Category Archives: Travel

Lock on the C&O Canal

Part II –  Riding the Chesapeake and Ohio Tow Path

Ed note. This is the second installment of this summer’s epic bike trip. 

I had vague knowledge of the C&O towpath as a Washington DC resident and sometimes urban hiker but I had never ventured beyond Georgetown. I keep peppering Kerry with random DC and personal trivia. “Did you see those stairs, those were the ones that the priest fell down in the Exorcist.” I think I remember this movie because of a combination of my Catholic upbringing where I was frequently reminded that I seemed to be possessed by evil spirits. “You look like that boy, Damien.”  As a parent of two teenage girls I now have new found appreciation for the analogy. 



This section of the canal attracts a fair share of urban cyclists, from the lycra-clad Fred, cyclocross set, to retirees on hybrids wearing brightly colored helmets. There are also a fair share of walkers. There’s stagnant, green, algae tinged soupy water. We spy a large blue heron up ahead that’s fishing the canal. As we draw close he flies away, only to land about 30 or so feet up the road, non-plussed by our passage. This scene repeats again and again. Kerry muses that animals really don’t have an understanding of the road. This bird keeps on fishing and is kind enough to linger long enough so I can get a few pictures. The first of many creatures we encounter along the way. The turtles sunning themselves on logs on rocks don’t seem to mind the heat or humidity. Comparatively, I’ve already emptied almost two of my water bottles and am wondering where we might refill them. There are no bodegas, delis or 7-11s in these parts. 

Mountain bike over Potomac

However, there are locks where the water rushes through, and lock houses, which are now available to rent. These quaint small cottages are available for rent for about $150 / night from We did not book and have to be content with stealing glances from outside. Most are unoccupied. During the canal’s bustling times these were supposedly busy places, where the lock master would emerge to oversee the barge’s passage. I am wondering if these also served as stations to water and feed the mules that would pull the barges. 

We set a modest goal of 20 miles on the path for day one, and pull into the first campground, which has something of a party atmosphere–divided into sections for day trippers and overnighters. The official sites are full but a fellow bike camper invites us to share his site. All of them are right on the Potomac. There’s a large family with a few younger kids that I spot pulling small fish from the river. Barbecues are starting to smoke. A radio plays what may be a top 40 station–its loud enough to hear but too far to make out the songs. Several campers have slung hammocks between the trees in lieu of tents. I have rain tarp envy. Kerry and I start pitching our tents. He has the REI Backpacker Two–one I considered picking up but decided to go without in lieu of the one I got from my friendly neighbor, Chris. Kerry’s tent goes up more quickly and seems sturdy. I am planting stakes and running guy wires. “Oh, your tent still has those.” I keep setting up and Kerry’s making his way around the camp. I start putting out the non-perishables for dinner. Kerry approaches the table with a furrowed brow. 

“I threw their bag of fish back in the river. I just saw it laying there with fish in it. It seemed abandoned.” 

Kerry retells the story of what he thought was a cleanup and rescue mission that turned out to be releasing part of a family’s supper back into the Potomac.

“Oh? Maybe offer a tin of tuna for the ones that got away?” 

He goes over and apologizes again. No can for bag exchange takes place. 

At home, I am the chief cook, quartermaster and the person who for better, or worse, knows the location of everything in our compact Brooklyn kitchen. My river view dinner tonight consists of Ritz crackers, hard cheeses, two varieties of beef jerky, and tinned fish. I saw this trip as an opportunity to lighten our pantry of shelf stable foods, so I add crunchy peanut butter, dried cherries, and marshmallow Fluff to the mix. Later these are combined with Graham crackers and chocolate chips into what I dub a deconstructed S’more. I know, no marshmallows roasting on the campfire. 

After dinner, we wander down a bit and find a spot where it is possible to get into the river. Kerry is more excited about this idea than I am and goes for a swim. We talk until the sun goes down. The day campers pack it in. Another couple arrives late and makes a fire. I am surprised by how tired I am. 

Kerry’s allowed himself a few camping niceties–an inflatable pillow, for one, and an insect proof hoodie. I notice that apart from the swim he keeps long pants on to ward off mosquitoes. I spritz myself with bug spray and hope for the best. There aren’t many mosquitoes but enough so that I do find myself scratching the next day. I did think to throw a pocket camp sheet in that I bought in my 20s when backpacking. This was an excellent idea because the sleeping bag would have been way too warm. I eventually fall asleep. A few hours later I hear thunder and it starts to rain. Then it starts to pour. I enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the tent’s fly for about 10 minutes or so, and then I start to feel the rain come through into the tent. 

