Monday, December 31, 2007
"I think I'm going to spend the entire last day of the year riding," I announce to my wife. It should be noted that Mr. Heat-Moon's wife left him sometime prior to chapter one of his blue book. It should also be noted that my wife, Christine, understands that when I say "all day" I mean "24 hours."
Christine never completely vetoes my more hare-brained ideas but then again, she never has to. "There will be drunks on the road," she says, looking concerned, logical and cute all at the same time. Words from a Springsteen song roll through my head, "Jesus sent some good women to save all you clowns."
I cut my plan in half. Christine leaves for work at 5:00 AM, I'll leave for my ride at 5:00 AM. I promise I'll be back home by dark. "Maybe I can do one of those Jill-style, picture-every-hour things for the blog" I think.
The first problem is, it's really freekin' dark at 5:00 AM. I take a picture of my breakfast at 4:20 AM, but pictures of breakfast are pretty dull. The second problem is I'm not much of a photo guy and dark pictures don't tell you much of what it's like to be out and about at 5:00 AM.
Let me tell you what it's like to be out and about at 5:00 AM in my part of the world on the last day of the year.
It's a few degrees above freezing when I leave home. My bike's studded tires buzz on the pavement, crunch on the gravel and shine in the light of my twin Planet Bike LED lights. The lights cast twin moonbeams, brighter than what hits the trail reflected from the half-lit moon hanging a few hundred thousand miles above the trees. My breath fogs out in little puffs.
A few cars roll by on the freeway but I roll on a tiny gravel trail, up to High Point. Slushy puddles shine like flawed mirrors and for an instant I think I see an owl lifting off, white and silent, like a warm ghost. A repeat performance betrays the trick. As my bike rolls up and down the rolling rises of the trail, the lights are bouncing off the low puddles. Those reflected light beams climb the trees. The owls are not what they seem.
I'm headed east, into the mountains. The small towns of Preston and Fall City still mostly slumber and I pass by un-noticed by the humans, noted by the rest. I'm the ghost the dogs bark at, and cat's eyes track me in the night. As I ride up the trail from Fall City to Snoqualmie and North Bend, the bulk of the mountains are beginning to glow with a mix of fading moonlight and gradual dawn, too diffuse to be logically associated with the eventual sunrise. Rabbits race perfectly haphazard, Brownian particles with cotton-ball tails that make me wonder for a moment about the wisdom of this particular bit of evolution.
It's still too dark for a camera but perfectly fine for a set of night-tuned eyes when I see the first of the elk. It's a small herd of large beasts, fat from the summer, wary but not rushed as they cross the path and slip, not entirely silently but with sound much smaller than their size, into the forest off to my left.
It's fully light by the time I reach Rattlesnake Lake, which is low and cold this time of year, but not frozen. I pretend to be a photo-journalist but my camera decides that it is time I put away such notions and decides that it has had enough of being a camera and instead would like to be a rock. Well, maybe not a rock exactly, but something that does not take pictures and is kind of heavy and really not worth lugging around. I got three decent shots before my camera turned to stone.
One of the photos is of the sign telling the story of Rattlesnake Lake, the site of the former town of Moncton. It's a story of plans not quite working out the way folks had intended. It's not a bad thing to be contemplating on the last day of the year.
I stow my expensive rock in my pocket, listen to a Canadian goose call out across the lake and turn my bike back toward the valley. There are more people out now, walking dogs or walking themselves, marveling at a day that has grown clear and almost warm.
It's time for second breakfast when I'm back in North Bend, so I stop at Twedes for eggs and more hashbrowns than I can eat. Somewhere back aways I had a plan for 12 hours of riding or at least a century but numbers don't seem to matter much right now.
I roll back down the trail, turning north up the valley instead of heading south and home. I want to see the town of Carnation, see that it's still there, despite the recent horror. I don't want to go through town, I don't what to gawk, I just want to know, somehow, that life is stronger than death.
I thought maybe it would be the dogs or the kids riding their bikes or the horses grazing in the fields that would do it and they all helped, but it's the light that surprised me. The unseasonable sun shining down on a valley still green. Waving to others on the trail, we smile, we say "Happy New Year". We know the darkest days this year are behind us and today we have things to do.
I ride north to Duvall, cross to the west side of the valley and turn south. At Union Hill, I head west again and climb up and over Redmond Ridge. At the old brick road I ride south and work my way to the shores of Lake Sammamish.
I'm eight miles shy of a century and well shy of 12 hours but I have a beautiful wife waiting at home. I roll into Issaquah, my home, my riding is done for the year.
This is not the ride I had planned. This was just the ride I needed.
