Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bike America: Choosing and Mapping a Route

Hello and welcome to the second installment of Bike America! Thanks for joining me on this adventure. Today we're going to talk about choosing and mapping a route.

America is large. And there are probably a million different ways to cross it, in an automobile, on foot, or on a bicycle. So knowing where to start and what path to take can be confusing. Luckily, we have my mom in our group, who is the ultimate planner. Planning the route and the logistics of a trip like this is where she thrives. And so we put her to work!

The first step was to choose where to start and finish. Several things made this part pretty easy:
  • We planned to meet up with Ragbrai in the middle of the trip
  • My mom DID NOT want to ride through the heart of the Rocky Mountains
  • We live in Washington, DC and we wanted to end at home
It was clear early on that we should ride from Washington state to Washington, DC. We'd see a large chunk of the country that few of us had explored, it would be the coolest option, we'd ride mountains but they'd be much more manageable than the ones in Colorado, and we'd be en route to the west side of Iowa. So that was that.

Figuring out which towns to stay in, and which roads to turn down, was the much more complicated part and my mom took the lead on it. Neither she or I claim to be any sort of expert on this but I will let you in on a few of her secrets:
  • Trust the experts.
    • A large part of our course was planned based on the maps we bought from adventure cycling. I guaruntee you they are far more well-informed on the subject than we will ever be.
  • Read stories of people who have done this before you and use their experiences as a guide.
    • My mom (and I) read many blogs of people who had ridden their bikes across the Northern Tier of America. They provide good commentary on what to expect where. On everything from the roads and the terrain to the people and the weather.
  • Don't be afraid to change it up.
    • After months of planning to ride through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota to get to Ragbrai, my mom found a blog written by people who rode a similar route but decided to cut North Dakota off their itinerary. The more she read, the more apparent it was how dominated the state's roads were by oil trucks and how seedy some of the overnight towns could be. It isn't the best environment for cyclists anymore. So she cut North Dakota off our itinerary as well. We would turn South early, from Montana into Wyoming, instead and we'd get to see Mount Rushmore and the black hills that way. Win win!
  • Google maps bicycling directions are your friend.
    • Since we are not following any of the adventure cycling routes to a T and, instead, are using a combination of various portions of several, there were some gaps in our course. These gaps were small, and we usually knew what towns to stay overnight in but needed an expert to tell us exactly how to bike between them. We turned to Google as our expert.
After very much research and planning, my diligent mother has bound up a thick binder with two full page printouts of each day's map and turn-by-turn directions. Also included are several printouts of the spreadsheet listing our overnight towns and the distance between each. Since you probably haven't heard of 3/4 of the towns, I'll spare you a list. It will be much more fun to read about the towns as we ride into them than it will be to see them listed below. But, if you're interested enough in our general course to open a new tab and go to google maps, then I'll give you a simple way of knowing about where we'll be. Our approximate route, according to the interstates of America, is as follows:
  • I-90 from Seattle, WA to Sioux Falls, SD
  • Sioux Falls, SD to Davenport, IA along Ragbrai route
  • I-74 from Davenport, IA to Indianapolis, IN
  • I-70 from Indianapolis, IN to Pittsburgh, PA
  • C&O Canal train from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC
Of course we won't actually be on the interstate at all but this is the easiest way of understanding our general progression. Stay tuned from June 14 to August 17 to learn exactly where our bikes will take us!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Project Breakfast: Strawberry Banana Smoothie and Oatmeal

Breakfast is a real challenge for me. I know it is the "most important meal" and I absolutely eat it every single day. But I am very boring about it. In the winter, I eat oatmeal and in the summer I eat cereal or granola. But, when I eat at 7:30 AM before work, I am usually hungry again by 10. Clearly, I'm not making the best of the most important meal of my day. So, last week, I began Project Breakfast. I am challenging myself to mix it up and try at least one unique breakfast a week.

For week one of the challenge, I made my traditional oatmeal concoction with a small strawberry banana smoothie to complement it. They were both easy and fairly light but they kept me satiated until almost noon! Here's what was in them:

Peanut Butter Honey Oatmeal

1/2 c quick oats
1 c water
1 tbsp peanut butter (i used crunchy)
1 tbsp honey
1/4 c vanilla soymilk

Mix oats and water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 2:22 (times will vary depending on microwave and power supply- my apartment's power is weak). Mix in peanut butter and honey and pour soy milk over the top. Delicious enough for me to eat every day for months. I hope you enjoy!

