and 45K diverged. Most of the roads were a little chewed up and in need of a fresh coat of asphalt, but that's to be expected this early in the season and on a rural route.

I got to see a beautiful woodpecker, wings out-stretched, fly in front of me. He was big - I had never seen one that close. The colors were unreal, like God went a little overboard with the Instagram filters. I wish I had a picture to share. Warning, though, farms in spring smell like, well, about like you'd expect. If you can abide the occasional smell of a freshly-fertilized farm, maybe stick to the trails around DC?

After the ride (it took me about 2 hours do do the 28 mile/45K) it was a party scene. Line dancing, talking, eating. I kind of wanted to do the Wiggle and the Macarena, but that part wrapped up by the time I got my bike shoes off and my slides on.

It seems like this is really a community event. I saw a lot of riders riding back home after their ride, and there was a lot of surprise when I said I was from Odenton, about a 40-minute drive away. One person said, "Oh, I've heard of Odenton..." Sometimes, I felt a little out of place - not from there, don't have a kid with cancer, didn't suffer the loss of a child, don't know Joe Sanford. I wanted to ask, "Am I the only one here who's just here for the ride?" but it seemed a callous thing to say.

Some Drawbacks

From most significant to least significant:

No cue sheet. Organizers assured me that I wouldn't get lost, as the route was well marked (it was, mostly) and that others on the ride would help me find my way, if I got lost (so, a group of four of us all ended up lost together, but not badly. There was either a sign missing, or a confusing sign, or one we all missed near the end of the ride. We ended up biking along a busy highway for a short distance, and then turning left off of said busy highway. It was dangerous and scary, but we all made it).

There was SAG, but no one gave out the SAG number. "If you need SAG, just wait, the car will be driving around on the route."

Balloon release. I know - this isn't really ride related. I'd love to see the organizers ditch the balloon release. Cuz, you know, wrecking the environment in loving memory of those who aren't around to see it wrecked... not cool. Plant a tree or release butterflies or something. Grief is real, losing a child is tragic, but there are better ways to honor that memory.

Registration. Registration wasn't through Active.com, but through SignMeUp. The technical process - navigating SignMeUp and PayPal and such - was kind of a pain. The other option was a snail-mailed registration sheet and a check.

No Gatorade or EnerGels - okay, this isn't even really a draw-back; I just thought I should warn you. There were delicious bagels and coffee at the start, and, c'mon, 28 miles. Do you really need Gatorade or EnerGels for 28 miles? No. Just fill the two water bottles you have on your bike, you'll be fine.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

NICA and Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League Information Night

I attended the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) information night on 20 January 2018 at Crofton Bike Doctor. Here are my notes.

NICA and its Maryland League

NICA focuses on making mountain biking fun for children in grades 6-12. Their values emphasize inclusiveness and positive support for physical, mental, and emotional health. Their program places a high value on safety and risk management.

NICA is a huge organization, and it is growing, as is the sport of mountain biking. They have 22 leagues across 21 states. 10,826 student athletes, and 4,389 volunteers. Leagues typically double in size between the first and second years.

The league being launched in Maryland, the Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League, will need adult volunteers as well as student athletes. A leadership commission has already been established, and includes cycling leaders from around the state. There is also an aggressive fundraising campaign. While most of the revenue will come from race registration, race registration will com after the need for funds to start. The Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League is a brand new 501(C), so donations are tax-deductible.

Practices and Competitions

Each student athlete who wants to compete can. There is no "bench," no try-outs, no cuts. All are welcome. Each competitor who finishes the course earns points for their team, even the slowest competitor.

Competitions are on single-track courses. Passing is done safely, and the focus on risk management means there are no overly technical courses - no biking along cliffs, no jumps, no drop-offs. The goal is to make competing fun for everyone, even brand-new cyclists. The challenge is often in how fast an athlete can complete the course.

Practice venues are determined by a team's coach or coaches. Not every practice will be a ride through the woods. There are lots of skills that can be honed in a field. Requirements focus on inclusiveness. There is no minimum number of practices per week and no maximum, but coaches are trained in risk management and are therefore wary of over-working student athletes.

Competitions are huge events. Often, 1,000 people arrive to compete, volunteer, or observe. Some competitions have to be in locations that not only offer a course without too many technical challenges, but that also have parking for hundreds of vehicles and nearby camping available. Competitions aim to be weekend-long events, with set-up on Friday night, non-competitive rides and further preparation on Saturday, and competitive events on Sunday.