I hope your 2008 is filled with the best kind of adventures.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
My buddy Joe Broach just wrote a little essay called "My Own Power" which contains a lot of nice truths. Joe's essay is a celebration of human mobility but it contains a bit of wistfulness when he writes:
"The past year has made it clear that my own power is not the same as your own power. And, it is not even in the same league as my distance riding pals like Kent and Michael. As it turns out, my own power is pretty ordinary."Later on Joe states:
"I'll never be able to ride as far in a day as Kent or Michael or a lot of other cyclers do. And, I certainly can't access all of the woods I could by car."It is in those wistful statements that I respectfully disagree with Joe. I think he goes awry when he confuses space and time. He's not alone in this. I do this often and so does every other person I know. But it's the wrong way to think about the situation.
Joe writes "I certainly can't access all the woods I could by car" but this can only be really true if those woods are at the end of some auto-only roadway. If it's just a question of distance, Joe could bike there. Maybe the trip takes lots of time and he'd have to pack lots of sandwiches. Maybe there are lots of hills and he'd have to use very low gears and pedal slowly and maybe walk beside his bike on the steepest sections. And maybe he doesn't have the time to do that. So those woods he longs for are not too distant, they are too time-consuming. The problem is not distance, it's time.
But somehow Michael and I are different than Joe. Distance is different for us. How can that be? Did we come to this planet when the sun near our home world exploded, carefully packed by our doomed parents in tiny rocket ships and raised by loving human couples in Smallville? So, of course, we leap tall buildings in a single bound, see with X-ray vision and ride farther than Joe ever can with his mere human power.
Or perhaps we have some other relationship with time? Do Michael and I get 28 hours given to us each day while Joe and the rest of the ordinary humans have to suffer along with only 24? That would explain it. Michael and I go farther because we get more time. We're lucky that way.
Or maybe, just maybe, the old adage has it wrong. Time is not money. Time is more valuable. You don't save time, you spend it at the same rate as everybody else on this planet. The rate is 24 hours each day. You can never save it, but some ways you spend it may work out as investments. Am I wasting three hours each day by cycling back and forth to work? If I drove a car my commute time would be half that, think of what I could do with that time I saved! But that hour and half each day that I drove, that hour and a half each day that I didn't enjoy, I know that would be wasted. And I know that I love my hours on the bike.
I go riding on Christmas, a three hour tour while Christine is curled up indoors with the cat and some cocoa and Christmas carols on the CD player. The boys are making dinner and Christine is used to my being uncomfortable with too much comfort. I tell her I'll be back by two.
The old trees are silent and the moss is still green on the trails of the Taylor Mountain woods. By the time I meander my way up the trails and ultimately emerge near the Tiger Mountain summit the air has turned white with the snow of the season. My studded tires crunch and grip the trail. As I descend the snow gets wetter and turns to rain. Back in town, White Christmas is only a song on the radio and a mountain glimpsed out the window.
It's all within biking distance. I learn this one pedal stroke at a time and it's a lesson I get to keep relearning every day. Like Joe, my own power is pretty ordinary. And my own time gets delivered to me at a rate of 24 hours each day. I guess I could waste it racing around in some attempt to save it but mostly I spend it slowly, close to home. But the funny thing is those trips add up. My legs get into the habit of turning and I learn how many sandwiches it takes to go from here to there, even if there is Tiger Mountain or Portland or Minnesota or Mexico. I still don't travel far from home, but home is a lot bigger than it used to be.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
But before I dive into talking about my clothes, I'm going to talk about one of my buddies from my younger days, my pal Ed. Ed was an empiricist, always experimenting with one thing or another. He was also the kind of twelve-year-old kid who would use words like "empiricist" in daily conversation and recreationally read the encyclopedia. While there are bookworms who never take their learning out of the library or out of doors, Ed was never that way. Every bit of book-learning would be double-checked against the real world and Ed's parents where the sort of folks who were smart enough to let Ed and his brother Dave set up a laboratory in the basement and not get too upset when things would sometimes explode or some reptile would get loose. Empiricism may be a sure path to knowledge, but that path is seldom smooth.
We all grew up in northern Minnesota, in a little town about twenty miles outside Duluth. This is a region not known for its moderate climate. In the warmer months we would ride our bikes most of the way to school, stash them at our buddy Todd's house and walk the rest of the way, but in the cold months we would take the bus. The bus stop was at the edge of Epherd's Woods, a block from Ed and Dave's place and Pete, Tom, Dave, Ed and I would gather there each morning and wait for the bus.
As it got later in the year, we all began showing up to the bus stop in warmer, heavier clothes. All of us, that is, except Ed. Ed had this blue nylon windbreaker jacket that he wore through the fall and into the winter.
"What's with the jacket, Ed?" I asked him.
"Humans are extremely adaptable beings," Ed explained, "Natives of Lapland can sleep on the ice without blankets, while denizens of the tropics can work for hours in the sun without breaking a sweat. As the weather gets gradually colder, I am gradually adapting to the cold. You bundle, I evolve."
