Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Found My Paw

The majority of this tour has been solo with just a couple of days riding with other bike tourists that happened to be heading in the same direction.  I was pleasantly surprised when my father, my paw, took up my suggestion to meet and ride the C&O Canal path.  One month ago Bill Cherolis traded up from a 2-wheeled recumbent to a three-wheeled, low slung rocket trike.  The trike affords the same comfortable position as two wheeled recumbent, but a benefit that many 65 year olds are loathe to admit a need for – stability.   Getting started, riding slow, and climbing hills the trike are hugely improved.  The only drawback is the width.
2nd Day - Shoving off from Hancock
Dad chose the C&O Canal over the Great Allegheny Passage.  On paper that seems to be a prudent choice to avoid climbing the Eastern Continental Divide, but in practice the National Park Service does a poor job of trail upkeep on the C&O.  Instead of firmly packed stone dust, the C&O is a mixture of double track, dirt roads, some single track, and a very little quality stone dust.  This is an issue if your bike is wide (a trike) and one wheel is in the middle grassy island of the double track.  We upgraded to wide tires on the trike before setting off out of Cumberland and dropped the tire pressure, but it was still much slower and more effort than Dad was expecting.  Sixty miles felt more like ninety – and he thought sixty was a sporty target.  
Fort Frederick - Restored British Fort from French and Indian War
Luckily we had dry weather prior to and during the three days of riding.  With rain the C&O can turn into a muddy, soft slog.  The temperature peaked out on day one at 91, but much cooler on the shady trail.  Days two and three were perfect early Fall days in the 60’s and 70’s.  After maxing out on the first two days, Dad opted to take a short third day and head into DC early with my Mom.  Mom was graciously running sag and meeting up with us for dinner and the hotel stay.  We bit off a bit more than Dad was ready for, but he still had a great time (I think).  The roughest spot for him was on day 2 when we realized that he’d misheard me and that instead of almost being done for the day at 61 miles, we actually had 7 miles left.  Dad discovered his fourth wind.
Enjoying a trail side Paw Paw snack.  Like a banana except FREE!
Along the trail I found oodles of Paw Paw trees.  One of the canal tunnels along the route, the Paw Paw tunnel, is aptly named.  This time of year these native understory trees have delicate ripening fruit that tastes like a custard-like mix of banana and mango.  After picking fruit, I’d hustle up to catch up to Paw (intended) who was dutifully plugging away at the double track.  In addition to the several I consumed on trail, I gathered a bag and made a smoothie type dessert while visiting Christopher and Tania for dinner in DC.  You won't find this fruit in stores, but all you have to do is take a walk or bike ride to fill up a bag at the right time of year.  The fruit is made more special by its season.
Desert Rose Cafe with Rose in yellow.  Coffee, sandwiches, and bike tubes.
We both noticed that the trail signs for near trail and city amenities is sorely lacking on the C&O.  It was explained to us by Desert Rose (yes, that’s really her name) at a coffee shop (Desert Rose CafĂ©) in Williamsport that the Park Service doesn’t allow any advertisement or signing on park property.  The city signs and maps were amazing on the connected GAP trail, and the city economies were noticeably benefiting more from the trial patrons.  It blows my mind that the Park Service doesn’t lease a 15’x15’ sign area to each town or chamber of commerce for a welcome sign and map of local businesses.  If we’re spending tax dollars on the trail, wouldn’t we want to get a maximum economic benefit to the cities along that trail?  Get better at that C&O, it’s embarrassingly short sighted to prohibit signs.  This linear park is different from a scenic national park.
Bike racks are coming to 95 Park Street and BiCi Co!
BiCi Co. Thoughts – When I was foraging the plentiful Paw Paws, I thought about how BiCi Co. will be a similarly local and sustainable enterprise.  Rather than expensive and inappropriate carbon fiber bicycles from China (extractive economy), BiCi Co. will support recycling and reuse of existing bicycles that are already available and under used in the Hartford metro region.  Rather than dropping used bikes into the waste stream, whole bikes and parts will be repurposed on Hartford streets as city bikes and useful transportation.  We’ll harvest useful parts from bikes we can’t save and hearken to a sustainable and efficient model that respects and values using up something entirely and fixing rather than wasting.  We’ll forage among used bikes – providing a legal resource for inexpensive bike parts – and nourish our community both with enhanced mobility and community connections.  Local money, spent locally on an environmentally sustainable mode of transport.  Bicycle commuters tend to contribute more to their local economies by shopping local and having more disposable income than their car driving peers, great news for Park Street and the Spanish American Merchants Association members.  Now we just need more bike racks on Park Street and Sharrows.  Center for Latino Progress is creating some momentum by installing bike parking across from the building this Fall!  Stay tuned to the BiCi Co. Facebook page for the latest information on our Fall bike programs.

