Saturday, December 26, 2009

Anticipating the New Year and a New Bike Bag

Important decisions require careful consideration. Last year while shopping at Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon I found the Twig saddlebag from Basil. I loved it but wondered if floral was really me. Would tire of it or feel self-conscious about it unapologetic girlishness? After nearly 8 months though I can't get the lovely Twig bag out of my mind. As my good fortune would have it Absolute Bikes sent me a good customer gift certificate so I plan to pay them a visit this in the next day or two and see if they can order it for me. I know I should use the certificate to purchase studded tires but sometimes style wins over function with me.

Seasonal Images and Distractions Curtesy of The Planner Guy

I can't let the holiday season go much further without expressing my appreciation to my husband, Chef Bob/Planner Guy, for his talents in the kitchen and in his role as Santa on Christmas Eve and Day. On Thursday night. we made a traditional Caravona Italian Christmas Eve dinner - vegetarian bolognese over home made whole wheat linguine. On Christmas Day we dined on standing rib roast with a Dijon pepper, garlic mashed potatoes, and sherried green beans with mushrooms. All of it melt-in-your-mouth goodness. In between feasting, Bob presented me with cross country skis. I've never skied but have always wanted to. After 3 years in Flagstaff, I'll get my first taste of skiing tomorrow on a nearby snowy mesa.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bike Route Reopened But Challenges Remain

After nearly two weeks off the bike due to over two feet of snow and a longer wait than usual at seeing plowed streets in our area I pedaled to work last Thursday and Friday. While not completely free of ice and chunks of snow, the urban trail was very passable and Pulliam Drive, on which I chose to ride, free enough of traffic to make maneuvering the ice patches quite easy.

The cold was another matter. The temperature during my morning commute hovered around 15 degrees. I wrapped a wool scarf around the lower half of my face and replaced my Nutcase helmet with a fleece hat that fit over my ears. My NorthFace mittens proved to be an improvement over the leather, fur-lined mittens, but my fingers still hurt by the time I arrived at work (my face streaming with tears and mascara running due to the bitter cold) so I'll be looking for some warming gel packs to slip inside the tops of the mittens. I am pleased to report though that the Hot Chillys leggings kept me perfectly warm. I pulled them over my tights and wore them under an above-the-knee skirt.

Sadly for the bike commuter in me, it is now again snowing. We expect 4 - 8 inches by tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I have yet to purchase studded tires. On the bright side, Bob gave me Tubbs Flex Alp snowshoes for my birthday; state-of-the-art light-weight snowshoes for women. Plus poles. So, there you have it, yet another alternative to car reliance. And, its a great work out.

Frigid temperatures outdoors are always a great excuse for cozy activities indoors. In keeping with our efforts to live more simply (even during the holiday season) we stayed home Friday night, sat by the fire, and played Scrabble. Bob won the game due to the fact that Splash, one of our Australian Shepherds helping him cheat. I consoled myself by baking thumbprint cookies, which Bob admitted were amazing despite being prepared with whole wheat flour and oatmeal.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When Considering Biking in the Snow

I have no ideas about biking in the snow. Sure, I know how to dress in the very frigid weather. I purchased Hot Chillys insulating leggings while in Colorado and they do the job. I also bought some NorthFace HyVent ski gloves and they do keep my fingers toasty. The real question plaguing me remain, can I ride my bike to work in the snow? I was hoping to build up to it . . . a 3 - 4 inch coating of snow that I could realistically practice on the urban trail on my very short ride to work. We got such a snow fall a few weeks ago but other factors required me to take the Element. Last week we get a second snow fall but it's a blizzard. I mean, really, a blizzard. We have 26 inches on the ground.

As one can see from these night shots I just downloaded, most sidewalks are covered. I mention that because most bike lanes are home to giant ice berms created by snowplows. The heavily used FUTS that runs from my neighborhood to the airport is completely covered, so my guess is that most of the other are similarly impassible.

We in Northern Arizona take water, be it from rain or snow, value precipitation but this could really impact my blog! I suppose I should have considered the months of December through March but I didn't. My husband gave me a kiwi Dell Studio laptop and logical thinking became impossible.

So, it is a puzzlement, as the King of Siam would say. The ladies from Let's Go Ride a Bike and Girls and Bicycles ride in the snow so what is stopping me? It could be the lack of an open urban trail at the moment or it could be the monstrously large SUVs driven overconfident drivers with little snow experience slipping and sliding along Flagstaff streets. I'd like to get past all that. Perhaps a little weekend practice is in order.

Last forecast I heard called for 3 - 5 inches this weekend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Return to Flagstaff and Some Not Very Bike-Friendly Weather

Sunday morning we drove back from Mountain Village, Colorado. We needed to hustle since the forecast told of blizzards heading toward Colorado and Flagstaff. We left as snow was falling over the San Juans. Very dreamy.

The landscape slowly changed from Alpine forests to high-country desert to desert to high-country desert again. It was cold, very cold all the way home. We saw two cyclists pedaling along the highway (not together), both traveling quite loaded down with gear. I wondered about their adventure and thought of Beanie's recent road trip to Yuma from San Diego. Such belief in one's self to take on such a journey.