While we all admired Ed's continuing attempts to better himself, we also could not help but notice that part of his "evolution" involved arriving at the bus stop later and later as the weather got cooler. His brother Dave, the control portion of the experiment, dressed like the rest of us with big boots, a heavy jacket, scarves, a cap, mittens, etc. Dave would trundle from their home to the bus stop, moving slowly, like an old-time diver in a pressure suit, while Ed, would wait until the last possible moment and then quickly dash the block from his home to the bus stop. We figured that one day Ed would cut things too fine and miss the bus, but Ed's mom was stern about shooing him out the door.
The experiment ended the day the bus broke down. In Minnesota in those days they pretty much never canceled school because of cold, saving our "snow" days for the days when a foot or two of snow would make travel truly impossible, Cold, even 30 degrees below zero, was just something you would deal with. And on this day, we waited at the stop for a bus that did not come in a timely fashion. Ed dashed out at his customary time, his eyes looking down the street for the bus that should be coming, his teeth clenched to keep them from chattering. The bus wasn't there.
At the stop we speculated as to where the bus might be and twenty minutes later when it did show up, the driver explained that our regular bus had stalled at the base of the hill and a replacement had to be dispatched. Ed by this time was as blue as his windbreaker and spent the duration of the bus ride curled into a fetal ball on the bus seat closest to the heater.
The next day Ed showed up at the bus stop wearing the biggest, warmest snorkel parka I have ever seen. Years later I would see the character Kenny on South Park and be reminded of Ed. Somewhere from deep within the cozy confines of the parka Ed explained, "Humans also evolve via artifacts."
And now, thirty-six years later, I'm thinking of my own artifacts of comfort, the clothes I wear each day. Like my friend Ed, I am an empiricist. What I wear is what has survived the tests of time and climate. These items may or may not be right for someone else, somewhere else but for this forty-nine year old fellow living and cycling in the Puget Sound and Cascade Mountain regions of the Pacific Northwest, these are the clothes that get the job done.
In contemplating my wardrobe I notice that mostly I don't have "bike clothes" and "normal clothes." I haven't had a car or a driver's license in years, so biking everywhere is "normal" for me and it would be "abnormal" for me to have clothes that don't work for cycling. Just as most drivers don't have special clothes for driving, I don't really have many special clothes for cycling. I do have a few bits of safety gear and a rain jacket that is cut to work well on the bike but most of my clothes came from places other than the bike shop.
I'm sure people in sunnier climes have more intelligent things to say about dressing for warm weather than I do and I'd be hard pressed to come up with something better than what Grant Petersen wrote here. Like Grant, I favor loose, button down shirts for summer riding. On very hot days if I know I'm going to work up a sweat coming into work, I'll cool down for five minutes or so (I'm usually the first one at the office), do a quick sink-shower in the bathroom and switch into a different shirt for the work day. But for many times with a cool, loose shirt, I don't work up an unacceptable level of sweat. Part of this is a function of living in the relatively cool Pacific Northwest and part of it is logging lots of miles. One of the convenient truths of bicycle commuting is that the more you do it, the easier it gets. As my friend Ed would say, you evolve. So a younger, out of shape me might have gotten to work a soaked, stinky mess, the older, maybe a little mellower me often finds the trip is "no sweat."
But it's the winter weather that people seem the most curious about and again I'll defer to people in more extreme places for serious advice about bike riding in the sub-freezing zone. Jill in Alaska, Doug in Duluth, or Scott in Minneapolis all have more intelligent and timely things to say about cold weather riding than I do. Even though I grew up in Minnesota and still think of it as a swell place, one of my adaptations took the form of migration. For the past 14 years, I've made my home in Issaquah, Washington. Not long after Christine and the boys and I moved here, I was on the phone talking with my father, who still lives in Northern Minnesota.
"How do you stand the rain, son?" It was February and it had probably been raining almost every day for the past few months in Issaquah.
"Dad," I replied, "what's the current temperature back there right now?"
"And how many feet of snow are on the ground right now?" I further pressed.
"About four," he admitted.
"You don't have to shovel rain, Dad."
And that is one of the reasons I've chosen to live in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this choice, my wardrobe is optimized to deal with conditions that are often damp but rarely icy or bitter cold.
Starting at the top of my head, I have a helmet. I won't go into the big helmet debate right here other than to say it's the law in King County (where I happen to reside) that cyclists wear helmets when riding. And over the years I've found it to be a handy bit of gear. My helmet is sized to fit snugly over my cap and since I ride a lot at night, I've added a couple of lights and some reflective stickers to the helmet.
Under my helmet I always wear a cap. In rainy weather the brim keeps the rain off my glasses. On sunny days it keeps the glare out of my eyes. The brim also shields my eyes from headlight glare when I'm riding at night. For years I used cotton or wool cycling caps but my favorite cap now is a nylon runner's cap I bought at REI. In colder weather, I use a Buff as an earband. The Buff is a very light tube of Coolmax fabric that I can fold into various layers and configurations depending on the temperature. I thought it was kind of expensive when I first bought it but I've used the Buff for years now and if I ever loose this one, I'll go right out and buy a replacement.
