Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A quick guide on how to survive summer in Boston

Summer is in full swing, which means heat, humidity, mosquitoes and weekend traffic. Here is how to survive this mess:
  1. Get up early before it gets too hot to leave your house. Then realize even at 6AM it's already 75F and 85% humidity.
  2. In order to avoid traffic, ride your bike to work and arrive sweaty. Change into other clothes in janitor's closet because your office doesn't provide better facilities.
  3. Alternatively, use T and arrive late and sweaty. You will hear a story of someone's life though.
  4. Or just drive and arrive late. Ride around the block 3 times to find a subsidized parking spot. Then curse the stupid bike lanes that took away those precious 3 spots right in front of your office.
  5. Get one of those frozen sugary drinks that pretend to have something in common with coffee.
  6. School's out and students are gone, which means less traffic, but don't worry - weekend traffic starts now on Wednesday and lasts until Tuesday.
  7. Enjoy your weekends. Just avoid Cape Cod LIKE PLAGUE.
  8. It's seems nice outside so ride your bike to work. Get completely drenched in an afternoon thunderstorm.
  9. Make sure you saved enough last year to be able to pay your A/C electricity bill in August.
  10. Stay away from beaches - they're packed. And from lakes and forests (ticks and mosquitoes). In fact, your office cubicle seems like the best spot (free A/C).
  11. Be ready to figure out how to provide entertainment for your kids for the next 2 months, knowing your boss will let you take only 5 days off.
  12. Enjoy those long, warm evenings. Sip some wine on the deck. Mosquitoes and flies will gladly join you.
  13. Suddenly discover that the best micro-climate in your house is in the basement.
  14. Peek through the window sometime around the Labor Day and ask "Is it over yet?"

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mashpee HV Power Lines Ride

And, just like that, it's already July. A couple of days of the long Independence Day weekend I spent with my family at the Cape Cod. It's not the best place to ride a bike this time of the year, due to crowd and heavy traffic, but I tried anyway.

My problem with Western Cape Cod was always lack of longer, unpaved sections for some off-road riding, away from the car traffic. There are short fragments that can be stitched together but sooner or later you will end up on a main road with cars and trucks speeding by.

I looked at the satellite map of the area and realized that there is a way to (potentially) create an off-road bike route by using maintenance roads under high voltage power lines. Not knowing exactly what I was signing up for, I gave it a try...

The route covers an area between the village of Osterville and towns of Mashpee and Sandwich, just east of Otis National Guard Air Base.

I started early in the morning, at which point air was already unpleasantly humid (typical for July at the Cape) and I quickly entered the first power line trail. In terms of riding surface, this one (just north of Rt 28) was very civilized:

Then things got a bit rough. The next trail just off Old Post Rd is covered with crushed rocks and riding there was tough on my 35mm tires.
But then the rocky surface ended and when I got to Sampsons Mill Rd, it turned into sand. I had to push my bike frequently as it sank in the deep sand way too easily.
On top of that, once I crossed Meetinghouse Rd, the road turned into a narrow forest singletrack and I quickly discovered that I either take my shoes off or be forced to turn around. This is where the trail crosses Mashpee River. Unfortunately, there is no bridge, no fallen log over water, not even some rocks to jump across. The river isn't wide but deep enough that you may end up stuck, should you try to ride through it. One tip here - it would be certainly easier to ride this section in the opposite direction - north to south. That's because the northern bank is very muddy, which means you can't keep your feet clean to put socks back on.
With that in mind, I continued and my feet smelled like river mud.
I eventually reached a network of fire roads in the deep woods of Mingo Conservation Area in Mashpee. The map of this area is very misleading. The roads on the map are wide and even have their own names. In reality, it's not much more than wide, but very sandy fire roads with no markings of any kind. You need to rely on your GPS (a smartphone will suffice) to figure out where you're going. 
I also had to back track a couple of times as it turned out that I can't ride around Otis base. The whole area is completely fenced in and roads that seem to be on the outside of the fence on the map, are not.
After a few more miles through the forest, I entered a trail on Cove Rd, which started nicely but then got me completely lost. By dead reckoning, I ended up exiting it through Hirsch Rd somehow, just a few hundred feet away from Cove Rd. Then I tried to cut across YMCA camp at Stowe Rd and go around Lawrence Pond by means of Schumacher Way, but I found out that maps for this area are plain wrong. This dirt road first turns into a grass-overgrown path, then enters a field and then just disappears with no sign of any trail or path ahead. I had no choice but to give up this section and go around to Great Hill Rd, which took me to the last power line train on my route.
This power line trail runs along Rt 6 - Cape Cod's main highway and oh boy, it's rocky. I could slowly make my way forward but riding there on 35mm Clement USH tires wasn't "what tiggers like best"...
... and it was quickly evidenced by the first flat I got in many years (in the rear wheel obviously). I realized that I either buy a bike with wider tires or stop riding on trails designed for mountain bikes. Otherwise my tires are not going to last much longer, judging from several cuts and scrapes on sidewalls.

