Friday, July 15, 2016


I am a late adopter.  Last kid on the block to go to disc brakes.  Last to get a 29er.  Last to get a Strava account.

I have had a Strava account for a year and post most my rides but didn’t give it much thought.  It shows the time it takes to do my favorite courses.  I have always kept track of that but Strava takes the effort out of it.  Swell.  Last night I noticed it shows stats, like accumulated yearly mileage.  Fine.  But then I noticed I can check out my follower’s stats and, although this felt creepy, it was insightful.

A friend had just “liked” my most recent ride on Strava.  Let’s call him James.  Because that’s actually his name.  He is a friend in the Strava sense of the word: I sort of know him, say hi at races, we ride in the same area.  Our segment times on the local MTB trails are almost identical, he is much faster than me on roads.
Apparently I rode about 1000 miles this year.  That seemed about right.  My riding is carefully timed around my daughters’ schedules because I am consumed with guilt when I leave them home so I can ride.  I feel a little guilty when I ride and they aren’t home but the grass needs cut, or garage trim needs painted, or any slightly important task goes unfinished.  I also feel guilty when I show up to races when I know I haven’t put the effort into training.  I have enough guilt to start my own religion.

James rode over 4000 miles this year.  Everyone I follow on Strava has ridden significantly more than me.  I laid awake last night trying to wrap my little mind around this.  On one level it was comforting for me to see why I don’t win races.  I thought it was poor genes, or I wasn’t suffering enough, or the 5 lbs I cannot seem to lose.  It could be all that but more to the point, I am not putting in anywhere close to the amount of miles people I race against do.

You reap the harvest you have sown.  I get that.  What I failed to understand until this week is how hard it is for me to objectively look at what I am sowing.  Racing doesn’t mean that much to me, not enough to increase my training by 400%, but what about every other aspect of my life?  How do I objectively look at where I am verses my potential?  Where I am as a friend, father, employee, everything.  I am an Engineer (and possibly someplace along the Asperger’s Spectrum) so I like data to sift through the gentle nuances of that which I am looking at.  I need a Strava that measures life.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Definitive Guide to Really Good Food and Drink in Traverse City

The Riding in Traverse City last week was good. Despite a week long stream of emails from Sue with links showing the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia was unrideable, I held out hope to ride the trail until a day before we left on vacation. Sue is a great girl but I swear if she were married to Louis or Clark, the Mississippi would still be undiscovered because she would have constantly pointed out, accurately I should add, how ridiculous the notion was of two Caucasians taking off on a whirlwind adventure across the undeveloped West. My blind optimism is often tempered by Sue’s rational thinking.

Sue has a place in Traverse City so we went up there instead of West Virginia. I waited too long to start looking for places to stay along Bicycle Route 35 for a four day bike trip. We found a place to stay in Benzie County so we did a nice overnight ride from Traverse City to Frankfort. The rest of the week consisted of trips back and forth from Traverse City to North Port, Elk Rapids, around the Leelanau Peninsula, etc. Nice but not epic. the food; however, was excellent so let me change direction here.

I really like good food. From street vendors selling currywurst in East Berlin to bumblebee ravioli from a restaurant I don’t remember nor could I pronounce in San Francisco, I have had amazing food. In my humble and uneducated opinion, no city has better food than Traverse City.

Best Money is No Option Restaurants

As soon as Sue and I got to Traverse City, we went to our always excellent go to restaurant, Town Plaza. I had this pork ravioli dish but it wasn’t normal doughy pasta like I expected but rather a flakey pastry wrapped pulled pork, amazing. I laid in bed that night just thinking about it. I also had the grilled Romaine salad. This salad seems simple but I have tried making it myself and haven’t come close. I have had at one point or another almost everything on their menu and everything has been excellent. I’m not normally much of a meat person.

The next night we met friends at Georginas. Again, amazing. This restaurant normally requires reservations and since I do a piss poor job of planning, we normally miss it when we are in TC. We planned ahead this time and made reservations. It has an interesting Asian/Latin menu. I had Pollo a la Plancha. Incredible. Everything they have is amazing but some things, like the Korean Street Tacos, are a tad spicy for me.

We had breakfast at Amical, a European style restaurant. I have only had dinner there once, duck confit. I still think about it. I can’t seem to find a working website for them.

Best Money is No Option Restaurant Honorable Mentions

We wanted something small to eat one night after 9:00 pm so we went to Firefly. They have small plates and interesting food. The atmosphere is a tad too young and hip for me but the food is good.

When we are meeting friends from out of town, we usually go to Stella or Apache Trout Grill. Stella is in the basement of what was once an insane asylum. Apache Trout Grill over looks the Grand Traverse Bay. These are fun places to eat. We didn’t eat there last week but the food is very good and in any other city would be considered amazing.

Best Money is an Option Restaurants 

The importance of this category cannot be over emphasized. I have had amazing meals in California, possibly made with cheese from lactating Sheath-Tailed bats cured in Texas salt caverns or some such thing but making something truly exceptional for under $20 is where Traverse City excels.

Every city has one place that claims to have the world's best hamburgers. They are wrong. Slabtown does.

The Filling Station is a train station turned into a restaurant. It is the best flat bread pizza I have ever had. We got a Cock O’ The Walk pizza and Station Salad. They brew excellent beer.

