How bike-friendly were all those places we visited?

The long-delayed "RASR Ratings" are finally live on our website.  We've compiled our impressions of the bike-friendliness of each community and state we encountered during our cross-continental southern-state tour.  After several weeks to reflect on and compare them all (and arrange them in a somewhat web-friendly format), we are ready to publish them for the review and interest of our loyal followers.  As the disclaimer reads, we by no means conducted a comprehensive survey in each community, but simply made observations as we passed through on a single stretch of road.  We intend only to share a bit of feedback from the perspective of a short-term visitor, and ideally to stimulate discussion around changes that might be made in these locations to attract more cyclists.

Please take a look, share your feedback, and especially let us know if you think we got it wrong in your area!


Bike to School Day

Near the end of our trip I was contacted by a SRTS advocate in Indianapolis, Jennie Pyrz, to see if by any chance we'd be in Indiana in time for Transportation Secretary Lahood's visit on National Walk to School Day.  Unfortunately, though it would have been terrific to meet Mr. Lahood, we were in Santa Cruz that day, Apr 27, preparing for our big finale ride into San Francisco.  Fortunately, Indiana is on my way home and the timing worked out perfectly for me to be here on the very first National Bike to School Day!  Jennie connected me to a couple of downtown Indy schools and I made arrangements to stay with family of mine in a northern suburb called Noblesville. 

Bike to School Day, May 9, dawned a cool clear morning and the sun sparkled in the shiny blue paint of my lovely bike as I pulled it out of the van.  Now 10 days since our last ride in California, I've been feeling severe long-ride withdrawal, exaggerated by all the driving I've been doing.  Stephanie and I took a couple of easy spins in Naperville over the weekend but I was looking forward to a full morning of riding on unknown roads. 

I rolled out just as the sun was coming up over the cornfields, with time to cruise 20 miles to the first school - Immaculate Heart of Mary K-8 School (IHM) - before 8am morning assembly.  My route took me past subdivisions for 10 miles and then hooked up with a rail trail for the remaining half.  Not sure what to expect, I had a surprising treat in store for me.  Freshly-paved shared-use paths lined the major roads past the subdivisions, and the Monon Trail was a gem - recognized as a rail trail hall of famer!  Very few other users were out at that time of the morning so I was in bike heaven as I flew through lush forested parkland and past quaint neighborhoods, restaurants, and coffee shops.  Even when I left the Monon at the northern end of downtown the streets were wide and easy to navigate.  Who knew?  Bike-friendly Indianapolis!

I arrived at IHM with 5 minutes to spare before the school-wide morning assembly, and was met by enthusiastic SRTS parent and champions Hilary Oberlies and Molly Noble.  IHM was the winner of the Walk to School Challenge during the month of April between four area schools and was receiving the trophy that day as an award.  I helped to present the trophy to Vice-Principal Ronda Schwarz (the Principal was away with the 8th graders on their Washington DC trip), and then spoke briefly to the students about our trip, emphasizing how lucky they were to live in a neighborhood with a community school and to be able to walk or ride their bikes to school.

Awarding the Walk Challenge trophy to IHM Vice-Principal Ronda Schwarz and Hilary Oberlies

Me and Taylor Oberlies, 4th grader at IHM
The other school on my schedule was right across the street from IHM.  Public School 84, also known as the Center for Inquiry - a very formal title for a beautiful community K-8 magnet school - was making a big deal out of the very first annual National Bike to School Day.  Kathy Whited was the SRTS champion that organized bike decorating parties and several bike trains to maximize student participation.  I rode a few blocks away from the school to join a bike train back to school and had a chance to speak to some of the parents.  Once the third bike train had arrived we counted nearly 90 students that had ridden their bikes to school.  Both bike racks were jammed and the handicapped ramp railing served as overflow locking space.  Very impressive participation, and kudos to Kathy for her great organizing and parent-recruiting work!  I again spoke briefly during the morning assembly and though I hadn't been allotted time to answer questions, hands were shooting up anyway around the gym while I talked. 