Calories: 325

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

5 large frozen strawberries
1/2 banana
1/2 c soymilk

Mix all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. If it's too dry, add more soymilk until you get the right consistency. 

Calories: 170

And there, at a total of 495 calories and fullness until noon, you have the first edition of Project Breakfast.  I enjoyed the contrast of the frozen smoothie with the hot oatmeal. The combination was comforting and refreshing at the same time. 

With this challenge, I hope to become more healthy, creative, and well-fueled. But I'm also aiming not to spend too much time preparing these pre-work meals. If you have any great go-to breakfasts that keep you full until lunch, I'd love ideas!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Weekend Recap: Being a Homebody

I said on Friday how excited I was to have so few plans this weekend. But normally when I go into a weekend with few plans, I still make a ton of them last minute and rush around from one thing to the next. I have fun but I could also use some more time to relax. This weekend, with the rain as my excuse, I was the ultimate homebody. Aside from dinner at a neighborhood restaurant on Friday, playing a sunny soccer game on Saturday and taking an unconventional (read: martial arts) yoga class on Sunday, I barely left my apartment. I still made a long to-do list and got all but three things on it done.

But along with cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, and buying plane tickets and supplies for my summer trip, I also had lots of fun in the comfort of my own home. I read, watched tv, fell asleep during a movie, played board games, took an afternoon nap, drank beer and tea, and ate cheesy comfort food. And I spent many quality hours with Joshua, who I barely got to see during the week last week.

Now that it's Monday morning, I feel well rested and ready for the week. Sitting around does make part of me just want to sit around more but it also gave me the perfect chance to unwind and get some needed things done. The only thing that could have made the weekend better would be to have had a front porch to sit on to watch, and smell, the rain fall.

How was your weekend? Do you tend to be a homebody or are you always on the go?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend Style: Date Night and Spin Class

dress, locket, clutch, bangles, wedges, tank, towel, bottle, spandex, cycle shoe

The sad news about this weekend is that I was supposed to road trip to Vermont with Nikki and had to cancel because of work. But the good news is that since I thought I'd be out of town, I don't have many plans and should be able to spend some time relaxing.

On the fitness agenda for the weekend I have a soccer game, a bike ride, and a frisbee game. But the forecast is showing thunder storms on Saturday and rain all day Sunday so there's a good chance I'll be spending some of my time spinning at the gym. Since my very first class, I've been dreaming of making a bright spin outfit that would glow under the black lights of the classroom and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. It is simple and patternless but, while I'm on that bike, it will be bright and flashy.

On the food and fun agenda are a potential bbq on Saturday and a dinner date with Josh tonight. We have a reservation at Indique, a neighborhood Indian restaurant that we've been wanting to try for months. They have two balconies overlooking Connecticut Ave, each with 1-2 tables and a perfectly romantic ambiance. On a night like tonight, there is nowhere else I'd rather eat dinner. Unfortunately, they don't take reservations for the balconies so we'll just have to hope there is some availability when we show up for our indoor reservation. I think the outfit on the left is perfect for a spring evening date at an Indian restaurant, especially if there's a chance we'll be hanging off the front wall for all to see.

Happy Weekend! What's on your agenda?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bike America: The Idea and the Inspiration

In the summer of 2010, I was riding my bike next to my best friend Joyce on a hot and sunny day. It was late July and we were spending the week riding Ragbrai across Iowa. The road felt endless and, as we reminisced about some of our past adventures, we began to dream for the future. I honestly don't remember which of us thought it first but we realized that we would eventually need to continue along that endless road and ride our bikes across America. We decided we'd do it in the summer of 2012 and we talked lots about it for the rest of the trip.

Then Joyce moved to Colorado and we kept in touch well but there were more pressing things on the horizon than a bike ride across the country and we stopped talking about it much.

In the spring of 2011, though, the dream popped back in my head and i couldn't get over it. I realized that not only should I ride cross country but that I should write a book about the experience. I talked to Joyce but she wasn't in a place to commit to something so long and intense the summer that she would finish grad school. Still, I was determined.

Then, on June 10, 2011, I had my parents and brother over for a vegan feast in celebration of my dad's birthday. We got to lots of talking, as we always do, and I shared my dreams about the biking and book writing. It was a stretch, but we started to wonder whether the whole family could make this possible together. My parents have been wanting to road-trip around the west coast and declared that they could participate in the bike ride if we had a car along. My brother would be graduating college with a degree in film and maybe he could come along and make a documentary about us. At the time it was all just a crazy fantasy but there was also something real and so inspiring about the discussion that night.

