Stay Gold

They say that nothing gold can stay

with each falling leaf

drifting down–

damp with rain

and brown.

Wheels munch and spit out

gold through spokes

digested down

to the trail’s edge

where brown

covers gold.

My eye catches

the fading light,

riding through gold–

alighting

and landing in my heart.

Gold stays.

Riding with the New Normal

Early on Sunday morning, it’s hard to tell that things aren’t how they should be. There’s frost on the ground, the air is crisp, leaves are falling, and the sun is rising higher in the sky. I checked my bike for any issues, examining the tires for small leaks and affixing lights under the saddle and in the cockpit. Water bottles were in place and the GPS was “on” as we set out for a short 20 something mile ride to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and back before the kid woke up for the day. Sort of normal…

I stashed a mask in the back pocket of my jersey and wore a buff just in case I got too close to other riders or runners on MLK Drive, closed to traffic since the start of the pandemic in order to open up more space for people to get outside. Bikes are in short supply with the high demand, and more people are riding than ever, which is a nice break from being inside. A few cyclists posed for pictures like we did in front of the Rocky Steps, but the crowds of summer are mostly gone now, leaving a few intrepid athletes to run up the steps unhindered.

It’s a new normal now. Mask in hand or on my face, I make sure I get outside, even as the weather turns ice cold. I turned off all notifications on my phone and leave it on silent without vibrating. I deleted the Facebook app and set a time limit for using all of the apps. I scan the paper instead of listening to the news, and for the first time ever, I have a campaign sign in my front garden for all of my neighbors to see. I read a book at night or watch reruns of the “X-Files” with the kid while we await the new season of “Stranger Things” to be released. She has limited her phone use too, which is so important to give her a break from the screen since she’s home all day in virtual school. It’s weird having her upstairs all day attending class. Definitely, not normal.

Making time to get outside, putting down the phone, and going for a ride with Phil makes me feel as if I recovered my brain from the depths of social media, the doom-scrolling, the feelings of inadequacy with the picture-perfect lives portrayed on Instagram. My phone is face down with alerts only from my “favorites” list, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m kind of back to sort of normal, like early 2000s normal, before the phone, politics, and the pandemic took over all with less anxiety. Things may never get back to the way they used to be, but do we really want that? I don’t. Go outside. Ride. Run. Be with the people you love. And when the opportunity is there, run up those steps to get it. You can do it.

First Day

About once a week or more, I’m up at the bike shop, chatting with Anthony about upcoming rides and bikes. It’s always about the bikes. During the past year, I’ve been a Trek Women’s Advocate for my local shop and have led rides, planned events, and made videos about bikes with the goal of getting more women out on the road and trails.

Because when more women ride: more families ride, more kids ride, and more people will continue to ride. Women are the forces of change in the cycling world.

Now, I am still the women’s advocate for the store, but I also work there. Yesterday was my first day, and I’m thrilled to be able to talk to other cyclists who come into the shop about bikes, bike accessories, and how to properly fuel while out on a ride. If you have questions, I may not have all the answers, but I’ll learn more and more about bikes as time goes on.

Of course, I’m still coaching athletes, who I often see at the shop. Ride on!

City to Shore Epic Ride

Ever since I moved to the Philadelphia area and heard about the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride, I knew it was something I wanted to do. Hopping on your bike from home with a small backpack to carry snacks and then riding 90 miles to reach the beach is very much like backpacking and heading off into the wilderness for a few days, or it’s like taking a small carry on bag, stepping off the train platform in order to ride to the airport for a trip abroad. In other words, I loved it.

There’s freedom in leaving your car behind and traveling as far as your legs can take you. I packed lots of snacks as if I were doing a full IRONMAN, had some spare cash, my phone for emergencies, two tubes with three CO2 cartridges, and some extra masks. I checked my lights and secured my bike radar just before heading over to Lou’s house in Narberth where our trek from the city to shore began.

Lou raised money for MS research and planned the route that took us across City Avenue, down MLK drive, past the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and down the Parkway to Race Street where we would ride over the Ben Franklin Bridge, one of Philadelphia’s many bridges and my favorite. I was lucky enough to make a donation to his fundraising page and to come along for this ride. As we rode down the Parkway, I was reminded of the similarities between Philadelphia’s street layout and the Champs-Elysees in Paris as we rounded the circle onto Race Street. Next, we rode over the Franklin Bridge, a suspension bridge that links Philadelphia to Camden, NJ and is painted light blue, a nod to the Delaware River below. Once in Camden, we wound our way through the wide city streets to the Cooper River Trail to get off the roads for a bit.

