Monday, February 11, 2013

Errandeuring and Errant Weather

Post-Blizzard Rain
Today were possibly some of the worst conditions I have ever cycled in - a situation made all the more dramatic by the fact that I wasn't merely cycling; I was erandeurring. But let me start from the beginning. You see, there is an entire culture out there that thrives on turning transportation cycling into a sport in its own right - reinventing commuting as series of challenges to make it more interesting. While this approach is pretty much the antithesis of my own, I am nonetheless intrigued by it. When the utilitaire and coffeeneuring crazes swept the nation last year, I followed along with interest. Loosely modeled on randonneuring, these games involved keeping track of one's coffee shop and utility rides, complete with control cards and minimum mileage requirements. The authors of the Chasing Mailboxes blog in Washington, DC hosted the challenge, diligently collecting entries from participants all over the US, posting updates and results.

This winter they announced their latest project: the errandonnee. Participants are challenged to "complete 12 errands in 12 days and ride a total of 30 miles by bike between February 9-20." A detailed list of rules was again provided, along with control cards. I read through it all and decided - what the heck - to give this thing a try. While riding a minimum of 30 miles in errands over the course of 12 days would not be out of the ordinary for me, I wondered what it would be like to keep track of this mileage, to categorise it according to the rules, and in general to reframe everyday cycling as taking part in a challenge.

Post-Blizzard Rain
The thing I did not foresee, was that the challenge aspect would become quite real. On February 9th we had our blizzard, and on the next day I still did not feel like braving the streets on two wheels. So as of this morning, I had only 10 days to complete the 30 miles of errands. Not only was there plenty of snow still on the roads, but it was now also raining badly.

Post-Blizzard Rain
I may lack the words to adequately describe today's road conditions. There wasn't just snow, there was deep water. Temperatures had risen sharply overnight, with snowbanks melting and additional rain coming down. By mid-day, some streets were downright flooded, and in many cases the water concealed slush underneath. On top of this, it was raining quite hard, with poor visibility and all the extra traffic chaos that comes with that. I now own a bright yellow raincoat for days like this, and that's what I wore. I also always have my lights on when it rains, despite it being daytime.

Post-Blizzard Rain
Even along stretches where the road itself was mostly clear, turns were treacherous, as that was where deep water and uncleared snow were gathered. Street corners were also where snowbanks were at their highest, which, as I soon figured out, meant that cars turning onto the main road from side streets had poor visibility. After a couple of close encounters, I decided the safest place to ride was smack in the middle of the travel lane.

Post-Blizzard Rain
Mid-day traffic was bad, and being on a bike did not put me at an advantage this time. Between the snowbanks and the trucks, there was not always a way to cycle past the standing traffic. My pictures were taken close to home, on a street where I felt it was safe to get off the bike and photograph the conditions of the roads. But for most of my route it didn't feel right to stop. Rain kept coming down, cars were honking at each other and executing all sorts of crazy maneuvers, roads were flooded and/or still covered with snow, and the whole thing was more than a little stressful.

Post-Blizzard Rain
In the course of all this, I completely forgot that I was errandeuring, remembering it only once I'd returned home. So far, the awareness of taking part in a challenge has not made me feel any differently about doing errands by bike. I had to go out today either way, and riding was still preferable to walking in ankle-deep water.

My impression of the utilitaire, coffeeneuring and errandonnee family of challenges, is that they are largely for athlete cyclists who might normally drive for transportation, but are looking to do it more by bike. The competitive paradigm appeals to them, so they've extended it to transportation cycling as a form of motivation. But I do know of cyclists who are purely commuters and have been enjoying the challenges too. Ultimately, I see errandeuring as a celebration of cycling, with its elaborate rule structure as largely tongue in cheek. Now to check whether bonus points are in store for the epic road conditions I've endured...

40 comments:

  1. "Ultimately, I see errandeuring as a celebration of cycling, with its elaborate rule structure as largely tongue in cheek."

    I think that this is closer to the spirit in which these rides were meant to be taken. I don't think they're meant to be competitive in the sense that the participants are competing against each other. Perhaps it will inspire those who don't normally bike on errands to try it, or perhaps it's just fun to do for those who do bike regularly.

    Personally, I'm not good with lots of rules, but randonneuring has quite a few of them, and so coffeeneuring and errandeuring will too. And like randonneuring, it does have a feeling of camaraderie among participants, which is what I enjoy.

    I definitely think you should get bonus points for riding in all that snow and rain!

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  2. It's a goal-setting, inclusively random exercise in pointlessness because, as you illustrate, it puts one in harm's way in order to procure an arbitrary goal.


    Worrying about crashing all these years, then nearly getting clipped because there's no place to ride in the bike lane...surely there's a middle ground of common sense here.

    That said I didn't have a good feeling going out today on the bike, ended up talking to two policemen separately over a) an incident and b) future enforcement over felonious behavior.

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    1. I agree in principle re putting oneself in harmful situations to meet challenges. But today was quite unique; no good way to get around, yet businesses were open and stuff to get done. Walking in some ways similar right now; suboptimal situation all around due to flooding and chaotic traffic. I was not in bike lane, just not as in the middle as I could be. Cars peeking out slowly but surely out of sidestreets, getting too close for comfort. Overall, bike feels safest next to staying home.