After fixing the flat, I finally got back home - nearly 5 hours after leaving it. What was supposed to be a quick 40km ride (25mi) ride ended up in 55km (35mi) trek across sand, rocks and water.

In the end though, it was fun. Should you attempt it, keep in mind that there are many gates on the way to cross, perhaps not completely legally. Most of them have a sign attached like the one in the photo below. No motorized vehicles allowed. However, it doesn't mention bicycles...

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's already mid June and I can't do anything about it

It's almost summer. Pollen season has pretty much ended and I could open all windows at home again. Not for long. Those hot humid summer days have just arrived and I don't even feel like riding my bike anymore. Unless my destination comes with a shower.

I've been pretty busy recently with some house projects. Meanwhile, a number of things happened in the outside world.

SRAM showed their budget 1x12 drivetrain offering - GX Eagle. With its arrival, SRAM claims front derailleurs are finally dead. I wouldn't be so quick to call that. While Eagle offers a very wide range of gearing, it still suffers from the same problem (albeit less so) as the previous 1x11 system - large jumps between gears. SRAM Eagle would be interesting if it came with a few different cassettes, not just the 10-50T but also something tightly-spaced such as 10-44T. By my calculations, a 1x13 system could be a true replacement for 2x10 so Eagle still falls short of that.

Apart the pond, London has been hit twice with terror attacks recently, one of them involved running people over with a car - you know, kind of like the things we see pretty much everyday here in America. The answer was to quickly set up some protective barriers to prevent cars from entering sidewalks. Unfortunately, they were placed in the bike lane doing potentially more harm on daily basis than preventing occasional terror attacks.

It would be much better to place them between the traffic lane and the bike lane. At least that way they would provide protection for not only pedestrians but also cyclists. But I'm guessing that would be too close to comfort for many drivers. They would rather drive fast next to a soft, squishy cyclist than a rigid, concrete wall.

Bike lanes have tough life anyway. They often face strong NIMBYsm, the extreme case of which happened in Baltimore when residents were willing to remove a newly-built protected bike lane because it "made the street less scenic". As a result, the city was blocked from removing the lane by a restraining order. At least temporarily.

On the other side of the continent, Elon Musk pushes his idea of building underground tunnels as the ultimate solution to traffic problems. He had some early discussion with Mayor of LA:

I wrote earlier what I think about his idea but now I'm thinking we should let him do it. Seriously, let him build tunnels and put cars underground but under one condition - when you drive your car into the tunnel somewhere in Pomona, you won't be allowed to resurface in the downtown of LA. Your car will have to stay there in an underground parking lot and you can take an elevator to the surface. This could be revolutionary - creating more space for people, bicycles, public transport by eliminating private vehicles from city streets. Although, I doubt that's what Musk had on mind.

Local news. My town of Arlington is considering implementing Bus Rapid Transit along Massachusetts Ave. because "Arlington officials think more people would take the bus if they could speed up commute times." Duh! It doesn't take a college degree to figure out that the only public transport - buses, get completely stuck in all car traffic especially during the morning and evening rush hours. In fact, this was the reason why my wife quickly gave up the idea of commuting by bus to Harvard Square and decided to drive instead, just like many other people on the same route. Buses have to share lanes with cars on Mass Ave. but also have to stop at bus stops frequently. Hence, they are far slower than cars.

This brings me to the point - the idea of rapid transit is sound, but would only make sense if Cambridge does the same on their section of Mass Ave. The rapid transit should extend on the full route length of bus 77 and that means dedicating one lane to buses only (at least during the morning/evening rush). Something tells me hundreds of drivers would be pissed about that.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Harold Parker State Forest revisited

I can't believe it's already June. Spring is nearly gone, which I like because (quite literally) I'm sick of pollen. Unfortunately, this means that summer is coming - with humid weather and swarms of mosquitoes.