After we left the Camden and the surrounding area, we entered the Pine Barrens region and followed the Pine Barrens Scenic Byway for awhile before stopping for lunch at the Funky Cow in Hammonton, NJ. We were barely half way to our destination in Sea Isle City on the Shore, and for most of the time in the Pine Barrens prior to lunch, I had no idea where we were. The road curved through the pines and white sand soil. I could smell the sun warming up dropped needles scattered next to the smooth tarmac. For a time, I questioned if I was still on my bike or back home with a cup of coffee in hand, but the wind through my helmet and the endless pedaling told me that I was indeed still perched on my bike. We made a stop around mile 25 at a fork in the road that was basically a sandy triangle with a wooden fence far enough away from the road. Other people have stopped here before, which was apparent by the blown-out flip-flop and empty mini bottle of Fireball. Why is it always Fireball? Each mini bottle along our route was indeed a bottle of Fireball. I wondered if the guy we saw raking the forest was doing that to pick up pine needles or empty bottles of Fireball.

The two bridges out along our route also brought me back to reality. At one point, we could see the concrete barriers across the road. Lou suggested we ride up to the barrier to see if it was indeed out since the only way to Hammonton was on a busy road rather than the small country road we were on. It was clear that the bridge was definitely not passable, and in the distance on the other side was what looked like a stray dog picking its way through the underbrush. Maybe it was a deer, maybe it was indeed a stray dog, or maybe it was the Jersey Devil? We didn’t hang out long enough to find out. That way was not the way forward, so we backtracked to another road.

The road switch-backed over railroad tracks and opened up to a five lane highway. This is where the GPS decided to “recalculate”, leaving us undecided if we should turn left from the middle of this highway or cut back across and go right. There was no safe place to stop on either side of this road, so we stayed in the middle turn lane for a minute. The slipstream from passing cars buffeted our bikes. We ended up going to the right and back on the winding roads through the Pine Barrens to eat lunch at the Funky Cow a mere four miles away.

Arriving in Hammonton around mile 40 for lunch was certainly a treat. The Funky Cow specializes in waffle sandwiches–perfect for a meal in the middle of a 90 mile ride. Upon ordering, the cashier asked if I was splitting my sandwich with Lou. I laughed under my mask and told her we just rode 40 miles or more and were only half-way to our destination. I would not be sharing my sandwich because I’m terrible at sharing anything at restaurants: I ate all my whole BBQ chicken waffle sandwich just like I would eat the entire brownie sundae I was supposed to “share” with someone else at the table.

For the rest of the ride, we rode through the pines in search of a Wawa for one last stop. There were none. Every intersection brought hope of a Wawa that wasn’t there. In fact, we didn’t see a gas station or store until we arrived in Tuckahoe, our last stop to refill our bottles and get some more snacks to eat because the ones we brought weren’t good enough at mile 75. We road through Mays Landing, and the roads opened up a bit. As we got closer to the Shore, the scent in the air switched from pine to stagnant salt water of the wide brackish marsh. I couldn’t see the marsh for the pines.

Eventually, we made a left and there was the causeway rolled out like a red carpet to Sea Isle City–the sight I was looking forward to all day. We picked up the pace and rode over the drawbridge to the beach, giddy and euphoric that our ride was almost over. When we dismounted at the beach house, Lou handed me a cold beer because that’s what you drink after one epic ride. I would certainly do this ride again, but not the next day. Phil and Sophia picked me up from the Shore, and Lou rode the 90 miles back home the following day because he’s awesome like that.

Road Safety Tips

I love seeing all of the new cyclists on the road since the start of the pandemic, but there are a few tips that I would like to remind new riders and experienced riders to keep you safe on the roads. Of course, we all know to wear a helmet and how to wear it properly, to fill up our tires and to do a bike safety check prior to riding, but there are a few simple things you can do to keep you safe:

