Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Las Vegas: Hello, Mount Charleston!

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

We’ve made loose talk about traveling with the girls. But over three years, we only managed day trips to Galveston (Papa Chuck & Baba Jean), day trips to Conroe (Gram Nancy), and one lovely weekend in San Antonio (Ben & Rebecca). Many of our favorite people are too far away to drive to (at least with toddlers) and we’ve been daunted by the prospect of air travel (with toddlers).

January marked the annual return of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to Las Vegas. Bill still has a stake in SpectraCal, which makes CES a work-like trip. We both had the ability to take time away from work (Bill had vacation, and all time off from my new job is discretionary), so we screwed our courage to the sticking place and bought plane tickets to Las Vegas. Whee!

When we arrived on New Year’s Day, Cindy, Paul, and their girls met us at our hotel for a simple dinner and catching up in the room. As we were checking in, the hotel manager told us about the buffet breakfast, glanced at our friends, and assured us we could bring our “whole family.” So Friday morning, we all grazed through the breakfast fare and then set forth to Mount Charleston!


We followed the 4Runner west and UP into the mountains


The high desert terrain is unlike anything we see in Houston

As the road ascended higher into the mountains, we felt the pressure change in our ears. We encouraged the girls to drink some milk and try to yawn to equalize their ears.


Cate


Sam

As soon as we got above the snow line, the little mountain road was lined with parked cars, and most every snowy open area was covered with sledders. So Cindy led us into the McWilliams campgrounds. A waiver, an entry fee, and a cord of firewood later, we were in and found a site.


The very first slopes we saw were covered with sledders




Cate bundled in thermals, tee/leggings, fleece, coat, hat, mittens, and boots!


Cate and Sam promptly slid down the hill to the bathroom on their bottoms


Emma is six-and-a-half!


Sonnet, Cate, and Sam found “an Iceberg” and built it up further


Sonnet


Paul


Bill


Cate tried to climb the Iceberg


Iceberg: 1, Cate 0.


Sonnet is three-and-three-quarters


Emma


Camp McWilliams


Cate was the first to get cold enough to warm her body by the fire


Cindy, our hostess with the mostest, presented hot cocoa!


Paul and Sonnet blew together to cool her hot cocoa



Cindy getting some Bruno cuddles


Sam


Cate lay down on the snow, the better to eat it


Bill took Sam and Sonnet for a hike up the snowy hill


Sonnet


Sam fell asleep within minutes, as soon as we drove away from the campsite


Cate feigned sleep, but was overtired/wired through lunch


Even Emma was wiped out by lunchtime


Mount Charleston


Desert sun

I shot more than a hundred photos, during our Mount Charleston outing. I meant to post only 8-10, but this is a full third of them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

First family vacation: visiting Miranda, Rebecca, and Ben!

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

As our girls approached two, and began occassionally to let us sleep 6 or 7 hours at a stretch, and I contemplated weaning once and for all, Bill and I decided we were ready to attempt traveling with children.

That said, we weren’t quite ready to brave airports and TSA checkpoints, so we opted for a car trip. When we considered destinations that are a 2-5 hour-drive away with people we’d want to see, the obvious choice was San Antonio.

So on Friday, Nov 8th, we headed out to SA and spent the weekend with our friends Ben, Rebecca, and their daughter, Miranda. They’ve come to visit us before, and our girls were excited to “go see Miranda’s house.”

The three girls played together Friday night in our hotel room, and Saturday and Sunday at their house. Miranda was part hostess and part Big Sister, showing the girls around, sharing her bricks, teaching them how to flush the toilet, and reading to them.

When I asked the girls Sunday what their favorite part of our trip was, both girls reported that “playing bricks with Miranda” was the best part.

Along the way, we got to catch up with Rebecca and Ben, and enjoy a lovely home-cooked meal.









Eight days in the Pacific Northwest…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I sometimes joke that something hasn’t really “happened” until I blog about it, but that poses a challenge. The more busy and interesting our lives are, the harder it is to make time to blog.

