Monday, November 24, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014

Chief coffeeneur and blogger extraordinaire Mary G started a movement four years ago:  Coffeeneuring.  It all began with a simple blog post. She challenged her readers to ride an average of one bike ride per weekend for seven weeks and visit seven different coffee shops.  To ensure everyone understood the idea and to poke a little fun at the sport of Randonneuring at the same time, she established clear and simple rules. A lot of clear and simple rules!  Each autumn the rules have been slightly refined, and the idea continued to grow.  I completed the first Coffeeneuring Challenge in 2011 and set out again in 2012 and 2013 with good intentions, but I let other commitments and life get in the way and didn't see it through. I'm happy to report I've successfully completed the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  Well I'm close. As I type this I have exactly three hours left to comply with rules 5, 12 and 14 regarding how a participant must document his/her adventures.  So without further adieu, here's my 2014 Coffeeneuring Control card.

October 4, 2014 - Carl's Corned Beef and Deli

1 of 7
Market House
25 Market St
Annapolis, MD 21401
45.9 miles

I set out from home with several missions in mind on that first Saturday morning:  complete Coffeeneuring ride number 1, see my son's football game in Davidsonville, and to ride at least 40 miles.  All three missions accomplished.  It was beautiful sunny day.  City dock was busy with tourists enjoying the nice weather, there was a running event underway to benefit Special Olympics.

Carl's is located in the Market House in Annapolis and is right next to the brick court yard that includes several historic plaques about Annapolis' history. I enjoyed a hot cuppa joe, black, and pumpkin muffin while I watched the runners come in to the finish of their mile run around the city center.   The day was off to a good start.

From downtown Annapolis I headed for my son's football game at Davidsonville Park.  Erik and the Green Hornets 11 and Under team came up a few touchdowns short that day, but it was a valiant effort and a great day to watch a ball game.  From Davidsonville it was home for a shower before heading back out for another ball game.  Zach's 13 and under team had a better day.  A wonderful day of riding and sports with my boys.

October 18, 2014 - The Iron Rooster

2 of 7
12 Market Space
Annapolis, MD 21401
16.6 miles

If you're paying attention, you'll notice ride number 2 was two weeks later and not far from ride 1.  The Iron Rooster is a brand new establishment in downtown Annapolis, just across the street from the Market House. I was looking forward to scouting it as a prospective stop for group rides by the Severna Park Peloton.  They advertise breakfast all day and many dishes are served in the same iron skillet they are prepared in. I had an omelette and coffee, black.  The meal was fantastic.  But I find Iron Rooster better suited to brunch with the family than a quick stop on a bike ride.  It was a large meal and the price reflects a full service restaurant with your meal cooked to order.  I give it 4.5 stars out of 5 as a restaurant, but only 2.5 bikes out of 5 as a cycling stop.

October 26, 2014 - The Big Bean
3 of 7
558 B & A  Blvd.
Severna Park, MD 21146
17.8 Miles

The Big Bean is the unofficial headquarters of the Severna Park Peloton.  They sponsor our jerseys, host our regular Tuesday morning ride for coffee and open early whenever we want to launch a big ride like Fleche or a Brevet.  In keeping with Rule 8 however I visited Big Bean not with one of these weekly or annual events, but rather to invoke rule 19 and pick up my supply of pumpkin spice beans.  This fall favorite relies NOT on syrup for flavor (yuck) but somehow roasts the pumpkin in to the beans.  My wife and I love it.  Read on to see how I learned to prepare this magic elixir in a french press.

November 2, 2014 - Sandy Point State Park

4 of 7
First visit to the Coffee Shop Without Walls
1100 East College Parkway
Annapolis MD 21409
18.5 Miles

It was a busy weekend and the Coffeeneuring Challenge looked like it might be again in jeopardy.  My riding miles were a bit behind too, when I had an inspiration.  That new camp stove I'd bought for some upcoming Boy Scout adventures needed a test and rule 2 defines a Coffee Shop Without Walls where a rider can make his own brew.  Problem solved.  I pedaled out to Sandy Point State Park Sunday evening and made myself some Hot Cocoa under a beautiful moon overlooking The Bay.  Sadly my camera phone, or my skill with the camera phone, did not capture the moonlit water very well.  You'll have to take my word for it that it was a wonderful way to spend a few minutes by myself after a weekend devoted to so many other things.

November 9, 2014 - B&A Trail Ranger Station

5 of 7
51 West Earleigh Heights Road
Severna Park, MD 21146
9 miles

The most satisfy ride of the series.  I'd spent the weekend camping with the Boy Scouts but a quirk of scheduling meant I didn't get to camp with my sons.  Instead they were with our scout troop and the other boys while I was completing required training for scout masters at a different venue.  I enjoyed the trip and learned a lot, but would rather have been with scouts and my own sons.  We all got home by mid afternoon Sunday.  So Erik and I paid a visit once again to the Coffee Shop Without Walls.  Erik had hot cocoa.  Having mastered the camp stove the week before, I now experimented with the french press.  Combined with the pumpkin spice beans from The Big Bean, it was fantastic.  Erik and I got to compare notes about our respective camping adventures, and we made it back home just before dark.  A great outing.