  1. Use the bike lane on the correct side of the street, going with the flow of traffic. If there is no bike lane, you should ride in the same direction as all vehicle traffic because you are operating a vehicle if you ride a bike.
  2. Stay off the sidewalks. Again, a bike is a vehicle. There are too many pedestrians and businesses, and you’re not a 3 year old riding alongside your parents who are walking next to you.
  3. Use hand signals and be predictable to drivers. I actively look for cyclists when I’m driving and was surprised this morning when a cyclist passed me on the right of my vehicle as I slowed to stop at a stop sign. Don’t do that. Yes, I did see him, and no I didn’t even get close to hitting him. He also had lights.
  4. When stopping at a light or stop sign, get behind the car in front of you rather than squeezing to the right of the car in the space between the vehicle and the curb. Take the WHOLE LANE. You should be highly visible with your lights.
  5. Use highly visible lights. A bike is a vehicle and should have lights like cars do.
  6. If you are riding on a road with a small shoulder or no shoulder, TAKE THE LANE. Ride a few feet to the LEFT of the white line and stay out of the dangerous shoulder with its debris and slippery white line. Although this seems counter-intuitive, you’re actually more likely to get clipped and hit if you try to move too far to the right. Make the drivers of cars pass you safely because if a driver thinks they cannot get around you, they will drive behind you until it’s safe to pass. Oftentimes, drivers will think they can get around a cyclist who rides too far to the right and end up hitting the cyclist. Riding farther to the left has an additional benefit as you approach an intersection because if you are farther over to the left, drivers waiting at the crossroads will be able to judge your speed on the bike better than if you were really far to the right, making for safer riding.
  7. Slow down, unclip one foot, and shift to an easier gear as you approach an intersection. Most intersections are mini mounds of pavement, which makes it hard to go up and over after a slow start. A slow start up a short incline can make a cyclist wobbly and more likely to fall in front of traffic. Not a good day.
  8. As a driver of a car, put the phone down, pay attention, drive slowly through neighborhoods, downtown, and near businesses. Save the faster driving for the interstate. Actively point out runners, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycles to other passengers in the car so they will start to notice them on the roads too. Give kids a wide berth when they’re riding.

For rules about bike laws in your state, visit this website: https://bikeleague.org/StateBikeLaws

For bike advocacy, visit the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia and consider joining to get more bike lanes, trails, and other infrastructure to make the roads safer for everyone: https://bicyclecoalition.org/

For national bike advocacy, here in the US visit: https://peopleforbikes.org/

Black Girls Do Bike: https://www.blackgirlsdobike.com/home

Go by Bike Movement: https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/gobybike/

For group rides in the area: https://www.suburbancyclists.org/

Stronger

When I was little, I used to want to grow up to be strong enough to beat the crap out of any bully I encountered. No matter what their size, I wanted to be able to take them down to stop them from picking on other kids or getting their way. I wanted to be the Karate Kid who wins the tournament just because I wanted to win and to show the bad guys, once and for all, that I can kick ass. But, I’m not a big person or the strongest or the best athlete.

I never took any form of martial arts. Standardized tests told me I wasn’t smart enough for scholarships to go to my college of choice, or get a master’s degree. I’m 5’4″ and still have to climb the shelves in the dairy section to get milk for my coffee. I ride a small frame bike, and the wind can blow me over while I ride. I am facing the fact that I might get shorter as I age, but I hope I can honor the legacy of the 5’1″ force that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

There’s a step stool in my kitchen for all of the things out of reach that has more or less become a metaphor for life. RBG made some of those things easier to reach for women: she gave us a step stool to level up in the eyes of the law. I used my step stool and climbed higher, getting the much needed scholarship and degrees along with the milk for my coffee too. For that, I am grateful for RBG.

I continue to climb above the bullies, the naysayers, the doubters, so now I don’t have to worry about beating the crap out of them. Instead, I’ll lend them a hand if they’re willing to change and accomplish more than just getting ahead. Let’s keep moving forward and continue the work that so many women have done, the work that RBG continued throughout her career. It shouldn’t end with her, but continue with you and me.

Get stronger. Know you can. And then, go and do it. There is no before or after, there’s only now.

Garmin Varia Radar

The road calls–the wind in your face, the long downhill to the river, the curling country road winding through trees. My wheel traces the line to the left of the shoulder on smooth tarmac. This is why I love riding. It’s mediation in motion.

But, at the forefront of my mind is when will a driver approach me, how fast, how close? Will the driver be distracted on the phone? Are they speeding? Do they hate cyclists? I checked my lights before leaving, so I know I’m seen if a driver is looking. I got my wallet, my keys, and my phone for emergencies, a fully stocked saddlebag, and my helmet is secure. I also have incredible hearing–just ask my former students about how I knew they dropped the f-bomb on the other side of the room during group work time. Yes, I heard it. Yes, I will acknowledge it and let you know. Yes, I’m emailing your parents about your language in the classroom.

Even with all of this, it’s really hard to hear if a driver in any vehicle is approaching me from behind until that driver is right there, whizzing by me too close, the slipstream nearly pushing me off the road. Yikes. That’s happened too many times to count and almost gives me a heart attack every time. Too many of my friends have been hit by drivers who say “the cyclist came out of nowhere!” Umm… we’re on the roads. A bike is a vehicle. I have lights. I signal where I’m going. I follow all traffic laws. And yes, I ride in the lane, three feet over from the shoulder line to avoid all kinds of debris and rough pavement in the shoulder.