My main torso layer is almost always wool. Depending on how cool the day is it may be a thin layer or a thick layer, anything from a Smartwool long sleeve zip t-shirt, a wool club jersey or a sweater from a thrift store. If the day is dry or the more common light Pacific Northwest drizzle, my over layer will be my Marmot DriClime Windshirt. The DriClime sheds light rain quite nicely and of course it's great as a wind-blocking layer. And if it does get wet it dries out quickly. TheDriClime is designed to wick moisture from the inner layer and I've found that many times I stay drier wearing the DriClime than I ever did with a true rain jacket. If there is heavy rain and I feel I need something more waterproof, I'll wear my Rainshield O2 rain jacket. The DriClime and the O2 combined weigh less, take up less space and work better than any single jacket I've ever owned. For conspicuity, I wear very light weight bright yellow Bicycle Alliance nylon vest over whatever jacket or jersey I choose to wear.
My hands are another place where I have a wool base layer combined with a more visible synthetic top layer. Military surplus rag wool gloves stay warm even when wet and can be easily wrung out if they get soaked. Every pair of "waterproof " glove I've ever tried has been problematic. Either the gloves would leak or they would be so waterproof that my hands would sweat. Once wet, the gloves would loose their ability to insulate, making things miserable, and the damp gloves would take way too long to dry. Wool gloves don't keep my hands perfectly dry, but they keep me very comfortable. Wool insulates even when wet (I wrote about this a few years ago) and that's why it forms the basis of my "comfortably damp" wardrobe. For a while I carried water-proof nylon shells to use with the wool gloves in heavy rain but I eventually figured out that the wool gloves alone were sufficient. I do wear Glo Glovs over the wool gloves most of the time. Day and night, the Glo Glovs help me when I've communicating with other road users via hand signals. And, in the interest of civility, I tend to use all my fingers when I signal.
From the waist down my base layer is a pair of lycra cycling shorts, what Scott Adams identifies as "dorky pants." Despite the fact that pretty much everybody knows that I am a dork, I do have a fondness for pockets and I got tired of all the chicks checking out my finely sculpted buns, so I over the dorky pants I wear a pair of REI Sahara Convertible Pants. The Sahara pants are made of lightweight Suplex nylon and feature plenty of pockets and zip-off legs. I have several pairs of these pants and wear them year round. The nylon dries really quickly but in heavy rain, or extreme cold I add a pair of Rainlegs as a top layer. As I noted in my 2006 review of Rainlegs, these things work well but they do kick the dork factor back into high gear. I guess I can't deny my true dorky nature. And if I'm going to be a dork, I might as well be a safety dork, so I wear yellow reflective ankle bands to keep the cuffs of my Sahara pants out of my bike chain and to further increase my conspicuity. By the way, if you find yourself slipping the word "conspicuity" into conversation, you too may be a safety dork.
My big breakthrough in foot comfort was when I finally decided that for the riding I do, cycling shoes are not the solution. For the past year I've been riding with plain platform pedals. My shoes are Keen Targhees that I wear over either a pair of thick wool socks or a couple of pairs of thinner wool socks. The Keens are pretty weatherproof, but if things are really nasty, I layer a plastic bag (bread bags work great) between the inner and outer sock. This system works better than any fancy membrane sock/shoe cover/cycling shoe combo I've tried.
Well, that's it. That's pretty much what I wear. But that certainly doesn't mean this is what you should wear. People live in different places, have different metabolisms, and have different tolerances for temperatures. We're all experiments of one, empiricists clothed in artifacts.
Friday, December 14, 2007
My favorite piece, Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety, contains this gem:
Over the past decade, a number of major automakers in America have relied on the services of a French-born cultural anthropologist, G. Clotaire Rapaille, whose speciality is getting beyond the rational—what he calls "cortex"—impressions of consumers and tapping into their deeper, "reptilian" responses. And what Rapaille concluded from countless, intensive sessions with car buyers was that when S.U.V. buyers thought about safety they were thinking about something that reached into their deepest unconscious. "The No. 1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give," Rapaille told me. "There should be air bags everywhere. Then there's this notion that you need to be up high. That's a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has. "Damn, I better make sure I keep a latte on my bike at all times. For safety, of course.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
My son Eric loves to rant about my being a "a damn hippie" when I post links to anything that even remotely suggests that our consumptive habits are having dire effects on the planet. Well, Eric, this disclaimer is for you.
Don't watch this 20 minute video. It'll just piss you off:
Like pretty much every American, I've got way more stuff than I need. My wife will enthusiastically attest to that fact. And I have way more bike stuff than I need, even though I try to pare it down and I really don't buy into the "ten-speed is great, nine speed sucks" or "I can't believe you're still riding steel" mindset.
