Monday, October 28, 2013

Coffeeneuring Rd 3: If I were a rich man...

Despite taking last week off, I remain in the running for this years Coffeeneuring challenge. Even though last weekend I spend many miles on the bike, even while carrying a coffee mug, I failed to drink and ride at the same time.

See that battered thermos on the downtube? It's empty.
Coffeeneuring Fail.

Fall is going in a rush around here. Every morning it stays dark a bit longer, and temps stay a bit lower. Yesterday was a welcome break from the chill, we actually got into the 60s, which meant it was time for a picnic with the kids. A few sandwiches, quick scouring of the pantry for portable kid food, and we were rolling.

Coffee Shop Without Walls
Entry #5
Lat: 43.070
Lon: -96.166
2.5 Miles
My lookout, whose sole mission is to keep both eyes on mom.
Though the day had been warm, by the time we headed out around 5, the sun was racing to the horizon and the temp was falling. After riding through a local prairie restoration area, we arrived at a small park, simply known as Children's Park. (Apparently it was once known as Bear Park due to the bear kept in a cage on site. That attraction was mercifully put to an end a few decades ago, something to do with a drunk loosing a portion of his hand late one night)

My daughter, (riding in the back) does in fact have a head, she was just very
intent on watching the leaves running underneath her.
Since it was late, I opted out of an evening coffee for trying some yerba mate that my wife is fond of. In taste I found it a strange mixing of flavors, tasting a bit like coffee, a bit like chocolate, but also tea like. But it was hot and welcome on a cool evening.

I can handle this. Take bag, put in hot water, wait.
My wife and I managed to keep both kids held down long enough to get some food in them (both oddly fond of the smoked kippers) before the lure of the playground got the better of them.

Low-light hip shot. I'm not to be confused with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

My wife and I are not rich by American standards. Our income labels us as lower-middle/working class. We keep up with the bills and manage to stash a little bit away each month. Our cars are both over 100,000 miles. Re-shingling our roof last year ran us dangerously close to the red. Our clothes are almost all second hand. The cargo bike was the first wholly "new" thing we had bought in years.

Did you know I'm a rich man? Filthy, disgustingly, nauseatingly rich. I take long rides, luxuriating in quiet roads bordered by fields bursting with record-breaking crops. I live in a beautiful little town with almost no crime, blocks away from two excellent schools, with wonderful parks within a 5 min walk, a new library a half mile away, all for a well-below average cost of living fueled by a local economy that powered right through the recent recession. I spend my free time chasing two curious, trouble making children, both healthy and growing like weeds. I've got a beautiful wife who has stuck with me for 5 wonderful (sometimes turbulent) years, a wife who loves to ride and supports me in my obsession with bikes. I'm rich because my house is filled with the sounds of her playing the violin and the squeals and peals of her young students. I am the 1%, I eat tomatoes straight off the vine, make my coffee black, drink cider pressed from my parents trees, run down paths with only the moon to light my way, see the sunrise each morning, ride like I own the road (because I do), punish my legs and lungs because I can, beat my body stronger so that I can one-arm bench press my wriggling giggling daughter and live to see my son have toddling rug rats of his own.

So when the bank account gets lean, when I cannot afford the bikes I sell, when I walk through homes with rooms larger than my whole house, when I wish for what I do not have, I remember that I am the wealthy, the spoiled, the upper crust, the rich.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Coffeneuring: Rd 2

As the days get shorter and the mornings increasingly grow frosty, the appeal of a hot cup of coffee gets stronger. So strong that an otherwise well-adjusted cyclist will voluntarily ride out long before the sun is up. I will also admit that even though I only need to do one coffee stop per week, I'm front loading this challenge. By the end (even the middle) of this challenge we could be getting snow in the Fields of Dreams, so I've no guarantee that weather will be on my side in the coming weeks.

On to coffee. 

251 North Main Ave. #301
2.5 Miles

Saturday is bike shop day. I work part time at Brothers Bike Shop, mostly as an apprentice bike wrench. As I headed out for coffee, I drug our Sun Atlas Cargo along. Recently, the Sun had been exhibiting very odd behavior in the headset. Despite all my adjusting, the steering was stiff and the fork was rattling in the headset. I finally realized that a small spacing ring had gone missing during one of the disassembly sessions that the Sun had undergone in the last weeks. Without that ring, the spacers would contact the top of the headset without hitting the bearing, meaning that I had steering that was both stiff and loose. Thinking that I would save some time by dropping the Sun off at the shop on my way out to coffee, I pulled the longtail alongside my Schwinn World Tourist. I've towed bikes this way many times before, but this did not go well at all. A 50 lb longtail with stiff steering running alongside is a recipe for a wipe out, and I had to admit defeat after only a block. Mercifully, Brothers is a short walk away.