I imagine for a good part of humanity, a leaky roof was just something that was part of life. I have a different imperative, that is something like “shit! everything is going to get wet. I have to stay dry or I am going to be miserable.” I turn on the lights and start re-arranging camp away from the puddle. I am not sure quite what to do. Do I try and go out in the rain and fix the fly?Do I put my rain gear over it? Do I put my rain gear on? This scenario never came up in the 3 or so years I was a boy scout. The leak seems to be confined to one spot, and it is not raining as hard. I settle for moving stuff so it stays dry. Kerry asks if I am alright. I say yes, but the truth is more complicated than my declaration of “I’m fine.” I am tired. I am wet. I am cranky. I have a stiff neck. I am wondering why I thought I could do this trip, and thinking that I would be more comfortable in my bed. I do what I always do when I can’t sleep–listen to a book I’ve read before. Neville Jason, narrates Tolstoy’s War and Peace and before long I’m hearing about Kutuzov’s audience with Napoleon. I fall asleep again and awake dry and a little disoriented. 

Breakfast? Much like last night’s meal. We make a loose plan to get some on the trail. While we are getting our food together, which Kerry insisted we hang in a tree to ward off bears, we notice that another animal has gnawed a hole in his identical bright yellow Ortleib panniers. Kerry is wandering around camp. I sit down on the wet picnic table bench and am confronted by a brave gray squirrel who has no fear of me. I am amused and annoyed by its antics. My mental model for squirrels is that they see us and dart away. This squirrel, which I nickname Sassy, a tribute to her style, has no such ideas. So far as she is concerned breakfast is behind schedule.  I snap a few pictures of her return to the scene of the crime for Kerry. After a cursory review, he embarks on a squirrel re-education project, which consists of him shouting and clapping at Sassy until she climbs up the tree. 

“They need to have some fear of humans,” Kerry intones. 

“I suppose,” I say agreeably but I bet Sassy is back at table 1 for breakfast tomorrow with a new crop of campers. 

We are on the road by 10, with a loose agreement that we’ll seek more substantive fair at some point on the path. About 5 miles up, we’re in Edward’s Ferry and stop at the kind of campground I thought we would be at—one that’s home to RV’s, campers, complete with a boat launch, Coleman cookstoves with families preparing full camp breakfasts. I settle for an ice-cold water, my supplies low from the dry campground. Kerry downs a Gatorade and we watch the river go by. 

Over four days, there is a lot of real and conversational ground to cover. Anyone who knows me knows that I like a rambling conversation. On the other hand, when it comes to riding a bike, my default mode is to get from A to B as quickly as possible. I don’t quite know the origin of the maximum speed program. It could have been those first commutes by bike and trying to get to work on time, or trying not to get dropped by the Atlantic Bicycle Club. Pace wise, it’s not quite like going all out in a race—but it’s close. Kerry has a different set of assumptions, which could best be described as meander and enjoy. Stop when you feel like it. This approach is well suited to me taking pictures—but I am also happy to snap a selfie or capture the motion. Unlike riding on the road where you are an obstacle for cars, or you’re dodging pedestrians, fellow cyclists, or cars, here there is just the hard pack blue stone gravel, the steady crackling of the tires going over it, interrupted only by our voices or other riders. Some are clearly of the A to B set, others, even more leisurely than us. 

Generally, we pull off when something looks interesting, or if say there is a large black snake in the path, which definitely merits a picture. We ride through what seems like an endless canopy of trees. The canal looks like a pond in some places, complete with a thick, bright green algae skin, to a ditch in others, where just an outline remains.The lock houses and campgrounds are constants. As we go further down the path the water at the campsites is drawn by a hand crank pump—and there’s an advisory from the National Park Service that it’s been treated with iodine. It’s cool, but I can’t say it’s too my taste. 

At Seneca Landing Park, a stop with falls, speedboats, and loud kayakers, we refill and are told that burgers and beers are a mere 10 miles up ahead in Whites Ferry. This is ideally timed for lunch. We walk our bikes over the crossing and pedal for what seem like an interminable 10 miles. The Ritz crackers I had for breakfast left my stomach grumbling and the headache had me wondering if there was enough caffeine in Starbucks Nitro brew. Did I mention that I had never ridden the mountain bike more than 15 or so miles around Brooklyn? I find myself longing for my Brompton’s well broken in B-17 leather saddle, the greasy-spoon ham and cheese omelette with toast and home-fries I thought I’d be getting for breakfast, and maybe a nap.