My scrounging tendency often works against me. While I may make fenders out of old campaign signs or rework old bikes to suit my purposes, I'm a sucker for tools ("I can use that to fix old stuff!"), parts ("I can use that to keep old stuff running!") and nifty gadgets ("that jacket with zip-off sleeves can replace my jacket and my vest!") and the next thing I know I have lots of tools and parts and not only a jacket and a vest but a jacket/vest and wait a minute, don't I have something like four other jackets here? And don't get me started on t-shirts. How the hell did I wind up with so many t-shirts?
Living in a small place and being car-free helps keep me conscious of my stuff. Almost all the stuff filling our place was lugged here by my wife or my kids or me under our own power. Of course, it's really to easy to click on something at Amazon and have that guy with the brown truck show up a few days later with the latest bit of niftiness. And of course, I'm part of the problem. I've got Amazon links on my site, I tell people about nifty things I've found and heck some of those damn t-shirts spilling out of my dresser drawers are things I myself designed and sell.
But you've gotta have some stuff, right? Well, yeah, you do. But it's a balancing act and some days I feel more out of balance than others.
It's a lesson I keep re-learning, one that often seems the clearest when I'm out on my bicycle, going up a hill. Everything I have with me gets weighed, maybe not on a scale, but with each pedal stroke as the grade goes up. The stove and fuel that I brought for comfort in camp do not give me comfort on the climb. So do I take them with me or not? It's a calculation that can be made both ways.
The video I linked to at the top of this post talks about the environmental costs of all this stuff but it's not just the big environment that's polluted, it's the local environment that's polluted. My apartment, my desk at work, my mental spaces are all filled with too much junk.
I don't need a shed for all this stuff, I need to get rid of many sheds worth of stuff. What I need, what I really need, I'll keep. Right now, I need to go on a stuff diet. For every item that comes in, at least that much has to go out.
Quality wins out over quantity. The TV just lost out to 1080 pages of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel. Stuff I've kept "just in case" for too long are going away. Books I won't re-read will go to the used book store, good clothes can find some other man to wear them. The almost-right jackets can keep someone else dry. At least one more bike needs to go.
I may still get that shed. I will probably by the next great bike light that comes out.
I'm not off the treadmill, but I'm trying to think about my steps.
Monday, December 03, 2007
I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine where Mr. Card and I differ, but I will tell you that these three essays:
Life Without Cars: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2007-04-08-1.html
Walking Neighborhoods: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2007-04-15-1.html
Oil -- Past the Peak: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2007-05-06-1.html
are some of the ones that had me saying "Yeah, right on!"
Saturday, December 01, 2007
If I wasn't so darn well suited for my job at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, it's a pretty safe bet that I'd be working at Bike Works. Dara and her crew not only do terrific work, they consistently demonstrate just how much fun it can be to change people's lives through bicycles. Every time I volunteer at Bike Works or work with them on a project, I'm reminded that the velorution is happening right now. Whether it's teaching kids to fix stuff or getting people rolling on rigs that cost less than what most folks spend on a monthly car payment, the lessons are the same: this is what's possible, this is what's practical and this is how you do it.
This week three of the Bike Works folks, Jayanthi, Joe and Melanie, all have birthdays. This is also the week that the great cyclist Marshal "Major" Taylor was born, so it just made sense to have a celebratory ride. Friday night, November 30th, 2007 a bunch of us gathered at Bike Works for little off-key singing of Happy Birthday and a ride up to a restaurant in Seattle's central district.
It's 36 degrees Fahrenheit as we gather in the cool air. It's cool enough that as we discuss techniques for keeping feet warm (slightly bigger shoes and double socks, one pair of which is wool), our breathing fogs the air. On occasions such as this we all naturally check out each other's bikes. My favorite of the bunch (excluding my own Red-Bike-of-Courage) is a neat old orange Peugeot set up as a fixie with cowhorn bars. This turns out to be Melanie's rig but right now, a couple minutes before take-off, she's realized that it's dark and she doesn't have lights.
As Red Green says, "if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." I can't let Melanie go riding with just her 100 kilowatt smile for protection and thanks to the Bicycle Alliance Get Lit program, I've got a spare set of lights in my handlebar bag. Melanie tries to protest, "but those lights are for the needy..." "And that's why I'm carrying a set around, to give out to some needy unlit cyclist," I tell her, "right now, that's you. Call it a birthday present or later when you get yourself some lights, pass these on to somebody more needy than you. But right now," I say firmly, "we're lighting you up."
In addition to having the best lights of the group, I'm also the guy with the working camera. Tina takes the group photo of the gang. See the guy with the bright reflective sash and helmet near the center of the photo? That's me.
It's a nice ride but I do notice that a bunch of my Bike Works buddies are a bit too black in their bundling. I'll have to talk to Dara and Melanie about scheduling a Get Lit fashion show at Bike Works sometime soon.