All events are optional. Being on a team does not mean you have to go to every competition or every practice. Going to a competition does not mean you have to arrive on Friday night - if you can only make the competition on Sunday, you would be welcome.

Venues being examined for the 2018 season in Maryland are Fair Hill, Rosaryville State Park, Schaeffer Farm and Button Farm, and Brunswick. Dates of competitions will be finalized by the end of February.

Volunteering

There is a lot of support through NICA for adults who would like to help out with a team or with the league. While there are requirements for coaches, there is an opportunity for those who would like to try it out once without going through the qualification process. There are also opportunities to volunteer that do not involve getting on a bike. There is a leadership summit which will provide everything needed to become a coach. The cost of the summit is $90.

Coaching will require, among other things, a background check, a brief course in risk management (provided by NICA), and concussion training. There are levels of coaching, but for the first year, the teams can only be level one teams, so the coaches need only be level one coaches.

Teams

Teams are encouraged to be associated with a school, but there are also composite teams that include student athletes based on their geographic location or on other bases.

The required ratio of students to qualified coaches is 6:1.

Team dues are optional and there are very soft rules on how a team can function. The one hard and fast rule is that teams must have a team uniform. But even this is flexible - the uniform can be as simple as matching tee-shirts. NICA is negotiating with Hill Killer Apparel for helping teams design and produce uniforms.

Key Dates


  • March 17-18: Leaders' Summit
  • April 1: Registration and beginning of pre-season - teams meet informally
  • July 1: In-Season - teams meet regularly for practice and conditioning
  • September-October: Race Season - there will be 4 races in Maryland during the 2018 season. Typically there are 4-6 races in a season.

More Information

Visit www.marylandmtb.org to sign up for the Single Track Times.
Follow Maryland Mountain Bike on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @marylandmtb

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Changing My Definition of Femininity - An Ode to My Bike

When I first met her, I thought she was beautiful. I didn't know what kind of bicyclist I would be. Roads? Trails? Three miles a week, or more than that? I didn't know. But this bike... She was purple, with a step-though frame, and flowery vines painted on. Anyone who saw this bike would know it was a woman's bike, no question.

Few things give me as much joy as dismounting. I slow way down, pull one leg through the frame to sit side-saddle, then hop off and start walking. I imagine that I'm a slip of a girl - light and lithe, like a fairy princess - gently tripping along the ground. I always stick the landing, but... Well, at 5'9" and almost 200 lbs, I am nothing like a fairy princess.

I started taking longer and longer rides, working from "Whew! Three whole miles!!" to a 7-mile commute, then a 10-mile weekend ride, then 20 miles, then 30, and then I did a metric century (100km, or 62 miles). I started biking to work, and got panniers to put on her rack so I could carry my work clothes and towel - yes, my commute is far enough that I have to shower when I get there.
Gradually, I came to realize this was the wrong bike for most of what I do. She's heavy and bulky. And while her geometry allowed me to bike in a dress and maintain some modesty, it's not even slightly aerodynamic. I knew I needed a road bike - something faster, with more room at the top of the gears. But I loved my step-through frame. No road bike would have that, and I was bummed that I'd have to give it up.

My marvelous local bike store (Crofton Bike Doctor) set me up with a bike someone had traded in - a Specialized Ruby. A carbon frame with a nearly horizontal crossbar, pedals you have to clip into, and drop-down handlebars like a ram's horns. She's not a very girly color. But she is slender, and light, and nimble. And she's fast and strong. This bike wants to go uphill. She wants to beat the motorized vehicles on the downhill... and she gets much closer than my hybrid ever did.

With my hot pink helmet, my hot pink-trimmed biking shoes, and all the flowery, girly-colored spandex I can find, I think we're still feminine enough.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why I'm Not Excited About a Female Doctor Who

I wasn't shocked when I got the news that the next Doctor would be a woman, Broadchurch's Jodie Whittaker. People have been calling for it ever since River Song kicked so much butt, and there were announcements that no, the next Doctor would not be a female. So, having convinced eager fans it wasn't to be, the time was ripe. I wasn't shocked, but I was pleased. It really is about time.

You know what else didn't shock me? All the backlash.