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    2. This was my exact mistake -- not taking the lane fully. Already I had smashed my knuckles against a rear view mirror.

      Sometimes taking the lane can get you killed; sometimes it's a very good idea. Both of the cops I spoke with, btw, are riders. One has had the usual roadie verbal abuse, stuff thrown, swerving at him stuff happen. He's called it in a few times, mostly lets it go. I think it'd be a really good idea for everyone in a car to believe the person on the bike is potentially a cop.

      The incident involved being passed too close, then being told to "slow down". I'm on a friggin 85lb. bike -- how slow am I suppose to go?

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    3. To be fair, "putting one in harm's way in order to procure an arbitrary goal" can pretty much sum up *ANYBODY* who's left their domicile via *ANY* mode to do just about *ANYTHING*. Why bother living then?

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    4. Super general comment.

      To be specific from what she said v had a few close calls.

      And, if you look at the picture above, you can see the bike lane disappears, right about where that cargo van is.

      So you see I was listening and seeing what v presents. This isn't about sequestering oneself in the safest possible way; it's about making smart decisions.

      But thanks for your heavily *remark*.

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    5. Froggie - I think all would agree with that in a very general sense, but there are degrees of everything, including the risk/utility ratio.

      You have expressed on twitter your disagreement with a few of the comments here. If you intend to reply to them all, please do not "yell" (all caps). As our conversation there demonstrates, people do have different impressions of these challenges; none are necessarily right or wrong.

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    6. Hey btw this is nothing but that cache-ing thing or rallying in the 1960s sense. The later requires tr6s and such but it I'd no less fun. Someday you shall own a car again and look back, cringingly, upon this bike talk.

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    7. Oh I have a question miss - are you allowed to lane split in Mass? That is go around the truck to the left while staying on your side or on the lines?

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    8. My understanding of lane splitting in MA is: yes, with some restrictions. Which restrictions those are I am less clear on.

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  3. With regard to Lisa's comment and also the discussion a few of us are having on twitter -

    Firstly, I just want to stress that I did not mean to imply that my impressions of these challenges were negative. I never saw them as "my thing," but I nonetheless found them interesting, followed along, posted links on twitter, etc. Different strokes.

    Personally, I do interpret these things as sporting-inspired. The language, the rules, keeping track of milage, the idea of challenging yourself, it is all part of that paradigm. Randonneuring in itself is, after all, a sport.

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    1. Sporting inspired, yes, but not necessarily only for athletes, whom I think of as a different class of people for whom these rides are intended.

      Randonneuring is indeed a sport, and I do mean to address that in a post of my own in the near future.

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  4. "Ultimately, I see errandeuring as a celebration of cycling, with its elaborate rule structure as largely tongue in cheek."

    Ultimately, I see this as further evidence of cyclists unique ability to make everything more complex, more self referential, and more annoying to non-cyclists than virtually any other sub-culture. Bless their hearts... ;)

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  5. All seems anti-transportation to me...Not part of the solution but part of the problem.

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  6. You do not disappoint with that polka dot saddle cover!

    Jim Duncan

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  7. The beauty of what the Chasing Mailboxes people have put together is the way the the challenges can be bent to suit almost any location. Exhaustive rules aside, everybody has errands, and even if you have to pedal for 20 or 30 miles (as I would), most people can find seven or so coffee shops.

    The lesson (I've found) of the challenges is to remind us how fun cycling can be. We can be an over serious group sometimes, with our bike lane issues and minimum passing distance requirements, horrifying streets and terrifying drivers. But the challenges remind us how awesome it is to simply hop on a bike, and do whatever we like.

    *gets down from soapbox

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    1. Perhaps. That is if one is into data and social media challenges.

      I'm reminded of the awesomeness of hopping on a bike and doing whatever I like every day when I well, hop on my bike and do what I like.

      And here I've been doing so for years now without every having heard of this Chasing Mailboxes thing.

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  8. I have not heard of this errandeuring coffeeneur business! I can see how it would be meant for racing good weather types as a motivation to bike more. I quite like the idea of getting a pin ironically and earnestly. I do not know if my back could handle a 100km rando event, that's pure fantasy for me, but I pile on the miles running errands and the like. There is often a cafe involved...which drives my husband crazy(unless a vegan gluten free cafe exists somewhere...). I have never had one of those computer things that clock mileage, I am not motivated or driven by accomplishing points. What fun!

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  9. That rain today was definitely brutal! I'd seen on the forecast that we were supposta get some freezing rain, and it was pretty light when I left the house. About half way to work, though, it got much heavier.

    I did go out on the bike yesterday to get a feel for what today's commute might be like, in a situation where I had no time constraints. It was much nicer outside. I actually went up to your neighborhood, I think...in search of the bacon-faced snowman, which someone else I know who lives in that area had posted a picture of. No luck, though.

    Mostly the roads were decent, and I found that drivers were mostly accomodating, with one exception (guy yelled at me, "You've gotta be kidding me!" while riding slowly down a slushy hill on my way home for the night). I was also pleasantly surprised to see just how clear the bike path was, on the Boston side of the Charles.

