Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Popeapalooza ("Good News")

Pope Ride Re-Ride challenge #1:
Change your tire in intersection
at Chestnut and 13th.
The good news for those of you couldn't make it to Popeapalooza and the three Pope Rides is that we've laid the ground work for the Pope Ride Re-Ride. Sort of a scavenger hunt ride where under the supervision of Jesse and I, you will attempt to recreate selected pictures we took during the event. No doubt this will go down in the pantheon if other epic ride ideas like the "Tour duh" and the new bike-packing trip that is just entering the planning phase.

Sara's picture of people
taking pictures of the Pope.
In closing, it's fairly easy to recap the Popeapalooza events but difficult to convey the actual experience due to the many intangibles. First was having a ride partner who totally embraced the adventure and was always game to "take a peek around the next corner." Also this was a one-of-a-kind (maybe lifetime) event and everyone there knew it. You could see it in their eyes. Multiply this by a million or more souls sharing in this common experience together, and you get a sense of the magic. 

Tomorrow's post will be an exhilarating Popeapalooza post, the last in this series.

Until next time,

"The Pope Ride's over."
     -- Guy straddling bike at end of The Pope Ride
         (I had never heard anyone say that before)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Popeapalooza ("The Saxophone")

In the prior post I explored some of the non-bicycle aspects of this epic event. In this post we'll dig into the actual rides, all three of them:
  • The Ride to the Pope Ride (pretty self explanatory). This one started with an informal meetup of about 30 riders in the parking lot of the Conshohocken Ikea. We rode the SRT via The Trolly Cafe,  Manayunk, and the Zoo to 30th Street Station.  Every mile got more Pope-ish with more riders, national guard troops, and palpable excitement growing.
  • The Pope Ride was of course the featured bike event. This was the Open Streets Edition rolling from 30th Street Station into Center City and then east to the river. Reports from the train station were that Market was jammed with riders queuing up for two blocks prior to the ride. Newspaper reports of hundreds" of riders were vastly understated. We joined the Pope Ride as it entered Center City and then took a leisurely meandering ride through the neighborhoods of East Philly with pedestrians queuing up at crosswalks and locals coming of their homes to take pictures and cheer on the riders. Magical.
  • After the Pope Ride we took a few hours to eat and explore the Center City festivities. Finally it was time for The Ride from The Pope Ride which somehow passed the same saxophone player three times before finally hooking up with the SRT heading north. We managed to work in a side-trip through an impressive cemetery perched on a hillside south of Manayunk (because we hadn't seen enough miles or hills or mausoleums yet). 
On the ride home I was struck by the number of people still streaming into town. Lots of extended families (grandparents, parents , and kids) pushing strollers down Kelly Drive. Some were in street clothes and others were dressed in their Sunday best. But what really struck me was that they had already walked many miles, and had 2-3 miles left to go, and then the same miles on foot after the festivities. This was HARD for many of these people, but the mood was celebratory and positive. This part was humbling.

My next post will feature some coverage from my daughter Sara who was also at Popeapalooza and who (unlike me) she stuck it out for the evening and got to see the man himself.


"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
     -- Dr Seuss

Monday, September 28, 2015

Popeapalooza ("It Wasn't ALL About The Bicycles")

Got bombed before the Pope Ride
In my last post I explained why we believed this was a "must" event. In this post I'll explore some of the non-bicycle elements that made it so special.

As with any Pope Ride hosted in a closed city, there would be a Ride to the Pope Ride and a Ride From the Pope Ride in addition to the actual Pope Ride. Three great rides and 47 miles packed into one day. Plus between rides there would be miles poking around the Philly side streets which featured:
  • Dozens of jumbo-trons showing the festivities at and around the Art Museum and connecting everyone into one synchronized million-man Popeapalooza. 
  • Assorted Pope schwag and souvenirs, Pope pins, t-shirts, bobble-heads, and squeeze dolls. There was Pope corn and Pope bracelets. Rosaries. Pope flags, Pope posters and cardboard cutouts of the Pope. Free enterprise was alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love. 
  • Spontaneous outbursts of joyous music and large-group dancing in the streets. Huge singing crowds ambling down the middle of otherwise deserted boulevards and streets towards the Art Museum.
  • Hundreds of "Pope Johns" gleaming in the sun, many of them lining the bridges into and out of the city.
  • Pope food. For us it would be two Epiphany sandwiches ordered sight unseen at Di Bruno. The official Pope sandwich was a no brainer and turned out to be just what two depleted cyclists needed (beef tenderloin, house made mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and grilled romaine with chimichurri sauce on focaccia bread). Yum. By the time we got to the Reading Terminal food-orgy we were pretty full but that did not stop us from grabbing some coffee and browsing the glorious food show.
In my next post I'll dive into the actual rides and we'll even explore some local mausoleums.


