Archive | December 2017

Car-Free Los Angeles Visit with Kids

We did it! We visited relatives in LA for six days without a rental car!

I didn’t realize it was possible to exist–even for just a weekend–in LA without a car until I read this New York Times piece seven years ago: Los Angeles, by Bike and on a Budget by then Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel. Ever since then I’ve pondered (previously without much luck) how to do LA car-free as a family. In the meantime, I’ve found ways to cut down on driving a teensy bit:

  • Three visits ago I went solo for a weekend with a rented Brompton folding bike and no rental car, but mostly ended up accepting rides from family members.
  • Two visits ago the kids and I stayed walking distance from the La Brea Tar Pits and The Grove so we did some walking, but still drove our rental car a lot.
  • Last visit we stayed in Venice Beach and enjoyed a very walkable neighborhood, but still drove our rental car every day for various outside-of-Venice activities and family visits.

I should point out that while my father (who was born in Hollywood) and brother both live in Los Angeles and I visit regularly, I’ve never lived there myself. Usually I say this as a point of pride (sorry, LA!), but this time it’s to demonstrate that I don’t have a local’s knowledge of neighborhoods or public transportation. My method for deciding where to stay and which places to visit was what I’d do for any foreign city and involved looking at unfamiliar maps and reading a couple articles from local publications.

FlyAway® Bus
While it’s possible to get to and from LAX via Metro Rail, it requires a shuttle bus ride and all the rail lines. Of course the combination of rail lines needed depends on where one is staying, but we would have transferred from the Green Line to the Blue Line to the Red Line to the Gold Line. Even the article I just linked to suggests FlyAway as a reasonable option (and cabs as a “TRAFFIC JAM-PRONE EXPENSIVE” option). So I decided early into planning that we’d take the LAX FlyAway® bus to Union Station and connect to Metro Rail there.

FlyAway away from LAX was very simple. It picks up outside each terminal at the green “FLYAWAY, BUSES & LONG DISTANCE VANS” sign. Tickets aren’t needed before boarding, but since I had purchased our tickets ahead of time online I didn’t need to stand in line at the kiosk at Union Station to pay before retrieving our suitcase and getting on our way.

FlyAway back to LAX took a lot longer (but also, we hit it at 8:00 a.m. on a weekday). The “arrive 10 minutes in advance of the scheduled departure time” suggested on the website really isn’t sufficient. There was already an organized line of people ready for the next bus so we found room on the bus after the one I had hoped to take. And having purchased our tickets ahead of time didn’t make much of a difference in the LAX direction since I didn’t know where to wait without checking in at the kiosk (now I think I could have just joined the end of the line of people waiting for the second bus).

I don’t know if all the FlyAway lines use big tour buses, but riding to and from LAX is in a tall bus with luggage bays at the bottom so I didn’t have to maneuver our suitcase up any stairs and onto a baggage rack like small shuttles (like the ones that take you to the rental car lots) require. I appreciate this even with bigger kids, though this would have been particularly nice back in the days of traveling with a toddler in a stroller and a baby strapped to my back. The tall bus also provides an excellent view of LA, something one can’t appreciate from a squat rental car when busy concentrating on the road.

Metro Rail
Riding Metro (mostly rail, but also bus) was great! In retrospect, I should have bought three $25 7-day passes (fares here) and TAPped with abandon. It would have cost more about $10 in the long run, but even as we got our teamwork dialed in for reloading our TAP cards with 1-way trips over and over and over, it took a lot of time and we could have caught earlier trains twice had we been ready with 7-day passes. One day I splurged on three $7 1-day passes and it was quite the relaxing day. The 1-way trips are $1.75 for adults and kids alike and last for two hours with transfers on rail and buses. Paying cash for the bus is $1.75 for adults and $1 for kids.

The TAP vending machine takes credit cards, but I found it easier to use cash since we were doing three cards in a row. The machine gives change in dollar coins, both the gold Sacagawea coins and the silver Susan B. Anthony ones.

