Thursday, November 24, 2016

Coffeeneuring 2016, a summary

A recap, for those unfamiliar with the term: coffeeneuring is a seven-week series of bike rides ostensibly to get a cup of coffee. The term derives from the term randonneuring, taking long bike rides, sometimes very long, dozens or hundreds of miles. Coffeeneuring is intended to be fun, to get you out on the bike, exploring different places, and takes place as the weather is starting to get colder.

A blog post on the topic a few months ago mentioned that the hobby was particularly popular in Pittsburgh, and I'm proud to say that I've participated most years. On that post, I made the comment that it would be a fun project to try to hit seven wholly different destinations in the region. It would be too easy to hit seven coffee shops where it's easy to get to them, such as on or near a flat river trail, but a different game entirely to spread them out. Our hills and the terrain in general are famously difficult to traverse, so let's use that to our advantage, shall we?

My goal, as played out and achieved, went like this:
  • Week #1: South up a hill. I climbed Josephine Street in the South Side and explored Mount Oliver, before heading out Brownsville Road into the neighborhood of Carrick. I saw few cyclists in this part of town, not surprising as this area is all hills.

  • Week #2: North Side, near the river where it's flat. I met up with an old friend who works as a barista in one of the local chains, Crazy Mocha, and caught up on what's new and doing with her.

  • Week #3: Between the rivers. I had been in a crash only a couple days earlier and still quite sore, so kept it simple, another Crazy Mocha that's the cafĂ© in the main branch of Carnegie Library, just prior to the observance of a ghost bike placement (first anniversary thereof) just a few yards away.

  • Week #4: A distant diagonal. Allegheny County is roughly round, with rivers going off on three diagonals, NW, NE and SE. I rented one of the city's HealthyRide bike-share bikes and rode southeast, out the GAP trail to McKeesport, some 17 miles each way, taking a side trip into Duquesne. The side trip was a little unsettling. While I was tying up the bike at a possible destination, three teenage girls started questioning me about the bike and why I was there. They assumed that I'd stolen the bike, and were incredulous that I'd biked from downtown. Every answer I gave prompted ever more probing, to the point where I started to feel unsafe, and so left. Even at that, I didn't get out of town before being asked by a motorist what sort of bike I was on. Needless to say, here was another town where I didn't see a single other cyclist. Rather disheartening, in fact. They'd never heard of the bike-share system, and couldn't believe people use bikes as transportation. If this was part of the point of coffeeneuring, to get out into the environment we live in and learn about it, it succeeded. I eventually got coffee and dinner in McKeesport, the next town on the trail.

  • Week #5: Northern suburbs. I live north, so needed a destination I was not already familiar with. Because of time, I didn't get started until late afternoon, so opted to replicate my son's commute by bike to his job at a local Panera. I ran video of the trip there and showed it to him later. Apparently I made a wrong turn and ended up in weeds taller than I was, which he found hilarious. Oh well, sense of adventure and all that.

  • Week #6: West. The western part of the city, and its suburbs, are very difficult, even dangerous, to get to. There are only a couple of ways to do it, none of them safe or pleasant. I rode a sidewalk along the one major street, West Carson, where a cyclist was killed only days after the road was reopened after a three-year construction project.

  • Week #7: South, near the river where it's flat. Actually on a Tuesday, since I knew the coming weekend was overbooked. I took in my last trip at a local coffeehouse, Big Dog. I was also looking for a particular church building, part of a game we play in Pittsburgh called Tag-o-Rama. Figure out where someone has taken a picture of their bike -- in this case, in front of an unnamed church -- post the photo, then go somewhere else to take a pic of your bike in some spot that someone else has to figure out where is. So this trip was part of that game, and a reason to go exploring that part of town. I didn't find the tag, but did find some great coffee.

For a couple of these rides, I made use of alternative starting locations and ways of getting there, or home. Three of them, I used the HealthyRide rentals, starting downtown. Two others, I used the bus to get me home afterward because of the amount of stuff I was carrying. Our company moved to a new location during the ride series, and I took the opportunity of being downtown to take bagsful of stuff from my old desk home, rather than try to pack it. For me, much of the difficulty of coffeeneuring is the 10-mile trip each way just to get anywhere that isn't north, and then that again getting back home, probably in the dark. Getting hit within a mile of my house commuting home one night didn't help.

Still, each of these rides was eye opening, getting me to experience new parts of town, or known parts in new ways. And isn't that the point?

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