Thursday, February 26, 2009

Imagine all the people

It's fun to watch people- not the creepy stalker-type of watching people where you follow another person to their, no. More like sitting in a cafe and sipping coffee while you watch patrons walk in and out, catching blips of their conversations and observing their reactions. The following requires zero stalking and is completely legal, while fun for both parties involved. I'll admit that I am definitely copying this project from a blog I recently found, "A Cup of Jo." Either way, it was too enticing for me to just let it pass me by. Therefore, in the hopes of capturing the moment, I am taking the opportunity to leave a disposable camera in a public place for a day. At the end of the evening, I will pick it up and see what has conspired on the film!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

La Philosophie de la Bicyclette (par moi)

When I titled this blog, I was looking for something catchy or clever that could be universally identifiable. Now that I've shared my embarrassments here and there, I feel it's only appropriate for me to offer up a little bit of amateur philosophy. No, I'm not going to quote Lance Armstrong or give some lengthy Foucault-ish train of thought, only to contradict myself in the end. It's more of a reader's digest version. Do with it what you'd like:

Bicycle (n.): The desire, or constant hunger, for knowledge and truth.

Travel (v. or n.): To seek out truth; the action of seeking-out that one embarks upon in order to find truth.

...happy riding.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Weekend Food for Thought

A fellow 4K team member shared this with the rest of us...feel free to pass it along

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Much More Than An Infatuation

Sticking with the theme of addiction: This past weekend I traveled to that oh-so-exotic land of New York City. As a student of limited money and means, I booked myself a $35 ticket on the Chinatown bus. Having only taken it once before with a Manhattan native en route to the city from Baltimore, this was my first time braving it alone. I made sure to pack extremely light, with only my timbuk2 bag and a purse crisscrossed over my shoulders. This was an anomaly for me, seeing as I'm the most indecisive person when it comes to packing- I feel as if I should be ready for anything, including the possibility of being stranded on the side of the road...or a freak nuclear holocaust. However, this time I wanted to make sure that I could manage the long walks that I'd most likely encounter since I had a track record of getting lost in the city, (this includes a time when I expected to take the subway to Soho, but managed to get stuck in Queens asking people how I could find my way back to Central, you can't walk to Central Park from Queens).
As a precursor to this post: I'm pleased very easily, and I very easily find myself in awkward situations. Over the expanse of one weekend, I was able to indulge in enough of these that I thought some were only worth mentioning if I couldn't bring you along with me...

In Baltimore, for me, cycling is almost a form of art- it's a statement to everyone you pass by in their cars. "Look at you lazy bums, stuck in traffic on your way home from work when you could be getting your ass into gear on an inexpensive means of clean transportation?" I almost feel bad in a way, myself. I have yet to master the utility of my bike so that it is my primary means of travel. I still manage to walk or take the bus wherever I go, only to be swept with guilt when I see someone gliding down St. Paul Street with one pant leg rolled up and their bag strapped firmly to their torso. Even moreso in New York City, it seems that your bicycle is a natural and necessary way of traversing through life. Taxis are astronomically expensive, and even the subway can be a hassle if you don't have extra cash to pay for your metrocard that week. In a city where everything costs twice as much as anywhere else, your bike is your best friend. It gets you to work, and even the grocery store. Around dinner time you spot people riding back from Trader Joe's, a carrier poised on their handlebars filled with wholesome, posh city food. (Because to me, all food in the city is classy...even the pizza. Please read ahead for more on the matter.)

Everybody in New York seems as if they were born with the "skinny gene"(...not the ones you wear...although there are a lot of men who like to sport them in all their skinny-legged glory and to the embarrassment of people like me who can't fit into the same pants a man can). This image fascinates me...the skinny people, not the skinny male legs. New Yorkers have the largest stash of scrumptious food at their beckoning, but somehow they manage to strut down the sidewalk only taking up their share with healthy grace and poise.

In turn, they have to replenish their energy from all that walking/riding, and what better way than to dive into the best cup of coffee you can possibly imagine? Coffee exists in every nook-and-cranny of the city. This and cigarettes seem to be a permanent accessory on every New York individual. I must admit that I felt particularly secure whenever I was totting my coffee cup in hand and perusing/getting slightly lost in various neighborhoods of Union Square. Here are a few places that I suggest to grab a perfect cup, whether you're looking to get in and out, or would rather sit and enjoy a book or the conversations of those nearby.

The Grey Dog Cafe: This place was packed when I went for a late lunch at 3:30pm. It was a Saturday, so that probably didn't help. If you go, be ready to wait in line...but the coffee, characters, and friendly service were well worth the wait.