"Take the long cut, we'll get there eventually."
     -- Unknown

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Popeapalooza ("It's Pope Time")

"In back alley. It's Pope time."

What started as a innocent Facebook
meetup spiraled into an epic urban ride
And began our adventure in the wee hours of Saturday morning as I picked up my fellow pilgrim Jesse Piersol and her bike, and we set off on our pilgrimage. We had no idea what the day would bring. For months the newspapers and interwebs had been warning of crushing crowds, transportation breakdowns, food shortages, and mass chaos in the streets. Maybe, but we also knew that:
  • The Pope. He was coming to Philadelphia for the second time in history. This was the definition of a once-in-a-lifetime event. The lawn mowing would have to wait until Sunday.
  • The People's Pope. This would not be just any Pope, this would be the People's Pope. Admittedly organized religion is not a big part of my life, but this Pope is an incredibly powerful and positive force in the world today and we wanted to show our support.
  • Open streets. The city was shut down to vehicular traffic so for a few precious hours we and our bikes would have the run of the 5th largest metropolis in the US.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists (and
    a few dogs) rule the streets
  • Adventure. We had a loose plan but we knew this would not be just "another ride." Stuff would happen and we would have to adapt and that is a formula for a memorable day. 
So at 6:23 am we cast our fate into the wind and started our pilgrimage.

In my next post I'll explore the special atmosphere that permeated the city yesterday and introduce you to the "Pope John."


"A bicycle does get you there and more And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun."
     -- Unknown

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 4 The Rock Zone)

In my previous post I summarized some of the excellent riding in The Kingdom, but there were plenty of extracurricular activities, some of which warrant being memorialized here...

Extracurricular activities included Bag-O (you definitely want Miller on your team) and Frisbee and Bag-O and more Bag-O, and of course eating, with occasionally more innovative distractions like The Rock Zone and Karate Firewood.

Epic sunset over The Kingdom
(view from front deck)
The Rock Zone is an uninhibited (and mostly uninhabited) zone of free expression and very bad singing. It floated around the (thankfully) remote property, powered by underground indie grunge rock, a BlueTooth speaker, two exuberant mountain bikers, and about 11 double-IPAs. The issue with the rock zone was it's wireless nature which allowed it to freely seek out victims, but ironically it was more of a Rock Bubble because it's victims tended to be repulsed in the opposite direction ("repulsed" may be too strong a word, or maybe not).

Karate Firewood was another notable innovation developed to dispose of piles of kiln dried wood paneling that was piled up in the barn. The owner told us we could burn it (which of course we did) but first it had to be reduced to firepit size pieces. This activity was spearheaded not ironically by two members of The Rock Zone, using an ancient Asian technique known "Karate Firewood." Listen to the audio below and imagine the last few seconds repeated every minute for over an hour, the crashes and screams echoing through the hills and forests of Northern Vermont (thankfully the nearest house was 0.25 miles away). You get the picture.

There were plenty of other distractions such as trolling youtube for weather reports and falling asleep sitting up, but the rock zone and karate firewood will live in our hearts in infamy for a lifetime.


"My recreational and athletic goals have merged. (1) to hold my own riding with the serious drinkers and (2) to hold my own drinking with the serious riders. I’m working on the 2nd one as I type this."
     -- Michael Sweeney

Monday, September 21, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 3 The Trails)

In my previous post I explored of the culinary aspects of the trip. But this was a bike trip, and we did spend 3-4 hours each day railing the awesome trails of Northern Vermont...

All three days were strong rides. Day one was a mad dash to Troll Stroll, Tap and Die, then then everything we could find on our way to old classic Sidewinder. It was a bit like a bunch of twelve year olds at a candy store. "I'll have one of those and one of those, oh and I want that and that and that. And some more of these, and those over there too." We'd had a year to anticipate this return trip and it showed. We rode hard all day.

Day two was epic, hitting both sides of the park which was unprecedented for us. It's a lot of miles and a load of climbing, but also miles of epic downhills and miles of smiles. I can't say enough good things about that the Kingdom Trails Association has done here, it is simply amazing and I'm already counting the days until next year.

Day three everyone was beginning to show some wear and tear, but enthusiasm trumps all and so we rode. And we rode.

It's always a challenge to rack and stack the trails, agree on a top 3 or a top 5, they are so varied and honestly all so awesome. Sidewinder has to be in that list with the adrenaline pumping drops and 2G compressions. Tap and Die is a perennial favorite along with Farm Junk and River Wood. But I have to say the new Bear Back trail is a piece of work, I just wish I had more legs for the last half. There, that's my rack and stack.


