Archive for September, 2009

Tables for tandems: A birthday brunch

One of the unintended effects of the long country commute during the work week is that we’re often less energetic and enthused about a leisurely weekend ride, which used to be the regular time for the 40+ milers. After a week of commutes of over 2 hours on the bike on top of work, weekends have become days to catch up with all the other things we want to do when we’re not working, like not work. A related consideration is that, if we do go out for extended weekend rides, we are unable to recuperate for the long rides to work during the week. The balance to strike is getting great rides in, while not getting too tired and therefore cranky.

Looking back on that opening paragraph, life doesn’t seem too bad – the problem is the embarrassment of riches of incredible year-round cycling here in the North Carolina Piedmont. That is, it’s not really a problem at all. This Sunday, we did in fact go out for a long tandem ride. And today, we were in fact too tired to bike all the way in to work. We could have done it, but it would have done harm to the positive attitudes so necessary for navigating work-a-day life.

Scene from a Sunday ride.

Scene from a Sunday ride.

Another richness of this part of North Carolina, what I like to call the Tri-Boro region – Carrboro, Hillsborough, Pittsboro (though that hardly does it justice because Durham county has to figure in there somehow) – is that it’s experiencing an incredible local food renaissance. The ingredients for this renaissance are just right – it’s an accommodating climate for agriculture, there’s ample farmland despite a high and expanding population, and mostly important, the movement is driven by enthusiastic people -dedicated producers and conscientious consumers – who know and care about food, how it tastes, and where it comes from.

Brunch was prepared by no less than ten people, among whom were people who have/do subsist/ed entirely on farms, teach urban gardening practices, have baked for a living, raise high quality pork, duck, and chickens, contribute to CSAs, buy from CSAs and the plethora of farmers markets around here, and have worked for Dunkin’ Donuts (that last one was me). I also met a fellow bike blogger/commuter.

Duck eggs from Duck Run Farm in Pittsboro.

Duck eggs from Duck Run Farm in Pittsboro.

Just a part of the brunch spread.

Just a part of the brunch spread.



The final menu –
-French toast with local blueberry compote
-Peach cobbler (with a surprisingly satisfying gluten-free topping made of almond flour, arrow-root starch, and butter)
-Strawberry muffins
-Collard greens that received some flavorful help from local shitake mushrooms
-Local bacon and sun-dried tomato sausage, raised and prepared by a farmer in attendance at the brunch, who’d also procured the above shitake mushrooms by bartering some of her pork for them
-Baked duck eggs with chives, a ridiculously creamy platter that sent me back to some medieval French village
-iron skillet corn bread
-Mimosas of champagne and freshly juiced carrot, orange, and grapefruit juice (us honkers had the juice, but not the mimosa version, lest we had not been able to leave this idyllic homestead tucked away in Duke Forest)
-plenty of coffee, and home-spiced chai (of which we honkers partook aplenty, and is perhaps the main reason we were able to power our full bellies home).

All the fuel you need to make it home, and leave some reserve in the tank.

All the fuel you need to make it home, and leave some reserve in the tank.

When we returned home, after an afternoon of feasting and more than 50 miles riding, I can say I was tired, but not hungry at all. I also arrived home full of ideas for the next brunch.


Anatomy of a commute

This was a great week for tandem commuting, road rage incident notwithstanding. Tuesday was world car free day. The daylight is holding out for us in the early fall. The weather was widely varied – sun, rain, heat, humidity, still, windy, fall chill, and all the lovely smells of the outdoors that come from these conditions.

Honey and I have now been living together out in the country for three months, and only now does the 20-mile commute into town start to feel like a normal commute, and not a huge bike ride that you have to get amped up for. Heat? We’re used to it. Low light? We have lights and reflective gear. Rain? It doesn’t stop us (well, not always).

The Burley.

The Burley.