Left: Minivan.
Right: Dedicated muffin hauler. (The Schwinn has a porter rack
which I can get 2 doz  large muffins on) 
Released from the burden of the family beast of burden, I was free to find some coffee. While we lack a Portland or DC grade concentration of coffee shops, the few we have become institutions for their rarity.
Yep, still dark.
Casey's has been tormenting my town with delicious smells since 1946. They're mostly a bakery, but they do carry coffee, and most importantly for you, they enable me to tell you about the joy of stroopwafels. Unfortunately I was so filled with stroopwafel joy that I took no photo of the interior of the bakery, but gleefully fled the scene. This means that all food photos take place inside my home shop, not to be confused with the interior of a bakery.

While I cannot get fresh made stroopwafels, the imported versions are the perfect coffee snack. Since a stroopwafel is basically a thin waffle with caramel inside, a little heat makes them perfectly gooey.
Unforgettable snack. Forgettable Coffee

Take the lid off the coffee, place stroopwafel over cup. Doing it this way keeps the coffee warm, and in a few minutes you've got...
...something wonderfully gooey.

Now that we've had breakfast, and it's finally getting light out, here's the shop:
It's basically a small two story garage, about 24x36.
My Saturday office.
It has all the usual fixtures, though we mostly work in bike sales/repair, not so much in the apparel department. After working in an office all week, working here is a wonderful change of pace. Here I feel the work I do is a benefit for the people who come here. Plus it's a hobby that I turned into paycheck, so it's not altogether altruistic.
I don't know if it's possible to take a picture of a bike shop
without it looking claustrophobic.
We do manage to get a ton of bikes in a pretty small space. We carry lots of hybrids, entry level road and MTBs, and some city bikes.
I like to get people on everyday bikes. If you're looking for advice on Di2, better go someplace else. If your looking to do RAGBRAI, run errands, just ride around, we're your shop.
If you're in NW Iowa, come check us out!
(Oh, and I did get that steering sorted out on the Atlas. Longtails are a bear to get on the stand though.)

#4 Coffee Shop Without Walls
Lat: 43.08°
3.5 mi
Whoever says Iowa is flat...
is telling the truth.
I know that it's easy to knock on Iowa for its lack of hills, endless fields, and general dullness. Now I've grown up in this area, so it's easy for me to get defensive. To appreciate this part of the midwest, you need to slow down. This is a subtle country, if you're going 60 you'll never notice the small variations, you'll just want the ride to be over.

I recommend waking up early, go someplace quiet with an open view. Don't talk, maybe bring something hot to drink, and just watch the world wake up. You'll find that the stars disappear in a quiet rush, that the one lone dove cooing in the dark will be drowned out by the robins and blackbirds getting up with the sun. You can hear dairy farms miles off start milking, hear the industrial park spooling up for another day.

Something subtle, something hot.
I think that any place is better appreciated if you just sit down and be silent. The world is noisy enough on its own.
If you get snuck up on in Iowa, it's your own fault. Halfway between that tree and the light pole are two little
 dots on the landscape. They're water towers, eight miles away.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Coffeeneuring: Rd 1!

Courtesy the inestimable MG of Chasing Mailboxes, it is my pleasure to bring you round one of my coffee hunting exploits. The Rules can be found here.
Bit of a background; I live here:
My room is just to the left of the "F."
Now, while small rural towns are wonderful to bike in since everything is close together by default, it does present a challenge when trying to find coffee shops. To be clear, there are exactly two coffee shops in town, only one of which you can order an espresso at. That's why I was really happy that MG added the "Coffee Shop without Walls" as an option this year, but we'll get to that later.