A contested dam during the Civil War
Son of Paw
Crossed a lot of viaducts.
Recently added cliff side tow path.  Amazing to ride!
Trail hugging the cliff.  Where are all the people?
When Dad realized we had 7 more miles to go.  Map consulted.
Crossing into Harper's Ferry
Mom and Dad at Harper's Ferry
Dad with John Brown
More on John Brown later.  A very interesting figure from US History.  
Great Falls along the C&O just outside of DC.  Amazing!
The bike infrastructure in DC was off the chain!  Hartford take note.
 I'm sure there is going to be a follow up blog post on how behind Hartford is relative to bicycle infrastructure.  Stay tuned for that.  After seeing DC, and countless other cities, blowing our doors off the City of Hartford needs to get focused.  Increasing downtown and neighborhood residency requires us to embrace biking, walking, and transit to keep the machine from locking up with single occupancy vehicle traffic.  This is not a new concept.
Trip out to Mt Vernon with the folks.  This looks fun.

Faithful Servants, eh?  Will discuss more later.  White washing slavery.

Arlington National Cemetery

Finally.  Some global leadership on consumerism and global issues from the Catholic Church.
Leaving DC, I have to detour around the Pope.  My folks are purposefully making a trip towards the White House and saw him once already in the Fiat Pope-mobile.  I'm keen on the Catholic Church finally getting a clue on the damage that hyper-consumerism and waste causes for both out soul and the planet.  Seriously folks - look at your life and ask if serves your neighbor and your grandchildren - including your neighbors in entrenched poverty and urban ghettos.  All human life is equal in value and wearing blinders that focus on a your tiny suburban unit is pretty f'ing evil if you consider the implications.  Don't be evil.
Changing a spoke in front of the Hilton.  Klein tool worked great.

Fuzzy, but great dinner with Whitney, Christopher, and Tania in DC.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Source to Sea River Clean Up Vol. 7

I have come back from my exile to inform you that the river is getting cleaned again!

For the seventh (though not seventh year in a row), I am organizing a clean up of the bank of the Connecticut River at its confluence with the Park River. Since I moved to Tariffville, you might have thought I was going to start cleaning some other river, but you would be wrong. This spot doesn't get its due attention, but it is where two mighty river meet.. I think it deserves a good annual cleaning. The clean up will take place Saturday, September 26 from 10am to 1pm. If you come by car, your best option for parking is either on Charter Oak Ave or Van Dyke Ave. From there, you can walk down the paved access road and up the levee. I'll have some gloves on hand. I advise wearing pants and closed shoes. Also, bring water and perhaps a snack. I'll be bringing gloves and bags via bicycle, so I can't carry a whole case of water or pizzas. Give me a call if you have any questions at 860 729 9603 or email me. This clean up is part of the larger Source to Sea Clean Up, which is happening all up and down the Connecticut River Friday & Saturday.

If Hartford is too far away for you or you just don't like it but still want to clean the river, here are other locations:

Here's a map illustrating approximately where the access road is and where you should park:

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Saw the Sign, It Opened Up My Mind