During our last vacation to Cozumel, it was easy to blog early and often because the afternoons were too hot to do anything else. But the trip we took in February to Portland and Seattle was so jam-packed I didn’t even attempt to blog before we got home. Since then I’ve stayed too busy to blog. And then our blog went missing for several days. But we definitely enjoyed a marvelous trip, so here — more than a month overdue — are some of my favorite moments:

Walking and transiting all over downtown Portland. In urban planning circles, Portland is widely-regarded as one of the most walkable, transit-friendly cities in the US, with a wonderful quality of life. My friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler, convinced us that given a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we should fly into Portland to explore the city for a day before heading to Seattle.

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, we did just that. We explored downtown, parks, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and the waterfront… all without ever using a car. Portland is also bike-friendly and I’ll be sure to rent one the next time we’re there.

Pioneer Square Court House
Pioneer Courthouse Square has a marvelous pedestrian plaza

bronze beavers on transit mall
Bronze beavers play on a water feature in the transit mall

Bill and Christof downtown Portland
Bill and Christof in downtown Portland

Riding trains with Christof. Christof knows more about what makes high-quality transit service than anyone I know. Portland has invested in a lot of great transit service, and the opportunity to travel with Christof as an expert guide was both fun and informative.

In Portland, we rode the MAX light rail in from the airport and out to Union Station. We rode the streetcar south to the waterfront and north for dinner at Wildwood on 21st St. We even took the aerial tram up to OHSU for great views of the city and the Willamette River. On Tuesday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades service up the coast from Portland to Seattle.

In Seattle, we rode Sound Transit’s link light rail to/from the airport as well as one afternoon just to explore station areas. We also rode the South Lake Union… Streetcar to explore Paul Allen’s multi-billion-dollar redevelopment effort. In both cities, Christof trekked out without us on several occasions to ride commuter rail and other services. He’s dedicated!

Bob on TriMet MAX light rail
Bob on the TriMet MAX light rail from the airport

Portland streetcar w Christof
Portland’s streetcar vehicles look happy to me

Portland tram w Christof
The tram climbs 500 feet during the 3-minute trip up to OHSU

Christof stalking Amtrak
Christof shoots more and better transit photos than I do

Bill and Christof shooting Puget Sound
Bill and Christof attempting to shoot dusk on Puget Sound

Walking and transiting all over downtown Seattle. Like Portland, Seattle, is incredibly pedestrian-friendly. Except for a day trip to Everett and Mukilteo, we explored Seattle neighborhoods via walking and transit (and Bill by bicycle, but that comes later).

Fifth Avenue morning rush
Morning rush on Fifth Avenue

Bob and Christof photographing
Bob and Christof under the monorail station

Bob and Bill at Pike Place
Bob and Bill at Pike Place

Chinatown
Chinatown

The Original Starbucks. Bill thinks he first encountered Starbucks coffee ~1996 during the Philip Morris SAP project in Richmond. During many subsequent years working in NYC, he’s consumed a LOT of Starbucks, venti iced skinny caramel Frappucinos (TM) to be specific. At home, he now favors the great local barristas at The Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. But given an opportunity to visit the little coffee shop at Pike Place that became a global machine, we had to go. And yes, I bought a mug. But I bought my lattes for breakfast at the Seattle’s Best Coffee further up Pike St.

Bill enters Starbucks
The original Starbucks shop at Pike Place

Boeing Everett factory tour. Bill and I have spent a lot of time in Boeing aircraft over the years, mostly 737 variations. And Jean still works for Boeing’s aerospace group. The Boeing factory where they assemble 747s, 767s, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliners is the largest building in the world (by interior volume) and we were eager to see what they do there. So we rented a car for the day to drive up to Everett for the plant tour. All photography was thoroughly prohibited, but the tour was still jaw-dropping. We also visited Snohomish County’s opportunistic Future of Flight visitor center.

Boeing's Everett factory

Boeing 747 assembly
Images courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Lunch in Mukilteo. On our way to Everett, we stopped for lunch in the old waterfront town of Mukilteo, which overlooks Puget Sound. We lingered in a charming beach park while Christof captured great photos of BNSF freight trains passing nearby. We then enjoyed a lunch of local seafood at Ivar’s by the landing where Puget Sound ferries came and went.

Mukilteo overlooks Puget Sound

Bob stalks seagull

Mukilteo ferry

My conference talk. The 9th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference was the justification for the trip, and I was invited to present in a panel on grassroots involvement in transportation planning. The room (of 50) was packed and I knew at the time that I delivered a better PowerPoint than any of the other panelists. But over the next two days, strangers continued to approach me and say some variation of, “You gave the talk from Houston, right? That was great! Good luck with your effort…” Their affirmations were very, very gratifying.