National Bike to School Day train to CFI

Bike to School train #2

Morning assembly at CFI Public School 84

I had breakfast with Kathy and her husband Kevin, executive director of the local bike advocacy group INDYCOG, following the assembly at CFI, and was able to hear more about what's happening in Indianapolis for bicycling.  I really was impressed by the bike friendliness of the parts of the city I experienced, and I hope to have another chance to come back and ride in the area.  Thanks Kathy and Kevin for allowing me to participate in your National Bike to School Day events, and for making me feel so welcome in the city!

It was especially lucky that my visit to the Indianapolis area and to my Aunt Debra's house coincided with a visit by her mom, my Great Aunt Charlene, who had already played host to our whole team in the Phoenix area.  Debra and Charlene treated me like a queen, spoiling me with all the ice cream I could eat, dinner out, and kingly sleeping arrangements.  It was very nice to see them - thank you to both of them for a really wonderful visit!



After you've been riding a bike every day for three months it's a strange feeling to stop, and even after a week I don't think it's quite sunk in that the great cross country tour is over.  Maybe that's partly because I'm still on the road, traveling back east this time.  I imagine when I stop moving it will catch up with me.  Better keep moving!

Sunday after the big finale we enjoyed a beautiful day of sightseeing in San Francisco.  We had a delicious brunch with my friend Diga and wandered around her neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Presidio, the dramatic Palace of Fine Arts, and the bay.  The notorious San Francisco fog was nestled in around the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were grateful for the clear weather that graced our trip over the bridge.  We continued our eating tour of San Francisco with Matt and Brian, our bike-shuttling heroes of the previous evening, at a Burmese restaurant called Mandalay.  Brian ordered up a delicious variety of dishes for us to sample family style around the table.  Thanks to Matt and Brian for showing us some of the highlights of San Francisco, inviting us for a terrific lunch and again for shuttling us over the GGB to Sausalito (and our bikes back!).
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Not much of a view from the bridge today...
Sunday afternoon was occupied by our usual day-off tasks - laundry, organizing, and cleaning the Manatee - only this time we were separating out each rider's personal belongings, packing bikes for Darlene and Kaitlynn to fly home, and giving the van it's final big clean-out for the road trip home.  Jean Hayward and her husband Jim's home in Oakland was the site of this unpacking/repacking chaos, where we had adequate space to spread out on the sidewalk and backyard, and follow up our hard work with a satisfying home-cooked meal and tasty variety of ice cream choices!  Once bikes were boxed and suitcases packed, it really set in that we weren't getting up to ride another day on Monday.  We still enjoyed a last relaxing evening together, some lively conversation with Jean and Jim, and settled in around their house for a restful night's sleep.  Thanks to Jean and Jim for exceeding our (now quite high!) standards for hosts and for graciously allowing us to take over your home!

Monday morning Jeanie and Steve got an early start to whisk Darlene off to the airport for her flight home.  Even in my pre-dawn haze I was sad to bid farewell to our most dedicated and outgoing of honorary team members.  Between her guest appearance for 10 days in Georgia and her week with us in California, Darlene had truly inspired us with her enthusiasm for cycling and for life, and with her carpe diem decisions to twice take a break from her busy life as a business owner, mom, and wife to join us.  The consolation of saying goodbye to Darlene is knowing that we'll surely see her again sometime soon - probably on our next tour!   We love you Pink!

Jane and Jeanie spent late morning on Monday at the exercise physiology lab at San Francisco State University, getting post-ride testing done to compare to our pre-trip VO2 max and body comp data.  Jane will be using the data for her trip analysis and summary report for her Master's of Public Health program back in DC.  Jeanie's results from the post-trip testing were a bit ambiguous (showing no change in fitness but possibly skewed by sleep deprivation for the pre-dawn airport trip), but Jane's results were very impressive, with a big jump in VO2 max on the bicycle ergometer.  I think it's safe to conclude that biking across the country is good for you!
Post-ride testing
We left Kaitlynn in San Francisco for her Tuesday flight with our new buddy Brian serving as host and tour guide.  She got a tandem tour of the city - lucky girl!  Kaitlynn had also become a very special honorary RASR rider after two weeks with us, impressing us with her hard work and ability to jump in with us at the end and more than keep up with our long days and many difficult road conditions.  She also cheerily took on the team tasks of driving the Manatee, setting up camp, cleaning, etc, and always boosted the team morale with her chipper outlook.  We even threw her in on her first day for the challenging work of directing hassled Tour de Mesa riders to our table at the ride expo, a role that she embraced and quickly mastered.  Her ability to brag about our accomplishments soon became a major asset to us, especially on our evening out in San Francisco!  Our goodbyes with Kaitlynn were slightly less emotional, only because most of us will be seeing her again very soon at Chelsea's graduation at the end of the month.