The San Francisco Peaks finally emerged with a heavy mass of clouds settled among the mountain tops. Only a a few inches seemed to have fallen but the closer we came to Flagstaff the more we became aware of what was to come.

Just a few inches on Monday morning and I considered riding the Expedition up to the airport. Less than a mile from my house. How cold could it be?? Really, really cold according to our well insulated Australian Shepherd Splash who had lost all interest in the outdoors. The morning public radio host warned of an approaching blizzard and white out conditions later in the day. Fair weather bike commuter that I occasionally am, I elected for the Element. Bob stayed home to catch up on sleep and hang with the dogs. He promised me French onion soup should I decide to come home for lunch.

The Element proved to be the right choice. By the time lunch had arrived, the snow was half way up to my knees, and quite wet. Since the state has cut funding to ADOT, City plows had to pick up the slack, and with that little if any salting or cinders had been applied to the road. Naturally, the urban trail was not plowed and likely would not be for quite a while, unless a private individual decided to take on the job. In no way, could have managed Pulliam on my bike. As I drove home, I passed evidence that many cars had skidded around or completely off the road. Would studded tires have done the trick? All I knew was that I missed my bike ride and as much as we depend on snow for water and to support the tourist economy here, I feared my winter rides might be suspended for several weeks.

This morning we awoke to over 2 feet of snow on the ground. Our first blizzard in ten years according to the Arizona Daily Sun. We couldn't even get the car out of the garage before noon today and riding my bike to work was out of the question. With the Planner Guy manning the snow thrower and me with a shovel, we set about to clearing a path for the Element. (Heavy sigh!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Visit to Another Mountain Town(s) - Part 2

The first day and a half spent in Mountain Village, Planner Guy and I jumped on the gondola yesterday for a walk around the Town of Telluride, a historic mining town, now a bohemian ski community. While Mountain Village's European architecture lends itself the feeling of a Swiss mountain community, Telluride very much harkens back to the the American old west, complete with the proper Victorian homes of the day. For my Louisville, Kentucky readers, think the Highlands or Crescent Hill with the San Juan mountains in the very near background. Quite a sight, indeed.

This being a bike commuting blog, I get straight to the point. Immediately upon exiting the gondola station, it became quite apparent that Telluride enjoys quite the bike culture - and I don't just mean mountain bikes. Old mountain townie bikes were locked up aplenty outside the station, which had several bike racks set around the bike patio area. A very good sign.

We strolled around town for a bit and happened upon Easy Rider, located at 200 W. Colorado Street.
As one can see from the photo, their storefront is a bit hard to to miss. Again, I was lured in by the obviously vintage townie bikes. We couldn't resist going inside. With hardly an inch of floor space to spare, owners Jon and Missie have their projects hanging from the ceiling.

The winter season has not quite kicked in at either Mountain Village or Telluride; we hear the winter season begins just before Christmas. I was a little disappointed I didn't get the chance to photograph any bicycles with their owners but Telluride's charming streetscape made the shots just as appealing.

Hungry, we searched look for a place for lunch. With many tantalizing options to choose from we found one recommended to us earlier in the day: Telluride Pizza Kitchen and Bristo (aka TPK by the locals), 142 E. Colorado Street. Cozy, warm and stylish, in a mountain-chic kind of way. I can only say that if this modestly priced, Italian restaurant were located in Flagstaff, my Italian-boy husband swore he would never cook again. We ordered a calimari appetizer and pasta rather than pizza. Each bite was mouth watering. We enoyed a very good house red and finished the meal with perfectly prepared espressos. I apologize for not photographing our entrees, but the aroma was so amazing that as soon as the dishes arrived at our tables we dove in. Priorities, you understand. If we're ever back in T-ride, we'll return. A large group of women (a book group celebrating a birthday) sat at a table in the seating area beneath ours, and they clearly were regular customers.

As I mentioned earlier, Telluride is rather bohemian; everything is very pretty but not without a touch of crumbling elegance, which I always love to see. A little bit kookie? Dog friendly . . .
. . . with, I suspect, a flair for the slightly subversive.

There's nothing subversive about this sight, though. How often today do we see a merchant out sweeping his or her sidewalk? Not really a common sight in my lifetime but definitely a sign of pride of ownership. The business was Baked in Telluride (127 S. Fir Street), if your interested, and if we return this highly recommended little restaurant will be on my list.

Back Up to Mountain Village
Sleepy from carbohydrates and wine, we returned to the gondola station for our trip back up to Mountain Village. A view of Mountain Village from the gondola . . . . rustic but elegant; grand yet intimate at the same time. I think that's what you get when a community is designed for people rather can cars.

A street in the core of Mountain Village. Residences and guest accommodations are above retail, dining and office space.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bargain Boots and Visit to Another Mountain Town

Third day of work and another pair of boots! Wednesday morning would be test day for my new pair of Bass boots. A few weeks back, the Planner Guy and I stopped at the outlet stores in Anthem on our way back from Phoenix. Bob needed some new dress shoes and the Bass outlet had a buy-1-get-2-for-free sale. Who could walk away from that? Certainly not smart shoppers like us. Bob found two pairs of shoes and I got the boots for free. I picked up the brown tights at the Van Heusen outlet. Very warm and only $8.

