At Last, Mountain Biking!

At last, I have tried mountain biking. And I can say that it did not start off well. It just barely ended on an up note. Someday, somehow, I must get over my fear of falling and smashing in my teeth.

The Mechanic and I went camping near Harrisonburg, VA, just overnight, for his birthday. Ironically, most of the bike-y people I know were not far away, doing the Shenandoah Mountain 100. From the scraped up arms and ribs I saw at work today, a good time was had by all.

Even a place for disabled hunters to go!

Even a place for disabled hunters to go!

Our campsite was a “no facilities” park, Slate Lick Fields, that catered to campers with horse trailers, and the location was indeed full of horses. We got the last available campsite, at the end of the road, which was perfect – large, fairly flat, and next to a lovely stream. The campsite was next to the access road to the reservoir, which was where we went for my First Ever Mountain Bike Ride.

Definitely no facilities.

Definitely no facilities.

Slate Lick Lake, which they are draining to do repairs.

Slate Lick Lake, which they are draining to do repairs.

Because it was a reservoir, rather than a lake, it was uphill to get there – which mean downhill coming back. I didn’t like that part at all. The trail was full of very large pebbles, and I was terrified of slipping, so I walked down most of it. The flat parts were mostly okay. The Mechanic was convinced I wouldn’t like mountain biking.

However, after brunch at The Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, we went out to Hillandale Park, a park with mountain biking trails that The Mechanic has talked about before (a lot).

"Green space packed with activity areas"

“Green space packed with activity areas”

Although I asked to walk the train before we got the bikes out, I was encouraged by what I saw – packed dirt, not loose rock. So we got the bikes out. The Mechanic wisely opted against offering unsolicited advice, and let me go at it my own speed, and this paid off. I didn’t get pissed off, and I eventually felt more comfortable with the bike (did I mention this was the First. Time. Ever. on this bike, too?), and on the trails. I did get off and walk over the biggest rock clusters in the trail, but by the time the heat and humidity did us in, I was beginning to get more confident about going over roots and small rocks. Yay!

In fact, I’m looking forward to trying it again, and soon, before I lose my nerve. I think that I could eventually begin to slowly lose my fear of smashing my face. Hey, I had a lot of dental work in junior high and don’t want to do that again! (My mother would thank me for this as well.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Uphill, ironically, was more comfortable than going downhill. Am I the only one here?
  • Letting me work through it on my own was the best way to learn.
  • Being confident on one bike doesn’t automatically mean I’ll be confident on another bike.
  • Perhaps wearing a skirt on a mountain bike isn’t the best idea. It kept catching on the nose of the saddle. This, of course, leads to the last lesson:
  • I need new clothes in which to mountain bike!

What do  you do to help get past fear of something you really want to try? I’m open to tips! (And I just solicited them, so no worries there!)

Feeling better!

Feeling better!

Once I get past the fear, hopefully I'll love mountain biking almost as much as The Mechanic!

Once I get past the fear, hopefully I’ll love mountain biking almost as much as The Mechanic!

Teal, then Shades of Gray

I’ve always switched up my color palettes with the seasons, not necessarily intentionally, or based on what the “in” seasonal color might be (I hear it’s burgundy/oxblood for this fall), but whatever strikes my fancy. It is sometimes guided by what is in the stores, so last fall when everything was teal, I happily embraced it, since it’s one of my favorite colors. It is also more or less my “Dramatic” color, according to my wrist and my friend David Zyla’s book, The Color of Style. But I hadn’t realized quite how much I’d embraced it until my latest sewing project.

Because sewing for me is not relaxing to me, more like an itch I need to scratch (Must. Design. Must. Create.), I like projects that I don’t need to linger over. The blouse I started last week ended up not being such a project, so I was pretty happy to crank out a pair of easy drawstring pants this week. Inspired by the drapey pants that are so in fashion at the moment, I picked a bright color peachskin and naturally threw some reflective trim in the seams. They are not 100% perfect; a better seamstress could have made them look smashing, but I really love them and can’t wait to wear them next week.

Not the most flattering photo, but I still love the pants!

Not the most flattering photo, but I still love the pants!

Hanging them in my closet made me realize how much of this color combination I have!

Spot a theme?

Spot a theme?