I started out using Google Maps for transit directions and missed one bus when the stop was shown on the wrong side of the street. I could tell it was on the wrong side of the street, but I assumed the true stop was on the same block so we rushed a little too far, not even checking for the stop early enough, and had to wait 40 minutes (this bus alternated coming every 20 minutes and every 40 minutes) and missed connecting with some old friends and new kid so that was a bummer. The following day I saw a poster for the Go Metro app on the train which I bet would have better guided me.

Old Pasadena
In choosing where to stay I decided I wanted to be on the same rail or bus line as my brother in Highland Park. His house is a 15-minute walk from the Gold Line so I looked at hotels (with pools, essential for vacationing kids) close to other Gold Line stations. I ended up choosing the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Pasadena and it turned out to be a terrifically walkable neighborhood. I also found this LA Weekly article: 26 Cool Things Along the Metro Gold Line to be very helpful (they have articles for the other lines, too).

Old Pasadena has lots of restaurants, shops, playgrounds, and bus stops. What more does one need? We didn’t try all the sushi spots, but Kabuki is kid-friendly and was great for our group of eight (though my kids wanted Yelp accounts to warn other kids that they put cucumber in the salmon rolls–even when you specify *only salmon*) and Sushi Stop had too long a wait, but A’Float Sushi across the street had sushi boats in a real river (the kids love our local conveyor belt places, but boats are even more exciting). Plus, there’s an all-way pedestrian scramble between Sushi Stop and A’Float Sushi so we crossed diagonally! My kids are really into crepes these days and equally liked CREPEstudio and Crepes de Paris. Crepes de Paris has a terrific outdoor seating garden, but it was a little cold during the week of our visit so we dined inside. One morning we ate regular breakfast at Barney’s Beanery, which I didn’t realize is a sports bar (in response to being asked which game I wanted to sit by, I said “Pacman”). It’s got exciting decor and crayons and kid menus.

We were one block from Memorial Park and the kids preferred that playground. It’s small, but was plenty fun for them. The park itself is on a slope for kids who like rolling down grassy hills. Central Park was just a few blocks farther away and has a bigger playground and lots of room for running around. It’s a bit loud, being right on a busy street and the rest rooms are somewhat far from the playground so we just visited it once.

There are also several wide alleys fronted by little shops and cafes making for pleasant walking. Here’s one we used to walk between the two playgrounds, named for a TV show and with a bike share station:

I saw a few people biking through Old Pasadena, but no one on a bike share bike.

One day we took Pasadena Transit (only 75 cents for adults, 50 for kids, but doesn’t take the Metro TAP card) to the Kidspace Children’s Museum. The buses are small and infrequent, but they have a two-bike bike rack like the full-sized Metro buses. We took the 51 there and back and I was intrigued to see it runs more often on Saturdays than on weekdays (but doesn’t run at all on Sundays). Kidspace was walking distance from our hotel, but with all the walking we were doing the rest of the day the bus seemed a wise choice–the 15 minutes uphill to my brother’s house for dinner and then downhill late at night is more than we usually walk.

The kids want to stay in Old Pasadena for our next visit, too. I’m tempted to use the opportunity to explore another neighborhood, but this certainly was a terrific place.

Union Station
Who doesn’t love a good train station? (Well, other than Elon Musk, probably, as I ironically discovered while in Union Station.) Personally, I think it’s cool that it can be any train station in the world in movies. When my kids were littler they loved watching the trains (all the trains come here: small light rail trains, medium-sized regional trains, and big Amtrak trains) and the fish tank the most. This time they enjoyed the pianist (that might have been special for the holidays) and the Crepe Cafe, natch.

We all three liked the current art exhibit, Journeys: LA Communities Through the Eyes of Artists that filled the long hall between crepes and Red Line.