(Photo courtesy of

Ceci-Cela Patisserie and Balthazar Bakery: both steam their cream WITH the coffee, perfectly infusing the two. When you step into the Balthazar Bakery, the walls glow a warm gold, and the shelves are lined with loaves of freshly-baked bread. This combination is the perfect selling point and definitely worked when I convinced myself on a previous city expedition with my sister to buy and inhale a loaf that had cranberries, sunflower seeds, raisins, and walnuts. yum.

(courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

Tonnie's Minis: I didn't afford myself the chance to try one of these colorful cupcakes, but by the looks of two men walking out with a giant box of them, they seemed like a foody's dream. By far my favorite food porn of the weekend.

At the end of each evening, after a couple glasses of wine, I couldn't help myself- food was on the brain. New York pizza is famous. I had never thought twice about this factoid until Friday night when we stopped into a random pizzeria and I picked out the last few singles left in my coat pocket to trade for a single slice of mushroom pizza. The cheese was still gooey and when I took the first bite, it was as if God himself had enveloped those mushrooms into the crust to create a perfect fusion that lit up my taste buds...that is until the following night when we had Arturo's pizza. I'm not one to be a fan of the thin crust. However, Arturo's uses a coal oven to cook their pies, which leaves a nice smokey dusting on the crust's edge. Topped with a range of veggies and cheese, this was by far the culinary apex to a very satisfying weekend.

As much as I enjoy doting over nyc, there are things that can throw you out of whack. For me, this particular issue is subway navigation. When you're running from one subway stop to another and you're trying to keep up with the natural fast pace of things, mistakes are made, including this particular slip-up when I was looking to catch the number 2 train up to Harlem. En route to my next destination, I still had my luggage with me. Across the street I spotted it in the distance, a subway stop with the numbers "1, 2, 3" posted right above the stairwell. Caught up in my sheer luck at finding the right stop so quickly, I strolled down the stairs, distracted by the people who had just walked out of the subway car that was parked ahead of the turnstile. Hoping to catch it, I quickly swiped my metrocard, walked through the turnstile...then it hit me in the face. I stood there perplexed, like a deer in the headlights, for a moment. There was a black gate closed in front of the turnstile and I was stuck between the bar and the gate. Apparently, the NY City transportation authority likes to close down certain subway stops on the weekends when traffic isn't as frequent. Little do they know that tourists like myself are stupid enough to think they can traverse up and down Manhattan island with no complications whatsoever. Standing there in my yellow coat and bright red bag, I felt like I might as well have been wearing a string of Christmas lights to attract the attention of everybody walking out of that subway. Avoiding as much eye contact as possible, I not-so-gracefully straddled the locked turnstile in my skirt and tights and hopped back over to safety. Besides the fact that I felt everybody along the 34th street block could recognize me as the girl who walked through a closed subway turnstile, I had this fleeting thought that security officers would track me down for jumping it (if this fear has not yet entered your mind, watch the movie "The Visitor" and you'll understand why).

(above: a much friendlier subway station in Brooklyn on Sunday morning. I've never seen mosaics with relief work inside like these! The one with a relief face particularly caught my interest and reminded me of A Christmas Carol where the door knocker becomes Marley's face.)

However, I quickly recovered and ended up finding a cup of coffee to calm my nerves back to normal. It was almost comforting to realize that I could endure an embarrassment of that nature and know that in a few minutes, I would never see those people again. I could easily blend in with the bustle; I could retain a sense of privacy while still being amongst so many people. I felt like the city was a loyal dog- no matter how fast or slow things became, there was a faithful buzz of personalities and places to keep you going.

...On Sunday afternoon, I boarded the Chinatown bus back to Baltimore. Rather than leaving me exhausted, New York gave me a slight spark of energy. Walking amidst an ever-lively population had made me that much more excited to go outside and see what I could run into during day (turnstiles aside). Things suddenly felt too quiet when I sat in my seat and the bus drove off.
As I grabbed my bag out of the shuttle at Lafayette Street and stepped off the curb, I noticed that there were no cyclists swerving around the corner with a waft of food coming from their handlebar baskets, and there were only a select few taxis that rode through the intersection. The only people on the sidewalks were an older couple on their way to dinner. When I got back to campus and keyed into my room, the flourescent lights penetrated my vision. I immediately turned on NPR to fill the silence that was no longer the reliable company of people and conversations around me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The athlete's palate vs. my palate