Here’s an anatomy of our tandem commute and the bike and gear that make it possible and enjoyable. First, the equipment:

The Burley Duet in all its length. Ortleib panniers that, after nine years of daily commuting and multiple self-supported bike tours, are as functional and waterproof as the day I got them. They’re stuffed with clothes and enough food to get our ravenous selves through the day. Plus we can do a little grocery shopping after work – we hauled home two pie pumpkins last night in the panniers! (Hey, hungry honkers demand fresh food, and you can’t beat fresh pumpkin for pies and soups. Celebrate the slow life – slow transport, slow food…) Note the matchy Brooks saddles. Helmets are a must. As are sunglasses with changeable lenses, because no matter the light, you need to keep debris and bugs out of your eyes.

The pilot's cockpit.

The pilot's cockpit.

My handlebar bag holds lots of necessities – wallet, phone, keys, snacks, camera – and can even accommodate small shopping items, like that pint of yogurt that didn’t quite fit in the pannier yesterday.

"Vintage" Burley rain jacket.


A well-cut, rain-proof jacket with reflective strips (alas, Burley cut this line, too) and a bright, reflective safety vest. Essential and ultra-nerdy. But at least the vest is nicely complemented here by the model’s Paperhand Puppet Intervention t-shirt.


Gotta get those PSI up for fast rolling. I love these fat slick Continental Sportcontacts for their cadillac ride on rough roads.

Rolling out.

Rolling out.

Now we’re ready for the ride to work.

We cycle along lovely country lanes…


We hit Highway 54 for a quicker way to work in the morning when time is more of an issue. There’s more exposure to cars – heavy volume, generally traveling over 55mph – but the car lane is wider than most secondary highways in NC, and there a wide paved shoulder, another rarity in this state. Just look out for road debris, which is usually gravel strewn from driveways that enter onto the road.

Highway 54.

Highway 54.

Of course, the stoker has another great view:

The view from the rear.

The view from the rear.

The end.

Coexisting with the Misfit

I hadn’t expected to follow up with Monday’s post about our road incident with an aggressive driver, but then, I hadn’t expected that we’d actually find him again. Biking home after a spectacular rain storm on Tuesday – it was World Car Free day after all, so we couldn’t let rain stop us – we saw the OR-plated Lexus. In fact, the car was parked in a driveway along the very road on which we live, not a half-mile from where the incident occurred.

Though I put the driver on notice that I intended to phone it in to the police, I never did bring myself to make that call. A few commenters wrote to recommend that, definitely, I should have called. I do agree with this. But…

Now that I know that this person is, ostensibly, a neighbor of ours (OR license plate notwithstanding), I wonder if this changes things. My first reaction on seeing the car parked in the driveway along my road out here in the country was that I should go right up to his door, apologize for making the driver angry, and conversing about what can be done so that we’re both safe and happy on our road. I wonder if, in this specialized case, it may be a good thing that I didn’t get the police involved immediately, because now I may have a chance to speak with the driver directly in a neighborly fashion. If the police were involved, the driver and I would always have that antagonism between us. Since he lives just down the road, it’s likely we’ll be sharing a lane again.

Of course, knocking on an unknown person’s door out in the country – or anywhere I guess – could be even more dangerous. I’d like to believe in neighborliness, where you can approach someone unthreateningly and figure out a way to coexist peaceably.

[##Addendum 9/25 – Question as to whether to go calling at the Misfit’s is answered. A checkered pit bull sits tied to the railing up the steps to the front door during the day. No good can come of that. I’m a sucker for any dog, pit bulls included, but one tied up out front only means one thing – you don’t want to find out any more.]

A good driver is hard to find

I awoke on this eve of World Car Free day with more that usual sense of foreboding that Monday brings. I’d gone to sleep last night having just finished Flannery O’Connor’s classic, chilling story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” To say the story would be unsettling for anyone in our society is obvious, but more so for those of us who are generally more hypersensitive to the perils of being exposed on the road. The story concerns a grandmother whose grappling with nostalgia competes for the attention of her son with the incessant whining of his pair of kids, her disrespectful grandchildren, emblematic of what she sees is wrong with modernity, in the back seat of a car during a road-trip through the southeast. These days, grandma feels, a good man is hard to find. And then everything goes haywire, the least horrific event of which concerns a serious car wreck, and concludes with looking the devil in the eye, in the guise of the preternaturally cruel criminal that the sensationalist press has dubbed the Misfit.

