Beltline Bike Tour 2014

Today was the annual Beltline Bike Tour. 30 miles roundtrip - starting at the Old Fourth Ward Skate Park and making a clockwise loop around the city of Atlanta. The bike ride took the Beltline everywhere it's paved and completed; the rest of the route was street cycling through neighborhoods where the Beltline will someday connect. Two thumbs up to the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition for organizing this impressive event! (If you're not already familiar with this organization please look them up. They are doing so many important things for street cycling in the city of Atlanta.) 

1. DAMN ATLANTA IS HILLY. Yeah, okay, I know we're technically the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and Peachtree Street is a ridge that was once a native American footpath - but all that information became real life when I was pedaling up a couple of crazy hills. Specifically the vertical incline just after Ardmore Park. But I was high fiving a million angels after I made it up in granny gear!! No pushing the bike up the hill for me! Sweet.
2. Going into today's ride I was anticipating the route's uncomfortable contrast between blighted low income neighborhoods and posh "1%" parts of town. The southwest side was worse then I imagined: so many boarded up and burnt out homes. But it made me happy to see that despite the disadvantages, southwest Atlanta still has some of the city's best bike trails and parks. If you haven't been there before it's definitely worth a ride (during the day - with a map and plan, with friends - not alone). 
3. Don't underestimate your ability!! When I signed up for the ride I wanted to be in the "quick" group but O hesitated and thought it best if we hang with the "intermediates". To the surprise of us both - we ended up "breaking away" from the intermediate pack and pushing well into the fast group. We even had time to stop at Mellow Mushroom on Peachtree and share a Bells Two Hearted Ale! Ya know, for the carb loading... 

Biking the Beltline

Saturday morning O and I had an amazing bike ride: 14.3 miles in 72 degree "heat" under a bright blue sky. Starting at our house in Grant Park we headed North towards Piedmont Park. Crossing over Edgewood Avenue, I was excited to catch construction workers laying some of the very first tracks for the city's new electric streetcar. It felt like I stumbled into a special moment in history. I snapped a few photos and imagined them being printed in an Atlanta history book 100 years from now. 

Entering Piedmont Park we encountered a film crew shooting something. (What to expect when you're expecting was filmed here and Anchorman is currently in the city filming the sequel). We continued to wind our way North through the park and Atlanta's St. Patty's Day 5K. At the North end of the park we tried to jump on the Beltline's Eastside Trail but the path was loose gravel and too hard to bike on so we turned back and re-entered on Monroe across from Park Tavern.

Sidenote: This section of the Beltline continues to blow my mind. It feels like the game changer Atlanta has desperately needed since we landed the Olympic Games in 1990. The idea that the Beltline and the Streetcar are finally becoming realities thrills me the way Santa thrills a 6 year old. I feel giddy at the prospect of my hometown finally living up to it's potential. (More details about both of those projects at the bottom of this post). 

The path was packed with bikers, runners and rollerbladers. With the aid of my little bicycle bell we were able to keep up a quick pace and weave around the crowds. When the trail hits Inman Park the pavement ends so we jumped off and headed South through the always fun Krog Tunnel. Krog to Cabbagetown to Memorial Drive, south on Bill Kennedy to Glenwood. Glenwood east to East Atlanta Village then further east to a friend's house where we had plans to pick up a dozen fresh eggs. Eggs in the pannier, back to EAV and stop at Midway for a much deserved beer! Then West on Glenwood to get home again.

I started biking with O four years ago this spring. We joined the gym three years ago in February. Last year I got the new bike. This ride felt like four years in the making. And by that I believe I'm mostly reacting to the comment my best friend from high school left on my Facebook page after I posted our route. She said "Bet that hurts!". But I can honestly say it did not hurt. In fact, it was almost easy. My butt burned a tad towards the end but a day later I'm not even sore. 

Three years into making our health our day to day priority it no longer feels like work. We instinctively eat real food and are not tempted by fake, processed foods. We exercise because enjoy it. Being healthy comes naturally now. And that makes me really happy.