I can't help myself. It's like a drug. The dark molten chocolate dripping from every creamy surface; the warm, erotic feeling I get when I take a slow, delicious bite and my taste buds scream with excitement. If I can't taste it, then I can spend hours just flipping through the images on my computer screen. I think I'm bordering on addiction.
Food porn. It's my new obsession. (Now get your heads out of the gutter, please.) Thanks to my foody friend (whom I will keep anonymous) I am officially hooked on food blogs, websites, and cookbooks with enough appetizing photography to inspire a slight drool by the time I reach it's second or third page. Honestly, you can't blame me. Discovering the plethora of online images and recipes that constitute most of this modern age's food porn can be highly dangerous, though. Most recently, I spent over an hour perusing the frosted goodness that is the Cupcake Bakeshop blog: along with the clever fusion-frenzied blog of a California grad student:
You might be wondering, "Wow, this girls wants to bike across the country and she can afford to indulge in all of this sugary sin?" Well, no. This is why I've decided to promote the practice of Food Porn. There is no doubt that it tempts the tongue to scroll through each perfectly presented image. However, it can also be a means of control- by indulging in your fantasies via online images, you can keep your cravings at bay when the ultimate test waves its sugar-coated hands in front of your face.

Despite the frequent success of this method, I must admit that every once and a while, you need to dip your cherries into the dark...chocolate that is.

"I love it so much that I want to be a piece of gum on the asphalt!" -Juhee Kim on San Francisco

I may be biking across the country come May, but the fact of the matter is that I'll always be a runner at heart. I ran cross country in my last two years of high school, but was not yet ready to part from the sport that had gotten me through all of my teenage angst. After our last season, my friend Claire and I spontaneously entered a trail half-marathon that left us covered in mud and dripping with satisfaction afterwards. When we got to college, Claire and I decided that we were going to enter the Vermont City Marathon together. The brutality of it was satisfying enough to convince us to enter the Philadelphia Marathon (Claire) and Half-Marathon (myself) with our friend Judy, who ran the marathon as well.
I never had a problem just getting my butt out there and running, no matter what the weather was like. We used to live in Connecticut and if you've ever been, the winter last from October until April. (Note: Don't plan on moving there if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder.) If I could see ahead of me through the snow, I'd throw on an extra pair of socks and out I went. My family pegged me as "crazy" and "irresponsible" to run outside when the temperature was below 20 degrees. One time, I took a detour- of course knowing where I was all along- and came back home to find that my mom had gotten in the car to search for me. She had this constant fear that I'd be abducted in our small suburban neighborhood by a puppy-luring loony in a the age of 17. (Of course, mothers are allowed to have that fear and I'm sure it comes with the child-rearing territory, so I don't blame her.)
Basically, I had no fear when it came to running.
Now that I find myself strapped to this foreign object that keeps my body detached from the ground at all times, I'm experiencing this fledgling fear that I can't quite rid myself of yet. Maybe it's due to the fact that my own dad is in better cycling shape than I can ever imagine for myself. Maybe it's the idea that I feel people see me with my bike and matching blue helmet and somehow know that I'm a beginner at all of this. One time I was stopped at a light and another cyclist rode up behind me while we waited for the light to turn green. I realized my outfit matched the bike all too well, and all I could see going through this guy's mind was, "this girl's going to ride into a parked car...she doesn't know what she's doing." Of course, this almost happened...not a parked car, but a slowly moving car (that story is for another day.)

Winter is almost passed, and soon the weather will give me no excuse to stay inside on the trainer staring at myself in the gym's mirrored walls for an hour. I have no doubt that I'll get back in the saddle and realize the freedom that comes with gasoline-free transportation and a pair of healthier quads. My dad may intimidate me every now and then, but he's also a helluva role model. If I can be where he is when I'm 50 years old, then I'll consider that a great achievement.
...I also know that running 4,000 miles, instead of cycling, is just out of the question at this point.

Monday, February 9, 2009

This one time, when I fell off my bike...