Monday afternoon Jeanie, Chelsea, and Steph packed up for the road trip back east.  First stop: Sacramento for a short presentation at the California Safe Routes to School Forum at the state Department of Public Health.  It was a great coincidence that the Forum was happening on that day, and that we were able to coordinate with Victoria Custodio, Project Coordinator at the Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance Resource Center, to be surprise guests at the end of the Forum.  Even more exciting, our presentation followed the keynote address by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership's Founder and Executive Director, Deb Hubsmith, and we arrived at the Forum just in time to hear her talk.  After volunteering and fundraising for SRTSNP for three months it was an exciting and appropriate end to the trip to hear Deb's presentation and meet her, and then to give our own trip summary presentation to a room full of hard-working SRTS champions.  Thank you to Victoria for inviting us to the Forum, and to all of the California SRTS coordinators for the warm reception and for the great work that you do!

We were also very appreciative to have some one-on-one time with Deb after the Forum.  Our timing worked out to have dinner together to learn more about the work of the SRTSNP and share more stories from our trip.  Thanks Deb for a terrific dinner!
California SRTS Forum Keynote - Deb Hubsmith, SRTS National Partnership Executive Director

RASR in front of the Capitol with Lisa Cirill, Chief of CA Active Communities, Deb Hubsmith, and Dawn Foster, Caltrans SRTS Program Coordinator

RASR with Victoria Custodio
After dinner we had a few minutes to grab fro-yo and catch up with my friend Dom before we got back on the road to make Nevada in time for bed.  Our two weeks in California seemed much longer with all of the places we visited and the incredible memories made.  It was definitely the perfect place to finish our trip and treated us very, very well.  Though it was hard to leave the state and turn eastward, we all had a feeling we'd be back soon!
Back on the road
From Sacramento we had four days to get to Stephanie's home in Naperville, IL for Chelsea's flight back to Vermont and Stephanie's sister's college graduation on Saturday.  We veered slightly out of our way to spend a day in Missoula, MT with Chelsea's man Brett, but managed a whirlwind tour of some dramatically beautiful parts of Nevada, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  We covered about 2,600 miles in four days and traveled backwards and forwards through the seasons along the way.  It's odd to cover half the miles that it took us 3 months to travel in one-twentieth of the time without moving our legs at all!
Oh Idaho!

Chels and B-Wiz

Can't stop the ice cream addiction - at Big Dipper in Missoula

Headed back across the Plains
We made it safely to Naperville to a happy reunion with Steph's family and faithful pup Autumn, and put Chels on her plane back to Vermont.  I still have a few miles ahead to get back to DC, including a stop in Indianapolis for a school speaking tour on National Bike to School Day, and a visit to my Grandma in Missouri.

To our dedicated readers: thank you for following us on this journey and stay tuned!  There will be more to come. Wrapping up. More travels. Heading back to school. Graduation. New jobs. And planning for another tour!