The Hiram Chittenden Locks. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they span the ship canal between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, segregating fresh- from salt-water. It’s both cool and vaguely disconcerting that you can walk across the top of the lock doors at one end or the other at any time. I talked with a cyclist coming across the locks who explained that he cycles across the locks from his home on the Magnolia side to his office on the Ballard side, even in the cold gray drizzle, because it would take him 5 minutes longer by car and be more stressful. I also talked with a Corps operator who explained the locks have dozens of moorings inside because, in summer, people on kayaks and jet skis use the locks, too. The site also includes a fish ladder to enable spawning salmon to traverse the locks in spring.

Bill by the Ballard Locks

Ballard lock in action
These locks operate 24/7 to keep maritime traffic moving

The Fremont Troll. North of downtown Seattle, there’s a bridge that takes Aurora Ave (WA-99) over Lake Union at the ship canal. The northern end where NW 35th St passes under the bridge structure used to be a Dark Scary Place where Bad Things happened. But the Fremont neighborhood got organized in 1990 and leveraged the fist matching grant from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to build a massive public art piece that transformed the location into a source of neighborhood pride.

Bob, Bill, and the Fremont Troll

Dinner with one of Bill’s Spectracal partners. The little software company Bill conjured up in 2005 has almost escaped mention in our blog. Nonetheless, SpectraCal has an office in Seattle where Bill’s business partners and a half dozen employees work. I got to see the office for the first time, and we enjoyed dinner twice with L.A. and his wife Gillian, once at a chic Vietnamese place, and once at their home. I managed to come home with no photos of us together, but they’re really wonderful people.

Bill outside Spectracal's Seattle office
Foil on the windows eliminates light for sensor testing

Walk audit of downtown Seattle. Thirty years ago, Dan Burden became the “Johnny Appleseed” of walkability and is now an internationally-recognized expert on how to make our cities better for people, instead of cars. On Sunday morning, Dan led two dozen of us on a 16-block tour of Pike St, Post Alley, and University St. He taught us to “see differently” and the Seattle DOT folks on the tour showed off some of their projects. I came away with lots of good ideas for making Houston more walkable.

seattle walk audit w Dan Burden
This ample Pike Street sidewalk is 22 feet wide from building facade to back-of-curb

Sending Bill to ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. While I was walking with Dan, the Cascade Bicycle Club led Bill and a dozen others on a bike tour of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of downtown Seattle’s on- and off-street bicycle facilities. The best part? Bill likes hills… lots of hills.

Pike Place Fish. About ten years ago, I came across a clever business book called, Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. In it, the author describes Pike Place Fish as, “a world famous market that is wildly successful thanks to its fun, bustling, joyful atmosphere and great customer service.” I decided our trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without meeting these guys. When we visited Pike Place early in the week, we somehow walked right past them, so we went back on Monday before flying out, and it was worth it. I got to chat with Justin and Scott about their business and they even threw a salmon for me.

Pike Place fish
These boys visit the Fish guys every day on their walk to school

Bob and the Fish guys
Bob, Justin, and Scott at Pike Place Fish

(I’ve got video of the guys throwing a salmon for me, but we shot it in AVCHD format and I don’t have a codec to play it here yet. Humph!)

As I said at the outset, our eight days in the Pacific Northwest were jam packed. Choosing just two dozen photos to capture the experience was tough. But I’m up for the challenge of going back and trying again. :-)

Emma and sunshine…

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I’m back home in Houston. Two days of cold, gray, rainy bleah are making me nostalgic for the glorious time we had in Vegas. We had fun, and the dry desert air and diffuse winter sun made for some great photos. Here are a few of my favorites:

Emma's blue eyes

Paul and Emma

Emma regards Bill

On Sunday afternoon, Bill needed to work and Paul needed to study, so Cindy and I took Emma to the park.

Cindy at the park
Isn’t Cindy a babe?

