Sunday, October 30, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring #4, McKeesport

This was "distant diagonal" week, and I went southeast, since that's the farthest I can get purely on a trail. McKeesport is the last really big town on the GAP before you head into the boonies of southwest PA on your way to D.C., fully 17 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

The day got off to a late start, with a trip to Monroeville that should have wrapped up by 2, but I didn't get on the road for there until 2:30. Coin shows are morning events, and sure enough, by the time I got there, dealers were already packing their cases. With my choices of dealers disappearing with each passing minute, I hurriedly decided on purchasing 20 Buffalo nickels for my annual Halloween handout. (As detailed elsewhere, I always give out coins to the kids, not just money, but items of some numismatic value and educational interest, with the hope that it inspires some kids to become collectors someday.)

For that leg of the trip, I was on motorcycle, but like the first week, parked that downtown and rented a HealthyRide bike-share bike. Where to go? I opted to head for the Hot Metal Bridge, and decide then whether to find something on the level South Side, or head way out to do my distant diagonal. Once there, I chose the latter, but what constituted distant enough? I passed the Glenwood Bridge (still in the city), then the Rankin Bridge (barely outside the city). That was distant enough, but my choices once I got up to street level would consist of some fast food about a mile away, near Kennywood, on a road that's notoriously difficult to bike. Nope, better stay on the trail a bit farther.

Next up, Duquesne. There is a strip mall right across from the trailhead, but nothing resembling a restaurant or coffee shop. I headed up the hill, well into the town, seeing a couple of candidates which I thought I would consider on the way back out. None looked all that appealing, but I chose what was billed as a sub and coffee shop. It even had what might once have been some sort of chest-high street light, with a knob that might work for the rental's built-in cable lock. But I never made it in the place. A gaggle of early teen girls started asking questions. They assumed I stole the bike, and every attempt at an explanation begat further questions. I chose not to go inside, fearing too many more people would find the sudden appearance of a strange white guy on a strange bicycle with a strange story (what's coffeeneuring, anyway? heck, I had trouble explaining a bicycle) perhaps a bit too strange. So, back down the hill -- where a woman in a car at a traffic light also inquired about the bike. The concept of rental bikes has not made it to Duquesne, apparently. Actually, I don't think I saw a single other bicycle in the entire town in the 20 or so minutes I was there. That's rather sad, actually. Duquesne seemed rather sad, actually. The buildings and the people all seemed broken. I guess this is part of what coffeeneuring is about: Get out and experience the areas near where you live, so you know about them first-hand.

Farther out I went, the three or so miles to McKeesport. I had only been out here a couple times, ever, on a bike, and not that many more times in a car, either. It was also approaching sunset, so I further knew the entire trip back downtown would be in the dark. I saw one familiar face on the trail, Yale Cohen, going the other way. I'm sure my appearance on a bike that far out of the city that direction was a total surprise to him. Once I got to the last bridge over the river, I took this photo. As I said in my tweet, I suspect these rental bikes are a rare sight in McKeesport.

Now, where to eat? That late on a Saturday, my choices of eateries was shrinking as fast as dealers at a coin show in late afternoon. But then I spied good ol' local chain restaurant, Eat'n Park, which featured a couple of very nice bike racks right in front of the store. I quickly ordered dinner and coffee, keeping it as simple as possible. I further had not had a proper meal all day, so everything looked good.

It was almost 8:30 by the time I got back on the road. Knowing it was close to 20 miles, I only hoped to get back by 10. As it turns out, I got moving pretty quickly on that bike. Duquesne in 15 minutes, six minutes later hearing the screams from one of Kennywood's roller coasters (I thought they closed eight weeks ago?), passing the eagle nest near Hays in about a half hour, and the Hot Metal Bridge before 9:30. I parked the bike in the same rack I pulled it out of at 9:46, only 15 minutes ahead of my expectation. Despite a 20-minute phone call, I was home by about 10:30. The whole travel day was accomplished in eight hours.
Numbers: 34 miles on the bike (map:
Link), about 40 on the motorcycle. One cup of coffee. Twenty Buffalo nickels acquired, one given as an additional tip for the waitress with a nice, explanatory note.