So, here's why I'm not excited about a female Doctor Who:

  1. Because I'm a bicyclist, and I know that the world is full of bastards who oppose progress. Bike lanes have been proven, like this one in Atlanta, to increase safety on the roads, but sometimes the bastards complain loud enough, and progress is undone, like in Baltimore.
  2. Because even the people who claim they aren't bastards sometimes end up being bastards. We were very ready for a female President of the United States. Just not that one, said the bastards.* And in the end, it didn't happen. As if, as the linked article points out, we're holding out for the perfect woman president, perfect woman CEO, perfect woman actor, etc.
  3. Because the world is not kind to women. The internet is Bastards on the internet are often openly hostile to women. No, really, it's not like that for men. It's just because they're women.
  4. Because even Peter Capaldi drew a lot of criticism from DW fans, enjoyed a lukewarm reception, and look how long he lasted. Spoiler alert: it's three seasons. I'm not saying that the fans who didn't like him got him fired. Surely there are other reasons, right? I'm just saying, they didn't like him and he didn't last long.

How long could she last? Even if the number of fans who oppose her is small, even if she is the perfect woman actor, even if - relatively speaking - she isn't opposed much more than any man would be? Those hopes for little opposition aren't looking good, by the way. And she hasn't even gotten on the set, yet.

Don't get me wrong: The world needs her. Women need her. I need her. I hope like hell she outlasts the bastards.

TL;DR - the world is full of joy-stealing bastards who win all too often, and I'm old and jaded. I love that a talented female actress has been chosen for the part. It is about damn time. I just can't let my hopes get too high, yet. But I'll be the first to throw a fancy, themed party when she's three seasons and one episode in.

* Before you freak out, I'm not saying people who didn't vote for Hillary are bastards. I'm saying that when you say, "I want a woman _____, just not this woman, let's get another guy this time, maybe we'll try this little experiment again in a few years" you're a lying bastard. If you want a woman doctor/lawyer/president/actor/CEO, you have to go ahead and hire one, or else admit you don't really want one in the first place.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Different When They're Yours

"How was your day?" I asked my 14-year-old, as I settled into my chair.
"Meh." She shrugged and I sighed. Right. Open-ended questions.
"How was your commute?" We both ride our bikes to get where we're going. I do so when the weather's nice and it's not too much of an inconvenience. She does it every day, unless we offer her a ride in the car. That doesn't happen often. For her, biking means freedom and speed.
"Oh, my God! I was coming up to this crosswalk, so I slowed down, and this guy in his car on his phone almost..." I had opened the floodgate.

I pasted what I hoped was a mildly concerned look on my face as I listened to her talk about her near-miss. Some one wasn't paying attention and got way too close, drawing the ire of the crossing-guards and a lecture. I reviewed traffic patterns with her - people biking are safest when they behave in traffic like people driving, but that can be difficult to do if you've never driven. She was where she should have been, doing what she should have been doing. It was like any other near-miss, only it wasn't, because it was my daughter.

I knew a few things immediately. 1) No, I couldn't go kill someone. 2) Of course she would ride tomorrow (I reminded myself that this was a good thing). 3) We couldn't tell my husband.

When I started biking more, I would come home after a ride, still hopped-up on adrenaline. My husband would ask how my ride was, and I would recount all the details of whatever incident could have put me in the hospital, but didn't.

I should tell you, my husband is an avid runner. He's had his own near-misses. He's supportive of my biking to a fault; he knows how important his running is to him. He also knows about drivers and attention and infrastructure for anything other than cars.

I would watch his face as I vented my anger at the person driving. The carefully controlled, mildly concerned expression, the shrug, and the "Yeah - drivers. You'll have that" comment. I could tell, though, that he didn't like it. I had put him in a tough spot. He couldn't tell me not to ride; he knew riding on the sidewalk wasn't an option for me (it's not legal here and is rarely a safer, much less a more enjoyable option); and yet...

Eventually I stopped sharing my stories. If pressed, I'd say something like, "I just need to review some footage from my ride." I ride with a Fly6 - it captures video of things going on behind you while also acting as one of the best tail-lights I've ever seen. Sometimes, the close-call isn't as bad on video as it was when you were riding. Or that's what you can tell yourself.

How can you protect the people you love and allow them their freedom? Where's the balance point?

When my daughter turned 15, she started a new job about three miles away. She could ride her bike, though, unlike her route to school, her route to work would take her along some of the busier streets. I upgraded her lights. We talked about the importance of paying attention and route options.

Her dad said we'd drive her home at the end of her day. I insisted her lights were good enough. He insisted we'd pick her up. As the days got longer, I insisted that it wouldn't even be dark when her shift ended. He insisted we'd give her a ride.