Emma pushing wagon
Emma pushed her wagon all the way across the lawn

Emma in afternoon sun
Paul found this expression “spooky,” but I love the colors

On Monday, Bill flew back to New York so I spent the night and Tuesday morning at Cindy & Paul’s house before heading home:

good morning Emma
Emma is a delightful breakfast companion

Bob reading to Emma
Emma asked me to read “Good Night Texas” about a dozen times

bath time Emma

I’m not sure how soon we’ll get back to Vegas. But I hope we’ll see Emma and her parents in Houston this spring. I can’t wait!

Vegas Baby, visit!

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

We’ve been watching Cindy & Paul’s baby Emma grow up via their Farhake Fam blog, but despite our best intentions, we haven’t seen Emma in person since the week she was born. Twenty (?!?) months later, she’s a delightful toddler:

We’ll be in Las Vegas for the next several days. Bill will attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Convention Center with his Spectracal business partners, and I expect you’ll hear more about that soon. Meanwhile, I’m going to do some serious catching up with Cindy, Emma, and Paul. See you soon!

Hanging in San Antonio and meeting Miranda

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Months and months ago, Bill declared that he wanted to go to San Antonio on December 5th to participate in the Rotary Club’s Mission to Mission charity bike tour. It would be a great excuse to finally go visit Ben & Rebecca and meet their daughter Miranda, so we signed him up.

But Friday morning as we contemplated the drive, a winter storm moved through Texas and it started to snow. The ground was too warm for it to stick, but it snowed most of the day and jumping on IH-10 to drive 200 miles didn’t seem smart.

winter storm doppler

snow on Fairview

Then Bill had to stick around for a late-afternoon work call. We decided to blow off his bike ride and just go visit our friends. We got to San Antonio early Saturday afternoon and enjoyed two leisurely days just hanging out. Miranda warmed up to us quickly, especially after Bill presented her with a tiny yellow Livestrong bracelet. We had fun!


Miranda enjoyed the package almost as much as the bracelet


Miranda is really good at sharing


The relaxed, happy family


Miranda already has Ben’s ability to regard the camera

walking to HEB
While I’m making the grownups pose, Miranda is checking traffic


Miranda mid-giggle


Miranda checking in with mom before racing off again

Miranda is going to grow up quickly and I really wanted to capture some great images of her. I did manage to get a few, but I felt especially photographically challenged this weekend. These shots have great light, natural expressions, or sharp focus, but never all three at the same time. Cindy tells me it’s because 17-month-olds are in constant motion. She’s obviously right!

Out of Africa, and NO stimulus for golf carts!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Thursday night, Bill and I visited his mom in Conroe for a potluck dinner and a recap of Nancy’s recent trip to Africa. She spent three weeks in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa with Overseas Adventure Travel’s Ultimate Africa tour. She visited Victoria Falls, slept in open air huts, and saw an astonishing array of wildlife… all with just 26 pounds of luggage. It sounded amazing!

Nancy recaps Africa
Nancy talked us through her recent Africa trip

After dinner and photos, we chatted with Nancy’s neighbors. They all live in a suburban golf course development, and most of them own electric golf carts. One of her friends told us gleefully that they would soon be getting a new golf cart, and that our grandkids would have to pay for it, thanks to Obama’s stimulus. Bill and I listened in skeptical horror as she explained that as long as her new golf cart had side mirrors, turn signals, and seatbelts, it would qualify for the electric vehicle tax credit, and they were eager to get their $5,400.

Thankfully, she was misinformed. As this guy explains, golf carts and neighborhood electric vehicles aren’t the same thing. Golf carts are designed primarily for off-road use. Neighborhood electric vehicles are engineered primarily for on-street use. And the IRS regulations make it clear that matters. Phew!

Seeing NYC with Amy from on High…

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

No trip to New York is complete for me without good quality time with my friend Amy, and this trip was no exception. We enjoyed lunch Tuesday at Tea & Sympathy and several dinners with Bill. But the best part was Thursday when I brought Amy along on my conference “walk shop” of the High Line.