Historic Whites Ferry 

We pull into Historic Whites Ferry, which seems like nothing more than a boat launch and a small house with a few picnic tables. The signs warn against parking bikes. We find the rack out back and step into the air-conditioning. There are 4 different kinds of beef burgers and a nod to vegetarians with Beyond making the list. We both opt for the traditional with an order of fries and are told to return in 20 minutes. Wikipedia tells me that White’s Ferry was the site of a cable ferry that took folks from Maryland to Virginia for many years. It is no longer there, but there are remnants of such a service—50 cents to cross is visible on the Virginia side, but we see no boats crossing, just kayakers and small pleasure boats. 

Picnic tables with umbrellas offer a reprieve from the sun. I crack open my Diet Coke, an indulgence now limited to a post-workout ritual. We’ve ticked that box. Kerry fetches the burgers which are giant, well seared, and tasty. The fries are generously portioned and have just the right crisp. I use this as an opportunity to ask Kerry if he’s read Russ Parson’s fine “How to Read a French Fry.” I share Parson’s explanation on how the fry oil can’t be too new or two old. These hit the spot. This spot has a buzz about it for leisurely, hot afternoon—a mix of families in cars and cyclists. I notice a particularly well-heeled cycling couple that have matching socks with images of mountains emblazoned on them. I wonder who bought the socks, and how the outfits were coordinated but stop short of making conversation. I pitch Kerry on what seems like a popular ice cream place about another 10 or so miles up the road, reasoning that we’ve earned it and it would make for good pictures. It was an easy yes. 

More gravel, tree-canopy, locks, and pedal strokes. We pull off at Point of Rocks. There’s a brand new small park. I find a tap for water and refill my bottles and douse my head. Kerry wonders if its potable. I reason that I can’t imagine a gray water system here—just seems like too much work for Point of Rocks and I take my chances. After refilling, we pedal uphill to the Rocky Point Creamery, a massive red barn complete with silo, an oversized parking lot that’s brimming with cars and motorcycles. This is a popular spot on Father’s Day. We rest the bikes near an oversized cow-shaped molded plastic bench and step inside where the line wraps to the door. Kerry and I call out flavors that look interesting. We realize that we are ice-cream opposites.

“Bananas foster! Yum!” I exclaim.

“What? That’s the least appealing thing here…but they have mint-chocolate Oreo.”

Of all the ice cream flavors out there, I abhor mint. I love thin-mint girl scout cookies, and can appreciate a York Peppermint Patty, but think the sea green concoction is akin to toothpaste. 

Instead, I settle for coffee—which never disappoints, and has the added benefit of making up for my imagined caffeine deficit. 

By now it’s 4pm and we’re back on the road. I’m wondering where we might be able to eat a fruit of vegetable that hasn’t been dried, processed and packaged. I am wondering what would make for an acceptable camp supper. The pizza place sells wings. Generally, I believe in getting the dish that a restaurant specializes in, but I don’t want bread and cheese. What I really want is a salad—and what would go well with a salad, well, wings. A soccer match booms in Spanish on the television while my salad and wings are made to order. I smile when I see that the greens are fresh and there are plenty of olives, tomato, and feta. 

Point of Rocks  

The train tracks run parallel the canal path at this point. The campsite is just a couple miles down the path—a steep incline down toward the river. The campground is quiet and empty. Unlike the other campsite, only a modest muddy embankment stands between us and the Potomac. We pitch our tents close to the water, the sun still high enough that the water sparkles. The trees offer plenty of shade for the tents. There is no rain in the forecast. We dig into the salad and wings. Kerry pops open a tin of stuffed grape leaves. 

After dinner, we wade through the silty, muddy soil into the Potomac. There are signs along the river which warn against this practice but it’s too warm and inviting to resist. The current is brisk, but not too strong. I am guessing the river is about half-a-mile wide at this point, and wonder how hard it would be to swim to the other side. Hard enough that I’m content to play at a few pushes into the current and then just to glide back. We hear the occasional cyclist stopping to make use of the creaky hand pump. Kerry goes to help a passerby. We learn it takes a tremendous amount of effort for a bit of iodine flavored water. I am glad I filled up at Point of Rocks. A bunch of CSX freight trains toddle trough to break the quiet of the woods—one has over 100 cars. There are a few that make their way through the night. The next morning at dawn, the first MARC commuter rail train barrels through, whisking people to work. I am glad I am not on the train. 

