Download your free guide to Otago Central Rail Trail!

At last! I am pleased to share the first publication from On Your Radar Media Company, “A Cycling Adventure: Otago Central Rail Trail.” It is available as a downloadable PDF by clicking on the image below.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is a terrific, accessible adventure on the South Island of New Zealand. You can bike or walk, and this guide gives you all the information you need to plan your own adventure.

Stamp your passport at the Galloway shed on Otago Central Rail Trail

Stamp your passport at the Galloway shed on Otago Central Rail Trail

It will hopefully be the first of many On Your Radar Media Company cycling and other travel publications. Let me know what you think of the format and if you have any questions I did not answer.

One Really Good Reason to Visit California in May

Visit California May 10-17, 2015 to be precise.  The AMGEN Tour of California will be hosting men’s and women’s bike racing throughout California. The route was announced yesterday and there are some exciting new changes. I plan to watch Stage One where the cyclists will ride along the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, with a dramatic finish in front of the State Capitol.  I will also check out the Stage Two finish in Lodi for the first time. They are also expanding the racing opportunities for women.

Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen's Bakery

Amgen Tour of California inspired sugar cookie from Karen’s Bakery

They are staking themselves as “America’s greatest race.” It certainly showcases the beauty of the majestic state of California.

Watch this video to see all the reasons you will want to make California a destination in May.

Love and respect in cycling country

I started reading Ragtime Cyclist before I went to Tour de France and Yorkshire… this post is a good example why I continue to read his blog.

ragtime cyclist

The French have a term of respect for the humble cyclist – “chapeau”, meaning ‘hat’, as in, “I tip my hat to you”. The best thing is, in my experience they love to tip their proverbial hat to you at the very moment – halfway through some grim battle with a Pyrenean gradient, for example – that you need it.

Or perhaps I just look like I need all the help I can get?

A couple of years back a riding companion and I were on the French side of the Pyrenees for a few days of glorious sun-kissed cycling. On this day we skirted the Spanish border and reached the town of Prats-de-Mollo – the perfect location for a coffee and lemonade prior to tackling the Col d’Ares; a long stretch of sweeping Catalan tarmac climbing to over 1500 metres in height.

We sipped our drinks and watched the…

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Dining Euphoria at Husk

I am trying to find superlatives to describe our dining experience at Husk. We arrived with a healthy appetite (thank goodness) after our walk through the cold from Tootsie’s on Broadway. We had a 7:15 reservation we made on Sunday.

37 Rutledge Street

37 Rutledge Street

The restaurant is in a converted mansion close to the Cumberland River. We passed the blackboard in the foyer listing all of the food and where it is sourced. The chef is committed to reinventing southern cuisine and eating local. We were seated downstairs and began to peruse our menus.

It was clear from the get-go: deciding what to eat was going to be a real challenge. We though we had it all figured out. Jessica will get the pork, Janet the beef; me the chicken and we would all share. (Chuck was always going to get the chicken.) Then the waitress told us about the specials and Janet and I both agreed to share a rib-eye steak. Somehow the waitress convinced us that we could not possibly be full if we shared a 26 ounce steak (the minimum size), so we ordered the next size available at 42 oz.

Sources of food

Sources of food

By this time we had our cocktails. I decided to join in and had a delicious drink called a Copperhead. It had some combination of rye whiskey and other good stuff. We started the meal with pork-tail sliders and chicken skins. OH MY GOD! We knew this was going to be an euphoric evening of eating.

Pork tail sliders and chicken skins

Pork tail sliders and chicken skins

It was truly amazing. The rib-eye was fantastic, as was the pork and chicken. The sides were creative and tasty—sweet potatoes with the pork, white potatoes and broccoli with the rib-eye. We were all so caught up in the conversation and sharing great food. It was wonderful.

rib-eyeI could not imagine finding an empty inch in my tummy for dessert and then I saw the menu. I have always wanted to try buttermilk pie. So I talked everyone into sharing a slice. It is custardy and delicious. It is a great option for a pie baker like me when there is not a good fruit option in season.

We tottered out of Husk completely satisfied.