High Line starts

Our tour was guided by Peter Mullan, director of planning for Friends of the High Line. In a nutshell, the High Line is an elevated freight rail track, built in the 1930s to get freight trains off the street in New York’s meatpacking district. It was an active freight line for fifty years, but the neighborhood changed and the last train ran in 1980. In the years it sat unused, an amazing array of foundling plants took root, giving home to birds and other critters. When some started calling for its demolition, two neighborhood artists organized Friends of the High Line to plan and fund the High Line’s preservation and adaptive reuse as a public open space. After 10 years of effort, the first section from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street opened in June 2009:

High Line users
This brand new park space is attracting lots of local users

High Line rail bed
The landscape architecture incorporates the rail tracks

High Line design
The hardscape design is incredibly fluid

High Line elevated meadow
Meadows incorporate indigenous foundling grasses

High Line at West 14th
The view of West 14th seems more panoramic from 30 feet up

The High Line actually runs right through a building that once housed the Nabisco factory where Oreos were invented. Today, its former loading dock includes open space for group programs and art projects. This installation by Spencer Finch replaced the factory’s casement windows with 700 panes of glass, each individually tinted to reflect the color of the surface of the adjacent Hudson river captured in each of 700 photos in a single day:

Hudson palette windows
Finch’s window installation captures the colors of the Hudson

Amy and I easily spent two hours ambling and enjoying this approximately one-mile stretch of park, and we enjoyed it immensely. Suffice it to say the High Line is very well done and an amenity to the surrounding neighborhood. It’s no wonder that several new residential and commercial projects have started nearby. And while it took 10 years, I’m inspired to see this neighborhood vision become reality.

Bob & Amy on High Line
Bob and Amy on the High Line

My thanks to fellow conference-goer Thomas Gotschi, director of research for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for snapping this photo of Amy and me!

Bike Around the Bay – Day 1

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

So I grabbed Bob from the airport “late” Friday night, and she was nice enough to return the favor gawdawful early Saturday morning and take me out to Anahuac (Home of the Texas Alligator, or some such) for the start of Bike Around the Bay. This is the second running of the event, a two day ride around Galveston Bay.  The first time the event was held was in 2007. In 2008, it was canceled due to Ike. So, in 2009, we get the second running in year three. While it is billed as 148 miles, in reality, it is a bit more. Day 1 was 78.4 miles, and Day 2 was spec’ed at 75.4. Not really meaningful differences at these distances, but 150 miles just sounds better to me than 148. I know: I’m odd that way.

Under normal circumstances, the trip towards Galveston would face headwinds from the prevailing sea breeze, and the trip North would have tail winds. However, an early cold front turned that around, and also brought a fair bit of overcast skies to the event (visible in Bob’s pictures).

2009 Bike Around the Bay - Day 1

One of the things that was well done about the ride was that the routing seemed to take us through areas that had some significance, and weren’t just selected for convenience or safety. For example, the first rest stop was about 12 miles into the ride, but was next to a historic marker that talked about oil discoveries in Anahuac. The rest stop on High Island was also at a historic marker talking about birds.

2009 Bike Around the Bay - Day 1 SpeedWhile Bob mentioned tailwinds, this was really only effective on the 17 mile leg from Stowell to High Island, where you can see that I was cruising at about 22 mph. This was the first extended time where aerodynamics were actually working for me, rather than against me! The fun ended, of course, climbing the bridge over the intracoastal waterway — the big dip in speed followed by the big spike (Lee-roy Jenk-ins!). That was a nice climb, and it was a good capstone for the “fun” leg, putting us squarely onto the salt dome that is High Island. After a brief pit stop in High Island, we turned down the Bolivar Peninsula, where the wind was mostly coming across us.

I’ll save thoughts on Bolivar for a separate post, but it did include a quick restroom break and about 45 minutes for lunch (mmm… PB&J!). Needless to say, Bolivar is not connected to Galveston, so we crossed over to Galveston on the ferry. Since the ferry also acted as an effective aggregator of cyclists, we were met on the Galveston side by three of Galveston’s Finest for a grouped police escort through the city. But apparently a UH alumnus (he had on a UH jersey) and I had other plans.

2009 Bike Around the Bay - Galveston Detail

When I got off the Ferry, I dutifully headed out with everyone else behind our three motorcycle police escort. GPD had put up traffic cones for us, dedicating a lane of traffic to the bicyclists. Very cool! However, the pace was a little slower than I was wanting to do, so I found myself passing people. We got about a half mile off the landing, and the pace at the front started getting faster. The front of our pack hit the turn from Ferry Road to Harborside, and it was full-gas.