We eat a light camp breakfast. I note that the forecast calls for rain later in the day and into the evening and propose that we make alternate arrangements for camping. Kerry agrees. We settle on ending at Shepherdstown, which is just across the river in West Virginia, but there’s a day’s worth of riding ahead of us, starting with “breakfast” in Harper’s Ferry. 

We pack up and head back onto the path. I am feeling much fresher than the night before, emboldened by my last can of Nitro not so cold brew. This part of the path is less isolated. We can see towns and pass working rail yards. Still, there is little traffic. Eventually, we come upon the rail bridge that goes straight into a mountain. There are a set of winding stairs that go up to the top. After watching a group of cyclists shuttle their bags and bikes separately up and down, Kerry and I opt to carry one fully loaded bike at a time up the stairs. It’s cumbersome, but manageable, and before long we are walking the bikes over the narrow walkway. 

Harper’s Ferry looks like a dream. Rows of painted houses zig-zag up the mountainside. We pedal through Civil War memorials that tell of the battles fought here. It’s also where the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bested the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, by blasting a hole into that mountain. The rail would bring far more goods westward than the mules and the boats. There are many restaurants just on the block by the train station, but I am curious about what may be just a bit further uphill. I spin with some effort to find a pre-school up at the top. Kerry asks politely if I noticed the barbecue that someone was selling out of their house. Uh, no. In my singleminded spin quest and solitary demonstration of my cycling prowess, I missed exactly what we were trying to find. 

It’s about 85 degrees and the sun is almost directly overhead, a late breakfast, or an early lunch. It turns out that the proprietor has been smoking brisket, ribs and pork all night long. They’re wearing what looks like hand-made period garb. They have twin boys who in addition to knight like outfits are sporting convincing play swords. We’re offered samples, which are delicious and I start peppering the pit-master about his craft. How long have they been smoking? (About 12 hours? What temperature? (175)  What are you basting it  with (a mix of apple cider vinegar and water.)  I learn his name is Richard and that he hasn’t slept so that we can eat. In addition to generous portions of every item, we get sides of beans and coleslaw to accompany the homemade iced tea and lemonade. “We like to keep our hikers and bikers well fed,” the tired mom tells us. We find a shady spot in the back to savor what I think may be the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten. 

Energized by that lunch, getting the bike’s down the winding staircase seems much easier. There’s a man in his mid-30s with long hair, and a kid’s bike loaded with bags who asks if it’s worth the trip over the river, to which we offer a resounding yes, but I am stuck on what is this guy doing with kids bike and all this gear. We return to the road. Shepherdstown awaits.

The sun is streaming down and it’s warm, but cool in the shade from the canopy of trees and the light breeze that comes with pedaling. We pass a duet of cyclists on cruisers who seem to be live-streaming or FaceTiming. I compliment them on the home-made paper flags that herald their trip. We see the bridge for Shepherdstown overhead. The climb up the narrow road is steep enough that I resort to cutting back and forth to spin up it. Eventually I make it to the top, winded and tired. Kerry is not far behind. We cross over the river into West Virginia. I can’t help but think of John Denver crooning about country roads. There’s a massive Black Forest style resort off to our right, with a beer garden over looking the valley. We pedal on through the university and pull up to the Thomas Shepherd’s Inn—a full hour before our 3pm check in. No one responds to the bell, so we pedal into town for a drink. 

Biking the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: A Winding Adventure: Part I: Getting There 

Bicycles near Chesapeake and Ohio tow pathNote: This is the first post in a series of three about this adventure. Part one covers the planning to get there, part two, riding the path itself and part 3, the return home. 

There’s nothing like being forced to stay at home 18 months to stoke a bit of wanderlust. Oh, and turning 50. COVID made a party impossible, so instead I set out to do 50 things over 52 weeks to celebrate my 50th year—and ideally that most of those things would be with friends. One of those items included a vague plan to do at least a 50 mile bike ride, which could be easily done in a day, but what if instead of coming back home after a few hours I just kept on going? What if instead of staring at a computer screen I could keep my eyes on desolate roads and car-less paths?  What if instead of cooking every meal for me and my family I could eat out without worrying about finding a place that conforms to everyone’s preferences?  