The title for this article is not just the lyric for a 90’s pop song.  Signs, and their placement, make a world of difference. If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist for you.  Unless you are interested in obsolescence and avoiding the majority of those interested in your city or product, pay attention to signs.  I’ve noticed in my recent travels that many cities do signage in a more proactive way than Hartford, Connecticut.  Particularly from the viewpoint of a pedestrian or cyclist, there isn’t much to guide you in getting around Hartford and the near suburbs.  Finding the best route from point A-to-B, say for a work commute, usually involves internet research, asking local experts, and then testing the route out on the weekend to determine if you’ll become roadkill when you brave the trip during a morning commute.  In Columbus for example, there were several bike signed routes crisscrossing the city that included bike lanes, multi-use paths, and shared use roads (with Sharrows).
Learning up on history.  This sign was about the Homestead Strike.
The 2014 Parks Plan proposed (and was accepted by the City) a signed and color coded system of bike routes throughout Hartford, connecting the parks, and more importantly providing clear cross town routes for those choosing to make their way via bicycle.  This portion of the parks plan was the only section that received applause during the Parks Plan presentation and public comment session.  Since being adopted very little has been done to implement that beautiful and forward thinking concept.  Hartford residents, cyclists, and Parks users should continue to ask the City (City Council, Hartford’s Mayor, and the Department of Public Works) what they are doing to achieve the vision set out in that plan.

The East Coast Greenway runs directly through Hartford.  This is a nationally significant bicycle route connecting the entire East Coast, from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida.  A significant portion of the trail (~30%) is on multi-use paths and that non-road share is growing.  The purpose of the trail is to provide safe and enjoyable routes connecting cities all along the Eastern seaboard.   The cities and states that embrace these non-car multi-use routes get benefits galore.  Weekend recreational users come from the nearby areas to take short trips, shop, and dine at the nearby restaurants.  Organized regional bike tours choose those cities for tour stops, filling up hotel rooms and restaurants.  Bicycle and hiking tour books list those trails and cities, drawing in out of state visitors that come from all over to experience the day trips and loop rides from a convenient central location.  Cross country cyclists, the tail of the bell curve, carry a lot of weight when making recommendations to others on where to ride – and where not to ride.

I bring up the East Coast Greenway because it is pathetic how little and sparse the signs are for the route in the Hartford metro region.  The East Coast Greenway Alliance has provided signs, and the local committee has valiantly hung them, but they are small and far between.  There isn’t a “Hartford Welcomes the East Coast Greenway” sign on Founders Bridge or at the Bloomfield border, and there aren’t signs directing ECG users to the nearby shopping and restaurants downtown.  Signs noting that there are temporary lockers for panniers at the Science Center and Wadsworth Atheneum would free riders up to economically cavort around the city with their bikes and locks alone.  A half dozen clearly labeled “bike lockers” located on Founders Plaza could be used by commuting employees and bicycle tourists alike.   This is a ripe opportunity for the Hartford Business Improvement District.  Spend a couple thousand dollars bragging about what you’ve already got and shout about the existing East Coast Greenway.  Pull folks off the riverfront and into your business establishments, and advertise that Hartford is welcoming to those that come to town via bicycle.
The Gold Street realignment would have improved the East Coast Greenway connection between the Hartford Club and Bushnell Park, but the expensive overreach of the project and a NIMBY short sighted condo board squashed that plan.  There are several infrastructure projects on deck in East Hartford (see page 19 of the linked PDF) that will massively improve the ECG route.  Connecting the multi-use path from Forbes Street to Simmons in the I-84 corridor is one of them.  The CT DOT is also looking at a way to connect Riverside Drive to the dirt road that comes off of the Route 2 off ramp.  Riding up the off ramp to the dirt road is a favorite non-road alternative to Main Street, but you run the chance of getting collared by the state police.  Closing that 400 yard gap shouldn’t be difficult, until you consider that it involves working with both the CT DOT and Pratt and Whitney.
Despite wrangling a $500,000,000 tax deal Pratt & Whitney (or someone at UTC corporate HQ) is against routing the East Coast Greenway from Pratt & Whitney Field and down Willow Street.  P&W is building a supposedly “green” engineering headquarters right on Willow Street.  One would wonder why a company trumpeting their environmental chops is against the best routing of a sustainable transportation connection for the both their employees and the community.  UTC just moved its headquarters out of Hartford to Farmington, where the amazing Farmington Valley Trail provides all the benefits that I’ve described above to the towns it passes through. I encourage folks at P&W, UTC, and the Town of East Hartford to ask about the plans and where they stand.  If you’re not asking for it, it will never arrive.