At least for now mornings are still mild and cool, which is why yesterday I rode my bike from Arlington to take another look at the Harold Parker State Forest (HPSF) in Andover.

The forest covers a hefty chunk of southern Andover and North Reading with many, many trails crossing it. It's a favorite hang out place of local mosquitoes and mountain bikers so if you don't mind meeting them on trail, head out and have fun.
I started, as usual, by entering the network of trails near the parking lot at Jenkins Road, then followed Harold Parker Road and Bradford Pond Road towards Salem Pond. Now, keep in mind that those "roads" aren't really roads but barely wide paths. As long as you stay on the wider trails you can move quickly and won't get lost.
After crossing Middleton Street, I followed Stearns Pond Road around Steve's Pond. This trail feels almost like a highway compared to the many smaller paths in the forest - it's wide and relatively even.

After crossing Turnpike Street (a very busy road), I continued on Berry Street and then found the entrance to a tiny foot path at the end of Windsor Lane. This route is called Old Farnum Street on the map but you would have to be very, very drunk to call it a street at all. It's barely accessible, heavily overgrown, narrow and blocked by many fallen tree trunks. I had to walk my bike and portage it across logs nearly the entire length of this section.

However, the end was quite rewarding because then I found this:
There is a well-hidden and completely abandoned old lumber mill right at the Boston Brook. The mill is in poor condition but once you peek inside, you will find that a lot of its original equipment is still in place.
Once I passed the mill, I followed the path towards Farnum Street, which ends at a farm. In fact, if you want to take a peek at the mill, it's much easier to access it from Farnum Street as long as you ignore the farm gate.

The next place on my list was Mary French Reservation best accessed when you ride Grey Road towards Korinthian Way.

This place is fun both for joggers and bikers. It has probably the longest and narrowest boardwalks I've ever found in Boston area, installed just a few feet over the swamp. Riding a bicycle there is fun and a bit of challenge.
The boardwalks end with a very narrow trail that runs between closely-spaced trees. In fact, some of them are so close to each other that I could barely fit my bike in-between.
The 44cm-wide drop bars on my bike were a tight fit between those trees. Now that's what you call a singletrack!

My last section of the extensive trail network in HPSF ran along Phillips Road and Walker Road. Again, these aren't your typical roads but they are wide enough to move fast. No mountain bike needed here, just bring you widest tires (over 35mm preferably).

HPSF is a great place for recreational cycling but just like any other large forested areas nearby it would be best enjoyed in the fall when mosquitoes and flies are gone and foliage season is in full swing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You are a terrorist and you don't even know about it

It's the Bike To Work Day today and I somehow managed to do it for the first time in years. For some reason, in the past several years I always missed this event, but it didn't bother me much, as I ride on the other 364 days of the year anyway.

It's been an eventful week. The spring is in full swing, which means that trees just erupted producing tons of pollen leading to my sneezing, itching and aching for the last few days. 

Then it got worse. It's 75F (24C) early in the morning only to get much, much hotter (over 90F) later in the day. At this point I'm close to park my bike and hide in a fridge. Knock on the door when September is here.

What else happened this week? Oh yes, several new scandals in the White House, but that's nothing new. Our president is busy doing the right thing - fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, the focus is in a wrong place. There is a real terror happening on our streets and no one gives a damn about it. In fact, you (or someone you know) are likely a terrorist. You just don't think about it.
Just an accident, "not terrorism" so nothing to worry about. (CBS News)

Yesterday a driver (with multiple earlier DUIs) mowed the crowd in Times Square, killing 1 and injuring 22 pedestrians. Press quickly reported it wasn't an "act of terrorism" so everything is fine. Just a normal day in America, right? A cost of our way of life.

On the same day an 8-year old boy was ran over by an inattentive driver in Wellesley's school parking lot and taken to hospital with severe injuries. Seems like the parent was rushing to drop kids off and get to work. Yet another example of "not terrorism" that happens every day.

School zones are "a total madhouse" anyway. It's a problem we created with bad road design, lack of public transport and no bike lanes. My solution was simple - large "no car zone" around every elementary school in the country. Kids (and parents) have legs - they can walk.