I set out to answer these questions when my friend Kerry and I did on a fine early summer June day.

There was a question of the route. After considering the New York State Empire Trail, we settled on biking the tow path of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal because there were better camping options. This 184 mile route runs along the Potomac river—starting in Washington D.C. and concluding in Cumberland, Maryland. The visionary idea was to link the eastern seaboard to the Ohio river. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad rendered the quaint mule towed boats obsolete before it even opened in in 1850. The good news is that the tow path survives to this day—a gravelly and sometimes rocky road adjacent to what remains of the canal. It draws walkers, runners, hikers, and bikers. There are overnight bike campgrounds about every five miles, first come first serve, no reservations. 

I’m no stranger to bike riding—as a means of transportation, exercise and as escape. I bike commuted to my first paid job washing dishes, which led to a job at DJs Cycles, and something of a life-long love affair with bikes. A bike is liberating. There is nothing like the rush of wind that you get when you start pedaling. The machine is efficient. That pedal stroke conveys you further and faster than you could ever get on one’s own two feet, and with less effort. There is a vulnerability—you are sharing the road with cars that vastly outnumber you. However, you are rewarded with a direct experience that is unlike any other—a bit of speed, a shift in perspective, weaving through traffic. It’s just plain fun. I also like traveling by train, and while I prefer to rest my head in a bed, I have been known to camp if it’s right for the destination. This trip would be a chance to stack those experiences and try something new. 

For those who like bikes, the right number of bikes to have is always one more than the number that you own (n+1). After a bit of equivocating, I settled on taking my mountain bike on this trip—a Trek 7200 I bought 14 years ago ostensibly so that I could mount a child seat on it so that I could take my daughter Mia for doughnuts or to the park while mom slept. (It served this purpose admirably.) This winter I bought a rack and a couple of bright yellow Ortleib panniers. I fretted over replacing the original knobby tires with something better for the road but decided to just wait and see how it went. I also borrowed a tent from a neighbor instead of buying one. I packed the panniers with a couple changes of clothes and food from our pantry that I thought was trail worthy—peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, raisins, peanuts, crackers, dried fruit and some tuna in olive oil. Oh, and two cans of cold brew coffee to feed my caffeine addiction. I could give up my pillow for a few days but not my morning joe. 

Kerry and I met at 6:45 AM at the Brooklyn Quaker Meeting house on Adams Street, a spot we would both pass by on our way to New York, Penn Station. It was overcast, warm, and humid, well on the way to hazy and hot. We climbed over the Brooklyn Bridge, said hello to Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. While I hadn’t really noticed much of a difference in the weight from the bags on the flats, I did notice the extra heft as I pedaled up the bridge’s gentle slope. Manhattan was quiet on Saturday morning. We zipped over to the bike path on the West side highway, with ample time to spare before our 10am departure to Washington. We made a brief stop at Little Island, the new floating park, but posted guards said our wheels would have to remain outside. Another day. 

Given my pandemic commute to my basement office, this trip was the first chance I had to see the new Moynihan Station—a/k/a the old Farley Post office. It is light, open and airy, with massive windows that let the sun stream in. There are massive digital screens above the Amtrak waiting area that ran a slide show of black and white photos showing commuters boarding trains, rushing through older station, and happily on their way. This is a sharp contrast to NJ Transit Penn Station experience, still accessible by a tunnel, which continues with its low ceilings and Departure Vision terminals that commuters stare at forlornly while waiting for track assignments. NJ Transit tried to make it better. They made the ceiling higher by building a pit and installed a quirky kinetic sculpture of the jersey devil and Mr. Peanut but there is no denying you’re in the basement of a place that you just want to exit as quickly as possible. Moynihan’s spacious grand concourse is for walking but not waiting; there are no benches, or no iconic information counter where you might meet someone. We park near the elevators and make bets about which track will be ours. I spy a redcap bringing people down and correctly guess track 7 is the winner. 

I took a Brompton folding bike on the train every day for years when we lived in Glen Ridge, NJ. I lugged that bike up two flights with some effort but without hesitation. Moving this mountain bike with full panniers gave me some appreciation for what my motorcycle brethren may experience. It takes effort to hold up—the weight in the back always pulling, twisting. and waiting to fall if I were to release my tense grip. The elevator opens and we search for a space on the train that would fit the bikes. The conductor directs us to a vacant corner. We settle in for the ride.