The Incredible End

Friday was an early morning wakeup in Veterans Memorial State Park high on the hill overlooking downtown Monterey. The day’s itinerary had us riding a mere 45 miles into Santa Cruz for a presentation and lunch with a consulting group called Ecology Action and then a free afternoon to enjoy the beach and bike-friendly glory of Santa Cruz. We rolled up camp and saddled up by 7am for a breezy downhill start. The weather was clear and a bit chilly but generally perfect riding weather. In downtown Monterey we picked up the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail which followed the coast halfway to Santa Cruz. The trail was packed with riders commuting and training in giant peletons. This was a new experience for us to encounter busy bicycle traffic and made the otherwise peaceful path much more exciting! The path ended in California’s strawberry belt, and the rest of the day’s ride took us on farm roads through fields bursting with giant ripe red strawberries and artichokes. A few more miles of riding past sleepy beach towns and we knew we’d arrived in Santa Cruz when bike lanes and cyclists were visible on every street.
Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay Coastal Trail
Overflowing strawberry fields
We headed downtown to the office of Ecology Action in time to meet Kira Ticus, their bike safety specialist, and a group of school kids that were getting some bike education that morning. We gave an informal presentation, answered lots of excellent questions, and quizzed the clever group on bike safety rules of thumb. Ecology Action treated us to a delicious lunch and Kira led us to the local gourmet ice cream shop around the corner for Mushroom, Burnt Cinnamon, and Whiskey flavors. Kira also gave us a recommendation on a great shop to pick up some artwork to memorialize our trip, so we headed there next. Darlene and Jeanie already had designs in mind…
Penny Ice Cream

My turn on the table

Darlene getting emblazoned
But truly the best stop in Santa Cruz was the home of Joan Leitner and Steve Elston in the sister town of Capitola. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog you’ll remember Joan and Steve from our overnight in their airplane hanger in Pahrump, NV. After our second night with them they were unanimously our favorite hosts of the trip. Joan and Steve have created an urban oasis on a compact lot a few blocks from the beach, complete with a beautiful home, spacious patio, hot tub/sauna/outdoor shower, “bike cave” with a full shop and at least ten bikes hanging (where five of us girls slept), and lush garden. Our evening at the bike oasis just kept getting better after we arrived – we toasted a few Fat Tires, hit the hot tub, settled down on the patio for salad, grilled artichokes, and sweet potatoes, and then a creative variety of crispy pizzas began emerging from the wood-fired oven. Greg McPheeters of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition (and a few other bike coalitions) joined us for dinner and shared some local bike news and stories with us. Joan and Steve kept the pizzas coming until we were stuffed, and we topped it all off with some delicious chocolate from Greg. As the night wore on we were reunited with the team dad and husband Steve, who arrived with Jane’s great friend from grad school, Jean Hayward. With the whole finale gang finally present we had a short briefing on the next day before settling in for the night. What a terrific evening – no better way to spend our last night together before the big finale ride!
Hot tub!  Had to keep the newly-inked ankle dry...