I have to get home to Issaquah, so I wish everybody a safe ride and split off from the group at the I-90 bridge.
At home I read more about Major Taylor, a truly inspirational fellow. This website:
has a lot of great information about Major Taylor including the final chapter of his autobiography here:
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Sometimes I go rather far afield for my job, like this past July when I rode all around the state. Today, I got to stick close to home, representing the Bicycle Alliance at the official opening of the Issaquah-High Point Regional Trail connector. You have to come up with something to say at these things, so I got up early and jotted a few notes. I knew I'd be talking after the mayor and the council people and the various transportation folks had said their pieces and pretty much thanked everyone. I wanted to keep things brief but still say something. This is what I said.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the opening of the new REI here in town, chatting with a fellow. Most of the time he's working at one of the REI stores in the southwest but he'd come to Issaquah to help open the new store. "You're lucky to live here," he said to me and when he found out I'd lived here for the past 14 years he added, "I bet it's changed a lot."
And I found myself telling this fellow how the space where the REI and the Safeway and the Target store are now had all been an open meadow and how old-timers remember back to when the 12th Avenue Cafe was on 12th Avenue and how there used to be cows grazing right across the street from my kid's elementary school. But mostly I told him how we still have salmon in the creek, and while some of the old farms are becoming condos, others are becoming parks. I told him how Rainier Boulevard was changed to better manage run-off, how abandoned rail lines have been turned into trails, how folks are working to clean up litter on the roadsides.
And I told him about the trail to High Point and the path under the freeway and along the shores of Lake Sammamish. How folks can walk and bike to places instead of driving and how the pieces link together in a greenway. How folks who never set foot or wheel on these paths still get value from them, for when you or I are hiking or walking on these paths, we're not sitting in a car stuck in traffic on Front Street. How every bike trip that's not a car trip helps keep the air just a bit cleaner.
We all make choices. How we vote, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, all these things really do matter. Ultimately, as Gandhi said, "actions express priorities." These trails and the bits of green we all share and enjoy and depend on are here because good people have put in a lot of work to make sure these things are not only here today, but here for our grand-kids and for the salmon, the heron, the frogs and all the rest of the world.
A lot of non-glamorous work goes into making a livable town. Lots of boring meetings, a lot of argument, a lot of compromise. To actually do things takes money, time and lots of good old-fashioned heavy lifting. It's really amazing that anything ever gets done.
But things like the Highpoint connector do get done and we owe a huge debt of thanks to the people who have put in all the work to make this happen. And now is when we roll up our sleeves and pitch in somewhere. Issaquah is a great place to live, but there still is plenty of work to do.
We are lucky to live here but it's the kind of luck Bruce Springsteen wrote about and I'm going to take the liberty to paraphrase the Boss just a little bit:
"When it comes to luck, we make our own----------
we've got dirt on our hands, but we're building a home."
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I just finished reading Clifford Simak's small science fiction novel The Werewolf Principle and even though it has nothing to do with bicycling, I have one of those minds that relates everything to bicycling. I think this particular trait of mine baffles some people. I know it baffles my mother, who said to me once, "you can write so well, why do you always write about bicycles?" I found myself giving the same response Stephen King did when he was asked why he writes horror, "what makes you think I have a choice?"
In Simak's novel humans can travel to the stars and the big questions of the day involve interactions with aliens and alien landscapes. Do we as humans change the worlds we encounter to better suit ourselves, or do we change ourselves to live in alien worlds? And if we change, are we still human?
Simak is an optimist, arguing ultimately that the essence of humanity is that we do both, we shape our encounters and we are shaped by them. We are never perfectly content to stay what we are or where we are. We change our worlds and we change ourselves.
Which brings me back to bicycling, and back to my friends. And back to the werewolf principle. The werewolf principle states that we can, and often are, changed by our encounters. Even if those encounters are initially brief and sometimes frightening.
As a child I saw other kids riding bikes and I knew that somehow they could balance and roll and if they could learn then I could learn. And I did.
Later I learned that some people rode farther, even a hundred miles in a day, on rides they called "centuries." And I learned about bikes called ten-speeds and I learned about shifters. And I met people who knew about things like lactic acid and interval training and sprints and sport nutrition and all kinds of other stuff.
I learned that I could change myself and that yes there were limits, but they were not what I'd thought they were. I met people who rode centuries and I became a person who rode centuries. I met bike racers and I became a bike racer. And I also found the limits to the werewolf principle when I met Greg Lemond.
I did not become Greg Lemond.
I also did not become a marathon runner when I shared an apartment in my college years with a marathon runner named Ed. Ed taught me that marathons are easy. Well easy for Ed. Ed had a passion for running, but somehow I lacked that. But that was OK. "Why do you run marathons, Ed?" "What makes you think I have a choice?"