My other proud bargain, the cream, corderoy skirt, I picked up in October at Target. Only $20 and very well made with nicely finished seams. My late Grandmother G always said to pay attention to the seams before your purchase. Well finished seams are more of a sign of quality than the store in which it hangs. I'm happy to say I've found some really well made things in Target.

Life Update: Visit to Mountain Village, CO ! And Telluride

Planner Guy and I have been in Mountain Village, Colorado for the last few days. MV sits above Telluride. Although accessible by road, MV and Telluride encourage residents and visitors alike to make the trip between both communities via the gondola, which carries up to 8 passengers. Within MV, one can also move between one side of the town and the other via the chair lift and the chondola, which seats four. Altnerative transportation nerd that I am, I love the gondola and chondola. I haven't been in a car since we got here and haven't needed one.

The gondola/chondola stations are really sharp, too. We had dinner at Cosmopolitan in Telluride last night (great dining and service, BTW) and picked up the gondola at the station up the street from the Mountain Lodge. We were impressed to find a full service grocery store in same complex as the gondola station, which must be very convenient for local employees commuting between Telluride and Mountain Village. It reminded me of the train stations in Vienna that house coffee shops, grocery stores, newstands, and drug stores.
And how about these bus shelters? This is what they look like all over Mountain Village.

More on our visit later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A New Day and Thanksgiving in Retrospect

The snow from the weekend snowstorm is mostly melted so I felt very comfortable that the roads and bike path would be free of ice and frozen snow. The commute to my new job at the Flagstaff Airport is only about an 8 minute bike ride from our front door. While I enjoyed the 30 minute ride into downtown, the new shorter distance allows me to sleep in a bit later. Who wouldn't appreciate a bit longer snooze time?

When starting a new job, a common worry is what to wear. Mine, of course, is what to wear in the cold and on the bike. Inspired by Trish and Dottie from Let's Go Ride a Bike, I vowed I would master biking in skirts but worried about warmth. This summer Decker Outdoor gave me some Teva Montecito boots to try out. I loved them and knew they would be a central part of my fall and winter wardrobe. As I posted previously, they are stylish and perfect for Flagstaff's often rougher terrain. They are also ideal for pedaling and look great with casual skirts and tights. This morning I pulled out a simple denim skirt I found recently at target, a Columbia mock turtle neck cardigan, and black ribbed tights from JCrew (the latter two picked up at the outlets in Anthem outside Phoenix. I put on my black, quilted, down vest from Eddie Bauer for just the right amount of warmth and pedaled up to the airport using the urban trail. I was pleased to find that my feet stayed perfectly warm during the ride, although my hands unfortunately were freezing despite my fur-lined leather mittens. I guess I'll have to break down and pick up some insulated ski mittens.

The Flagstaff Airport doesn't have any bike racks, although the airport director mentioned to me that several people who work there bike in and that he is interested in getting a rack. Given Flagstaff's budget dilemma, no different than those of most cities across the country, a bike rack will likely be a low priority but the sentiment so in the meantime I'm grateful to be allowed to lock it in the employee parking area to a sign pole close to the building. Here is my Expedition with a few private planes sitting under "shade" hangers next to the terminal.

I had a great second day on the job. I got to tour the airport facilities, including the runway, hanger areas, and the public safety areas. I had no idea so much was out there. I also got to attend a meeting for the selection of public art to be displayed at the airport, all of it by local artists.

The 5 p.m. temperatures were considerably more comfortable than in the morning when I couldn't bear to remove my mittens to take some pictures of my morning ride. Here is a not very good shot taken on the way home from the bike lane on Pulliam. Since it snowed over the weekend the San Francisco Peaks are snow-capped (a bit). No worries by the end of December, I am sure they will be respectably snow covered and the Ponderosa Pines will be thoroughly coated, whipped-creme-like.

Tomorrow, another pair of boots and another skirt.

Focusing on the Positive on Thanksgiving Day
On our nation's day of giving thanks, it really is best to focus on the positive. No matter how often the oven shuts off, no matter how long the turkey takes to cook, no matter how frustrating it is to have to throw out a ginger crust that just won't bake, it's much preferable to enjoy the wonderful aromas and flavors filling your kitchen and your mouth. A great tasting turkey is just as satisfying at 7:30 as it is at 4:30. An apple tart minus the crust is called an apple crisp.

This was our fourth Thanksgiving together and the third in which we used the holiday menu from Seasonal Southwest Cooking by Barbara Poo Fenzl. Every recipe is a winner.

Given the extended preparation time this year and the associated problems, it was a good thing we didn't have any dinner guests. Plus we had enough food left for left overs. In this case, Chef Bob prepared comfort food for the upcoming week, turkey tettrazini.
Jade enjoying her post Thanksgiving dinner nap.