The newest device I’ve added for extra safety is the Garmin Varia Radar. It won’t prevent a car from passing too close, or heaven forbid, from hitting me, but it alerts me that a driver is coming fast or slow before I can even hear or see that vehicle. Seriously. If the car is moving at a normal speed, I will see an orange ball of light move closer to me (I’m the light at the top of the display) until the driver passes me, and then the light will go green. If the driver is speeding like a bat out of Hades, the ball of light flashes red, so I can move my ass over to feel better about it and pray they’re not distracted.

I decided to purchase the radar and display even though I have a compatible bike computer (Garmin Edge), so that when Phil rides with me, he will use the display, and I can use my bike computer for one radar that’s on the back on my bike. The radar only picks up Phil or another rider if they are really close behind me and riding fast. If I ride next to Phil or he’s ahead of me, my radar will alert both devices so I don’t have to call out “car” all the time because he gets an alert too.

Always ride with lights (the rechargeable ones so they are bright), helmet, a stocked saddlebag, phone and emergency information, and add the Garmin Varia Radar for even more safety. I won’t ride on the road without it. Ride on.

Here’s a link to the Garmin Varia Radar, which just so happens to be on sale. It doesn’t include the display, but if you have a compatible bike computer, you don’t need it anyway. I bought mine from Bike Closet, and got the radar and display for $200, regular price is $300 for both the display and the radar.

https://www.amazon.com/Garmin-RTL510-Cycling-Rear-Approaching-Vehicles/dp/B07C9PKSCK/ref=asc_df_B07C9PKSCK/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=241970631835&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=17535552648306564026&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9007245&hvtargid=pla-571923818875&th=1

Fight Cancer

I don’t think there is a person on this planet who doesn’t know of someone whose life was changed or taken by cancer. I’ve lost a dear colleague to cancer, friends I know have lost spouses to cancer, my daughter’s friend had cancer, my aunt had cancer, and even my mom had cancer. In many cases, early detection and treatment saved lives, but even with the best care cancer can win.

I want cancer to lose.

To help fight cancer, more research has to be done, and that’s where the Breakthrough Bike Challenge with the University of Pennsylvania comes in to raise money for Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. You can help fight cancer by riding to raise funds for cancer research. You can register here if you want to help and raise money on your own:

https://www.breakthroughbikechallenge.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=502

If you would rather donate, consider donating to my page below. I’m hoping to raise $100 by riding $100 miles for cancer research, and I hope you ride too.

https://www.breakthroughbikechallenge.org/participant/Laurie-Hardway

Now, stop reading and start riding for research.

What’s in Your Saddle Bag?

When I first started riding, I knew I needed a helmet and a bike pump, but other than filling up my tires, I literally carried nothing else with me. That has certainly changed with what I keep in my saddle and downtube bags.

Here are the basic things you should have in your saddle bag

The necessities for basic mechanicals are pictured above for a standard road bike or tri bike. A spare tube is crucial for when you get a flat, but take it out of the packaging, coat it in baby powder, and wrap it in plastic wrap to make it easy to stash in your bag. The powder keeps the spare tube from sticking together in the heat (make sure the tube is the correct size for your bike). I do carry two CO2 cartridges just to have a spare, and I also have a valve to control the flow of CO2 into the tube.

When changing a flat, use the punctured tube to wrap around the CO2 cartridge because it’s going to get cold. In addition, I carry handlebar caps, a multi-tool, tire boot, and quick links. The tire boot is for a large hole in your tire and prevents the tube from poking through, which can cause another flat, and the quick links can be used for a broken chain to get you home.

Tubeless and Disc Brake Extras

If you ride a tubeless set-up, I recommend gloves or a rag, for the sealant that will inevitably leak out, and bacon strips to plug a hole in your tire. The bacon strips can be used for small punctures, but if the damage is too big, you’ll have to take the tire off, add a tube, and patch the hole before riding. Most of the time, a bacon strip and refilling the tire will do the job–one of the advantages to riding tubeless. I cut the strips in half since I have road tires– bacon strips were originally designed for knobby mountain bike tires. If you have disc brakes, use the spacer when you remove the wheel to keep the brake pads separate in case you accidentally squeeze the brakes.

Close-up of Quick Links and Tire Boot

Always do a bike safety check before your ride, and if you really want bonus points, make sure your lights are charged the night before. For those of you with electronic shifting, check to see that your bike is all charged up too.

Saddle Bag and Downtube Bag all packed up!

For short rides, everything fits in my downtube bag, but for longer rides over two hours, I add another tube and carry a total of three CO2 cartridges along with plenty of snacks. Ride safely!

Comment below with your must-haves for your saddle bag.