I'd call that a good day.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring #3, between the rivers

I had to play my ace early in this game, as it turned out. Last Tuesday, I was hit by a car on my bike while riding home, and while neither I nor the bike were too badly banged up, it was in the shop and I was still pretty sore. What little riding I was capable of, I did mainly with one hand doing anything useful. Squeezing a brake with my left hand is not yet something I can do well.

Friday afternoon was the one-year memorial for Susan Hicks, who lost her life riding home on a bike. I was able to get out of work a bit early and borrow one of the rental bikes to make the three mile ride out to Oakland, and the site of her ghost bike on Forbes Ave across from the dinosaur where so many bike rides begin. Just like last year's memorial, we had a steady rain, but also like last year, we had dozens of people there.

Just prior to this, though, I stopped in at the little coffee nook at Carnegie Library's main branch, right across the street. Like last week's coffeeneuring trip #2, this too was a Crazy Mocha, and for that matter, this was the second CM I'd been in that afternoon. But I wasn't about to be picky. I only had 40 minutes, and knew this was my only chance to make the ride this week. And I love this place. The goat on the wall is wearing librarians' glasses.

My big purchase was a pumpkin flavored coffee and a cookie. Just as I got this to my table, the bike shop called to discuss details of the repair estimate, then I also ran into Scott and Eric from Bike-Pgh. Net effect, I barely had time to gulp it all down before I ran across to the memorial service getting underway. 

But, all is well with the world. Several people had heard about my incident, and were both truly concerned with my condition, and glad to see me getting around, apparently intact. 

Still, three for three. I have yet to do south flat, north hilly, west, and outer east. Next week, I hope, I will be better able to go any distance.

2016 Coffeeneuring #2, north level

A good friend I had not seen in a long time just took a job at the Federal-North Crazy Mocha, and as it happened, I would be in that part of town the day I knew she would be working. I only needed to take care of a couple earlier activities in time to get there before the place closed.

The morning got off to a confusing start, with various family members and I not quite on the same page of who had to go where when. I ended up getting a ride from home to Northview Heights, on the city's North Side, then got the rest of the way to Heinz Field under my own power. This itself was fraught with some irritation, as I got a horn from an ignorant motorist on a 25 mph city street, when I was likely going at least 20. She apparently did not accept that cyclists were allowed to use city streets at all. I chose not to further engage.

The main activity was to assist with the fourth annual 3-2-1 Ride, a charity bike ride to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. I've helped on this ride each of the four years, and had this on the calendar, in ink, months ago. I wasn't sure where I'd be helping, but it's notable that on a single hour, the arranging of getting me there and in place involved four Sarahs: my wife (Sarah Strickland), the volunteer organizer Sarah Pearman, and two I've worked with on past rides, Sarah Quesen and Sara Walfoort. My life also features about six other Saras or Sarahs on a regular basis, and another half dozen I run into less often. I am awash in Sarahs. Next up, spend an hour or two manning a sticky intersection -- Penn Avenue at Stanwix Street -- where the bike lane ends and riders have to merge into regular traffic. That ended up being a fairly easy problem to manage. I did get asked a dozen or more times which way to go, by those on the ride, and directions in general by random passersby. It felt good, just standing there on a beautifully warm autumn day.

Eventually the cleanup crew came through, so I took off with them to the ride's end, and the promise of some food. I hung out with friends I hadn't seen in a while, nibbled bagels and orange segments, then headed to the next task: work.

Getting downtown was simple enough, with that minor risk of managing not to ride into the river as I biked toward and past PNC Park. As I got to my building, I noticed that Grant Street was shut down entirely for a celebration called Pittsburgh Food Day, an effort of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Various booths and small exhibits were set up to explain various aspects of recovering and not wasting food, sustainable community gardens, vegan diets, and other aspects of food production in the city.

I spent about an hour at work, tracking down a couple of problems, and packing up a few more things to take home in preparation for the company's move next week. I returned to the food thing, and got in line for the quick little meal they were serving people. I met a young lady, whom I know only as Kat, who lives in Millvale and knows a lot of the same people I do, since I pass through Millvale almost daily myself.