Union Station is big so it was nice to come through a couple times during the course of the week and become pros at navigating our way around before the rush from light rail to Crepe Cafe to FlyAway bus on our departure day. Our two mid-week trips through Union Station were to connect from the Gold Line to the Red Line and that was nice because the first trip was just one stop of the Red- or Purple Line to meet a friend at Grand Park, serving as practice for a bigger Red Line trip out to Universal City the following day. One thing about the Gold Line versus the Red Line: the Gold Line is mostly above ground with nice views while the Red Line is a subway and my noise-sensitive 10-year old found it unpleasantly fast and loud.

Universal Studios by Metro Rail
Last Spring Break we drove to Universal Studios from Venice Beach so it was a treat to compare that to taking transit this visit. I didn’t realize the kids would want to visit Universal again (silly me to think it was a one-time deal) so I didn’t consider its location when deciding where we’d stay. I’m not sure if it would have influenced things. I was pleased that the park has transit directions under Plan Your Visit > Directions and Parking (you have to click the “Public Transportation” tab to get there from the main menu link). So I read about the shuttle ahead of time. We took the Gold Line to the Red Line and then followed signs to walk to the free shuttle pick up. I told the kids that when they were tiny their favorite ride at Disneyland was the shuttle from the garage (and their second favorite thing was a water fountain). They liked this shuttle a lot, too. It was all really easy and requires much less walking and agony than inching along in car traffic and after parking, navigating one’s way out of the parking garage.

The free shuttle has a bike rack on the front, but I bet it’s intended for use by park employees only. We saw an employee use it on our ride in and later saw him working at Animal Actors–what a life!

In conclusion
I love visiting LA, and traveling all over without sitting in traffic and dealing with parking was magical! The trafficky ride to the airport in the FlyAway bus on our way out of town gave me a small dose of The Usual, but even that was much less stressful when not the one behind the wheel.

We “cheated” and accepted one ride in a car when friends I’ve known since preschool came out for dinner and we decided our group of 10 should eat two Gold Line stops away. One cool thing about my younger kid reaching age eight is that it’s not necessary to tote car seats around now. Rules vary state to state, but eight seems to be a common age per AAA’s Child Passenger Safety. [* Of course putting kids in car seats or boosters if they fit in them is always safest. My kids are both small so I kept them rear facing in convertible car seats until they were four…and I stopped driving regularly when I turned the first one’s car seat forward facing and then stopped driving all but once in a blue moon when I turned the other one’s car seat forward facing.] I don’t see the milestone of this trip so much the fact that the kids are both old enough to forgo car seats, but more than they’re both big enough to do the amount of walking required to use transit. By the way, one of my preschool friends walked from Old Pasadena to the pizza place and arrived nearly as quickly as the rest of us.

Do you use transit to get around LA? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

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Christmas Tree by Bike 2017

We had our best tree-fetching experience to date! It’s so cool to live biking distance to a proper tree farm and even better to go there with a group of friends.

We’ve always fetched our tree solo before, but enjoyed a bikey community aspect at the bonfire at the end of the season. Here’s a look back at previous trees:

  • Xmas 2016 was our previous funnest tree purchase experience when we got it at the Swansons Nursery Reindeer Festival.
  • Xmas 2015 was the year I brought the kids to the bonfire.
  • Xmas 2014 was the year I carried our tree and our neighbor’s huge tree to the bonfire.
  • Xmas 2013 was the first year I carried a tree (a twofer) to the bonfire and was bitten with the tree-carrying bug.

Check out the album of 33 photos from the current tree. Our group was 16: eight adults, eight kids, and one dog.