IMPORTANT NOTE - The other huge thing that affects the route of the East Coast Greenway is the I-84 Redesign.  This is the biggest infrastructure and public works project that Hartford will see in our lifetimes.  There is a public comment session next Tuesday (Sept 22nd) in Hartford at the Lyceum.  Go there.  Be loud.  Verbally and in writing include the importance of Complete Streets and the Greenway.  Can't make the meeting, you can still comment online.
Obvious sign showing the way.  Come spend money here.  And I did.
This type of sign is common along the gap.  Where the local amenities are.  Spend money guide map.
That being said, there are already amazing trails in the Hartford metro area that are woefully under-utilized.  Why?  Because there aren’t any signs and the publicity of those resources is non-existent. Only those that read the Beat Bike Blog know about these multi-use paths and trails.  I’ll list a few below:
  • The Hockanum River Path – Part of the East Coast Greenway.  You can pick this up at the end of the East Hartford Great River Park trail or jump on behind East Hartford Town Hall.
  • The Charter Oak Greenway – This path starts on Forbes Street just a block North of Silver Lane and follows the I-84 / I-384 corridor.  You can ride to Wickham Park on a spur or go straight to downtown Manchester.  This trail almost connects to the Hop River Trail between Manchester and Willimantic.  
  • The East Hartford and Hartford multi-use paved paths along the riverfront.  There are several miles of paved paths along both sides of the river.
  • North-South off road trails along the dikes and Connecticut River.  One can ride all the way from Hartford North to Windsor on off road trails – on both sides of the river.  Heading South from Great mountain biking right from Downtown Hartford.
  • Mountain Biking in Keney Park – Right in our back yard.  Easy carriage paths and rather technical single track.  Keney is such a big park you could camp there for a week without bothering anyone.
  • The I-91 overpass between North Downtown and Hartford's Riverside Park.  I wrote a whole article about that under used connection.
  • The trail system from New Haven to Westfield, MA.  This nearly cross state route only has a few gaps remaining.  This is also part of the East Coast Greenway route.
  • The 5 miles of trail along CT Fastrak between Newington Junction and Downtown New Britain.  
What do we do about this lack of signs?  I suggest we make our own.  I’m tired of waiting for cities, committees, and the DOT to turn their broken rusty gears.  I would love to see Hartford Prints design and hang their own way finding signs that takes walking and biking visitors from Bushnell Park, Downtown North, and the Founders Bridge to Pratt Street.  Hartford Prints could then offer "way finding sign design services" to the other businesses clamoring for the exposure to directed and hungry foot traffic.

Sign for Round Bottom Campground.  I like signs.
Free camping trail side.  Round Bottom!  Like both.
Listed below are other "proactive" things I’ve noticed while riding the Great Allegheny Passage, an economic engine for many cities along its route.  The more of these we do along the Connecticut East Coast Greenway route, the better.
  • Camping.  Informal, free (or cheap) primitive camping at ~10 to 15 mile intervals.  These sites are maintained by the local park district or volunteers.  The lean-to shelters are for through hikers and bikers only and are built by the local scout troops.  This would be an ideal amenity in the Riverfront Park on either the East Hartford or Hartford side.  Cyclists that stay at the shelters are guaranteed to stop in your city for groceries, tourist activities, and restaurants.  They’ll also wax ecstatically about the awesomeness of your city to friends.  Examples – Connellsville, PA has 4 lean-to shelters on a grassy rise outside their business district.  I ate a huge breakfast there and they just got free advertising.  Confluence, PA has $5 hiker / biker camping at the city campground, walking distance from the city center.
  • Obvious and advertised lodging, hotels, and bed and breakfast directly along the route.
  • Mileage signs along the route letting you know how far you are from nearby cities and amenities such as lodging, restaurants, and bike shops.
  • Warm Showers hosts to provide options to budget bike tourists.  These bike tourists are usually on a tight budget.  If you can’t get their hotel dollars, they’ll still eat in your city.  Hartford fortunately has an active group of WS hosts, but it would be good to get more of them along the route in other Connecticut ECG cities.
  • Connectivity.  Connect the damn segments.  Even if there are on road segments.  Put up clear signs that hook trails into each other so that folks don't have to guess - or miss the connection altogether.
Let’s all see the signs – and where we don’t – we’ll create them ourselves.

Mckeesport.  A narrow bike way under a building overhang, next to rail.  Creative!