Next up, bike to the North Side, to run into Amanda at Crazy Mocha, and catch up on things. For living in the same city, I hadn't seen her in years. Got a brownie and a "monkey mocha", a banana-chocolate coffee concoction. Yum!

Lastly, I caught a bus most of the rest of the way home. I had a bagful of junk from my cubicle, it didn't tie to the bike at all, and didn't feel like riding eight miles with a bag in one hand. Sometimes, it's best to take the bus, even on a nice day.

Soon enough, I was home, showered, and got on with the rest of a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Coffeeneuring Week #2 is in the bag!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring trip #1: Hilly south

I stated in a couple of the main coffeeneuring blogs a suggestion for those pursuing the prize in Pittsburgh this year, and intend to put my muscle where my mouth is: In seven weeks, get to seven disparate destinations in the metro area:
* South of the Monongahela River, near the river, where it's flat
* South of the river, either up a big hill or in the suburbs
* North of the Allegheny River, near the river, where it's flat
* North of the river, either up a big hill or in the suburbs
* West End or western suburbs, which are all challenging to get to
* Between the rivers, but inside the Blue Belt, roughly the city line
* East of the Blue Belt, or a distant diagonal from downtown

For this first trip, I opted for south-up-a-hill. It's easy to toodle over to the South Side Flats, but something else again to surmount the big ridge. It's a 470-foot vertical climb to Arlington and South 18th. More on that later.

My trip started at Forbes at Grant, downtown. I had to travel in to work earlier, and did so by motorcycle. But with that done by about 11, and not having had breakfast to speak of, and with nobody having designs on my time for the next six hours, I thought it a fine time to work in the more distant of my seven planned ventures. A HealthyRide bike station, Pittsburgh's bike rental system, was just outside my building, so I punched the buttons on my phone, brought up the app, got the beep unlocking the bike, adjusted the seat, and was off!

The first couple of miles were easy, just out the Jail Trail and over the Hot Metal Bridge, where I paused briefly to take in that great view of the skyline that only cyclists and peds get to see.

I originally planned to double back to South 18th Street to climb that, but found myself looking at South 26th instead, and remembered that that was another way to surmount the ridge. What actually jogged my memory was seeing a 48 Arlington bus turn onto 26th, and figured it had to get up the hill somehow.

South 26th doesn't go very far, only under the tracks, then a T intersection with Josephine St. I started up that, pausing to take a photo of an enormous hole in the street, half covered with a piece of thin plywood. I tweeted this photo to the city 311 service for reporting problems such as that. A car encountering that would be immobilized to the point of needing a tow truck to get out.

I got a few close passes. Again, people's understanding of the four-foot passing law leaves much to be desired, as does their knowing it's OK to cross the center line to pass a bike. Maybe they don't see bikes here that often.

Another pause to photograph a pair of drain grates whose large slots line up perfectly with the direction of travel on a turn. Every new place I go, I find more of these. Coffeeneuring causes me to do more of that exploring, and so contributes to finding them.

A woman in a USPS truck very nicely passed me with plenty of space, then pulled over a few yards up to deliver a package, but then walked in front of her truck directly into my path. Even slogging uphill, I had to take evasive action not to hit her. I suspect she didn't have the same experience riding school buses that I did growing up. You always always always look around the front of the bus, even if the driver waves you across. You alone are responsible for keeping yourself alive. Two kids in my grade did not learn that lesson. But enough about then.

The HealthyRide bikes are OK on hills, but I would not have minded a bit lower gearing. In fact, quite a bit lower. If we want to expand the system into the southern part of the city, the average rider is going to have trouble climbing hills. I had no trouble, but I climb Federal Street on my own bike, bottom to top, without pausing, so my opinion may not count for much. OTOH, there were times I wish I'd had a taller gear at the top end, once I got into flat or downhill sections. If these bikes had a seven-speed setup with a wider spread at the top end but one or even two gears below the current lowest, that would make the hills a bit more surmountable.

Once I got to the top, I think it's Devlin Street, I was disappointed how desolate it is. I think 10 or 20 years ago there was a housing project up here, but the last time I was up there was 2008, and it hasn't changed. Just acres of fenced off field. That could at least be windmills or solar panels if it's just going to be vacant land.