November 11, 2014 - Starbucks

6 of 7
1700 W Nursery Rd
Linthicum Heights, MD 21090
16.1 Miles (or 32.2 if you count the round trip to the office)

I invoked rule 18 and my status as a veteran of the US Navy to Coffeeneur on a Veteran's Day. When I got to the Starbucks I learned they celebrate Veteran's Day with free coffee for veterans, FTW!!  Sadly my employer, or really our customers, do not all show their admiration and appreciation for veterans with a day off.  So I was hitting the coffee shop on my way home from work.  But I got to ride my bike and enjoy a free cuppa.  I'll take it.

November 15, 2014 - Hard Bean Coffee & Booksellers

7 of 7
36 Market Space
Annapolis, MD 21401
16.8 Miles

Back to Annapolis for the 7th and final adventure of Coffeneuring 2014.  The Hard Bean is another club sponsor and wonderful stop.  Books, beer, wine and coffee all in one place.  I enjoyed a chocolate chip scone and hot, black cup of coffee.  It just doesn't get much better than that.

Many thanks to MG for starting this in motion and cheering it on. I enjoy reading about others' adventures around the country and around the world. I hope someone feels compelled to try a few of our Annapolis area coffee shops. I can't recommend The Big Bean in Severna Park and Hard Bean in Annapolis strongly enough. Their support for our local cycling adventures is always top notch.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Acorn Bags - Great Customer Service

They say good customer service is hard to find.  Well if that's the case then great customer service is worth writing about.

Some time ago (more than a year, maybe two) I purchased the Boxy Rando Bag from Acorn Bags for my Surly Long Haul Trucker.   It's a solid product and does what it is supposed to do it.  It holds my stuff securely to the front of my bike just forward of the handle bars. The main opening is in the rear so when I stop for a moment I can easily open it up to fetch whatever I need, close the top and I'm on my way in a moment, still straddling the bike the whole time.  It's made of waxed canvass and I've only found wet contents once when the rain and wind combination was nearly biblical.  I like the internal stiffener that helps the bag hold it's shape. It's also white on the inside which really improves finding things with only a dim helmet lamp at night.   It has a clear plastic map window sewn in to the lid to hold my map or cue sheet securely where I can see it and protects it from moisture.  It just works.  It's one less thing to think about when I'm on a long brevet.  I like it.

I also own one of Acorn's large saddle bags.  It's also a solid product that works as advertised and holds up over time.  Others who use their products have also expressed to me similar satisfaction, that's how I heard of them in the first place, when I saw their products on other bikes and asked about them.  Those riders had only good things to say.

So you can imagine my disappointment when it broke early one morning this winter as I was preparing to commute to work.  It was cold.  Really, really cold.  Single digits on the Fahrenheit scale.  The kind of cold that included warnings on the evening news about windchill, frost bite and hypothermia. The kind of cold where a man's breath condenses then freezes on his mustache.  I opened the lid to stow my lunch and I heard a distinct "snap" sound.  But I couldn't figure out what it was. I closed the lid and opened it again, but the sound did not repeat.  I don't normally use a map or cue sheet for commuting.  Sadly, I have that route memorized.  So I didn't think to look at the plastic cover right away (it was still dark at this point).  But I noticed it just after sun rise.  The clear film that creates the map pocket on top had cracked in the cold.  A split opened parallel to the seam where the top flap folds back.  The split ran completely from one side of the bag to the other.  No map or cue would stay dry in there.

I didn't have any big rides coming up right away where I would depend on the bag.  So I shopped to see what new things were available. I was concerned it wouldn't be covered under warranty, and life was busy this winter. So I took the bag off the bike and the problem sat for a few weeks. But I like that bag, and any replacement would be expensive.

Spring rando season was coming and I would need something up front again. So finally, I wrote to Ron at Acorn and explained the problem.  I acknowledged that I'd already owned the bag well over a year and that it had seen enough weather that it was starting to show the classic fading of used canvas.  I asked what would be the best course of action to repair the bag.  I expected a price quote or a recommendation to see a canvas or sail repair service center that could do the work.  I was prepared for the possibility that cross country shipping plus time and material for the repair might make the repair uneconomical and I might have to make another purchase.   Instead I got an offer:  if I covered the shipping back to Ron, he'd repair the bag and cover the return shipping.

He did exactly that.  The round trip took less than two weeks.  We both used ground shipping services, so the majority of that time was in transit. That means the repair was done with the bag in Acorn's possession for only a couple of days.  It got an email letting me know the repair was done and bag on it's way back on a Sunday evening.  I got another Monday morning with a tracking number.  I got the back on Friday, 13 days after I shipped it.  The repair looks like the bag did when it was new.  Only a slight contrast between the faded material and the fresh stitching around the new plastic would tip anyone off that it was repaired.  My bag is ready for this season's big rides when I will really depend on it.

Acorn's web site has a page labeled simply Buying Information.   The paragraph on warranty is short and simple:

"I stand behind my products 100%. If the bag does not meet your definition of quality and value, let me know and I'll make it right."

Clearly he means it.  If the time comes to outfit a new bike, or perhaps if the Acorn product line expands to include panniers or an even larger saddle bag, I'll buy from Acorn again.  If anyone asks, I will certainly recommend Acorn.