So there you go. People drive, people die. Unfortunately, the dead ones are mostly the least protected ones - pedestrians and cyclists. They're being killed daily by terrorists in cars. 

Nothing will change until we recognize the problem and our politicians fail to do so. Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston, said recently that pedestrians and cyclists share the blame of accidents. According to him,
"You’ve got to understand, cars are going to hit you."
You see, it's that simple. Either you can join the terrorists in cars or be stupid and try to walk or bike. Just don't complain when you get hit by a car. Oops, it happens.

That was yesterday. Today, since it's the Bike To Work Day and after a huge public outrage, our Mayor decided to fix the damage slightly and "announced a commitment to increase Boston's Vision Zero investment by $1 million" in 2018. Sounds good but I don't believe it until I see it working. You see, Vision Zero has been a great talking point for most politicians - it's a great idea that can win them many supporters without doing nothing (but talking).

Implementing it, however, is a completely different animal and no one says it's going to be easy. Take protected bike lanes, for example. In New York, they are a source of chaos. Apparently, in eyes of terrorists, err... I mean, drivers, bike lanes lead to traffic headaches. I think that's probably because it hurts them to see cyclists just riding by, when they are stuck in their own traffic.

With over 30,000 Americans dying each year on roads, traffic collisions are much deadlier than terrorism. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A boring solution

"musking" - the depositing of musk for scent marking by badgers and similar animals. (Oxford Dictionary)
Elon Musk, who is aspiring to become a visionary, technological leader Steve Jobs once was, is leaving his "musk" all over the place.

First, he manufactured some nice, electric Tesla cars and attempted to solve home power issues with Powerwall, then focused on electrification of other means of transport such as trucks and buses, only to finish with The Boring Company that would bring us underground tunnels as the ultimate solution to our traffic problems.

But it worries me that he's exerting his energy in wrong places. As much as cool-looking and technologically-advanced Tesla cars may be, electric cars won't solve any congestion problems because of this:
What Musk fails to notice is that any new solution he envisions still supports to the old "one person per car" policy and as such, requires far too much of precious road space than available. It doesn't matter if his car is electric, autonomous, or travels underground on a 124mph "skate". As long as it only transports one person per vehicle, it's wasteful, pointless and far worse than the old XIX century invention - rail.

Sorry Elon, but space for cars in our cities is severely limited and drilling tunnels underground is not going to change it. It would be far more efficient to build a real high-speed rail between Boston and Washington D.C. that could carry millions of passengers a year, connecting all major cities on the way, than building tunnels for high-speed electric cars.

The only thing I truly like about his idea of tunnels is that they put cars underground. That's a great way of giving streets back to people. And when we already bury our metal boxes deep under, let's just keep them there. At least within the city limits.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sorry, I'm late to complain about the same thing yet again

Last Sunday, there was an important event in the downtown Boston that I obviously missed. Hundreds of cyclists rode through the city to demand safe streets, namely - more safe bicycling infrastructure like real, protected bike lanes, not just those with painted lines.

Boston is one of the oldest American cities and was built long before the car era started, which means that there are plenty of narrow streets with limited space for large vehicles -perfect locations for pedestrian (or ped+bike) zones. Despite that, cars dominate the downtown. You would think that in XIX century, following excellent examples around the world, the City of Boston would want to change this obsolete design and open its streets to people. I'm guessing it's not going to happen anytime soon. Citizens of Boston may want it, tourists may want it, even daily commuters may want it, but the city doesn't give a damn. There is simply no political will to change things, despite deaths of numerous cyclists in recent years.

But then I'm thinking that maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe the City doesn't want to change anything because most people are perfectly happy with status quo. The same people think that it's not drivers' fault that people are dying on Boston streets. No. They think that "cyclists are the worst thing that happened to this city" and they have solutions to it.

First, of course, as a cyclist you have no right to demand safe infrastructure if you don't wear a helmet:
Next, know that you are a parasite who uses roads for free, because you don't pay "road tax":
Then, clearly, if you want to ride in the city, you have to be licensed and registered:
Finally, you certainly don't deserve any respect and place on road because it's so obvious that you never obey the rules:
I think it becomes perfectly clear now that our city does the right thing. No stupid protected bike lanes are necessary. Citizens don't want them. Instead, they want all cyclists to be helmeted, taxed, licensed, registered, identified, painted red, beaten up and kicked out of the city.

Then, we'll finally find our peace.