For the first half-mile or so, the police escort kept up. The cops pacing us essentially played a modified version of leapfrog. The trailing rider would ride up to the intersection controlled by the middle rider, who would then go to the next intersection, where the lead officer would race ahead of us to the upcoming intersection. It’s a nice theory, but it is predicated upon two important factors: 1) that the rest of the group is riding such that they are through the intersection in a timely fashion versus the leaders, and 2) that you have enough police officers to keep up with the pace of the “protected” vehicles (aka us).

The UH alumnus was playing lead sled dog until I caught him around 15th Street, and then I shot past him. On an ordinary day, I’d have been thrilled to draft off of someone at 19 mph, but, well, I was “feeling it” and wanted to see how far I could go how fast before blowing up. Somewhere in there, the two trailing cops realized that we had gapped the rest of the group so they slowed down to give the rest of our ferry group a police escort. So much for condition #1. I missed the turn onto 25th street, so UH Guy got ahead of me. However, that only lasted until somewhere between Post Office and Avenue G (Winnie). There was a steel plate in the road covering over a construction hole of some sort, and UH Guy slowed just a touch to get over it.

I bunny hopped it.

Yes, I don’t know who was more surprised. Me or him. I don’t know how often one gets to see a 300 pound man in spandex get airborne on a bicycle in one’s peripheral and then primary vision, but I doubt the queue is long for repeat experiences. Me? I’m pretty surprised when something idiotic vaguely athletic that I plan to do actually executes right. No time to savor the moment, though, since it is back off the saddle and pumping my legs. I’m in what should be pretty close to my red zone (heart rate in the 160+ range), my quads are hurting, but I’ve got time to make up from my missed turn, and I need to focus on not letting the trolley tracks in the road eat my wheel.

We hit the turn onto Avenue O, and now our lone motorcycle cop is starting to struggle. UH Guy is pretty safely tucked into my slipstream, and I’m having to sprint-and-drift to let the cop get ahead of us from one intersection to the next. He’s having to really gun his motorcycle to get far enough past us into the intersection to stop the mostly non-existent traffic ahead of us. We go past Kempner Park and Garten Verein, and I have enough presence of mind to yet again be impressed by the route (emphasizing some of the interesting/historic aspects of the Bay area). By the time we hit 31st Street, the cop is cooked. It’s just unsafe for him to keep up, and I’m sure that the rest of the peloton needs him more. I only know that it was 31st Street because it was the intersection where DiBella’s Restaurant is. THAT I recognized, but the rest of the streets are really pretty much a blur. So much  for condition #2.

We go past Bob’s alma mater, Ball High School.  I get a little smile and push a little harder. We get to 53rd street and make the left, headed for Stewart. I’m slowing down a bit to get into “city traffic” mode. Somehow, I still have enough lung power left to call warnings to UH Guy. We make the turn onto Stewart, and the right lane is sectioned off for us with a cop in the intersection controlling traffic at 61st and Stewart. I know this intersection pretty well. Time to sprint.

We go flying past the cop, and I have almost dropped UH Guy. I turn my head to yell “Thanks!” to the cop, and UH Guy is about four bike lengths back and losing ground. A mini-van jumps into our lane and gets stopped at a light (Texas First Bank). That’s not a supported feature! He’s about to kill my buzz! I coast and then have to slam on my brakes as the light turns green, but mini-van guy is pondering the miracle that is traffic signalization. Mini-van guy catches a clue, perhaps sensing the depths of karmic shame he will be inflicted with should he get beaten “off the line” by a 300 pound man in spandex on a bicycle while suffering the added indignity of doing so in a mini-van, and he takes off. This distraction gives UH Guy the opportunity he needs, and he makes it back onto my wheel as I am accelerating down Stewart. We get past the “Y” where Jones Road splits from Stewart to carry us into Moody Gardens. The home stretch.

A woman in a Grand Cherokee really, really wants to cut across our lane, making a right into an apartment complex. I start shouting, “Don’t F-ing do it. Don’t you F-ing do it!” as the gap has closed such that at best I am slamming on my brakes to miss her (and potentially wearing UH Guy like a stole), and at worst, I am slamming into her door trying to fly sans bike. Fortunately, while she makes a couple of feints, she ends up letting us go past before cutting across the closed lane.

