Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Politics

I don't get too political on this here blog, but I'll make an exception in this year's election cycle. Plus, it's got something to do with cycling.



Don't let up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Belt Tightening

For you south of the river workers and dwellers:
 
The City of Eagan's going to be cutting back. According to their Nov/Dec newsletter, funds aren't available to hire contractors to clear the Eagan trails, so they're going to make the City crews do it. Street clearing will remain top priority; winter trail and sidewalk clearing will be done between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Mon - Friday. The new service delivery time will likely be 2-5 days after snowfall. During significant storm events or back-to-back storms, winter trail and sidewalk maintenance may not occur until conditions and operations return to normal.
 
It won't effect me much since I roll straight to Highway 13 and normally take the shoulder all the way to the Mendota Bridge, but I know several locals who commute into and out of Eagan year round and this could throw a potential wrench into their lives.  Except perhaps Karl, whose Pugsley can conquer all.
 
I would anticipate that my biggest obstacle will remain the Mendota Bridge.  And the plowing scheduled that Eagan is proposing sounds extremely similar to my experience on the bridge over the last few years.  As I look back and look forward (neat trick!) I'm thinking I will concede and allow the bridge to win this year.  Meaning that my plan going in to this winter is that I won't be cycling when the bridge isn't plowed.  I may make exceptions to this if it's a light snowfall, or I may take a risk of getting caught at work and having to make my way home over an unplowed sidepath, but once I know that the bridge is more snowy than I consider passable I'll be avoiding the bridge.  Which, by nature of it being the only reasonable river crossing between me and work, means avoiding the bike.  But the risk/reward ratio has been getting skewed further and further away from reward the last few years and I'm just not that interested in fighting that battle any more.  Perhaps I'm getting soft in my old age.  So what.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall has fallen






Riding to and from work today was like a slap upside the head from Old Man Winter. "I'm coming for you, boy." It was as if all the trees had made a suicide pact and decided to start dropping their leaves all at the same time. Sunday, it was beautiful and 70 degrees. This morning when I left home it was still almost 70. I was too warm in a short sleeve shirt and shpants. On the way home I was pulling on my long sleeved shirt, vest and gloves. Slap. Supposed to get down to the mid-30s tonight. Fortunately I have parent/teacher conferences to attend at the elementary Tuesday night and have an excuse not to brave these kind of temps just yet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mmmmm, free burrito

In honor of the reopening of the West River Parkway, Longfellow Grill will give away free breakfast burritos to travelers commuting along the important Twin Cities route Thursday morning, October 9th, 2008. Twin Cities' residents can show their support for the reopening of West River Parkway and fuel up with a breakfast burrito at the same time. The Longfellow Grill booth will be positioned near the exit to East Lake Street off West River Parkway.
Burritos will be distributed between 6-9am.  Found via Roadguy.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

S24O

Last Saturday I did my first attempt at bike camping, using Grant Petersen's S24O format. Being my first attempt at hauling any camping crap anywhere on my bike, my total time invested was way more than 24 hours, but I can see how it would get easier and easier the more one does it. The part I really liked is how different it is from my normal car camping weekend trips. These take a lot of planning and effort, and it made me realize that most of that effort involves bringing stuff that isn't strictly necessary. Although to be fair, it is a bit of an apples vs. oranges debate as most of these trips are with the whole family so the amount of gear is dictated by the number of campers and the age of two of them.

I decided to go to Afton State Park for my trip. Afton is a nice park and I estimated it was about 30 miles from my place, which was about what I was looking for. Afton is also unique in that it only has hike in sites, no car camping or RV camping. Living in a river town has it's disadvantages. Specifically in this case, I needed to figure out how to get over the Mississippi River by bike. There are a limited number of river crossings, and not all of them are bikeable. I ended up deciding to take the counterintuitive route of heading into downtown St. Paul to get out of town. It worked very well. Here's the route I took to get out of town. I found a nice surprise in a trail through South Saint Paul that runs along the river and took me directly to the 494 river crossing I was planning for.

Fully loaded bike along the Big Rivers Regional Trail.


Barges on the Mississippi in South Saint Paul.


Train yard.


Trail closed.


The trail closure wasn't a big issue, it was really just the underpass portion of 494. I crossed the river and started heading away from civilization.

Bike on the 494 river bridge.


Once over the river, the route to Afton is extremely simple. Follow Military Road. It's a very pleasant ride with wide shoulders and low traffic. It's a good representation of life on the prairie.

Military road.



The most puzzling thing I saw all weekend.



Nearly there.


Rollers.