Bowling and Cocktails at Pinewood Social

Some of us wanted to see the NCAA Championship Football Game and all of us needed to eat. We consulted our napkin of suggestions and decided to combine activities at Pinewood Social.Pinewood Social bowling alley

It is located in an industrial area on the Cumberland River that is gradually converting to more genteel uses. The former hanger or warehouse is so big they can provide a large restaurant, big bar and still offer six lanes of bowling in the back.

We sat in a booth with televisions visible in every direction. The cocktails were terrific and interesting. Nashville mixologists are having fun with bitters. There are also local brews and old favorites.

We started with the fried broccoli and it was amazing. I could have eaten that all night. It is simply broccoli—no breading—slightly crunchy with just the right amount of salt. I ordered the fried chicken and it came with fries and a terrific cole salw type salad with all kinds of yummy ingredients. The fried chicken was excellent just trending toward spicy hot.

You can buy a pair of socks if you need them.

You can buy a pair of socks if you need them.

At this point the ballgame was no longer capturing our attention and we decided to bowl. The party moved to a lane. An attendant fetched us some shoes (and we bought rabbit socks since some of us were wearing pumps). They give you an iPad for keeping score and the app makes it easy if you have forgotten how to bowl.

I am not much of a bowler. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times my score broke 100. The first 2 practice balls were gutter balls. Sometime mid game Jessica suggested aligning my thumb differently and voila! I started knocking down pins. My boss Chuck was well ahead so I wasn’t worried about my score. I was just having fun.

Then a small miracle occurred. In the last two frames I bowled 4 strikes in a row! And I won the game!

dining room

Pinewood Social dining room

We bowled a second game so Chuck could make his comeback and my bowling went back to “normal”. The cocktails kept coming and we enjoyed ourselves knowing that our designated driver Jessica would see us safely back to the hotel.

You know it is a good place and a fun time when you all start planning how to open a similar place back home. We did not need a reservation for dinner or bowling, but it was a Monday night. Best to call ahead.

Eat Your Way Through Nashville and Be Happy

Local suggestionsOn the Southwest flight to Nashville I struck up a conversation with a local Nashvillian and asked “Where should we go?” She and her friends gave us lots of suggestions and I started writing them on this napkin. Then other passengers started chiming in. By the time we were finished we had more places to eat than meals to eat them.

Fried chicken and biscuits and gravy at Puckett's in Franklin

Fried chicken and biscuits and gravy at Puckett’s in Franklin

With one southern boy in our party, we committed ourselves to eat as much southern food as possible in 48 hours. Kudos to Chuck. He managed to eat chicken at every single meal, even breakfast.

Fireside chats at Hermitage Hotel fireplace

Fireside chats at Hermitage Hotel fireplace

We arrived to the Hermitage Hotel late on Sunday night and felt peckish. It was 7:30 p.m. on our internal clocks. One of the recommendations was for the Capitol Grill at the Hermitage Hotel. Unfortunately its kitchen was already closed; fortunately we could order food at the Oak Bar. We kicked off our Nashville eating orgasma with divine deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. Jessica also ordered the Brunswick Stew and let me taste. Yum. My colleagues raved about the cocktails. The waitress was very good with recommending drinks and provided quick cheerful service. Welcome to Nashville.

The next morning we all had breakfast on our own. I actually got up early and worked out in the gym! I ordered breakfast in my room: oatmeal with raisins (it is all about the pacing). It was the same high quality as the food served on my last morning at the Capitol Grill.

Our workshop was in Franklin and at lunchtime we sprinted to the Burger Up to get a table and eat in the hour break. We were all pleasantly surprised when we looked at the menu to find gourmet burgers, chicken and salads. You could eat healthy or go for truffle fries. The original Burger Up is in 12 South. We highly recommend it.

Puckett's in FranklinThat evening some of us wanted to watch football and we needed to eat. We selected Pinewood Social and it was such an amazing experience it earned a dedicated blog post, as did our dinner the following evening at the restaurant Husk.

On our last full day together we looked at our napkin and realized that we had to go out to breakfast if we wanted to experience more of what Nashville had to offer. Plus people kept saying we should see downtown Franklin. So we got up early and went to Puckett’s General Store for breakfast. It was good food and generous portions. By this time though I could feel myself getting ready to wave the white flag.