Somehow we are given certain abilities and susceptibilities. I was mostly immune to Greg Lemond, I knew I could train forever and not be him. And I knew it was OK not to be him. And I didn't catch the running bug from Ed, but I learned a lot about what I wanted to do and how to manage to do it.
We tend to call people freaks when they are farther out than we are. Outside Magazine profiled John Stamstad in a piece called, That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger, and I'm sure many folks read that and thought "what a monster!" and "I could never do that!" I read that article and thought, "I should learn some of what he knows." A few years later I heard John speak at REI and I got to talk with him a bit. We talked about food.
I have friends who are out running or riding right now, while I'm sitting here typing. My friend Tammy has morphed from a couch potato to a triathlete and coach. My pal Scott is half the man he used to be. And I know dozens, hell make that hundreds, of other werewolves who have undergone similar transformations. And those folks are not just transforming themselves, they are inspiring (maybe infecting?) others.
We may not be able to choose our passions but if we are lucky we cross paths with those whose passions we share. And we don't see them as monsters but as inspirations of something that we can become.
As David West noted, the movies have it all backwards.
The Unhappy Association of Werewolves
Makes a Statement to the Terror Industry
At night, we do our hunting.
Home is everywhere we've pissed.
Our name is fang, and who we love
is not your business. Then we sleep.
We dream we're in an office -- it's man eat
dog out there. Our hides are worth money
and traps are cheap. We are required
to be undyingly civil on the phone.
We dream our fangs are not there when
we need them. You can tell we're losing
when we start to look bored, when anger
learns patience, and we wake up.
We face the mirror and see horror
as familiar as a razor. We're losing fur
our fangs retract -- then we're naked
at the mercy of rush hour. We're not
good humans turned into wolves by a curse;
the movies have it all backward. At night
you call it howling but we sing because
we're free. By day we get paid to be dogs.
Note the above poem is copyright (c) 1989 by David Westerhold, All Rights Reserved and comes from the collection EVIL SPIRITS AND THEIR SECRETARIES by David West. You can order it for $5.95 (quite the bargain!) here:
And no, I don't get any kickback from David or Zeitgeist, I'd just love to see David make a bit of money from his work and maybe crank out another book or two. And if you do want to give me a kickback, follow a link from my site to Amazon.com and buy anything they have for sale. It doesn't cost you anything extra but it tosses a few percent of your purchase amount my way. I, of course, squander the money on bike stuff.
Enough typing now, I have to head out for the woods. I hear something howling out there and somehow I have to follow it. What makes you think I have a choice?
Friday, November 23, 2007
"Moolock? Isn't that the degenerate half of the future human race as envisioned by H.G. Wells?" "No," Mark Vande Kamp corrects me, "the Moolocks are the degenerate half of the future race of cows as envisioned by Gary Larson." Actually it turns out that Moolock is the name of a tiny lake in the Cascade mountains that's about 30 miles northeast and 3800 feet above my Issaquah home. A quick Google search reveals that Moolock is also a Chinook word meaning elk.
Mark and I quickly determine that a bike trip to Lake Moolock might be just the kind of the thing we need to burn off the Thanksgiving turkey. Getting from my place to the lake involves some real roads, some logging roads and some things that on the map look suspiciously like moolock trails. My wife, who is the wisest person in my household, points out that snow in the high country may thwart our plans. I mumble something about the journey being the reward. She mutters something about me freezing my ass off.
Brad Hawkins, Matt Newlin and Jan Heine all decide that this Moolock adventure is something worth doing so we form a plan to meet at my place at 8:00 AM on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
It's 28 degrees (Fahrenheit) when Mark, Matt, Brad and I all meet up at 8:00. The day is cold, but clear. Mark assures us that Jan is riding over from Seattle but must be running late. We wait for a while and then leave a note for Jan before heading out. Jan is speedy (he was the first American finisher in Paris-Brest-Paris this year) and we figure he'll catch up.
We ride the trail out of Issaquah and up to Highpoint. There is frost on the bridges and the shoulders of the road. At my suggestion we stop at the coffee shop in Preston, a clever maneuver that nets me a hot beverage and gives the speedy Mr. Heine opportunity to catch up with the group. The plan works on both counts and the five of us roll down the Preston Trail toward Fall City.
Just past Fall City we connect with the Snoqualmie Valley Trail where we climb up to the Tokul area and then follow the logging roads onto Weyerhaeuser land. Many of these gravel roads are huge, designed for big logging trucks but as we work our way further into the back country and higher into the mountains, the roads get smaller and rougher.
Mark is our navigator and he does an admirable job in a difficult situation. At best, the map is an approximation; old roads have become abandoned and overgrown, new roads have been added and in some cases the land itself has been reshaped by bulldozers. We make only one obvious wrong turn that we correct with a bit of bushwhacking and even that slight miscalculation leads us to a nice spot for lunch.