I learn early that Kerry has a train ritual that involves eating a pan au chocolat once we are underway. The train is crowded. We’re reminded not to place anything on the seats and keep our masks on at all times. “Take a sip, or a bite, and put your mask on. If your mask is off, you’ll be off the train at the next station.”  On this Washington bound regional everyone follows the rules. 

Unlike a bus, or a plane, trains lend themselves to conversation—something about having more space, the rhythmic clickety-clack of the tracks, the ability to stare out a window, and knowing that the journey could end at the next stop serve to support casual and often deep conversations. The well-heeled gentleman on my left whips out a new iPad and starts browsing the cars section of Consumer Reports, and spends a good bit of time there before hopping over to a few car manufacturer websites. As we pull into Philadelphia’s 30th Street station and I can see him preparing to leave I mention that I work for CR and ask if there’s anything we could have done better to support his car buying research. He says he loves CR and that he’s looking for his son. One of the things I realize I miss most about the pandemic is just talking with people throughout the day. The train is ideal for these serendipitous connections. 

After car shopper leaves I am joined by Marion, an older woman wearing a bright orange tee shirt with matching sneakers, who’s signing onto Purdue’s Global Classroom. After a bit of talking about growing up in Berkeley, she shares that she’s on her way to visit family in Georgia—and is moving back there because her husband of many years passed away. “My church got me through but my family is in Georgia—and I can join the services online now anyhow.” I say goodbye to her when we’re packing up and wish her well on her journey and transition and she does the same. 

Washington’s Union Station’s grand hall feels expansive and stately compared to Moynihan. The expansive arches and shiny gold painted ceiling welcome telegraph wealth and a bit of pomp and some age but nothing like say the old world confidence, grandeur and expansive indifference of Paris’ the Gare du Nord. I snap a few touristy snaps to document the voyage. A running joke at my Grandmother’s house when the phone rang twice within an hour was for my Aunt Bobbie to crow, “What is this, Grand Central Station?” Now that is a concourse with energy—throngs of people huddled around the information booth. Signs of the Metro North lines and their tracks that go into the 100s, people rushing to make trains, buy tickets and if you take a minute to look up you are rewarded with constellations. I will never forget the first time my mom brought me on a trip to visit Aunt Carolyn in Norwalk. “Look up,” she said. And now every time I pass through, I do exactly that, and am rewarded with sky and stars. 

Grand Central Terminal Zodiac Ceiling

Union Station’s cool sleepiness and quiet gives way to the city’s summer achy humidity. We exit and see the Capitol in the distance, its view obscured a bit by camping tents in front of the fountain on the lawn in front. I lived in Washington DC for about three years—and after a stint a an Alexandria bookstore this then idealistic political science grad scored an internship and then a staff job on Capitol Hill working for a freshman Congressman from Arizona. This is to say, I know my way around town a bit, but it’s changed. I am sad to see the barricades and fencing around the Capitol and remember the days when all we had to do was pass through a metal detector. I didn’t even need my House of Representatives ID card. That has all changed.  

I tell Kerry I can get us to the tow-path though I have only a vague notion of how to get there. I have made a couple bike trips to DC and know there’s a well-designed center bike lane that goes right down Pennsylvania. I resist the certainty that could come by simply taking out my phone and typing in the location. I want the affirmation and self assurance that comes with knowing. Before long, we’re on the Potomac’s bike path and pedaling past the Kennedy Center and into Georgetown. I am reminded of the city’s swampiness and recall JFK’s dig about DC having all of the charm of a northern city and the efficiency of a southern one. 

I’m enjoying this tour down memory lane so much that I speed right past the entrance to the tow path. Kerry summons me back and we see two flights of stairs and a rusty track to help push a bicycle up. I wonder if any of the designers of this solution ever actually tried this with any bicycle, yet alone one with overstuffed panniers. I question the wisdom of my choosing to ignore the Google, but we muscle both bikes up and onto the gravel path. 


Exploring Mexico City by Bike

As part of a family vacation I brought my Brompton SL-3 to Mexico City.

At just over 8.91 million people, It’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it sprawls covering 571 square miles. It’s a great city for getting around by bike. I found dedicated bike lanes, a high tolerance for sharing the road, and cyclists of all stripes–from parents taking teenagers to school, to fixie riders and just about everything in between. The official, EcoBici bikes and docks are the ubiquitous with 452 stations offering 6,000+ bikes across the city. Dockless bikes, like Jump also dot the urban landscape.

Pedaling Mexico City

What about the experience of riding?

