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ICYMI – Bike Month

Get on your bike and ride!

Get on your bike and ride!

In case you missed it (ICYMI), May is National Bike Month. The idea is to showcase cycling of many forms in varying communities around the country, with the goal of inspiring even more people to get pedaling.

Manayunk just staged the second edition of the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic, one of the more prestigious professional cycling races held in the U.S. Kiel Reijnen and Evelyn Stevens won the men’s and women’s races respectively, both for the second year in a row. Anyone that spent that Sunday afternoon on the Manayunk Wall will tell you, it was exciting.

Cycling and commerce have deeply shared roots. For example, Italian cycling legends Fausto Coppi and Felice Gimondi both began their cycling careers by delivering meat, and mail, on their bicycles.

Closer to home, Wash Cycle Laundry (washcyclelaundry.com), started by Gabriel Mandujano in Philadlepha, picks up and delivers laundry by bicycle. Gabe has recently expanded to Washington DC.

Philadelphia-based nonprofit Gearing Up (gearing-up.org), founded by Kristin Gavin works with women transitioning from rehab or incarceration. The philosophy of the organization is to stimulate improved self-esteem, encourage a sense of release and offer positive new direction via the cycling experience and the human connections formed through that shared experience.

According to the Inquirer, Philly bike-share will launch in the Spring of 2015, elevating Philadelphia’s reputation among the country’s more cycling friendly cities.

A recent study of cycling trends shows strong ridership growth in key cities (think Portland, OR) where bicycle infrastructure has been installed. For the period 2001 to 2009, ridership has grown most among males ages 25 to 64, while popularity has actually fallen in children. (“Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies,” John Pucher, Ralph Buehler and Mark Seinen.)

This trend might be addressed through programs such as Philly’s Neighborhood Bike Works Earn-A-Bike program. This inspiring program allows children to learn bike repair and maintenance, and much more, while earning their very own bike. (neighborhoodbikeworks.org)

Pedaling a bicycle is many things to many people. At once healthy, environmentally friendly and economically sensible, it’s more than that. So, in case you missed it, why not dust off your bicycle, pull it out of the garage and pump those tires, to head out for a ride?

Crocus

By Valerie-Clark Roden

Deep thaw is what we need to heal the bruises of winter’s wrath. After this seemingly endless winter I am looking forward to seeing the first colors of spring as the crocuses pop their cheerful, bright purple and yellow cupped petals through the frozen earth to welcome the much-anticipated change of season.

Crocus-e1394760913359The crocus is nature’s promise that we are, finally, seeing the end of the bitter cold. They are the hardiest little plants – enduring the freezing temperatures of winter in order to grow and thrive. Crocuses easily self-propagate and can spread a carpet of blues, whites, purples or yellows across your garden. Honeybees are awakened and lured out of their hives by crocus. And the treasured exotic spice saffron is cultivated from some species.

Squirrels and other little creatures love crocuses as much as we all do. Squirrels, voles and chipmunks like to nibble the bulbs, also called corms, leaving no base from which to grow. With the snow that’s covered my lawn and garden for much of the past 80-some days now receding, I will look to see whether my crocuses survived winter’s hungry gnawing animals. Hopefully the bold little plants will soon be poking their heads up whole with their perennial promise once again announcing the onset of spring.

Avalanche

Avalanche-Blog-PhotoThe lure of skiing deep powder in the backcountry is overwhelming. The vast open snow fields, the speed and weightlessness of a powder descent, the sun and snow blowing magically overhead – there is not much like it.

Little Cottonwood Canyon, outside of Salt Lake City, provides access to some of the most exhilarating powder skiing in the world. A typical winter brings over 500 inches of snow from October to April. The terrain is majestic, with alps-like mountain faces, steep chutes and heavenly powder fields extending down thousands of feet. It is also one of the most avalanche prone areas in the U.S.

The risks are enormous. While the snowpack is controlled in and near the ski resorts, it is generally left untouched across most of the backcountry. Newly fallen snow often does not bond well with the older layers, leading to slide risk. When there is a weak layer, it will often release. When the snowpack fractures, a field of snow can accelerate down the slope at a horrifying rate.

The spellbinding solitude of the backcountry masks the complexity of the situation. The total quiet can be broken by the disconcerting “whomph” the snowpack makes when it settles. This is often a signal of extreme instability. Thousands of tons of snow, perched. Throughout the day, the radiant heat and wind can critically change the risk parameters, often quickly.

Decision making in the backcountry is complex, and fraught with consequence. As you skin across a snow field, even having some sense of the construction of the snow pack and the relative avalanche risk, you can easily become paralyzed with fear. The quiet whir coming from the skins amplifies the incessant fear that at any moment the snow beneath your skis may suddenly break free.

Even with advanced equipment such as the Avalung and the Airbag backpacks, the chances of survival are not good. A large percentage of skiers are killed from trauma, irrespective of whether they happen to become buried in the debris.