"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite so worthwhile as simply messing about on bicycles "
     -- Tom Kunich

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Five Days in The Kingdom (Part 2 From Spam to Fois Gras)

In my previous post I shared an infographic summary and some pithy expert analysis. Food is a big part of any cyclist's life so in this post I will dive into some of the culinary aspects of the trip.

On Friday afternoon we were relaxing après-ride on front deck with a million dollar view of The Kingdom, when Sean brought out the Fois Gras. I'm not even going to attempt describing the flavor, I'll just use the f-word. It was fabulous, off the chart as you saw in the infographic. Fat and fabulous.
Tangent: It has got to be tough showing up for a guys weekend as a restaurateur. I mean we know the guy can do amazing things with food, but this is supposed to be a relaxing trip and we all had reservations about him having to cook (work?) on his vacation. But he clearly loves to do this (it shows) and he brought his A-game to The Kingdom. which added a whole new dimension to an already packed weekend.. 
Sean's next masterpiece production was a classic steak dinner for eleven! 13 beautifully marbled ribeye steaks grilled over a massive pile of coals in the firepit. Two of them were grilled "dirty" which means thrown directly on the red hot coals for about 40 seconds per side. All this served with baked potatoes piled high with amazing sour cream and bacon, grilled broccoli, and 3 bottles of red wine. We enjoyed this dinner as a group, all seated at the huge dining table in the great room. Eleven guys riding hard each day, partying hard each night, and breaking bread together with this wonderful meal is a memory I will cherish forever.

So yeah, beef and duck fat.

But that's not all. The weekend also featured MikeR's smoked London broil, bacon for breakfast, and bacon on the trail. I think we had something resembling a salad on Sunday night but I can't be sure due to the beef-induced haze. Oh and bacon stuffed baked potatoes and crisp fried Spam for breakfast (that "mechanically separated" wonder food from my childhood). Three pounds of home-made beef jerky was used to sustain the beef intake between meals. 
Tangent: Bacon as a trail snack is a new discovery. The salt (an electrolyte) is good protection against cramps, and the fat actually soothes a stomach that may be pickled from energy drinks and power bars. New addition to the big ride check list.
This five day beef-and-bacon-fest took a toll on me, and once home I had to reboot my lower gastro-intestinal system. This took days of turning various dials such as Metamucil, Imodium, gallons of water, about a bushel of bran flakes, and precisely timed coffee breaks. It's now day five and I think I'm fully operational again.

So clearly not a sustainable diet and probably deadly if it were, but food is such a social thing and for a few days this decadence was a glorious aspect of this already incredible trip.


"At this moment, nothing else exists"
     -- Willow Koerber's Uncle Doug (after drinking a bottle of jalapeño sauce)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

From Spam to Fois Gras in 5 Days (or Why I Needed to Reboot My Lower-GI System This Week)

The infographic below summarizes the our five day adventure in Northern Vermont (a.k.a., "The Kingdom"). The methodology is derived from Gartner Group's "Magic Quadrant" research methodology. The first dimension represents ability to execute.  This is the ability to "get'r done" and is independent of the merits of the idea.  For the second dimension I considered the merits using a scale ranging from "debauchery" to "suave sophistication". Each activity is represented as a bubble on this 2-dimensional continuum, with bubble size representing the duration or number of participants, and bubble color indicating risk of injury which is rarely a consideration apparently.
Executive Summary:

  1. We pretty much steered clear of the Roadie Quadrant but had a close call with Tom's kit. Thankfully his Leadville 100 credentials nudged that bubble out of that dark corner of the analysis. Barely.
  2. There is some potential in the Emerging Talent quadrant but it needs to be carefully nurtured and developed to keep it on track. Along those lines, someone mentioned jamming a screwdriver into the Bluetooth speaker. Perhaps one of those parental access codes would be useful here.
  3. Overall execution was very strong with this being our third consecutive year, as indicated by the activities tendency toward the top two quadrants. While clusters are certainly entertaining, I think this is a reflection of the depth of talent and the diversity in this group. Give yourselves a pat on the pack for that one.
  4. There is some risky behavior taking place but it is not excessive and most of them are episodic so little to worry us here.
  5. Good balance between Debauchery and Sophistication. This is a very difficult balance to achieve, precious few can sustain it over a five day period. This may be part of the "secret sauce" that makes this such a fantastic weekend each year.

Next up will be posts diving into detail on extracurricular activities, culinary high points, and other aspects of the trip. Stay tuned.


"You say proboscis, I say proboscis"
     -- Mike Miller, admiring a fly on Rob's trail bacon.