Mexico City consists of major thoroughfares–like Avenida de les Insurgentes–where there are several lanes of traffic going in each direction it’s a small island in the middle. These roads often feature a dedicated bus lane, which also doubles for a bike lane. These lanes are separated by very low rise dividers and unlike New York City, where bike lanes are often used for parking, in CD MX, bike lanes live up to their names.

Such lanes may sound like a luxury but they are essential given how heavy the traffic is. Mexico City ranks at 13th world wide for traffic congestion. In my experience, finding a bike lane was a pleasant, if somewhat unexpected surprise. Most of the time I rode amidst the heavy traffic along side, between and close to cars, weaving to move at a faster clip.

When traveling with family (who are yet to be persuaded about the merits of riding bikes in city traffic) I found myself in Ubers or taxis. Unlike my experience on the bike, we were always in traffic, which I then commandeered to practice my limited Spanish .The conversations went something like this.

“There is a lot of traffic.”

“Yes, always.”


“Yes, always.”

There is not only car traffic but many people making their way. While in the taxi when I looked across at the Durango metro bus stop and saw passengers waiting to board. There seem to be as many people on the bus as there are cars on the streets.

That said, the side streets are luxurious, peaceful and not congested. There is a mix of grand, classical buildings, decaying facades, green parks with flowers, and of course, dogs, every where dogs.

One other thing I did notice was that the air seemed a bit thick with fumes from cars, trucks and buses at times. Indeed, my phone reminded me that the air quality was at risk for sensitive populations. That didn’t stop me, or the cyclists of this fine city.

Note: I have had some luck stowing the Brompton the overhead but after one stern Australian bureaucrat made me run a security gauntlet a second time I opted for a bike case, thinking that now whenever I travel the bike comes with me as a checked bag. I know, it’s kind of boring but it takes the stress out of wondering if I am going to get through security.

Hola, NOla – Pedaling and Wandering through New Orleans

The Big Easy–mardi gras, Jazz fest, Katrina. I’d been a couple times before—once just after I got home from Peace Corps in my 20s where we stayed with our friend Matt V., a fellow RPCV and slept on his floor and again in 2010 for our 5 year wedding anniversary. Now, I’m here some 10 years later for CR and arrived early to set up for a work event which left some time to pedal and explore New Orleans on two wheels—something I’d not done before.

Hello New Orleans

My home base was the Hyatt Regency a modern mega-monolith next to the Super Dome, which sports rainbow colors at night. My now out-dated memories of the super dome are when it was a fixture in the nightly news during hurricane Katrina when it turned into a desperate refugee camp.  The U2 – Green Day song is what I have on my mind when I look out over the space like dome.
Hello New Orleans
I didn’t have much of a destination after I arrived other than, lunch. I googled and found a place that was 3 miles away, reasoning that I’d get a sense of what it was like to cycle here and work up even more of an appetite for lunch. While on my way to my intended destination, the modest crowd, charming name, and rumbles in my belly led me to stop at, Turkey and Wolf, which it turns out has amazing sandwiches. I got the collards, swiss cheese and cole slaw, on well buttered rye bread, and a glass of tea. Resisted the temptation to get a beer, as I had more miles I wanted to ride.
Hello New Orleans
I headed down to the river, because that’s what’s pretty, right? You know what I got? A wall, designed to hold the water back thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers. Or as Matt V, used to say, chippy-pot-las.  I took that down into the French Quarter. On the way, I passed a charming grandma on a chopper with a trailer, in which she pulled her poodle. I thought about engaging in some cyclist to cyclist bon homie, but pedaled on, but didn’t stop thinking about the missed conversation. “Cute dog”—I could have commented on the cute dog, “your dog is adorable.”  Grandma’s whole setup was adorable but my next destination / not destination was Beignets. I’m in NOLA. There must be donuts but by the time I got to the French Quarter, near Cafe Du Monde, where I saw the line and then again decided that i wasn’t up for waiting so wound up in Andrew Jackson park. I was thinking, aren’t you the dude who’s supposed to go off the $20 to be replaced by Harriet Tubman? Why do you get a park? Well, I guess if you lead the army that takes Florida from Spain, that gets you a park.