The bridge over Offut’s Bayou on Jones Road is not tall in any absolute sense. But Einstein must have been a cyclist, because that bridge’s height is entirely relative. Having blown through Galveston at 20+ mph, I had to down shift and get out of my saddle to get over that bridge. Wow my quads are screaming, and I am expecting UH Guy to come flying past me for The Win. Instead, he gets close enough to me on “the climb” to say, “Great Pull!”, and then I am off onto the downhill side ahead of him. Victory is mine!

I make the turn into Moody Gardens and there are no signs. Nothing saying, “Riders this way”, no “FINISH” banner, nothing. I am now confused. I am also utterly spent. I back down on the pace, as I blow past the front entrance to the hotel and wonder what the valet would say if I tried to have him “park” my bike. Oh, well. No signs are present, so I guess we are in The Very Back.

I cruise through the parking lot, looking for idiots who might want to run me over, and then catch sight of the big “FINISH” banner. Full-gas. At this point, that means a whopping 20 mph. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got left. I kick through the finish, and I’m done. For Day 1. According to my Garmin, I expended 8,700 calories, and covered 78.37 miles. UH Guy crosses the line shortly after I do, and I congratulate him on his ride. The next finishers won’t be coming by for more than five minutes, including several of the people I have met on the Taco Ride. I feel a little smug, but I also know it was really a race against me and my expectations and that my antics through Galveston may have hurt me for the next day. However, it was probably the single most fun ride I’ve had on my bicycle.

Time to hydrate, grab some dinner with Chuck and Jean and get to bed. But first, a shower and a nap. A GREAT Day 1.

Walk21 draws Bob back to NYC…

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

I spent the first week of October in New York City for a fantastic, international conference on walking and biking. To get a sense of what I was up to, check out this 4-minute video by Streetfilms:

Walk21 is dedicated to enabling walking and bicycling as safe, affordable, sustainable alternatives to driving. This conference focused on how cities around the world are addressing climate change by systematically enabling walking and biking, and drew 650 participants from 30 countries on “every” continent. We heard about major projects in London, Stockholm, San Francisco, Mexico City, New York, and more, and shared ideas with planners, engineers, and activists from all over. I learned a lot!

I also did a little teaching. I participated in a panel presentation and discussion about how local activists are using the internet to build livable streets coalitions. (Right up my alley, no?) It was fun, and also my first time presenting to an international audience.

As a bonus, I was one of several advocates invited to come meet one-on-one with NY DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian project team. While Bill joked about what a “behind the scenes” tour of a planning office might include (e.g. “here is the desk where we sketched the 8th Avenue bike lanes, and here is the workstation where our summer intern mapped them in GIS…”), it was really a great opportunity to meet the project planners and pick their brains.

inside the NY DOT
Behind-the-scenes with the NY DOT bike-ped teams

The coolest parts of the conference were “walk-shops” each afternoon. NY DOT team members led small groups of us out to show us some of their projects and answer questions. I got to see the new 8th and 9th Avenue bike lanes, and also the High Line (more on that in another post). Getting out into the city was way better than sitting inside listening to another PowerPoint!

8th Avenue bike lane
New protected bike lane on 8th Avenue sees a lot of cyclists

One day, I had a little time to walk around the city on my own.

When I worked in Manhattan briefly in 1996, I lived in Battery Park City, and commuted through the Wall Street subway station. I hadn’t been to the Exchange since Bill and I went that fall (another of our pre-couple protodates), and I was curious to see how the area had changed in the decade since. The first thing I noticed are huge new hydraulic barricades that limit auto traffic on all the streets around the stock exchange to authorized vehicles only. The second change is there are a LOT more people in the streets. That’s partly a direct result of reduced auto traffic, and partly the result of increased residential development nearby. Jane Jacobs would be pleased.

Exchange Place barricade
Exchange Place and Wall Street have new security measures

The southern-most portion of downtown Manhattan was originally settled in the 17th century by Dutch colonists (New Amsterdam). As a result, the scale and style of the streets in the area still feel very European today. I had not yet been to Europe in 1996 and consequently hadn’t noticed.

Nassau Street
Nassau Street in the original walled part of the city feels European

Finally, I wrapped up my walk at the South Street Seaport. While the historic district is now home to a “destination” shopping mall, the pier still boasts a fantastic view of Brooklyn:

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge viewed from the South Street Seaport