He’s not this sort of misfit:



… nor this sort of misfit:
Cool Hand Luke is a misfit.

No, O’Connor’s Misfit is a straight up killa. Without giving the entire plot away, the car trip ends horribly.

I roll out of bed this Monday morning, tired already by dreams stung by O’Connor’s story. But, I am looking forward to the tandem commute – the weather is perfect these days in North Carolina, the days are still just long enough that we’re not riding in the deadly low visibility of twilight, and as I said earlier, this week celebrates world car free day. Then we meet our misfit.

The first four miles of our 20-mile commute are, as a rule, a harsh wake-up in the morning. 3.5 miles of steeply rolling hills, that accumulate to more climbing than descending in the outbound direction. There are vistas of farm fields, stretches of loblolly pine, highland cattle, confederate flags. The traffic is a bit too heavy for the road’s rural narrowness, but is generally forgiving, save for the occasional early morning logging truck going to the mill west of Saxapahaw. It’s gets the blood pumping.

Before we hit the end of this road – a typically lengthy-named NC road Saxapahaw Bethlemhem Church Road – with an on-coming car, we hear a blaring horn behind us, bleeding with malcontent. Without waiting for the on-coming car to move by, the vehicle behind speeds inches from our side, continuing with its honking (not to be confused with our tandem’s “honking”). It’s a close call. We stay calm in handling the tandem, as close, loud cars are nothing new, but this driver’s belligerence is an outlier – much worse than normal.

In my haste and automatic righteousness, I decided he needed to be put on notice. I’ve long since abandoned the divisive flying of the bird. Instead I chose a hand gesture more exemplary of what I intended to do. I gave him the “phone-it-in.” Like, “I see you, man, what you did is reckless, intimidating, and illegal, and I’m gonna let the authorities know.” Mark Cavendish provided me with a good model in one of his stage wins in this year’s Tour de France:

The "You're on notice, phone-it-in" gesture.
Image via bikesnobnyc

This gesture, however un-obscene, struck an extra nerve with our misfit. Fifty yards up the road, he skidded to an angry stop, leaving marks on the pavement. He backed up a few feet and stopped. This is never a good sign. A bit extreme by normal measure, crazy in fact. Nothing we had done – which, to summarize was a) biking on the road, and b) making a phone gesture – could enrage an uncrazy person like this. By this point, I knew better and pulled the tandem off the road, rather than ride up next to him and invite an escalated confrontation. His stopping gave me a chance to mark his description – a white sedan with out-of-state plates. And then he drove off. Of course, it wasn’t just as simple as driving off – he did peel out. But at least he was gone. And we reached for the handy cellphone to notify the Alamance County cops. Alas, we wilted when it came to actually calling 911 to report this.

The encounter concerned our minds and led our conversation for the rest of the hour-long ride into Chapel Hill. What could have made someone so angry at encountering us? Was it our simple presence? Was it my phone-call gesture? Was it the stress of the situation – that he was coming too fast around a curve behind us, saw oncoming traffic and our tandem in the way, and this led to his momentary aggression? Whatever it was, we were glad that the aggression was momentary, and that he didn’t clip us when he sped by.

One thing that we were glad of was that, at least according to this person’s license plate, he was not one of our neighbors of rural Alamance County. This is a big deal for us. It runs contrary to the supposition that everyone out here are a bunch of hicks who’d run down a cyclist just fer fun, and spit tobacky in his eye just fer the hell of it. No, our neighbors know us, and from what we’ve experienced, are pretty accommodating on our roadways.

And why didn’t we report it? Since no one was hurt, we had to puzzle out in our minds what exactly was illegal about the situation – reckless/ threatening driving, passing too close – and whether we should bother our local sheriff who wouldn’t give a flip anyway. The answer – we should have called immediately. I’m putting myself on notice here to call next time. Anything we can do to get aggression like this off our roads is necessary. It’s for the safety of everyone. Furthermore, to quote the title of another Flannery O’Connor story, “The life you save may be your own.”

Fashion training

After reading my post about departing our wedding ceremony on tandem, my honey said, Of course, we can ride off into the sunset on the tandem. Then she asked how I thought that was supposed to happen in her wedding gown with its train.