I’m not sure I’m brave enough to wear any one of these tops with the pants, well, maybe the denim shirt. It would be fun to wear the pants I made with the colorblocked top I made, though. But we’ll have to see. (I even have blue and gray heels!)

But my blouse and the two projects lined up after this are all shades of gray. Did the title make you look?! Ha ha – no, this is not about S&M sewing, although sometimes it does seem a bit sadistic. This blouse is a bit of torture to me at the moment, frankly. But it was given to me, and I really really love the print. However, my machine does not like to sew the silky stuff, and I can’t get the tension set correctly! I can’t find my guide book, either. The sleeves didn’t hem the way the pattern said it should, I hated the yoke neckline the pattern called for so I took it out, and if I actually hem the bottom, it becomes shorter than I’d prefer.

I’m going to attempt circular bias out of the silver reflective fabric I bought at Britex, and fold it over the sleeve edges. I think I’ll just do a reflective band on the waist so I don’t lose the length. I’m just not sure about the neck. I don’t want to make self bias because of how much I dislike working with this silky stuff, but that might be best. I don’t think it will need more reflective trim is the waist and sleeves already are. So I will need to sit on this one for a while. Slow wins the race, I’m told.

Then next two projects are also gray! Grays

I want to try complicated pants again. I don’t know why I have to like all the hard patterns! But look at how cool this pattern actually is, and how is just screams for reflective trim!

Butterick 6028 Pants

Butterick 6028 Pants

I picked a cool snakeskin print lightweight corduroy for these pants, and I think hope they will turn out really fun. I promised myself that I would take time with these, and not crank them out. I’d really like something to turn out nice, and not look “homemade” but I need to work harder at my technique to get that to happen.  And try to match the print, which I didn’t even try to do on the teal print pants and I really should have, oops. Beginner. snakeskin corduroy

By the time the blouse and pants are done (wonder if I can pull off wearing them together?), it should be cool enough for the next project, my silver sweatshirt. Silver Velour

I waltzed into Britex planning on buying a print and a solid, like the pattern sketch, but ended up with this soft silvery fabric that I really hope doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing a Florida retiree velour jogging suit. I hope that with the reflective trim it will look sorta… futuristic?

McCalls 9026

McCalls 9026

I think I should be able to wear this sweatshirt with both the snakeskin print pants and the teal print pants. I have two gray blazers that should work with either pair of pants, too, both of which I’ve been wearing a lot lately. One is gray velvet, so a dressier version of the sweatshirt I’m going to make. But it doesn’t have any reflective trim! So I guess I’ll be wearing a lot of gray this fall. That’s okay, since it’s also a David Zyla color for me, at least, the way I’m choosing to interpret my eye color.

And if I end up getting the gray booties I’m lusting after at the moment, I will complete my Shades of Gray looks for fall!

Crown Vintage Tabitha bootie on DSW - Love this gray!

Crown Vintage Tabitha bootie on DSW – Love this gray!

And for the record, no, I haven’t read the book.

Blogging for The Discerning Cyclist

In amongst everything else I’ve been doing, I have written a few product reviews for the UK bicycle style website, The Discerning Cyclist. The first two product reviews I did for them were products I’ve written about here, the REI Novara Whittier Bike Dress, and the Natril Gear Handlebar Bag. But after my honeymoon, I wrote a product review just for the Discerning Cyclist – about the lovely NOMONRO Dress Clips I bought in Amsterdam. You can read it here. I enjoy seeing my writing elsewhere, and I’m happy to share my opinions on bike fashion!

NOMONRO Dress CLip 3

However, with the publication of this review, I am now faced with a quandary – what else can I review for them?! Although I have many bike-y fashion things, most of it has now either been reviewed already and/or is no longer available. My cool North Face reflective shirt? So last year. My Cole Haan reflective shoes? Awesome, comfortable, cool, sassy – except they are no longer in stores (although I heard a few months ago that they were still in the outlet store in Leesburg, VA, so check that out, if you are nearby). Everything else I’ve made myself, and since I’m not at a point where I want to consider sewing for other people, well, I don’t think it would make any sense to “review” that.

Four reflective fashion projects lined up, yippee!

Four reflective fashion projects lined up, yippee!

