Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens

While we were Buffalo on vacation, we went with my mother to the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens. The gardens are unique in that most of their collection of plants is indoors to keep harsh Buffalo winters from killing the many tropical plants they have.

The building is unique from what I learned at their website. The tri-domed glass, wood and steel building designed by the premier conservatory designers of the time: Lord & Burnham, Co. from New York's Hudson Valley and completed in 1899. Today there are fewer than a dozen large Victorian conservatories in America and this is one of two with the tri-dome design. (The other is the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.)

I know very little about plants, but there were lots of beatiful ones there.

I bet these are the only bananas growing in Buffalo.

I liked the indoor waterfall in the tropical section.

They had sections for everything from extremely humid, extremely dry.

I wonder why they call this a bunny ears cactus...

Self-portrait in a mirror:

My mom and my wife:

Playing checkers with my son:

A cute little statue, through an arch of ivy.

The central dome from below.

There were dramatic views of the domes from the perennial garden outside.

The Our Lady of Victory Basilica was just a short distance away. It's also well worth a tour, but we didn't have time for it this time around.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Downtown Dawdling

It's been raining a lot lately so I haven't been riding the bike as much as I'd like. So after dinner tonight, I hopped on my trusty single speed and headed... well, I just rode for a while without really knowing where I was heading.

I rode through the upscale Tanglewood neighborhood, then by Colonial Country Club and the Zoo, then across into Southside. Having gone through all my water already, I stopped into a convenience store and grabbed a sport drink, only to find that I only had a dollar in my wallet. The only wet stuff a dollar would buy was a can of soda, so I put the sport drink back and picked up a Squirt. It's been a long time since I had one of those; it was tasty, and I now had thirty-five cents left from the dollar.

I ended up on eastbound Vickery which splits into two routes- one went to an above-ground intersection; the other went down. I wasn't sure if it was the thing to do but I went down into the tunnel which makes a hard left turn and merges with Jennings. The reason I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do is that I wasn't sure if there might be folks of less than honorable intent down there. The only indication of them was a scent of stale urine (ew, I know). One of the things that I usually like about riding a bike is you get to smell the smells. Often that's a good thing, but not in this case.

Anyway, I popped up on the other side of the tracks in Downtown. Again, I wasn't sure where I was going, so I just kind of trundled around a bit. I heard music over by the recently closed Dixie House at 5th & Houston. I pulled up on the curb and heard this guy playing his slide guitar and singing.

I stopped and listened. Once he was done with his song, I got up and told him, "I won't keep you in suspense; I've only got thirty-five cents for you, but you deserve more." He said, "Oh, that's alright." Then he played a few more songs while I sat there. No one else stopped to listen, which I thought was a shame. I stayed, hoping someone else would get the idea and kick in a buck or two, but no.

I will say this about the spot he picked: It wasn't profitable, but it was a great place to people-watch, with several smartly dressed couples out on dates and a couple of bachelorette party groups walking by.

Having nothing more to contribute, I hopped back on my bike. I rolled by the Starbucks on Houston and asked if they could fill up my water bottle from their tap which they readily agreed to do. (Now I need to go back there an actually pay for something next time.)

I rode home on the Trinity Trail, detouring off into Trinity Park where several picnics and birthday parties were happening. I just cruised through, then got back on the Trinity Trail and finally got off at Overton Creek and took a familiar route home.

On the last hill I have to climb, a rather steep one, a dog came after me. I think I could have outrun it, but decided I didn't want to and just stopped. The dog barked at me a little then came over and made a new friend. I made a couple new friends as well, as the couple that owned him was out in the yard and we chatted for a few minutes. Finally I headed for home.

A pointless ride, really, in terms of destination. But it was a good ride for my psyche.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Commute Orlando

I've mentioned Commute Orlando before, but I recently discovered something that reminded me what a great resource for bicycle commuters this site is. Commute Orlando is a multi-contributor, multi-mode website with a strong sense of mission to encouraging bicycle commuting in Orlando. It does a great job of promoting commuting in general, for people both in and out of Central Florida.

What do they offer, you ask? Just click on the main website and see. For people all over, there are lots of goodies. Start in the left-hand column at The Basics. If you're just starting out, this will help you select and outfit your bike and get started with cycling. Just below that is On the Road with more articles about how to operate your bike on the streets.

In the center left column is a link to their blog which covers the world of cycling with a focus on cycling in Florida and Orlando. Even though I don't live in the area, I find much of the information there relevant and interesting. In preparing this post, I noticed that they now have a message forum as well (how did I miss that??) in the center right column. In the blog and forum columns you can see previews of the articles and posts inside.