The Oasis

Joan and Steve and PIZZA!
Saturday morning we awoke to coffee, Joan’s berry smoothies, and Steve’s blueberry pancakes. Seriously. Amazing. Hosts! Unfortunately we couldn’t linger long over breakfast but had to get moving to pack all of our bikes in the van and head out by 8am. Fortunately though, I hope to pay Joan and Steve and Capitola another visit sometime soon! We motored about 30 miles up the coast, putting us only 50 miles from our final destination so that we could stay on schedule with our growinggroup. We had arranged to meet up with another repeat team member Peter Schuetz – who rode with us on day 4 in Miami and was in the Bay Area visiting a friend for the weekend – and to be in town by 3pm to pick up a few more riders for the final miles. We started riding from Pescadero State Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway for another scenic morning through Half Moon Bay to Pacifica. The only challenge of the morning was a very narrow section of US-1 that consistently slides off into the Pacific and was under construction as a tunnel was being finished to replace that stretch. The traffic was heavy, the road was steep, narrow, and winding, and both sides of the road were hemmed in between concrete barriers. It was exciting but we managed to squeeze through without a major incident. As Darlene had become fond of saying – “this is extreme sports!”
RASR with Steve and AJ
A perfect weather day
Eight tough ladies - Darlene, Steph, me, Chels, Jane, Jean, Kaitlynn, and Joan
Joan, Jean, and Kaitlynn cresting a solid climb
New tunnels will make riding this section easier!
Our friend Peter from Miami and his local friend Brian picked up with us right before we stopped for lunch, in the midst of the worst section of road, so we could finally relax and catch up with him when we stopped for lunch.  It was really incredible to have so many people with us at the end, and especially folks that had been with us so early on!  After a quick bite in Pacifica we continued up the coast and started to hit south San Francisco neighborhoods.  We knew we were in the city when we hit our first real "San Francisco hill".  A right turn on Skyline Dr had us heading uphill at a steep grade, with each bend in the road it seemed to get steeper.  We crested the hill after about a mile at 15% grade and got our first glimpse of the city skyline and the top of the Golden Gate Bridge!  With a rare clear, sunny, and warm day in San Francisco the city was packed, and when we turned away from the coast into Golden Gate park we met a new challenge - dodging the weekend crowds.  We were so thrilled to be in the city that we just soaked it all in and enjoyed the sights. 
Lunch stop in Pacifica
Golden Gate Park
The Painted Ladies (houses in the background) overlooking the SF skyline
We weaved our way down to the bay and met three local bike advocates - Dave Snyder, Executive Director of the California Bike Coalition, and Matt Dove and Brian, Program Director and Educators for the Presidio YMCA's YBike Program.  The guys led us for our final 2 official miles of our cross country journey to Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge!  It was an emotional finish after more than 5,000 miles to arrive at our final destination, and felt almost surreal to be at the end of the road.  The moment was made particularly special by the presence of Darlene, Steve, Kaitlynn, Jean, and Peter.  The spirit of all of our honorary team members and new friends were with us on Crissy Field, and made our trip truly memorable and meaningful to us.  Thank you to everyone that rode with us, hosted us, fed us, coordinated events for us, and gave us valuable advice along the way.  You are all very special to us!
The finish with Brian, Dave, and Matt
The Core Four, 5000 miles together
Although we had officially finished our journey, we couldn't skip a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge.  At Matt and Brian's suggestion, we decided to ride over and take the ferry back to dinner at Pier 23 Cafe, where Dave had made reservations for our celebratory dinner.  As with riding through the city it was a bit like being in a video game to ride over the bridge, weaving and dodging tourists, runners, and other speedy cyclists on the narrow side path but again we just enjoyed the ride.  At the halfway point we stopped for photos and caught a rare glimpse of dolphins jumping below us!  We lingered for a few minutes enjoyed the view from the bridge and then wizzed down the Marin side of the bridge into Sausalito to catch the ferry.  We pulled up to the ferry terminal and found the line for passengers with bicycles wrapping nearly around the corner.  Frustratingly we had no chance of getting on that ferry with our bikes, and would have to bike 6 miles back over the bridge to make dinner in any reasonable length of time.  To our great fortune Matt and Brian came to our rescue and offered to shuttle our bikes back over the bridge for us so we could still catch that ferry, (and as we found out on the other side they were successful in a heroic effort to fit seven bikes in a cab - taking all the wheels off, stacking, and sandwiching them together.  They even got all the correct wheels back on the bikes on the other end!  Incredible!)

We spotted dolphins!
The ferry ride was beautiful and finally gave us a chance to sit and relax.  When we arrived city-side again sans bikes we had to hobble in our bike cleats along the Embarcadero about a mile to Pier 23.  Again, two gentlemen came to our rescue, this time in pedi-cabs.  We hopped in and relished a mile of riding with someone else doing the pedaling.  Pier 23 was a great spot for our final dinner with lots of new friends and a few old ones - Jane's friends Patti and Jill from grad school at Berkeley in the 1970's were even able to join us!  Dave Snyder had also invited some of his bike enthusiast friends who shared in the celebration.  We enjoyed excellent seafood and drinks and toasted to an amazing final day.
Now that we're done someone else can do the work...

Dinner at Pier 23

Chelsea and Daddy
And last but by no means least, (as if the day couldn't get any better!) the girls capped off the evening with a night out with some of my very best friends from college who all now live in the Bay Area.  We stayed with Diga, another incredibly gracious hostess, in her beautiful apartment near the Presidio, and had a chance to catch up with Sonia, Julie, and Dom, who I hadn't seen in almost eight years!  So wonderful to see them all and hear the latest on their busy and very successful lives.  We hit a few local establishments and cut loose on the dance floor, knowing we didn't have to save our legs for another day of riding.  A great night, an incredible day, and a life-changing trip.  Thank you to all who were a part of it!!
Reunion with my beautiful Brown Water Polo teammates!