It was a nice mixture of bikes, here it is broken down by family:

  • mom on Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike for tree, dad/kid on Bantam Bicycle Works tandem, kid on her own 650b Surly Straggler bike
  • mom on Bike Friday Haul-a-Day midtail cargo bike carrying one kid, dad on regular bike with trailer made from double jogging stroller for tree, kid on her own 26″ beach cruiser bike
  • partner on Bantam Bicycle Works bike with trailer for tree, dad/kid on Bantam Bicycle Works tandem
  • mom on Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike for tree, 2 kids on their own 24″ and 26″ Islabikes Beinns
  • mom on Yuba Mundo longtail cargo bike for tree, kid on his own 26″ Islabikes Beinn

I don’t know the name of the tree farm, but it’s in Milwaukie on the southeast corner of SE Freeman Rd & SE Lake Rd. There are 100s of trees, averaging six feet tall, and they all cost $30. There are lots of saws, endless twine to squish down fluffy branches for transport, and tree-purchasing kids may collect as many chiweenie-sized trees from the ground (aka fallen branches) as they want. Their hours are “We’re open when I’m here” per what the owner told Andy, our ride organizer. Our group ride to the farm was only 2.5 miles from our friends’ house in Milwaukie, but we rode over 15 miles total for the day. That’s a lot for my kids!

We take a bit of a roundabout route to get to Milwaukie for quiet, flat streets (otherwise there’s a big, busy downhill on the way there and uphill on the way back). This makes the trip 4.5 miles instead of 2, but it takes us by Cartlandia so we stocked up on Voodoo Doughnuts.

Using this gentle route on the way home meant we got to experience the infamous east wind along the Springwater Corridor Trail. I asked the kids if they prefer wind or rain and they said rain, but I’m not sold. The wind is a pain, all right, and the tree caught quite a bit of it, but we didn’t get pushed around too much. Plus we were dry upon arriving home. So for me, the jury is still out, but I’ll surely form an opinion over the course of winter.

On the way home we stopped at the Milwaukie Station Food Cart Pod for lunch. Food cart pods are so great for kids and dogs! Some even have tents and heaters. And breaking up big bike rides with food stops is critical.

Happy Sixth Birthday, Big Dummy!

Time for the annual love letter to my Surly Big Dummy. I love my beast of a bike as much as ever. While I lamented that My Cargo Bike is a Glorified Bike Rack eight months ago, my Big Dummy has proven her worth in much more exciting ways since.

Best bike for a broken foot.
I broke my foot in May and while walking was a pain in the foot and hopping was a pain in the butt, I was fine on the Big Dummy. It’s easy to get on and off, especially thanks to the Rolling Jackass centerstand by Haulin’ Colin at Cyclefab. Being able to slowly heft my broken foot in the walking boot over the low top tube while the centerstand was engaged was extremely helpful. Then it’s just a small shove forward with feet planted on the ground (even possible with one foot unable to bear much weight before I got the special boot) to get the bike rolling. Same goes for parking the bike: engaging the centerstand while stradling the bike and being able to slowly and clumsily lift that broken foot over the top tube while the bike was rooted to the ground made getting around foolproof. Not to mention it’s just a super sturdy and stable bike. Now that I’m thinking about it, I feel more comfortable and confident on it than any other bike.

Photo courtesy VisitKitsap.org

And more than just everyday biking around, the Big Dummy made it possible for me to still go bike camping with my broken foot. Note: I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if I wasn’t in charge of leading the group trips, but I’m glad I didn’t cancel because it all worked out fine. Our tandem had become our go-to camping bike, but I didn’t feel confident piloting what’s kind of a bigger beast than the Big Dummy. It’s five pounds lighter, so that’s nice, and the six panniers mean I pack a tad less than on the Big Dummy, but as you can see from the photo I’m often the only one pedaling. I still have high hopes for it as a camping rig in the future (and it’s really fun to ride with just one kid and minimal stuff!)

Photo courtesy Neighbor Kelly

I didn’t do any kid toting while my foot was broken so this meant my kids got to ride their own bikes to Fay Bainbridge Park and Illahee State Park for the first time. Those were big and hilly rides for them and I didn’t have them carry any of the gear to help ensure they stayed happy and helpful.