When My dad called me at work the next Tuesday to discuss what the two months away would mean for his position as the chair of the board at his church, I knew how real it actually was.

Very many other things had to happen to get me from there to here, only eight weeks from the first day of my 3,000 mile ride, but the seed had been planted and it was deep. Now I'm looking forward to two months on two wheels with both of my parents and a slew of other people that I love, including a month with Joyce with whom the idea was first born.

In this world, where time flies and schedules fill so quickly, it is easy to make plans we know we'll never keep and to have great ideas that we don't have the time or energy to follow through on. I have been guilty of wanting to do far more than I've actually been able to. Most of us have fallen short of our dreams at one time or another.

But life is too short. Take it seriously and be productive. But please also stop and think about what you want out of it. If you have an idea that just won't go away, pursue it. Follow it. Let it drive you.

My big idea is to bike across the country and to write a book about it. Tell me yours!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bike America: The Mini-Series

For many months I have been writing about this "3,000 mile ride" that I'll be taking on my bike next summer but I've never really written about it. The adventure I'm taking is becoming more real with each passing day. I will get on a plane to fly across the country exactly eight weeks from today and I will begin riding eight weeks from tomorrow.

I am counting down the days until this trip while also freaking out about getting everything at work done before I go. But I also think that, before I randomly start blogging from Northwest Washington (State, not DC), it is only fair to give you some background about what went into dreaming of, and planning the adventure.

Let this post serve as an introduction to the mini-series: Bike America. I will write one post a week, each about a different aspect of preparing for my two month bike ride across America. Here are some of the topics I have in mind:

  • The idea
  • Choosing and mapping a route
  • Logistics
  • Companions
  • Training
  • Food
  • Gear
  • What I'm excited about and what I'm afraid of

If there is anything else you want to read about, let me know. If you have any experience with this sort of thing, your advice is always welcome.

See you tomorrow for the first edition of Bike America!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Burritos, Beer, and Boston (and breaking a sweat)

Boston, the greatest and most renowned marathon in all the world, was run yesterday morning. It is tradition for it to be run on Patriot's day each year so it is always run on Monday. Nikki and I, who love to watch any televised race coverage together, had to work but were determined to see it happen. So we shut off our twitter and instagram feeds for the day and planned to watch the race coverage online.

We knew that it was expected to be 90 degrees in Boston so, to get a taste of what the runners would be going through, we decided we had to break a sweat in our own 80 degree city. Because running 4.46 miles is just as hard as 26.2, duh. Like on my hot run in Raleigh, I felt tired and I let Nikki do most of the talking. But we still finished at an average pace of 8:42 and we pushed it for the last little stretch.

Then we picked up beers and burritos and set up the laptop for our race-viewing party. This is far more exciting than the super bowl people!

It was difficult because we wanted to google a million things about the course, the weather conditions in Ethiopia, marathon qualifying times but we were sure any search would give away the results of the race. So we made fun of the commentators and I made the following observations:

  1. The Boston course did not look all that pretty. I fell far more in love with New York watching its race coverage last fall than I did with Boston last night.
  2. Mutai should have claimed the world marathon record last year, in my opinion. I'm still not sure how it's fair that his time doesn't count.
  3. The Boston expo is the coolest in the world and when Nikki runs it (SOON), she is going to outfit her whole wardrobe with gear so she'll never have to go on a run where someone doesn't pass her and know how cool she is for running Boston. If I ever run it (not even if sure if it's in my plans), then I will do the same.
  4. Crowd support is kinda lame for the whole part of the race that is not actually in the city of Boston (2/3 of it). At least, that's how it seemed from watching the race.
  5. The race runs through Wellesley, where Ingrid's school (Babson, not Wellesley) was and it was exciting to see that familiar territory.
  6. Based on everything I've read, this race has far more energy and excitement than I could see on the coverage last night. I think I need to go there to experience it.  I am going to be there to cheer Nikki on when she runs the great race.
You want to know who the winners are, if you don't already? Kenyans across the board.

Watching these races is always great motivation but it is also humbling. I can't even begin to understand how a human being can run 26.2 miles in 2:31:50, let alone 2:12:40. Sometimes it's hard to comprehend how someone (ahem, Nikki!) can do it in under four hours and, since I've never even tried to run that far at all, dreaming about running Boston myself seems a little unreal. But it is still unbelievably inspiring to watch so many incredible athletes give everything they have on a sunny, 90 degree day as their legs propel them forward like a machine.  If you love running or if you just love competition, please watch this and be inspired. Try not to be deterred by all of the ridiculous jargon between the commentators.