The colors were just starting to change, but it's a beautiful park even without full colors.



I stopped and registered for my campsite at the main office. The ranger astutely noticed that I had biked there (I was still wearing my helmet) and told me that bikes were not allowed in the campsite, but I could lock my bike up to anything in the park, "as long as it's not a tree." I figured it wouldn't be that big of a deal to lock my bike up below and haul my things up to the site. I pedaled in to the foot of the campsite area and started to look for a potential lock up. My choices were pretty much limited to picnic tables and trees.

Trail to the campsite.



Crossing a stream.



Stream from the bridge.


I knew trees weren't an option, and the only way I could have locked it to a picnic table would be to crawl underneath with the bike. Not terribly convenient, and I wasn't super excited about leaving the bike to begin with. So I did some hike-a-bike action and took the bike along with me to the campsite. The first couple hundred feet of the climb was brutal. But after that the trail flattened out and pushing the bike was pretty simple.

Campsite #9.








One of the cool things about Afton is you pay $4 for all the firewood you choose to burn. The catch is that you need to cut your own wood and haul it back to the campsite. It's sort of a self-limiting arrangement. Water is also available at the firewood site from a solar powered pump. But again, take as much as you can carry.



Dinner was simple, a can of beef stew heated over the open fire. The pan you see here and a spoon was all the cooking utensils I brought. The next morning, I made oatmeal. Everything else was fruit (fresh and dried), trail mix or nuts.


video

After dinner I stared at the fire until it was time for bed.



I slept great. I didn't have a watch, but I would guess I got up around 8 or so. There was a slight drizzle in the air, but not enough to get my rain gear out. After breakfast I packed up and headed back home.


The one small issue I ran into was my tent pole broke. I heard something snap when I was setting up the tent, but it didn't seem to cause any issues with the tent and I didn't think much of it. When I was tearing down I noticed the broken pole. It's not a huge deal, and with a little tape it should hold up fine for future trips. But it's a little disappointing considering I've only used this tent about 5 times. But the tent was super cheap, so I guess you get what you pay for.


Fun with the self timer.




After packing up and leaving the campsite I did some exploring in the campsite.







I decided to try an alternate route on the way home to see if there was a more southerly route to my place. I took a few twists and turns that I didn't need to because the roads were marked inconsistently. Here's a hint, municipalities: If you put a sign that says "To County Road 26", then you should mark the arrival of County Road 26 as such, and not as 70th Street. I also had to detour due to a road closure, but subtracting these out I think the southern route is about 3 miles shorter. I left home on Saturday at about 2pm and arrived back around 1pm on Sunday. Everything went without a hitch, and I'm anxious to give this bike camping thing another try.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bailouts and Bicycles

Exciting times here in the US and world financial markets.  The Bailout Bill, Part Deux is scheduled to be voted upon by the House today.  Will the market crash if the bill is rejected again?  Will Henry Paulson take over the world?  Only The Shadow knows.  One thing The Shadow may not be aware of is there is a bicycle component to the bailout bill.  Really!
 
Section 211 of the Senate Bailout bill (H.R. 1424) states:

    "(a) In General- Paragraph (1) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:

    `(D) Any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.'.

    (b) Limitation on Exclusion- Paragraph (2) of section 132(f) is amended by striking `and' at the end of subparagraph (A), by striking the period at the end of subparagraph (B) and inserting `, and', and by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:

    `(C) the applicable annual limitation in the case of any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.'.

    (c) Definitions- Paragraph (5) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:

    `(F) DEFINITIONS RELATED TO BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT-

      `(i) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT- The term `qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement' means, with respect to any calendar year, any employer reimbursement during the 15-month period beginning with the first day of such calendar year for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee's residence and place of employment.

      `(ii) APPLICABLE ANNUAL LIMITATION- The term `applicable annual limitation' means, with respect to any employee for any calendar year, the product of $20 multiplied by the number of qualified bicycle commuting months during such year.

      `(iii) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING MONTH- The term `qualified bicycle commuting month' means, with respect to any employee, any month during which such employee–

        `(I) regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee's residence and place of employment, and

        `(II) does not receive any benefit described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of paragraph (1).'.

    (d) Constructive Receipt of Benefit- Paragraph (4) of section 132(f) is amended by inserting `(other than a qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement)' after `qualified transportation fringe'.

    (e) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2008."

 
To sum it up in plain english, employers of people who bicycle to work stand to gain a $20 per month tax credit per cycling employee.  So next time you're biking down the road and somebody honks their horn or flips you off, tell them you're saving the economy.  Because clearly, they're related.