From there, I explored little side streets, even a few dead ends. Jonquil Way was one that came and went a couple times. Wow, the people back here must be part mountain goat. I wonder how many use that 48 bus at the top of that ridge. It's not that far a walk, but everything requires an elevation change.

A few wiggles later, I found myself in Mount Oliver, a village that's not part of the city but entirely surrounded by it. Realizing I was now on Brownsville Rd, the continuation of South 18th I'd originally planned to climb, I figured it was time to start looking for coffee and lunch. I kept on riding south. I'd been out here only a few times in recent years, on bike or anything else. Like any good Pittsburgher, I only know well the quadrant of town I live in, and south ain't my specialty. But hey, I'm on a bike, I'll see something good sooner or later. I set an absolute limit of Saw Mill Run Blvd, and hoped I would find something suitable before that.

I passed up a Dunkin Donuts and a few other chains and fast food. I wanted something local, not a chain, and preferably serving real food. Eventually I was deep into Carrick, and found a couple of possibilities past the split for Churchview Ave. My choice was Family Restaurant -- that's its name, no additional name components necessary. A little Mom-and-Pop place with printed menus and a seating area.

Just one thing: Noplace to tie up a bike. That part of town, no bike racks, anywhere. I opted to use a street sign.

Just one other thing: No bikes, either. I wish I'd run video to be sure, but I do not recall seeing a single other person on a bicycle between Josephine Street and arriving at Family Restaurant, easily three urban miles and most of an hour in motion.

I was seated, and quickly chose a spinach & lentil soup, a slice of baklava, and tea. Only Mom was in the place, no Pop, no other staff. She was counter, kitchen and cleanup. Nice woman, decent English though clearly ESL, maybe 50 and change (like me). It took her a few minutes to put it together but all was well and warm enough, and tasty, too. Total, about $10.

One customer strolled in, a man about 60, and ordered a hoagie. Like for me, it took her about 10 minutes to put it together. During that wait, he grumbled at everything, just loud enough for me to hear. He said nothing as he looked me over, which was about the moment I was taking this picture.

Someone's car was loud. He grumbled about that. He grumbled about how long it was taking. He grumbled about some of the art on the wall. Then when she arrived with the food, he asked why she was using a calculator to add up the bill instead of using the cash register. As if it mattered. Then he asked if she paid her taxes. Of course she did, she said, every three months like you're supposed to. I think he thought that because she was not of WASP descent, that somehow meant she was a freeloader of some sort. Whatever, he shut up, paid the bill, and left. I bet I know who he's voting for.

It was close to 2 p.m. by the time I was done, and my phone's battery was getting dangerously low. It was at 62% when I left the office, but was now in the low teens, dropping fast, and I was almost 15 miles from home. I made sure I had the unlock code for the bike, because I'd be seriously stuck if I couldn't unlock it and couldn't call for help. Note to self: Next time, write the unlock code on my hand. (It bottomed out at 6% by the time I plugged it in next, and it's been known to shut down at 5%.)

The trip back was fun enough. I did encounter one cyclist, some guy salmoning his way along the wrong side of Brownsville, and another who dodged around some pedestrians on the sidewalk. That's telling, too. What few cyclists who dare to ride at all in that part of town either don't know the rules or choose to ignore them. Maybe I should suggest to the bike count folks that they should set up counts through the southern and western parts of town a bit more. Brownsville and Nobles Lane, and the Amanda St mess, to name two. It isn't difficult to do ride according to the rules, but again, I don't find McKnight Road that difficult.

After crossing Arlington, Brownsville becomes South 18th, and is a mile and a half of downhill. Wheeeee!!!

Taking it easy, I rode along the South Side Trail, stopping to answer a text as a train went by. (Don't all little boys stop to watch trains go by?) Yale and Paul caught me here, so we rode into downtown together. It was fun to have a bit of companionship to finish the ride.

I returned the bike to the exact slot where I took it out. A job well done, on a bike which proved worthy to the task at hand. Soon I was on my Suzuki 250 and headed home for real.

One coffeeneuring trip down, six to go!