If you are a runner, do you dream about running Boston? Have you already run it? Tell me about your experience or about your dreams!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weekend Recap: Sunshine in Meridian Hill Park

On Friday, I dreamt about the perfect outfits for the Girl Scouts' annual meeting and for a sunny day on the frisbee field. In real life, my outfits weren't quite as perfect as those I dreamed up but I did my best to be classic and bright for the respective occasions. This is what I wore.

The most unique thing about the weekend, though, was my Sunday evening picnic in Meridian Hill Park. 

This park, conveniently located between  15th, 16th, Euclid, and W Streets, hosts a lively drum circle every Sunday evening during the warm season. Two weeks ago, Nikki and Eric stumbled upon this festiveness on a run and, after celebrating Easter there, they were excited to bring a group back this weekend.

The environment in this place felt similar to that on Plaza of the Americas on UF's campus. There were tight-rope walkers, people sitting on the grass eating, and there was a whole lot of diversity.

We sat on blankets drinking wine and eating from our gourmet potluck selection of arugula salad, fresh fruit, orzo salad, and baked chicken.

Sunday nights are my regularly scheduled visits with the Shaws so I can't promise to be back every week but I would love to do this a few more times before I leave this summer. It is a perfectly refreshing way to wrap up any weekend and I highly recommend it to anyone in DC.

Happy Monday! How was your weekend?!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekend Style: A Day at Work and a Day in the Sun

1. RL Dress 2. Madewell sandals 1. Tank 2. Yellow Tempo 3. Life is Good 4. Camelback 5. Cleats

It's Friday night and I'm at home on the couch, with my alarm set for 5:15 am tomorrow. I'll be spending the day working at the Girl Scouts' Annual Meeting in Leesburg, VA and I'm required to wear our professional uniform: navy, white, and girl scout scarf. So I was inspired to put together a cute little navy outfit, with comfortable shoes for all of the standing and walking I'll be doing. I think this Ralph Lauren dress paired with these madewell sandals are perfectly classic. My favorite kind of outfits are the ones that make me feel like a french girl, which this surely would.

Though my weekend will be shorter than normal, it will be redeemed by the fact that Sunday's forecast in DC is showing temperatures in the 80s and lots of sunshine. Which means that I will spend the whole day blowing off steam and producing sweat. For my regular Sunday morning frisbee game, I created the best spring-time active wardrobe I could come up with. I think the sun on the hat says it all. And because I just can't get enough, I'm hoping to fit in a bike ride after frisbee and then spend the evening picnicking with some of my favorite people by the drum circle in Meridian Hill Park.

I hope that everyone has a great weekend and I'll be back on Monday to report on my true weekend style and adventure.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I know you've seen this picture many times but it is one of my favorites by Josh and when I envision my bike journey this summer, this is a lot of what I see. I will be riding up many two lane, curvy roads and, in the first half of the ride, a large portion of those roads will involve climbing.

The problem is that it's easier to envision climbing mountains and hills for weeks on end than it will be to actually climb them. So instead of day dreaming about the uphill two-lane roads of my future, I'm continuing on my mission to build some legs of steel. Riding an indoor bike for 45 minutes while reading The Hunger Games is great fun and exercise but it's time to step it up a notch.

On Tuesday, Sarah and I spent 75 very intense minutes at Gold's Gym with back to back fitness classes. We did 30 minutes of CXWOX, a core strengthening class and then 45 minutes of spinning. The core strengthening was great but the spinning class changed my life. It is a no-excuses, go big or go home kind of workout that is sure to get me as ready as I'll ever be for 3,000 miles of biking. My plan is to take the class at least 2-3 times a week from now until June and to never slack off.

Do you spin? What have you been day dreaming about recently?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Heat Heat Hills

Last week, Josh and I made a quick mid-week visit to Raleigh, NC for a concert and a visit with my family. We arrived late Tuesday night and left early Thursday but had all day Wednesday to relax and socialize. Of course, one of my first thoughts when I have a day off work is that I am free to workout at whatever time I please. So I slept late, had a leisurely breakfast, used an actual map to map a route with my aunt and uncle, and set out for a four mile run at 10:40 am.