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    1. Yeah, the rain turned heavy just as I was leaving the house.

      " I was also pleasantly surprised to see just how clear the bike path was, on the Boston side of the Charles."

      Oh! That is nice to know. Did you go out toward Watertown at all?

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    2. I didn't. I got on at the Harvard Bridge on Mass Ave, which actually wasn't very well cleared, and headed east. I only went about as far as parallel with maybe Copley Square. You can see how clear they had it in this picture from the top of the ramp down to the path, though:
      https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/529380_856415095329_1122039607_n.jpg

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    3. Thanks, nice shot. Alas, I need to go int he other direction.

      I've been trying to figure out whether MassDCR has a page up that shows the up-to-date status of Charles River Trail, so that on any given morning we know whether it is plowed and useable. They do not seem to understand what I am asking.

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    4. The Charles River path is not plowed in Watertown.

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    5. That would really be great info to know!

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  10. Oh good grief. Overthinking much? It's just a silly little fun parody of randonneuring to brighten the gloomy months. Tongue very firmly in cheek. Not everything has to be analyzed. Ride or don't. Nobody's judging.

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    1. I'm with you....Documenting everything we do and sharing? Crazy!

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  11. Wow, I did a lot of Errandeuring just on last Wednesday! I went to work, went to lunch, went to a store that is not a grocery store, went to the bike shop. Going to work was in the dark, which is one of the rules. I took a picture of my sandwich, I suppose that counts as the photo. I observed geese, the new shirts I bought, and I learned a tiny bit more about bike maintenance from the shop guy. I could cover most of the mileage through just the work commutes, that's 18 miles I can count twice...

    If I didn't already know that this week is a short week for work because of the holiday and my birthday the day after, it might actually be fun to do this.

    I wonder what the prizes are??

    Ok nevermind, I want a present, I'm SO doing this!

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  12. I like the goal oriented part of this but I am not participating, in part because of the weather but mostly because of my schedule. It all seems fun. I want to make a mapping page for the next coffeeneuring event so we can see where all of the bicycle friend coffee shops are.

    Yesterday was epic, beyond what I would consider doable, even if my schedule permitted. Ice under water is the slipperiest surface and rain distracting me, other cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers made it a bit unthinkable. Good for you for finding out that it was possible.

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  13. I actually don't see this as a way to make errands fun for athletes (though I see how it could appeal), so much as a way to spice up daily chores for those of us who already do them by bike.

    Like you, I use a bicycle for most of my transportation needs. I really don't think all that much about it, any more than most people think about getting in their car and driving to work or to the supermarket. So I look at things like this as more of a way to make daily life a little more interesting. Kind of like playing the license plate game on long car trips, or similar.

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  14. Rode the folder, eh? I read the blog often and have a theory that it has become "your bike." It changes throughout our lives, but at any given time we know it our hearts which one it is. -Matthew

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    1. This thing is the easiest, most versatile bike to just grab and go. I thought that I would at least put it away for the winter, but it is proving to be an excellent winter bike. Never would have predicted that I would ride it so much.

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  15. games, always fun....but, really, part of me responds with a sorta hatred for the country club mentality. can't we just enjoy pedaling our bikes to the grocery store? must we be hip about it, too?

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  16. Saw all the buzz on Coffeneuring and now Errandoneuring. If someone wants to create a game like that with the possible effect of showing some people how fun bicycling to places is, and administer it, follow up, and handle it all, great for them. Low budget, fun, social reform without the drama. What's not to like?
    Am I gonna sign up? Nah, I already know how fun it is. I don't need the validation. The smile on my face in the mirror does that.

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  17. I think it's fun and anything that is fun and promotes being outside is a win with me. That said, I SO SO admire you for riding in Boston right now! I think I would just hunker down and keep eating all the stuff in my freezer until even all the Omaha Steak presents my parents keep sending every holiday was used up rather than riding in those conditions. You are a brave cyclist and I salute you.

    I like the idea expressed in one of the comments of mapping people's rides. If people in each area did a google map together with little tags on each point visited, it would be colorful and maybe informative!

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  18. Hmm. I AM an "athlete" but not on the bicycle, I'm just a bike commuter. I think an overwhelming percentage of DC Area cyclists doing Chasing Mailboxes' various challenges are commuters too, at least in my Twitter feed.

    Kudos for getting out on the bike in the crazy conditions out there. I'm sure drivers are extra short on their patience ...

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  19. What bag is that you've got on the brompton? I'm looking for a large volume front bag like that to carry my new puppy to the park and a big sack of takeout thai back to the house. It looks like it has a good structure / stability with side aluminum rods.

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  20. Can you please tell me where you bought your brown brompton basket? I love it very much. Please???

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    1. It is handmade in custom colours/fabrics by Emily of Dill Pickle. This is not a product she officially offers, so you'll have to get in touch and place an al a carte order. Also, it's a little complicated, because you'll need to buy the collapsing frame that inserts into the basket separately, from a Brompton dealer. It can take a while!

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