My initial response, that I’d leave that detail to her, was met with an Oh no, you want it, you have to help figure it out. I’ve blackened enough pants cuffs and ripped enough inseams up the knee over the years to acknowledge this is a more pressing issue for the wedding gown. This is one of the reasons why I’m glad I’ve been reading Dot and Tricia’s excellent blog Let’s Go Ride a Bike. As a rule, of all the issues they cover – commuting, empowerment, bike reviews, products, events – I’m least inclined to be interested in their stories of on-the-bike clothing fashions and strategies for riding in cute skirts and such. Shorts or cut-offs are fine for me up to about 5 miles of riding, more than that I choose lycra cycling gear (I also live among the hills of rural Alamance Co, NC, so I’m not needing to cycle in nice clothes for date-nights, and tweed-themed rides haven’t really taken off here).

Now I’m hoping these ladies might offer some tips for securing a bridal gown from getting wound up in the drivetrain. Extra complication: there’s a chain on both sides in the stoker’s position, drivetrain on the right, timing chain on the left. Alas, the tandem is not equipped with chain- and wheel-guards and step-through frames like the Dutch bikes Dot and Tricia favor, but I’m not much for the slow bike movement, either.

PARK(ing) Day

Leave the car at home, but not your parking meter quarters, for today is international Park(ing) Day.

Park(ing) Day doesn’t have much traction where I am in North Carolina, but for eco-hipster city dwellers in San Fran, Brooklyn, Chicago, and now internationally, it’s become a creative, community-involving event.

The premise is that parking spaces are rectangles of public space that a town lend out by time-increments. Activists realized they could rent this space and do whatever they wanted in them as long as they kept paying the rent. They decided to turn parking spaces into temporary public parks and art spaces, and an annual park(ing) day is now recognized.

Visit your local PARK today. Alas, only today.

Tandem wedding

One of the interesting aspects of writing a blog is seeing how readers find that blog. WordPress tells me that people searching the term “tandem wedding” have come across my blog. Given how new and unread my blog is, it’s likely that only one person actually searched this and accessed my blog.

One thing I may be misunderstanding is whether this search term refers to a tandem bicycle themed wedding, a la this too-cute-for-the-Captain tandem cake topper:

…or, whether this term means weddings conducted in tandem:

Yes indeed, I have mentioned once or twice here that I’m planning a wedding. I have not said here that I’m interested in a tandem-themed wedding, but I did mention in my very first post that I’m pushing the notion for a tandem wedding registry, in the hopes that friends and family will want to pitch in to help us get a new Co-motion. It seems clear that a tandem-themed wedding is a natural sequitor for the tandem couple getting married, right?

Just yesterday, my honey and I met with an amazing caterer – Home on the Range – who gave us advice about selecting food and choosing a venue. We’re looking for cost-effective, fun-maximizing, creative solutions, and the caterer had many wonderful, and selfless tips – like, hire someone else, or, make your own food! Seriously, working with someone who knows food, local procurement, the seasons, and venues makes this process a lot less daunting. Maybe even enjoyable, especially when she sends us home with her mole sauce, sweet and sour pickles, and chocolate-chip cookies to taste.

While the three of us chatted about various options for how to organize the big day, one thought cycled around in the back of my mind. For a couple reasons I kept silent about it – a) How much does the groom really want to get involved in all these yadda-yadda wedding details that are best left to the ladies; and b) How concerned with the details should the masculine groom really let himself get?

Unfortunately, this is where my sensitive side, my love of bicycles, and my appreciation for “symbolism” will get the better of me. My silly dream (of course!) is to depart from the wedding site as newlyweds together on a (newlywelded) tandem, and cycle to the reception. Even better would be to have a an entire bicycle procession made up of our cycling friends. Occasionally, I felt this silent little dream slip away when talk of convenience suggested we have the wedding and the reception in the same place. Riding in a circle around the church wouldn’t be quite as dramatic.

Riding away on the wedding tandem – that’s the extent to my idea of tandem-themed wedding so far. And it’s definitely just going to be the two of us up there at the altar.