 

So what can I review next? What should I review next? What can I afford to buy so I can review it?! I really want one of the several bike skirts out there (Iva Jean, Iladora, etc.), but I just spent a fortune on fabric and patterns, so it will be a while before I can do that. Any other ideas? I need some suggestions – or maybe donations? Think of The Discerning Cyclists and their need for more reviews of women’s clothing…

European Bike Style

Inspired by my meet up this past week with Bike Pretty, I decided it was time to share some observations from our  honeymoon about the bike style we saw in Europe.

As we all know, European approaches to style differ significantly from us. Speaking from our experiences in Zurich, the Bodensee area, Brussels and Bruges, and Amsterdam, I was surprised to notice several differences in each area. Cyclists in Zurich and Konstanz, for example, primarily use rear baskets to chart stuff around. This surprised me – I initially had a rear basket and didn’t like not being able to keep an eye on  my stuff. Of course, it looks very elegant, and Germans and Swiss definitely have much more trust and security when it comes to their bikes and accessories anyway.

In Belgium, we noticed something else – people still just locked their wheels up, not necessarily to the bike racks, but everyone had matching panniers that they just left on their bikes. I’d be too paranoid to do that here, but I was in awe of all the fun, lovely, colorful panniers! And totally jealous.

Most of the fun panniers were in Bruges, and it seemed as if every woman I saw on a bike was wearing a cute dress or skirt. And no wonder – there was a store not far from the town center with fun bike accessories! No, it wasn’t a bike shop, just a women’s clothing and accessories store, full of great shoes, fun purses, funky jewelry and clothing, and yes, bike bags, bells, stickers, and so on. This is what we need in the US – cute bike stuff sold not always in bike shops!

 

Plenty of bike style in Amsterdam, too, of course.  I expected that.

 

Style aside, there were many practical accessories that we don’t have easily available to us. I think my favorite was the stroller attachment, so you could hook your baby’s collapsible stroller to your bike, then have it handy when you and your child reach your destination. How smart!

 

Once again, I am in awe of the cycling culture in Europe, or at least in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands (I’d say Denmark too, but I think I covered that when I blogged about our trip there in 2012). Practical, yes, highly functional, yes, highly stylish, yes. And I haven’t even yet written about the infrastructure, and how the bike lanes we saw and experienced have forever changed my opinion on bike lanes in America. Stay tuned for that blog post!

In Brussels

huh. (In Brussels)

A Quickie Tour of San Francisco

Two weeks after returning from the honeymoon, I flew to San Francisco for a work-related conference, the annual Association for Commuter Transportation conference. Lucky us that is was in San Fran this year!

Being so close to home, I squeezed in a few hours with family and friends in Sacramento.

 

Because of the conference, I didn’t get to see much of San Francisco, but I hit some highlights.

After hours of discussing transportation demand management, marketing and outreach, behavior change and community-based social marketing, I snuck out at lunch to run to Britex Fabrics, a few blocks from the hotel. Despite a long list of projects, I only found fabric for one. I did buy some silver reflective fabric, and some fun trims, too. But the best part was meeting up with Melissa of Bike Pretty! It was so fun to meet her in person, and chat fashion and bikes, and see her current project. I am disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time with her, so I look forward to the next trip to the Bay Area!

When the conference was over, some friends and I did the tourist thing, and took a vintage streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf. One friend wanted to go to Alcatraz, but the tours were all sold out, so we settled for a bay cruise. Although I’ve spent years in SF, I’ve never done that, and really enjoyed it. The weather was just as I like – somewhat foggy.

 

My brother and sister-in-law flew in from Texas, not just to see me, but because my brother was headed to a conference in Sacramento. It was nice to see them, and hear about their trip to Indonesia, which had prevented them from attending our wedding. (Yes, I was disappointed they weren’t there, but what a great opportunity for them!) And with that, the trip was over!

Eno Wine Bar

Eno Wine Bar

 

I counted 15 hotels and 7 flights in the last 6 weeks – no wonder I’m tired of travel! (And that doesn’t include trains). It will be nice to just be at home for a while, get some sewing done, and catch up on the wedding and honeymoon stuff I still haven’t organized. Still, a whirlwind tour through Europe, then northern California, are not bad ways to spend a summer!