While leaving Mckeesport, PA outside of Pittsburgh on the GAP trail I noticed many creative infrastructure solutions that accomodated a multi-use path on a constrained or otherwise challenged corridor.  I challenge the CT DOT and Hartford's DPW to stop being whiners about "corridor width" and look to other cities for solutions.  Part of the solution is a city (and businesses) that cooperate.  We're all in this together.  If mountainous Pittsburgh can be a bike friendly city (with winter, cobblestones, and so many rivers), Hartford has it damn easy.
An unused (so far) rail bridge connection.  I chilled here for a bit.
Can you spot the coal seam?  
Learning about coal from a sign.  Holding in your hand is akin to reading porn.
I'm not sure why, but touch coal feels illicit.  I just want to burn it and act like a romping caveman.  So much history, geologic and human, in that small handful.  And so much slow destruction of our climate.

Entrance to a mine... that horizontal sliver.
Peeking into the mine.  Rotten timbers support the rocks above.  

Ohiopyle is beautiful!
This summer we most definitely made signs for BiCi Co.  You won't catch us under publicizing a new Hartford gem!
Summer BiCi Co service project - Painting signs with Brendan Gingras!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

All About the Connections

Before I get started - Don't miss these things.  Represent and spread the word!
  • Envisionfest - Saturday, 9/19 in Hartford.  There's a ton of stuff going on, bikable and walkable.  And introducing Hartford Bike Share - Beat Bike!
  • CT Cycling Festival, Criterium Races, and Expo - All day on Sunday, 9/20 in Downtown Hartford.  Get out your coffee thermos, a cow bell, and pots and pans.  Make a racket and cheer this international field of racers.  There are also urban mountain biking and novice races.  Even if you don't race, these criteriums are exciting spectating.  Close and fast.  You can see the riders responding to the crowd cheers.
  • I-84 Redesign Update and Public Comment Meeting - Tuesday, September 22nd at the Lyceum on Lawrence Street near Billings Forge and Firebox restaurant.   The format is an open planning studio and you can show up anytime between noon and 8pm. This is the most critical (and largest) infrastructure project that Hartford will see in the next 20 years.  You have to get involved early and often to make sure it comes out right.  Don't miss your chance to get involved and ensure that the redesign repairs the damage wrought on Hartford's neighborhoods by a divisive highway project.  Repeat - this is the most important public works project in Hartford metro in the next 20 year.
  • Discover Bicycle Friendly New Britain - Sunday, September 27th.  Register before the 18th for your last chance at the early bird discount.

My recent tour musing has been on connections.  Connecting good people to events (see above). Social connections.  Connections to our history.  Transportation connections, or lack thereof.  The connections that adhere a community together, providing key support and access to opportunity.  Without connections life gets pretty bleak and lonely.  Recently on my ride, the connections have been magical.  I'll share some of those thoughts and connections below.

The past residents and industries of the places I live and visit are fascinating.  Just down the street from my home in Hartford is the Butler-McCook House.  Home to four generations of interesting pack rats, and now a beautiful museum within a short walk from many neighborhoods in Hartford.  The museum is bursting at the seams with Hartford history, and to boot, has a serene back garden for sitting or listening to their small summer music concerts.  While ambling up quiet Route 124 along the Ohio River I noticed a Civil War monument and information board.  I don't stop at all the historical markers, but I stopped at this one and was pleasantly surprised.  I had found a memorial to the patriarch of Hartford's Fighting McCook's.  Major Daniel McCook was fatally injured in the Battle of Buffington Island.  The connection back to Connecticut almost sizzled.  Although it felt like I was riding in the middle of nowhere, I was absorbed in the deep history immediately under my feet in Ohio - and back at home in Hartford.  

The fighting McCooks!
While checking out the civil war site I met Barbara from Bloomington, Indiana.  She was a couple weeks away from her 80th birthday and driving solo to the coast for a vacation - and taking the winding back roads.  Her friend that was supposed to travel with her had just unexpectedly passed away.  She took the trip anyway!  Another solo traveler with an interesting story.   Barbara's husband had attended training with Aetna in Hartford, and after he got out of the insurance business they opened a bait and tackle shop.  Meeting Barb, although just a passing social connection, added depth to the trip and inspired me that day to treasure every moment and experience.  My travels have been filled with these brief but meaningful human interactions.  I am richer and more fulfilled for each one.