Best bike to carry a kid with a broken arm (and his perfectly fine little brother).
Shortly after my broken foot healed, my 10-year old broke his arm and I found myself carrying both kids all the time again (apparently it’s a rule that if you carry the older kid for any reason, you have to carry the younger kid, too…so says the younger kid). Tall and heavy kids are not all that easy to carry without an e-assist, but I lucked out with the way they ended up arranging themselves and it worked just fine. Since I keep only the left rail of my Xtracycle Hooptie on the top of the bike (the other rail is down low on the right for stepping up to the deck), my 10-year old with the broken left arm sat backwards at the front of the deck to hold the rail with his good arm. Then the eight-year old sat sideways or backwards to have adequate legroom. This put the heaviest part of the heavier kid at the closest spot forward and the lighter kid more forward than had be been sitting forward-facing. I was delighted to find out I can still carry them both easily! Especially considering I wasn’t back up to full strength after the broken foot.

It’s a mountain bike!
After moping and whining about not being able to fit camping gear on my old full suspension mountain bike because I really wanted to bring a mountain bike on my second trip to the Deschutes River Trail, I made the startling realization that the Big Dummy is indeed a mountain bike. One forgets when she covers it with kids and groceries and a little doggie. It was really fun to ride on the trail and it was really fun to discover it fits in my friend Jolene’s van! I hope we can have more adventures together that involve the Big Dummy being driven somewhere.

Fewer hills, more riding.
Moving to Portland three months ago means everything is a lot flatter now (no, I’m not saying Portland is completely flat–it’s just that our neighborhood in Portland is a lot flatter than our former neighborhood in Seattle) and I’m perfectly happy to ride the Big Dummy everywhere for everything and my love for my Big Dummy is stronger than ever. The Big Dummy has been to a farm in Boring and IKEA so far.

A new dinghy.
I’ve always thought Brompton folding bikes make terrific dinghies tucked in a Big Dummy’s cargo bag, and now I have one! Portland buses have only two bike rack slots so it’s the only way we can all three bus and bike together. And it’s a great loaner bike as it’s incredibly adjustable so several friends have borrowed it already, though I don’t always get to carry it to them via the Big Dummy and that’s really what it’s all about.

How we spent the big day.
Er, I didn’t even ride the Big Dummy today. But three friends did! Two families (three adults, three kids) were down visiting from Seattle for the weekend, though yesterday the Big Dummy sat home yesterday and we used a plethora of other bikes: I borrowed Kath’s bakfiets for Lindsey to carry her baby with, Jen rode my Surly Straggler with one of her kids on the Burley Piccolo behind it, Jen’s other kid rode the Islabikes we just outgrew, John rode my All-City Nature Boy Disc single-speed cyclocross bike, my kids rode their own bikes, and I rode the Brompton in case Lindsey wanted to swap bikes. I figured we’d do the same today, but Jen wanted to ride the Big Dummy (so I rode the Straggler and carried her kid so she could enjoy the bike empty).

And then she and John switched bikes so he could ride the Big Dummy.

Photo courtesy Lindsey Bikes!

And then once we got home from our day of swimming and checking out the neighborhood, Lindsey took a spin on it.

Now that cargo bikes are so prevalent (at least in Seattle and Portland) my Big Dummy hasn’t seen action like this in a long time. Back when it was the only small Big Dummy in Seattle (not to mention one of few cargo bikes) I felt it was my duty to have it available for anyone who wanted to test ride it.

In general Big Dummy news, Surly now makes a Big Fat Dummy. I love that this bike exists. I personally have no need for one (and I’m not sure if I’m tall enough for it), but there are a lot of people doing fun stuff on them.

So here’s to another year, Big Dummy! …who just this moment I remembered I named Babe last year. Let’s see if I remember to use her name more now. I’m sure many adventures await us in the coming 12 months.

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