#edgar at Pier 39 (If you don't know Edgar yet, check out my Instagram account. He's taken it over. @earlettef)

#edgar at Pier 39 (If you don’t know Edgar yet, check out my Instagram account. He’s taken it over. @earlettef)

Our Bike Tour: The Jewel in the Crown

The bike tour was definitely the crown jewel of our honeymoon. The entire trip was wonderful, of course, but the bike tour was just heaven. Seven days, six nights, around Lake Constance (or Bodensee, to give it its proper name), and going through three countries (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria), just the two of us – sigh… We can’t wait to do another one!

We booked the Lake Constance tour through TripSite.com after some comparison of locations and prices and providers and so on. We picked this one because it had the option of doing  3- and 4-star hotels, rather than just all 4-star hotels, and thus being a bit less expensive. We don’t really need 4-star hotels, but I have to confess, part of me is now curious as to what those hotels are like, after how nice ours were!  TripSite.com doesn’t organize the tours, just help sell them. They sent us our hotel list a month before our start date, and other basic travel information, but once we arrived, we were biking on a Radweg-Reisen.com tour.

Our first hotel was in Konstanz, Germany, the Hotel Volapuek. Actually, it was in the suburb of Litzelstetten, easily accessible by bus from the Konstanz Hauptbahnhof (main train station); the bus stop was almost directly in front of the hotel. Upon check-in, we received a big packet of information, including gummi bears!  Because I had booked the tour, everything went under my name, so The Mechanic had to be “Mr. Floyd” for the week, which made me giggle.  Because Radweg-Reisen moved our luggage for us every morning, our bags had to be labeled the same, so…. (Having our luggage waiting for us when we got to our hotel each night was pretty heavenly, too!)

 

Picking up our rental bikes couldn’t have been easier, either. One of the buses that passed in front of the hotel ran to the neighborhood of Konstanz where Radweg-Reisen was located. Once there, we gave them our (my) name, and a staff person brought out our red bikes, let us test out saddle height, told us the lock combination, showed us our seat covers, first aid kits, tool kit, panniers and handle bar bags, then waved us good-bye. And that was it! We were biking in Germany.

 

The next day we first headed west from Konstanz, after a morning at Mainau Island, then biked around Reichenau Island before taking a ferry to Oehningen, near Stein am Rhein. We spent the second night there; the third day we headed north and east, to stay the night in Ueberlingen; fourth night in Nonnenhorn; fifth night in Hoechst, Austria; and the last night back in Litzelstetten/Konstanz. All total, we biked 250km, which was a bit more than I expected. It rained the entire day on our way to Ueberlingen, and the morning we left Hoechst, which was a bit of a bummer, but other than that, we didn’t have any problems.

Our route - starting clockwise at the red dot in Konstanz, heading west to Stein am Rhein, then up to Ueberlingen, then to Meersburg, Friedrichshafen, Lindau, Bregenz, Rorschach, ROmanshorn, and returning to Konstanz. 250km in all.

Our route – starting clockwise at the red dot in Konstanz, heading west to Stein am Rhein, then up to Ueberlingen, then to Meersburg, Friedrichshafen, Lindau, Bregenz, Rorschach, ROmanshorn, and returning to Konstanz. 250km in all.

Each day was like something out of the travel brochures (even in the rain). The lake was as gorgeous as the small towns were historic and cute. The flowers were in full bloom and just gorgeous, everything was lush and green, and there were baby ducks and swans in just about every harbor. We hadn’t anticipated the vineyards and orchards, or the wine, and couldn’t take our eyes off the far-away Alps (well, which we could see on the sunny days). We kept stopping to take pictures, admire the scenery,  wander through some picturesque town, or tour a castle. We felt a bit rushed, or maybe that was because we wanted to see everything, and still enjoy our hotels and dinners when we arrived. (Breakfast was included at each hotel, leaving us to find something local along the way. We ate pastries mid-morning, ice cream in the afternoons, and sampled local beer or wine with dinner. Except for the night in Hoechst, Austria, where the only thing that was open after 7pm was the doener kebap place.)