Our speaker used Chick-fil-A as a marketing example during the workshop and we all looked at each other and said “lunch”. We all were looking for smaller portions while still delicious and with service in under an hour (with driving).

Jack's BBQThe next day my sister-in-law’s sister Gretchen and mom Chetty gave me a tour of Nashville. I still needed to try a “meat and 3 sides” so we went to Jack’s BBQ. I loved the flying pigs. The sides all looked like they might clog an artery so I selected turnip greens and cole slaw to go with my pork and cornbread platter. It was delicious but I was reaching “tilt”.

Meat and 3 Sides at Jack's BBQ

Meat and 3 Sides at Jack’s BBQ

I also wanted to try local coffee. We stopped in 12 North at Frothy Monkey and I enjoyed an excellent latte.

On the last evening, I was too pooped to go out, so I ordered a salad from room service and carved off another hunk of rib-eye from the ginormous steak Janet and I shared at Husk. It was even more delicious cold.

I got recommendations for non-southern places too. Try Urban Grub in 12 South or Etch restaurant downtown (the only one anyone mentioned has vegetarian options). I Dream of Weenie for hotdogs.

My colleagues and I all agree—we would return to Nashville in a heartbeat and stay longer next time.

5 Things to Do in Nashville besides Eat or Listen to Music

Okay, okay, you have full permission to go to Nashville and do nothing but eat and listen to music. You could easily focus on these two activities and have an unforgettable experience. In case you need to do something between meals to help you digest, here are a few ideas.

Check out the Men's Room near the Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel.

Check out the Men’s Room near the Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel.

  1. Go to the Men’s Room at the Hermitage Hotel

    Chetty, glass artist, was part of hotel restoration team

    Chetty, glass artist, was part of hotel restoration team

When we told people we were staying at the Hermitage Hotel, they’d say “Be sure to check out the Men’s Room. It’s famous.” So late one night we had Chuck check for occupants and when he gave us the all clear we went in. There is a blocked tunnel legislators used to go to and fro from the Capitol. The lavatory is beautiful and unique with green subway glass and art deco décor. Then my sister-in-law’s mom, Chetty, came to give me a tour of Nashville. First stop the Men’s Room, but from a slightly different perspective. Chetty sourced the glass for the bathroom and the lobby stained glass when the hotel was restored to its former glory.bicycles

  1. Ride a bike along the Cumberland riverfront

Not so appealing in January–when I was there it was too cold. Nashville has a city bike program so you can rent, grab and go. The last mayor promoted building lots more trails and connecting greenways, plus there are new bike lanes on roads. Start your adventure near the Shelby Street Bridge and park by the Titans’ stadium. Bonus: get a great view of downtown Nashville

parkway near Shelby Street bridge

parkway near Shelby Street bridge

Titan Stadium

Titan Stadium

  1. See the ParthenonParthenon, Nashville TN

This replica was built for the USA Centennial celebration in 1876 and maintained by the citizens of Nashville. (They heard the other one was falling down.) It has an art gallery inside, check for hours.

  1. Shop for books

My friends bought boots on Broadway at one of the 3 or 4 boot stores. I made a beeline for Parnassus Books. A citadel for independent bookstores and owned by author Ann Patchett, you can purchase all of her novels signed and request to have them personalized. Or you can discover a new author. We spent over an hour here (and I will not admit how much money. I spent) They ship to your home—one day soon it will be like the day the Scholastic books arrived in the classroom. Yippee.IMG_5968

  1. Soak up some historyTravellers Rest

Nashville is rich in history: Native American, Natchez Trace, Trail of Tears, Daniel Boone, Civil War, Civil Rights, Country Music. Everyday we were there we overheard people talking about the war. At first we were not sure what war. Upon more careful eavesdropping we realized they were talking about the Civil War! (Let it go.) We made quick stops at Sunnyside antebellum plantation home and Travellers Rest where the Confederate generals were headquartered during the battle for Nashville.

Sunnyside

Sunnyside

If I had more time, I might have also taken in the Johnny Cash museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame. Or go shopping in Franklin or The Gulch. My list is based on recommendations from locals we met along the way and my sister-in-law’s family who hosted me one afternoon.

For more ideas check out the fun little guide Nashville: Wildsam Field Guides. Or watch the HBO Sonic Highways episode on Nashville.