Without a perfect prop, the critical factor is to follow a process and strictly abide by rules based decision making. There is simply no room for impulse or whim. A bad decision, and in an instant you are in a whirl of irreversible forces. Success is returning home safely, with more experience and wisdom in hand, to better manage the nebulous risks the next time.

Collapse of the Polar Vortex

FrozenFalls_2014As 2014 gets under way, investors and market watchers are digging through analyses and research for some insight as to what may be in store for the year ahead. Clearly, they need look no further than their local meteorologists for direction.

Early January brought an arctic cold snap to most of the continental US like it hasn’t seen in many years. In plain language the scientific explanation is that, in winter, the stratosphere cools with less solar UV radiation. That temperature difference creates a vortex. Last week, the jet stream dislodged part of the vortex, causing it to collapse and move south. Voila. Icy cold air put an instant freeze on our everyday lives. Most people had probably not even heard of the polar vortex before that.

As the wave of frigid air marched across Lake Erie it dumped 20 inches of snow on Buffalo, New York and more or less ice-coated everything in the neighborhood of Niagara Falls.

The practical messages are direct: What we should fear most about the markets is the “unexpected” event, the black-swan, the collapse of the polar vortex.

Our second take-away is when arctic air arrives stay out of it. When the markets become inhospitable, for whatever reason or bad luck that comes along, stay safely on the sidelines and wait it out while the ice melts.

The Queen of Tuscany: Cycling The L’Eroica with InGamba

L'Eroica riders take a break in one of the Tuscany hill towns

L’Eroica riders take a break in one of the Tuscany hill towns

Tuscany, as you may well know, is home to many superlatives:  wine, olive oil, endlessly rolling hills, azure blue skies, historic small towns, famous artists, and of course cycling roads. In October, I flew to Florence and met up with a group of cyclists, and a tour company called inGamba. Our plan was to watch the World Championship Road Race, spend a week on our bikes, and close out the week with the L’Eroica. L’Eroica is a one day ride with roughly 5000 cyclists. Put simply, it is a celebration of the strade bianche, the “white roads” of Tuscany.

Gaiole, in Tuscany’s northern reaches, is the starting point for the L’Eroica. Our inGamba group set off on our vintage bicycles, brakes screeching and headlights piercing the predawn pitch black. Luckily, the rain had stopped sometime during the night and there were a few stars showing.

Tuscany is all about its towns. The first town on the 205km L’Eroica course is La Madonna. It’s also the first segment of white road, looping up the candle-lit drive toward Castello di Brolio and up into the high vineyards. Incidentally, the white roads are actually gravel and difficult to navigate on a vintage bicycle with toe clips and down-tube shifters.

There is no such thing as flat or straight in the Tuscany. This aspect of the geography makes cycling the region exhilarating, but also taxing. There is no time to rest easy while riding on gravel, as the downhills are where spills are most likely to happen. Riders often find themselves tossed among the olive trees when suddenly unable to navigate a turn on a gravelly descent.

We looped around the outskirts of Sienna just as the sun was hitting the Torre del Mangia, and barreled south toward Montalcino. While I was with a group, the difficulties of riding in the dark and the odd nature of flat tires and mechanicals can raise havoc with riders trying to stay together. We would reconnect at mandatory checkpoints, generally every 50km, only to lose touch with one another again on the next stretch of road.

After Montalcino, the white roads become relentless. The climbs are long, often stretching 10-20km. Gearing on vintage bikes is nothing like modern bikes, which makes gravel uphills even more wrenching. Often riders have no choice but to dismount and walk up the steep segments. Between Asciano and Castelnuovo Berardenga the steep gravel pitches take everything you’ve got to crest each hill, only to ride into another… and then another.

By this time, well into the afternoon, the long hours of rigorous riding begin to take their toll. My body, accustomed to four to five hour rides, is beginning to ache: feet, legs, back. There is no way to settle in and find a comfortable place on the bike. As we near home, some of the roads are familiar. Achingly, the L’Eroica course does not go where my body wants it to – there are still more kilometers to ride. The last town before the finish is Rada, and like so many charming Tuscan towns, Rada is on top of a hill.

Nearing the town, I begin to feel that precarious sensation when your body is about to run out of energy, for good.  I quickly eat the rest of the food I’m carrying (including home made rice cakes, by our Soigneur Raul, thank you) and hope it’s enough to get me to the end. No more water either. Leaving Rada, the course climbs toward the familiar Badia a Coltibuono, and then turns down the final stretch of strade bianche into Gaiole.

The finish is spectacular. Hundreds of family and friends are there cheering each and every rider. Riders pull up onto a podium for a photograph and a final passport stamp. Spoils include a bottle of Chianti from Barone Ricasoli and a personal 205km monument (cycling monuments are the oldest and most prestigious one-day races). Very fitting.