In the right sidebar is a link to an online book about bicycling called Bicycle Street Smarts by John Allen, another good resource. Below that is one of my favorite sections: A series of articles called Smart Moves. Once you get past the basics, there is so much good information in these articles about how to navigate the road with other traffic while on your bike. One of my favorites is a little piece called You Lead the Dance, which now features a video that gets the point across really well.

Bicycling in traffic is a dance you lead from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.
If you are a complete beginner with respect to cycling, I hope you look at my blog for inspiration, but for the real nuts and bolts, you can't beat Commute Orlando. Oh, and by the way, you can thank Keri Caffrey for this great public service.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Milestone

Strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with commuting.

Having said that, I haven't posted here in a while and since the goal of the blog is to encourage people to commute, I thought I would point out the obvious: Commuting is a great way to get miles in during the work week. Sometimes having those miles under your belt helps with other pursuits.

This morning I engaged in such a pursuit. I decided that I would do a local club ride. Usually I just do their breakfast rides which begin 8 miles from my house. Today's ride was a little different; it started at 8 am on the west side of town, about 16 miles from home. The planned distance was 30 miles (turned out to be a bit less). I started putting some scenarios together in my head and realized that if I left home at my normal commute time, 5:30 am, I could get enough miles in by 8 am that, when added to the 30 miles plus my trip home would equal more than 62.2 miles. Kind of an odd number you say? Do the conversion: That's 100 kilometers. I'd never done a metric century (100 km). Until today.

Before Meeting the Group: 27 miles

Like I said, I left before dawn at 5:30 am. This was to get a bunch of miles in before it got warm out, and also to try to avoid the chance of thunderstorms later in the morning. When I got on the trail it was still pretty dark out.

Shortly after 6 am, I took this video as I crossed under the Hulen Street bridge.

Just after putting the camera away, I found out I wasn't alone on the trail when I passed right by a fox that was no more than 5 feet off the pavement. If you're familiar with Fort Worth, it was at the spot across from Colonial Country Club where the view of the train yard gives way to the stand of trees just before Rogers.

Here's a nice shot of the sunrise over the Trinity River, with downtown in the background.

In this shot, the group of buildings on the right side of the frame is Radio Shack headquarters, with the river reflecting the sky.

There is a bridge right after this by which cyclists can access downtown, or go north to the Stockyards. I did neither; instead I stayed on the side of the river I was on and followed it as is swings northwest toward River Oaks. I followed the trail less traveled. The one that's not paved, it's covered with packed stone. It's still plenty smooth enough for road bike tires.

There are actually several trails- one outside the levee (on the left) one on top of the levee (center) and one inside the levee (right). Even though the other paths were paved, I preferred the path on top of the levee. Besides, it reminded me of Memorial Day.

If you're in the Fort Worth area and are looking for a quiet place to ride, the River Oaks branch of the Trinity Trails fits the bill. That trail was recently extended and now goes right by a waterfall before it ends at Pumphrey Drive.

I followed Pumphrey south to Westworth Blvd. and followed that west where it turns into Alta Mere Drive (TX 183). TX 183 is a busy road with a lot of retail traffic these days, but here again my early start time paid off as there was almost no traffic to be found. I stopped in for some breakfast before meeting my club, and met a great group of older ladies who hold court at Ridgmar Chick-Fil-A every morning. They insisted I give them a full report of my bike riding thus far and my plans for the day. With wishes of good luck, they sent me off to meet my club.

Group Ride: 29 miles

I met the group at Veterans Park in White Settlement. We divided into several groups according to the pace we wanted; because I had already ridden 26 miles I chose the Cruisers. We headed north toward Lake Worth and followed its shoreline for several miles.

Then we hopped on the access road for Jacksboro Highway to get to the Fort Worth Wildlife Preserve.

The preserve was nice riding- almost no traffic,

...and a lot of shade. Good thing because those predicted thunderstorms never came.

We got to see the buffalo roam.

...but it was time to move on.

We wound our way through a rural area

Before heading back to the lake.

We got back to the park and awaited the other riders' return.

Then we had lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

My bike looked lonely at the restaurant (everyone else drove to the group ride).

Eventually everyone else showed up.

Don't make the same mistake I did: It's a bad idea to accept a glass of water from a waitress when you're trying to take pictures.

The Home Stretch: 15 miles

The rest of the ride was routine; the restaurant wasn't too far from where I work, so it was just like my normal commute (Ah! This post does have something to do with commuting!) Except for a stop I made along the way. I ran into a member of the bike club that hadn't done the ride with us. He was on a solo ride and had gotten a flat tire. I decided to hang out until he got his new tube in. It's a good thing because his spare tube didn't hold air either. I gave him my spare and we rode together until we got to his subdivision (which was right on my way)

...and I rode the rest of my "commute" uneventfully.

Total distance: 71 miles or 114 kilometers. A metric century!