Her birthday isn't until the winter. But maybe, for my birthday, I can get her her own Fly6. Maybe the newer, more expensive, front-facing Fly12 to go with it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Meaning of Travel

When I think about the Muslim ban, I think about the vacation we almost didn't take in 2007 or 2008.

We didn't have much money, but I was able to put four round-trip tickets onto a credit card for us to go visit my parents on the West Coast. I had bought the tickets using one of those bargain sites and when we got to the airport, the confirmation number I had wouldn't pull up any flight information. I found out from the attendant behind the counter that my flight was actually not leaving from Charlotte, but from a smaller airport about an hour and a half's drive away. Our plane was to leave in an hour and a half. We weren't going to make it.

With no money to buy new tickets and no refund available, I knew I was defeated. I would have to explain to my kids that our week-long vacation wouldn't happen. That despite weeks of careful planning, they wouldn't see their grandparents for another year or more. That all my careful shopping still meant $1,650 went down the drain, and there were sooo many places it could have gone. That I wouldn't see my mother.

We would have to just go back home. What would we do for that week? How could I entertain us with almost no money? What hope did I have of rescuing that vacation without feeling the constant pain of missing my parents? What would I tell them?

I did the only thing I could: I started weeping. Nasty-crying in the middle of the arrivals gate. My kids were embarrassed and confused. My husband was embarrassed and powerless. The attendants wouldn't make eye-contact. It was awful.

My story has a happy ending. After a few minutes of sobbing, an attendant hurried over to us. Didn't I get the phone call? They had left messages on our home phone. We had been driving. The flight that was supposed to leave from the smaller airport was cancelled. We would have to re-book at no additional charge. They had a flight that would leave in two hours. There were seats available for us.

So, imagine that it hadn't been a year or two, but several. A decade. Two decades. Imagine that it wasn't a 6-hour flight, but a 12-hour flight. Imagine that it wasn't a careless oversight on the part of the traveler, but a revoked promise on the part of the government. Imagine getting all the way there, and being told you'd have to start over in a few months. And imagine that "just going back home" wasn't an option.

I can't. I can't imagine that.

That's why we need to work to ensure those who were told they could get here can do so. I hope they get their happily ever after, too.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Lesson in Control and Release

I found myself praising my daughter for learning a lesson in lane control and release, but it was really that she taught me the lesson. (Spoiler alert; no daughters were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Most sites seem to call this "lane control" rather than "control and release," but what often happens over the course of a ride is both control and release. A person on a bicycle takes the middle of the right lane - rather than riding on the very outside edge - in order to control traffic behind them. When the lane widens, or a shoulder or bike lane are added to the lane, the person on a bicycle can move over to allow traffic behind them to pass safely.



In Anne Arundel County, bike lanes, shoulders, choke-points, and narrowing occur at random. The bad news is that people on bicycles sometimes have to take an aggressive stance to prevent people in automobiles from trying to "squeeze by." The good news is, it probably won't be long before the bike lane or shoulder magically reappears. (This is all bad news for people on bikes, who don't appreciate disappearing bike lanes or random choke points like the one below.)


An example of an AA County choke point. It's supposed to "calm traffic," but doesn't actually impede automobile traffic in any way, and is the opposite of "calming" for people on bicycles.

One road in particular tends to suffer from narrowing and widening lanes, as well as drivers in a hurry. In places, the shoulder can be measured in millimeters, while in other places there's a shoulder wide enough that it might be another lane (though it isn't marked as such). In much of the road, the lane is too narrow to safely be shared, but just wide enough to be tempting.


It was in this section that my daughter tried - unsuccessfully - to control the lane. She was passed by people in cars trying not to cross the double-yellow, because there was oncoming traffic.

When I bike this road, I always remind myself to put on my big-girl pants, steel myself, and take that lane. People in cars on this road will always try to share the lane with me if I don't take all of it, and that's a pretty bad situation for a person on a bike to be in. (Check out that first link in this post. No, really. It won't take long, I promise. Here it is again.)

My daughter's experience is one I've had. While I was busy clucking my tongue that she had to learn that lesson the hard (thankfully, not the hardest) way, I forgot that I was still learning it, too. Sometimes it's helpful to hear someone you love talk about a shared experience. It's a reminder to do what you need to do to stay safe, and validation that you need to do it. Thanks, Daughter.