This was my fourth run since the half and I was feeling full of myself. I had my garmin on for the first time since the race and I was ready to go out fast and see some 8:30ish miles on my wrist. But, OMG, the north hills neighborhood of Raleigh, as its name would imply, is hiiiilly. I pushed it at first on all of the uphills but I felt lucky to finish mile 1 in 8:53. Around mile 2, I turned left instead of right and got a little lost. A friendly man in a BMW convertible pointed me in the right direction. But he didn't offer me a ride home.

Those hills felt a lot more beastly than they look on here.

At this point, the going was tough and I was hating life. It was 80 degrees and it felt even worse. How I ran even 2 miles on a 100 degree day last summer is completely beyond me. My legs felt about as sore and heavy as they did on mile ten of the National half. I'm not sure if they're out of shape from so few runs for the past three weeks or if they were overworked from my recent intensity on bikes. They were screaming and I was seeing many 10+ minute miles on my garmin.

I got back to my aunt and uncles street, finally, and turned right in what I thought was the direction of their house. I ran another .32 miles and began walking as soon as I saw the number 4 on my garmin. I kept going and going and eventually reached the end of their street. I had gone the wrong way and was running out of time to shower before our lunch reservation. So I turned and ran.

I finished the run at 4.54 and was very glad to be done. I felt good for having pushed myself but also confused at what was wrong with my legs. Was it the heat? The hills? Are my legs completely out of running shape? Or were they tired from my multiple bike rides in the few days prior? It was frustrating to feel weaker than I think I should be but also enlightening to realize that I don't need to care. Running is hard and the beautiful thing is that, until the fall when I start training for another race, a hard run will do nothing but make me stronger. It doesn't need to stress me out or worry me in the slightest. Because it's only meant to be fun.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Far Off Race

After explaining how much more important biking will be in my life over the next few months, I am going to share some exciting running news. On Sunday, I registered for my fourth half marathon, the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 18, 2012. It will be a long time before I even begin to think about training for this race and that is good. But it is an exciting thing to have far off on the horizon. You won't hear me talk much about this race for months but now you know I'm doing it.

Nikki is calling it my "return to running race". So when I officially return to running, I'll be prepared to kick some ass. Get ready!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Let the Bike Training Begin

At my soccer game on Saturday morning, my friend Jamey asked if I've been riding my bike a lot now that the half is over and I've got my summer ride to train for. Sadly, my answer was no. I had had plenty of sweat sessions but only one of them was done on a bike seat. And that one can hardly count as a workout because it was a short little ride down to the tidal basin for a picnic under the cherry blossoms. I did wear my cherry blossom jersey though so at least I was sweating in style.

That afternoon, after the game, I set out with some friends for a 24 mile ride to Old Town, VA and back. The ride out was smooth, fast, and a little too cold. We rode hard and talked little. We picked up paninis at a little sandwich shop and ate by the water.

View from our lunch bench.

On the way back, we rode directly into the wind the entire way and drafted each other. About halfway, I moved to the front and cut the wind off for the group. My legs began to burn hard and it felt good to just keep pushing through that. I got back on a bike yesterday afternoon to ride to a friend's house less than two miles away and my butt was incredibly sore from the seat. All signs pointed to the fact that I need to start training more seriously.

Ingrid and Josh on our windy ride back.

Tonight, because I am a firm believer in pushing through the pain and making my muscles scream, and because I was in the mood for a walk with Joshua, I decided not to run in this beautiful weather. Instead, I walked to the gym to ride a stationary bike for 45 minutes.

View from my bike seat.

The only thing remotely resembling a stationary bike that I've ridden in the past 15 years is my own bike on a trainer so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was somewhat annoying to sit on such a fat seat and I felt a little too upright. But it was definitely advantageous to spend all 45 minutes engrossed in book two of The Hunger Games, distracted from the very real burn in my legs.

Post-workout, kindle in hand

It has been about eighteen months since I've gone on more bike rides than runs in a two week period. But, over the past 16 days, I've run only 3 times, and I've ridden my bike five. Running has dominated my athletic life for the past year and a half and I have loved every minute of it. But I will admit that I was getting a little burnt out by the end of this last training cycle. I was distracted by my next big adventure, my 3,000 mile bike ride, and I'm excited that I'm free to focus my energy on that now.

Next time I get asked if I've been biking a lot, my answer will be "hell yes!". And, in the process of training, I hope to share more of my plans, my dreams, and my fears for this summer's ride on Sweating in Style. Stay tuned!