Coffee Shop #1

85 W 1st St. 
Sioux Center

One great thing, one good thing, one bleh thing.
Collected poems by Wislawa Szymborska, 5 sp shifter by Suntour, Mocha
For an opener I went to Bulter's, which is about two blocks from the elevator heading up this post. Butler's has been around for about 8 years. It was one of the first Starbucks style coffee shops in town. It's been through a number of ownership changes over the years, though the name seems to have stuck. The shop itself is clean and pleasant with a nice fireplace that'll see heavy use in a few months. The mocha I ordered was bland, not creamy, and veering more bitter than you would expect from a drink that is 90% milk, foam and chocolate. To be fair I'm biased against this shop since my wife works for the other coffee shop in town, so keep that in mind. But I got a few quiet minutes of reading Szymborska in between some errands, so I'll take it.

2.5 miles

"Coffee Shop" #2
 Lat: 43.069483° Lon: -96.139549°
3.5 Miles

While I doubt the Coffee Shop without Walls rule was written just for my benefit, it sure feels like it. A Coffee Shop without Walls is simply "a place you ride your bike to proceed to make and/or drink coffee." Without this rule I'd be looking at 40 mile round trips to find seven shops. Now, I get to enjoy easy rides out to views like this:
The blurriness in this photo is a pretty accurate depiction of how I see the world this early in the morning. 
Early Sunday morning before it was light, before the kids and my wife were awake, I rolled a few miles out of town along the Sandy Hollow Trail. This is a nice little trail that runs out of town to a local campground. About halfway there is a picnic shelter, unremarkable except its wonderful views of a very turbulent sky. Also, that table makes low light shots easy.
The camera makes it look pretty light out. I really could barely see what I was doing.
The mug on the left is full of hot water, mug on right is a small french press, pre-loaded with beans I ground before leaving. We'll call this "Field Press" coffee. The process is a less controlled version of the French Press you all know.
Add Water...

Put on lid, use filter to press grounds into water, stir/shake.
Wait about 3-4 minutes

Enjoy view. Harvest is rolling along nicely.

Stir again, and press. Press using the just the weight of your hand/arm.


Drinker: Scruffy
Coffee: Underdeveloped, oily, not bad
Weather: Rainy, Windy
Morning: Sublime

Clodhopper def: 1) A large, heavy shoe. 2) A foolish, awkward or clumsy person.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The First Century

This past weekend I had the opportunity to complete a century ride with my brother. This ride has been the goal of my training this past year. I have struggled with how to write up such ride.

I have no stories of epic breakdowns-I had only the annoyance of a squeaking chain. There was no battles with traffic-I enjoyed 100 miles of bike trails in the open expanse of central Iowa. No hills-the trail was a converted railroad track. No beautiful photos-the ride started in the rain, so the camera stayed at home.

It was the culmination of over a thousand miles of training. Every road bike ride this summer had this ride in mind. After all that, I spent a day riding a beautiful, quiet loop in near-perfect weather. And now I'm not quite sure what to do. I have other projects to work for (The Living History Farms Run in Nov.), but the switch is still jarring.

The century ride went well, better than I had expected. At the end of the ride I was sore, and a bit bored of being on the bike, but I felt like I had another 50 miles left in my legs. We held a slower, 15 mph average for the ride. For about 10 miles in the later half of the route we experimented with pacelines, working up to a 18-21 mph pace. We were forced into a slower pace as it got dark.

It's only been a few days and already what I remember is getting blurry. I remember how cold and miserable the first miles were as we faced into the rain, and the relief as the trail moved into the trees and the rain tapered off. I remember dodging golf-ball sized walnuts that occasionally carpeted the trail.

There was the joy of being out on a bike that tapered down to drudgery as we reached the halfway point, in need of a break, and really, really needing something to eat. Then the vibrant rhythm of pulling for my brother, seeing if I could hold 20+ for mile long shifts.

Then the rapidly falling night, the dark tunnel through the trees giving way to small town centers. We were almost entirely alone, rare on a trail that sees hundreds of cyclists each weekend.

And then we were done, grateful to be sitting in the warm car, though jittery in our attempts to keep legs loose after an eight hour effort. I was tired, but not obliterated as I had by 50 mile rides. I expected some sort of epiphany as a rider, but I was simply tired and very hungry.

Now rested and with aches well in the past, I think what this successful ride has given me is a hunger. I will do this again. I will do it faster, on harder courses. I will not shy from foul weather, I will train in the dark, in the heat, even the snow if I can find a line.

The Almanzo 100 is May 17. It is a brutal gravel course with 6100 ft of climbing, capped off by a 8% grade climb in the final miles. I'm afraid of this ride.

But I'm going to be there.