More about the Streetcar

The streetcar will loop through one of the nation's most important - yet almost completely ignored - historic areas: Sweet Auburn. After the Civil War and before Civil Rights, during the height of segregation in the South, Auburn Avenue was the heartbeat of Atlanta for black Atlantans. It had more financial institutions, professionals, educators, entertainers, businesses and politicians than any other African American street in the south. But since the 1970s this historic and beautiful part of the city has become mostly abandoned. The only visitors are those coming to pay homage to MLK's tomb and history center. My dream is that the streetcar will revitalize this important part of our nation's history. (

Street car info: 
• Route: 2.6 track miles with 12 stops.
 Vehicle: a modern electric streetcar made by Siemens with an overhead power system (single trolley wire) that operates on-street in lanes shared with other traffic
 Frequency: planned service anticipates a 15 minute frequency (average) and 10 minute one-way running time
 Hours: service will operate 7 days a week; 5:00 am to 11:00 pm weekdays, 8:30 am to 11:00 pm Saturdays, and 9:00 am to 10:30 pm Sundays*
 Fares: will be consistent with MARTA fares and will use the Breeze smart-card technology
• The first planned expansions are anticipated to extend from the Downtown Loop to the Atlanta BeltLine.
• Download a PDF with great details click here

More about the Beltline 

At it's core, the Beltline is a rails to trails project that encircles Downtown, Midtown and 45 intown neighborhoods. I think of it as an ITP 285 for bikes. There are plans to incorporate a light rail along the path - but I think that is solidly two decades away. The official website does a better job hyping it up then I can. So check it out here: CLICK

New bike and chicken salad on a biscuit

I bought a new bike! After test riding both a Trek and a Specialized I went with the Trek because it's what Oliver already rides and I hoped having the same brand would make tunes up easier on him. To break it in we took the same ride to Piedmont Park on which my last bike blew it's tire. Back home I checked our ride into the website to see how far we rode (about 9 miles round trip). It's cool website that I recommend for anyone interested in knowing the elevation, hill grade and distance of their bike trips. 

Lunch was chicken salad on a homemade biscuit (from yesterday's breakfast). After lunch we added a few more plants to the garden: two types of peppers, three types of tomatoes, eggplant and parsley. Now we're resting up before the much anticipated Mad Men premiere! Since we don't have cable we're heading up to the neighborhood pub to watch it on their big screen. Can't wait!

Happy New Year Jack LaLanne

In 2011 the world lost Jack LaLanne, the "Godfather" of health and fitness. He was 96 years old. In last week's NY Times Magazine his wife explained that "Jack wanted to show people ... just because you’re getting old, you just don’t quit exercising." Though today's young people may only know him for his juicer he is credited with starting the nation's first health club and designing many common exercise machines (leg extension machines and cable-pulley weights to name a few). Jack also promoted the controversial idea that women, the elderly and the disabled should exercise to retain health.

The following Jack quotes are from his website. I thought it was a sweet end of the year tribute to his life as well as great motivation for 2012 resolutions: Jack LaLanne fervently believed every human being can attain maximum body health and fitness if they will practice moderation, eat the most natural foods, and exercise on a regular basis. Over the years on national television, radio talk shows and in feature stories written about Jack, certain ideas stated by Jack have become little gems known as “LaLanneisms”. 
  • Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.
  • Your waistline is your lifeline.
  • Exercise is King, nutrition is Queen, put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
  • Don’t exceed the feed limit.
  • The food you eat today is walking and talking tomorrow.
  • Ten seconds on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.
  • Better to wear out than rust out
  • People don’t die of old age, they die of inactivity.
  • First we inspire them, then we perspire them.
  • You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, and your body was made to exercise everyday.
  • Work at living and you don’t have to die tomorrow.
  • I can’t die, it would ruin my image.
  • If man makes it, don’t eat it.
  • Your health account is like your bank account: The more you put in, the more you can take out.
  • If one apple is good, you wouldn’t eat 100.
  • It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts.
  • Eat right and you can’t go wrong.