Before taking on the notion of riding 4,000 miles across the United States, I had to actually become convinced that I could get on the bike without killing myself. My dad is an avid cyclist, and after receiving a new custom-made bike for his 50th birthday, he offered up his trusty old Specialized "Allez" model to me. Of course it took some coaxing, which practically included a written contract that I would treat it as if it were my own child. After the initial shock, he agreed to get it fitted for me, including a new seat and new pedals. I had the impression that I would get the beginner's version pedals for anyone who is considering taking on the cycling realm seriously- pedals with stirrups. Slip those puppies in and out with no fear of being stuck to your bike for the hour or so you're on the road. What if a car comes swirving your way and you need to immediately abandon the bike in order to avoid massive injuries and almost certain death? First off, this was not an option seeing that leaving the bike to fend for itself was an absolute sin in my Dad's book. My Dad also made sure to explain that "everyone knows that real cyclists go straight for the clip-in pedals because they give you a better turnover rate. You'll be fine." After spending all of my future birthday money on cycling clothes, shoes, etc. (cycling is not a cheap sport by any means) and getting a few turns on the "trainer" with my snazzy new silver bike shoes and clipping in and out, the bike store owner said I was ready to go. "You look like a natural." Uh huh.
Fast forward a couple weeks. I was living in my friend's apartment for the summer since she was abroad and I had a class to take in DC after work each day. My Dad manages to get the bike shipped to me after I got back to finish up for the summer. After getting it all put back together at a Joe's Bike Shop ( I was itching to try it out.
One morning, after spending a long night of twisting and turning in bed and then on the couch, I decided that it was absolutely useless to try and sleep for the next couple hours. At around 5am, I was looking for things to do- the laundry was folded, I had eaten an early breakfast and the gym didn't open until 6am. Having watched an entire collection of "Sex and the City" episodes over the past several weeks, I was out of things to do. I looked over at the bike. It was propped up nicely against the dining table, it's shiny blue frame was beckoning me to take it out. Unfortuantely, it was still dark outside and I had still not learned how to use the clip-in pedals well enough to take her for a spin. Therefore, I decided to do the next best thing- practice clipping in and out of the pedals, just as the store owner back home had instructed me to do. I opened the shoe box and slipped into my bike shoes, still wearing my pajamas and looking a bit ridiculous with the silver shoes to match my flannel pj shorts. I put the bike between the doorway to the kitchen and the living room and straddled the crossbar. I shimmied up onto the seat and rested my right food onto the pedal beneath, then pushed it down and forward to clip in. Holding myself on the bike via the doorframe, I clipped in my left foot.
I was stuck.
Oh crap oh crap oh crap. How do I get out? I remember I was supposed to twist my ankle in order to unclip, but for some reason it wasn't budging.
The bike begins to slowly roll back and out of the doorframe, with me still attached. Before I know it, I'm struggling for dear life to avoid crashing to the floor. I reach for the edge of the dining table, but don't quite make it. The bike begins to tip and my shoes won't move!
Within those few precious seconds, I realize that the floor beneath me is hard wood and hardly forgiving. The inevitable hits me...literally. I topple sideways and feel my defense mechanisms give up as I hit the floor, with the bike still below me. However, my foot has finally come undone and I scramble away from the scene, the bike still lying on the ground, abandoned.

It took me another month and a flashback to my childhood in order to get back on the bike and learn how to clip in and out without leaving unsightly bruises on embarrassing locations. While at the beach with my family later this past summer, my Dad held onto the back of the seat and I learned how to pedal with my new shoes and clip-in pedals. The neighbors across the street clapped for me as I finally learned how to tame the beast.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I'm terrible at thinking of titles

My severe lack of bicycling knowledge, along with my complete absence of traveling experience will make for an interesting literary journey. These entries are written by a college senior whose aspirations for travel and "cycling stardom" have yet to be achieved. I am an amateur cyclist who has no particular desire to ride with Lance Armstrong and has experienced more exotic food than exotic places. I can imagine how excited you are by now (with sarcastic tone). Don't leave yet! I'm not just setting you up for blank space. God, if that were the case, I just wasted the past 3 hours of my life trying to pick out a template and font for a whole lot of nothing. No worries. I'm hoping to not upset and possibly give you some entertaining stories of my many stumbles and an occasional success as I end my college career in order to attempt bigger and better things. Here's a glimpse into the not-so-distant future: I am prepping myself (more mentally than physically, right now) to ride my bike across the country. The 4K for Cancer is a charitable organization that originated at Johns Hopkins University in 2001. ( I'd seen various friends/acquaintances make the commitment during their college education and come back with a sense that they've had the ability to change lives (and the ability to consume an enormous amount of calories in a two-month span). By the end of $4,000 raised and 4,000 miles traveled by bike (from Baltimore, MD to the Golden Gate Bridge in SF), there's a sense you will be stronger for it. You also have ample time to think...and think...and think. No iPods on this workout, my friend. Beginning in the end of May, all I'll have is the wind in my face, my butt on the seat, and an expanse around me that I'm sure will continuously take my breath away. By the Golden Gate Bridge, I should have my entire life planned to a T. Okay, not exactly...but hopefully I'll know what's coming next.

As any college graduate can attest to, your senior year is about the anticipation and sick-to-your-stomach feeling of "what happens now?". Being an international studies major, I can safely say that I have no idea what's coming. Up to this point, it's been all about "shaping a changing world." Sounds very specific, right? This was the slogan that my all-girls private high school would send their graduates out into the world with after we finished jumping into a ceremonial fountain and lighting up our cigars. However, this particular phrase can encompass a slew of future endeavors, and after all is said and done, there are very few guidebooks to shaping something that keeps morphing into an uglier and more ferocious place. Therefore, the most popular next-step for any white, suburban-raised kid is college. Now that I'm heading for the exit sign, I realize that there is no "next step." Hmmm...