I’m not a huge fan of Mexican food but my two favorite Mexican restaurants are both in TC: Robby’s Taqueria and Taco House. Robby’s serves authentic (I assume) Mexican food. I had a Tamale wrapped in a banana leaf (forget the name) that was excellent. Taco House is like a Taco Bell, just really good.

There are two wonderful delis near Traverse City, The Redheads at Lake Leelanau and the Village Cheese Shanty in Fishtown-Leland. The Redheads make their own humus that is sold in many grocery stores. I had a turkey sandwich from The Redheads during one of our rides last week made with slices of turkey verses turkey deli meat you would find at lesser establishments. I had the North Shore sub twice last week at the Village Cheese Shanty on pretzel bread. The Pretzel bread is awesome but they seem to run out of it every day so call ahead to reserve it. They usually have a significant line so just order everything ahead of time so you can walk past all the less savvy customers to pick up your food.

If you can only choose one place to eat at, it should be Frenchies. It is a small restaurant I wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for Sue. It is so small that if you eat inside, you are sitting next to the kitchen. It is typically about 100 degree in there but the food is so worth it. Sue and I were able to get seats outside. We were there for breakfast but normally go to Frenchies to share a Pastrami sandwich for lunch. I had fruit crapes. Incredible. Sue had French toast that wasn’t incredible. I think they use the same sea salt focaccia bread in their French toast as they make their amazing pastrami with. One less than amazing meal doesn’t discourage me a bit. This is a must eat at place. They close at 3:00 pm.

Best Bars in Traverse City

The only place Sue and I stopped at for drinks last week was Tandem Ciders. Normally I don't like cider but I like theirs.  It is a cool little place a ways out of town and all by itself.

The Workshop and Right Brain Brewery both brew excellent beer and have a cool atmosphere. The food is good at the workshop. I don’t think I ever ate at Right Brain.

Seven Monks doesn’t brew beer but they have a huge selection. They have excellent hamburgers; possibly the second best in the world.

I don’t appreciate good wine but I understand Left Foot Charley is the place to go for those who do.

Best Coffee in Traverse City

This is important because as good as the food and beer is in Traverse City, the coffee sucks. The problem, as I see it, is most places in TC, especially the upper end places, serve Higher Grounds Coffee. Higher Grounds Coffee (aka dirty hippy coffee) believes is solving the world's environmental problems and supporting fair trade. In theory, I support both. In reality, I like good coffee. Good Harbor on Front Street not only has really good coffee but, as far as I can tell, is the only place in TC with good coffee.

When we are meeting friends for coffee, we go to Brew on Front street; it is a cool place to hang out and the Lattes are fine. I suppose their dirty hippy coffee is drinkable if you cloak it with enough cream and sugar.

Legal Statement

For the purpose of full disclosure, I know alarming little about culinary arts and brewing beer. Opinions expressed here are for entertainment purposed only, even though I am right.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bicycle Trips for Dummies

I like multiple day bicycle trips. I'm not crazy about the planning and the logistics that go along with them. I am having trouble finding a site that lists routes with sufficient detail that I can just plagiarize and call my own. Since I am figuring out the trips myself, I thought I would share them here for other cyclist to consider. If I do it right, I will find routes with good roads, excellent food, acceptable accommodations, craft beer, and other necessities. I hope you find it useful. Here is some background:

Sue and I are at a weird age. We are old enough where my daughters are driving and pretty much self sufficient but we are (way) too young to receive the AARP membership applications they keep sending us.  Too old for racing crits but too young to go on organized tours with retired Primal Wear clad cyclist and their silly helmet mirrors. We have tried organized tours but they don't feel right. I like having everything planned out so I need to think very little but the accommodations are, eh, food is just acceptable, and the ride is a little too structured. Maybe we are a little introverted too so the mass ride experience is fine but not what we are looking for.

We started doing self-supported trips and are having a hoot. Last year we rode from Grand Rapids to Traverse City, first along the White Pine (mainly two track) rails to trail then guessing which roads to take from Cadillac to Traverse City. The year before that we rode part of Bicycle Route 35 along the West side of Michigan from South of Frankfort to North of Petoskey. We like to use our cross bikes so we don't have to stick to paved roads. We have tried carrying supplies a few different ways but found a Yakima single wheeled trailer works best. Camping is out of the question because I am lazy and good food is a must because we like good food. 70 to 100 miles a day seems about right.

Next week we are going on a 4 day bike trip. It isn't planned yet. We wanted to do an epic ride. We considered doing the San Juan hut to hut trip on our mountain bikes. It looks awesome but this spring we decided it was a little too epic. It is still firmly on my bucket list.

Then we made less ambitious but still somewhat cool arrangements to ride the Greenbrier trail in West Virginia, starting at the Elk River Touring Center. I did a very cool guided mountain bike ride supported by them back in the 90's; I still think about it.  Then last week West Virginia had a once in a thousand year flood. I am cancelling our accommodations this afternoon.

Yesterday I started making an even less ambitious plan to ride Michigan Route 10 across the upper peninsula but I need more than a few days to figure it out. It wasn't clear where we were going to stay (nothing on Airbnb). The U.P. is remote. A ride like this should be planned with at least a little effort.  I tend to shoot from the hip as far as planning goes.

Today I am going to come up with a less ambitious plan yet to ride from Traverse City North East towards Sault Ste Marie or South West to Ludington.

To be continued...