After our work out this morning Oliver and I made some juice. Carrots, oranges, celery, an apple and some fresh ginger. It was delicious. Oliver added back in a spoonful of pulp.  "Jack, this one's for you. Thanks for everything." - Cullen

Saturday's super workout

I'm not a natural athlete. I need daily encouragement and motivation to keep up the exercise habits I believe are integral to heart health. This post feels a little more personal then most but if sharing can help even one person then it is worth it.

We woke up this morning with big ambition for a long workout at the gym. First things first. A light breakfast of toast with homemade blackberry jelly (made by a family member in Michigan). At the gym we went our separate ways. I started with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine ("rolling hills" setting, level 8). Since the gym wasn't very crowded I also had control of the TV remote! (I watched Ghostbusters on Comedy Central). After cardio I went for the weights. Three sets of squats on the smith machine (70lbs of weights on the bar), my standard routine of free weights for arms and shoulders, two sets of 12 dips with 30lbs of assistance and finally leg raises on the machine. I was completely wiped out until noon!

As always, I had two dependable sources of motivation: my pulse monitor watch and the Girl Talk mash-up on my iPod. If you're someone who is struggling to develop a regular work out habit AND you have a pop culture addiction - then I encourage you to cave in to the pop culture and harness it as your exercise fuel. Oliver and I do not have cable TV at home. Therefore if I want to catch up on the Real Housewives of anywhere my only choice is on the elliptical at the gym. It may sound lame to some people - but I admit there are nights it will keep me running hard ten minutes longer then I set the machine. It doesn't matter what keeps you going with cardio - all that matters is that you do it enough to strengthen your heart. 

"Girl Talk" has become my go-to for work out music. I doubt my Mom would like it but a cousin who is ten years older does. The mash-up mix keeps a fast tempo and changes songs frequently enough to accommodate even those with the shortest attention span. It's a free download (for real) so you really have nothing to lose. Click here for the music (despite the name - it's not a virus, promise). 

The  pulse montior watch validates my exertion which in turn motivates me to keep going. As soon as my work out  starts to feel too hard I put my finger on the watch and it tells me I really truly am working out at my maximum capacity. That satisfaction encourages me to give it another set or another five minutes. In the end, it also estimates how many calories I've burned. Today I burned 962 in 59 minutes (which actually MEANS nothing to me but sounds good enough to do it again). 

I admit that without my iPod, Girl Talk, pulse monitor watch and dependable work out partner a regular exercise routine would be much harder. That is why I encourage everyone to do whatever it takes to build a lifestyle that makes you the healthiest you can be. It's not easy - but you can do it. 

Heart Healthy - the rest of it

I dedicate a lot of blog space to the food side of heart health. The truth is, as a family we put as much emphasis on exercise as we do food. But talking about exercise habits seems even more pretentious then talking about being a foodie. People may joke about their pant size but they don't talk about their physical fitness (unless they're a certain male from the New Jersey coast). That is why I find it very hard to press the importance of cardiovascular exercise on anyone. Starting now I'm going to make an effort to change all of that - at least on this blog.

The foundation of our exercise regime is three weekly visits to the gym. Oliver also commutes to Georgia Tech on his bike. When we travel to Baton Rouge to visit family then we go to the gym there (our membership is nationwide).  No excuses, we go to the gym.

This weekend Oliver challenged me with a bigger workout then usual. He suggested we ride bikes from our house to Stone Mountain (16 miles away), then hike up the steepest (mostly unknown) mountain path, walk down the easy path and bike home again. Three years ago I would have said no because I would have known I wasn't strong enough. Today I said yes because I wanted to find out if I was as strong as I think I have become.

The ride is along a 19 mile state bike PATH that starts at Piedmont Road in downtown Atlanta and goes to Stone Mountain (a giant bubble of granite east of the city). Oliver started at our house, two miles from the actual start. I skipped the first ten miles by driving my bike to YDFM and jumping in there. We met up, shared a lunch of left over homemade pizza and then got on our way.

It was great. The bike ride was almost easy. The steep backside of the mountain was a piece of cake compared to the first time I tried it two years ago. I know I have the countless hours on the elliptical to thank for the bike ride and the weight lifting to thank for the hiking. Three years ago either activity would have left me breathless. This time I had the strength of heart and body to not only keep going but to also truly enjoy it.