The other thing that we couldn’t get over was the bicycle culture we experienced. It was like nothing either one of us has ever seen – dozens and dozens of people doing the same thing we were doing, along the same trail, some with the same bikes and panniers, some with bikes from other tour companies, about half on electric pedal-assist bikes, and some loaded down with their own gear. Most of the other bicyclists we saw were retirement-age, and they were generally on the nice ped-elec (as they call them) bikes – which we studied as they cruised past us! In addition, or perhaps more importantly, the trail was so well marked that we never needed the provided maps. Every time we started asking, “Where do we turn next?” we would see a sign on a sign post, or painted on the road. We had a specific route symbol to follow, so sometimes that was all we spotted. Other times we found detailed arrows going in every direction, with kms or sometimes number of minutes to the next destination. It was pretty mind-boggling. Here, where we were, it was clearly coordinated for the cycle route, and towns would have the paths clearly marked. Locals were clearly used to bicycle tourists (in fact, probably are bicycle tourists themselves), and we were NEVER honked at. Ever. Then again, we also had clearly define bike lanes and lights and signs, and never felt threatened. How heavenly is that?!

 

I could go on and on and on, but I’ll leave it at some photos. That’s really the best way to explain it all, is to just show you how heavenly it was.

From Zurich to Copenhagen, and Back to Reality

The Mechanic and I are back from our European honeymoon, and a bit jet -lagged. It was such an amazing trip that it’s going to be hard to share everything I want to about it, and may have to give up at some point. I’ll give you some highlights, but first, a quick summary of where we were:

We started off in Zurich, Switzerland then went to Konstanz, Germany, where we started our Bodensee bike tour. Then we headed up to Dortmund, Germany, to visit friends. After almost an entire week there, we stopped in Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam, then squeezed in a few hours in Copenhagen, where we changed planes on our way home.

So, the highlights:

1. The bike tour around Bodensee was A-MAY-ZING! It was so well organized by Radweg-Reisen.com that we kept the catalog of their other tours. We booked ours through TripSite.com, but were definitely impressed by Radweg Reisen. We arrived at our first hotel and were given a huge packet of information, then jumped on a conveniently-located bus to the Radweg Reisen headaquarters, where we picked up our bikes. A brief adjustment of the saddles, a quick inventory of what came with the bikes (one pannier each, handlebar bags, seat covers, locks, first aid kits, tool kit), and off we went, just like that. Our luggage was picked up daily and was waiting for us at the next hotel. Although we picked the date we wanted to start our independent, unguided tour, there were plenty of others on the same route with the same branded bikes and panniers, and although we didn’t interact with them, we certainly got to know them. The hotels were all great, as well, and there was way more to see at every corner than we had time for! It did rain on us two of the days of long biking, but even then we still managed to have a great time. The bike paths were so well marked that we really didn’t need the provided maps, and every time we were unsure where to go, lo and behold! There was a sign, or a painted arrow on the road, or something. Biking in this area, and Germany/Switzerland/Austria is huge, so the signs and paths and arrows and detour signs, and everything were prevalent and put anything we have in this country to shame.

 

2. Bike infrastructure everywhere was amazing! I mean – it exists!!! And everywhere, not just in the wealthy neighborhoods. Streets are clearly divided – cars, bikes, people. Sidewalks were signed to show which side the pedestrians walk on, and where the bikes go, and then said streets would have stripes down the middle, or a different color brick bike lane in the sidewalk, or thoroughly painted bike lanes, even and especially through intersections. What?! We biked to Trader Joe’s today – not so much.

3. Germany won the World Cup!!! Woot!!!  That’s my team, and we watched the game from Bruges. We also watching the amazing Germany-Brazil game in Dortmund – that was just unbelievable. All the Germans were going nuts that night as we walked home from the restaurant where we watched the game.

4. Beer and Chocolate. Lots and lots of both. Beer everywhere, and chocolate mostly in Belgium (of course), but the Sprungli chocolates in Zurich were dee-vine!

5. Not as much shopping as I’d hoped, but I did get some bike accessories.

And many, many more things….

We were so sad to leave, and return to urban sprawl, less-than-robust public transportation systems and bus infrastructure, and not getting to practice my German any more. Really, I’m still in denial that I’m back. I’m still organizing my photos (all 2288 of them), and I haven’t even looked that The Mechanic’s yet.  So now is a good time to tell me what you’d like to see more of – bike stuff, hi-tech European stuff, historical buildings, the gorgeous countryside, our bike tour, what?

In front of the Bernina factory in Switzerland

In front of the Bernina factory in Switzerland

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