I folded the bike and sat on a bench and chatted up a motorcyclist who lives somewhere on the gulf, who came “to look at the pretty girls,” which, according to him, are sparse on the gulf’s oil rigs.  He left and a couple of other guys saw me unfolding—I was going to take off but wound up talking to Jay and G. for a while. It turns out that they are working but homeless. G. liked to do poetry slams. After one on how selling drugs leads to pain, he lifted his shirt to reveal deep scars, and a lump the size of a golf ball– gun shot wounds. I stayed for a while longer, Jay worked at Cafe Du Monde—would hang out in the milk fridge. “It’s deep!” he said. When I was leaving they asked for some cash. I gave the lone dollar I had but wish I had more to give in that moment.

Next I wanted to try something greener, so I found a bike/walking path. And then I spied a bike shop. Went into Bayou bikes and chatted with Bob, their lead fitter all about the Specialized Electrics. They sounded like the bomb. Bob did not offer a test ride. (They go up to 28 mph.) I did not ask. I’m sure I could have. I just have a sense of what they can do. I wound up getting some riding shorts, sunglasses and brake shoes, and advice on how to install them.

Hello New Orleans

I set off toward the City Park—following the bayou as Bob had suggested. The humidity had gone out of the air and the sun was breaking through the clouds. I made it to the park and started riding around and was going to photograph some sculptures when I met a guy who was using collapsable fishing poles to blow ginormous bubbles.

I rode back through the Treme, and stopped at a grocery store for snacks to get some rest before dinner. All in all a very nice day.

Pedaling New Orleans

The Long, Slow Road to Work

May is bike month in New York City.  Though I commute every fair weather day with my trusty Brompton SL-2  with a serious assist from New Jersey Transit, I have been wanting to ride all the way from home to work since moving out here just over four years ago.  With the help of John Feinberg’s excellent cue sheet,  my GPS-enabled smartphone and some tired legs, I made it from Glen Ridge to Cooper Square in about two hours and forty five minutes.  (This sounds more like a marathon personal record dream time to me, than a bike ride, but I digress.)  

The route primarily traverses residential,  industrial areas and the occasional patch of nature.  Highlights include the now-defunct New York and Greenwood Lake  Short Rail, and the New Jersey Naval Museum, which is home to the USS Ling, a World War II Submarine.  I was surprised to see a loon diving for food in Leonia, and to learn that the south side of the GWB is closed to pedestrian traffic.  The north side is open, but involves what seemed like an interminable number of stairs after the 2 mile climb through Fort Lee.  I don’t think I was ever so happy to see the Hudson.  I thought of hopping on the subway at 181 Street, but savored the decline all the way down the West Side, which was all dressed up for Fleet Week

For those contemplating the trip from Glen Ridge, here’s a link to the modified cue sheet

And the Google Map.

Happy riding! 

Innocents Do Good

Robert Strauss, a former Peace Corps Country Director recently opined in the New York Times that “For the Peace Corps, the number of volunteers has always trumped the quality of their work, perhaps because the agency fears that an objective assessment of its impact would reveal that while volunteers generate good will for the United States, they do little or nothing to actually aid development in poor countries. The agency has no comprehensive system for self-evaluation, but rather relies heavily on personal anecdote to demonstrate its worth.” He argued that the Peace Corps sends too many recent college grads who lack the skills to do their jobs. I disagree with Strauss and wrote the following response. Other letters both agreed and disagreed with his assessment. Perhaps it’s not fair to generalize from one’s own experience–which goes for Strauss and me.

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Questions about the Peace Corps

Recently, I received a questionnaire from Susquehanna University, my alma mater, asking about my Peace Corps service.  I thought my responses lent themselves to a blog post.  I elaborate on the "right" time to serve, my living conditions, work placement and  what I found most challenging as a volunteer.  Overall, I highly recommend Peace Corps.  It exceeded my expections and I treasure the experience.  I also posted some pictures.

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All Aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway

Photo of a Russian train in SiberiaBloggers Note:  Today’s blizzard got me thinking of Siberia, so I exiled myself to my computer and resized a few photos, which don’t quite do the terrain justice.  I wrote this piece in 1997 not too long after I got home and hoped to sell it to the Newark Star-Ledger or the NY Times.  No such luck, but here it is.  – Ted

Let’s play word association. I say Siberia. You say the first five words that pop into your head.

"Snow, Dr. Zhivago, Snow, Bears, Snow, and Exiles."

No points for repeats–I’ll give you one for bears, and allow Dr.
Zhivago, but you won’t find any snow in Siberia in the summertime, and
the exiles living in Siberia now are there of their own free will, so
are no longer exiles at all. So what does happen in Siberia these days?

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