Fun Fact - Did you know that part of Ohio used to be Connecticut - the Connecticut Western Reserve?  Many settlers in Northeast Ohio hailed from Connecticut.  More on this in a later post I'm putting together about John Brown.

The Ohio River waterway is a key connector, both historically and currently for industrial and freight traffic.  I was lucky enough to stop in at both the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana and then catch the very end of the Sternwheel Festival in Marietta, Ohio.   I was lucky enough to see these two riverboats in a tight race down the wheel.  Hartford, Connecticut in part exists because of ill fated steamboat racing.  Captains eeking out a little extra power from their steam engines would wire the safety valves shut with occasional explosive, expensive, and tragic consequences.  You don't want to be on board when a steam pressure vessel lets go.  Captain training, boiler inspection, certification, and insurance was a cornerstone industry for Hartford.  Mark Twain's name was scattered all up and down the Ohio River Valley during my trip and I need to snag a copy of Life on the Mississippi.
Sternwheel river boats racing on the Ohio.
Roger and Betsy.  My permanent quad-hawk helmet hair.
Roger and Betsy pulled me onto the sidewalk and offered me a place to stay in Marietta, OH.  I was just passing through and had to decline, but not before they bought me a delicious brownie Sunday and I got to talk to them about their five year world-wide bicycle adventure.  Super awesome couple!  Brownie sundae topped with story telling was perfect fuel for a 15 mile end of day crank into the next riverfront campground in Wayne National Forest.
GW slept here.  Probably peed too.  I joined in the later.
I see this time spent exploring and thinking to be not unlike the journeys others took before us.  With the different connections, mental and physical, I'm finding a lot applicable to what we're doing right now in Hartford with BiCi Co.  The community bike shop that is starting at the Center for Latino Progress will obviously provide efficient and sustainable mobility for city residents.  Those residents will be empowered to fix their own beautifully simple vehicle, and in doing so will be socially making connections within our own community.   Those with functioning bicycles (with lights and secure locks) won't be confined to the vagaries of the CT Transit bus schedule for getting to and from work.  Jobs access and cultural events expand greatly with a bicycle.  Getting across a small city like Hartford on a bicycle takes half the time as a bus ride with a transfer - and the bicycle still runs after 6:30pm. (PS - Make sure you Like the BiCi Co. Facebook Page.)

At the same time BiCi Co. will be inviting those in other Hartford neighborhoods, surburban dwellers, and Hartford tourists to experience bustling Park Street.  Creating these new professional, volunteer, economic, and social ties will provide opportunities for both experiences and advancement that wouldn't otherwise happen.  The simple bicycle and riding has been compared to the next golf.  In an age where jobs are offered due to social connections, and deals are made during a conversation - this tool is critical to our city and the rising Latino population.  Those visitors will participate in and contribute to the already thriving Park Street area local economy.  The shop location at the border between Downtown Hartford and the entry to the Park Street district is perfect for enabling this cross city connection.  
Riding the river valley keeps me out of the hilly stuff.
Signs connecting people to businesses.  Easy and important.
Tunnel connecting neighborhoods.  Reusing an under used historical connection in Wheeling, WV.
A local cyclist connecting me to the best route - better than Google Maps!
James, pictured above, from the Wheeling area gave me great advice on a non-hilly route to the start of the Peninsula Rail Trail.  We rode about 10 miles together on our way North out of Wheeling.
The neatest state line marker yet.  An iron casting on the rail trail.  A border connecting states.
Sometimes the trail (and view) leave you in awe and you have to stop.
Pittsburgh is one of my favorite cities.  So sexy looking.
 Bonus points for the first person to guess (in the comments) what these brick mounted brackets are intended for.  Bonnie, my host and college friend in Pittsburgh, is pointing them out for you below.  Genius solution, really.  Pittsburgh is doing all sorts of neat stuff.  Today I'm shoving off, rather late, from Pittsburgh and jumping onto the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail.  In a couple days I'll be meeting my dad in Cumberland and he'll be joining for three days of riding on the C&O into Washington DC.
You get to guess what these awesome wall mounted brackets are for. 

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