Brad has to be back in civilization earlier than the rest of us, so he turns back near Lake Hancock at noon. The rest of us climb for another hour, on roads where we debate the grade. Everyone seems to feel it's at least 15%, the debate is mostly about how much steeper it is. All I know is that I'm extremely glad that I brought my light bike with the 22*28 low gear. Jan, Matt and I all experiment to see if walking is any slower than pedaling on some of the sections and don't really come to any firm conclusion. Walking does work some different muscles and on some of the slick sections, it seems preferable.
We climb into the snow. It is not deep snow but it is enough to make us all think carefully about what it will be like when we are descending quickly instead of climbing slowly. With the sun and the climbing, we're warm but in the shady patches, it's cold.
After our hour of climbing, Mark explains where he thinks we are. He shows us a depressingly small number of contour lines in our wake, and a depressingly large number of contour lines between us and Lake Moolock. He points up a steep, snowy, rocky ridge. "I think," he says, "Lake Moolock is on the other side of that."
We start talking about June. Lake Moolock is probably lovely in June. We'll save it for June. For now, we'll take this other fork, still snowy, but not so up.
The other fork leads to a clear-cut, what the timber folks call a temporary meadow. We scramble over fallen logs, take our bearings and take some pictures and then head for home. We stop for a bit at Lake Hancock, where Mark impresses the rest of us with his rock-skipping ability. Lake Hancock is nice, but it actually has one cabin on it, so it's still a bit too civilized.
But a lake called Moolock? That's probably really something.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
There are some things in the bicycle world that are just plain weird. The various ways bike tire sizes are designated is quite bewildering but, as is the case with many things bike related, Sheldon Brown has an article that explains things pretty clearly. That article can be found here:
Now I have read Sheldon's article and I have worked in bike shops and I've explained the weirdness of tire sizing to various folks over the years, so you'd think this would be ingrained in me. And mostly it is. I know what size tires fit the rims of my various bikes and I know to look for ISO/E.T.R.T.O. number to resolve any doubt.
Most of the time I remember that.
Sunday I am riding up in Redmond on my new-to-me "fast" bike. Note that "fast" is in quotes. In this context it only means that this bike is probably faster than the other bikes I currently have in rideable condition. In the larger universe, the universe that includes such things as carbon Parlees and Mario Cippolini, my bike is not fast. But still, the bike seems fast and in my head I sometimes hear Phil Liggett's voice telling me I'm a "spirited little climber" so I get to wondering how fast my fast bike really is.
This is how impulse purchases happen. I'm wondering something like how fast I'm actually going and then I realize that I'm right by the Redmond REI and maybe I'll just see what they have in terms of cycle computers. And they have a nifty Cateye Strada which is kind of small and pretty much has all the features I want and it even has mount that can go on the stem or the bars and by the way I have a bit of extra cash because a bunch of my blog readers bought NO WAR FOR CHAIN LUBE shirts and I just deposited the check from Cafe Press. And maybe I could blog about the cycle computer (this is the "blog fodder" excuse and it can be used to justify darn near any cycling related purchase or adventure). And didn't our president tell us that if we don't shop then the terrorists have won?
So I do my duty as a good American and then I'm at the bike rack at the REI, installing my new Cateye Strada. Another cyclist locking up his bike gives me the "computer, eh? I gave up on those years ago..." speech. I grunt in an ambiguous manner, not bothering to tell him that I've given the speech he's giving me a few times myself and besides I've quit bike computers more times than my uncle Buck gave up smoking.
So maybe I'm a little distracted. And the instructions are printed in a dozen different languages (no exaggeration, a dozen, I just checked) and so the instruction sheet, including the computer calibration table, is printed in some pretty tiny type. Anyway, I get the computer installed and mostly figured out and I punch in the number from the calibration chart and roll away.
This red bike is fast. This makes sense, Mario Cippolini will tell you that red bikes are faster than other bikes, everything else being equal and Mario being on the red bike. And even this red bike with me on it not only seems fast, it is fast. Maybe not Super Mario fast, but fast for me. Faster than I thought.
The warning sign comes when I get back to Issaquah and see that my new computer not only tells me that I'm faster than I should be, but also that it is a bit farther from Redmond to Issaquah than I remembered. That doesn't seem right.
Monday, I get the confirmation. I am faster than I should be on my 19 mile commute to work. Except my 19 mile commute is actually just a bit over 18 miles. I know that for certain. My computer is wrong.
I look again at the chart. The number I'd punched in, the wrong number, was 2100 mm. That's the number for a 26 x 1-1/2 tire. But I don't have a 26 x 1-1/2 tire, I have a 26 x 1.5 tire. I am an idiot. I'm also a little slower than I thought I was. My red bike is still my fastest bike, but it's not quite as fast as I thought.
With my computer properly calibrated with a setting of 2010, my commute numbers match up with Google Earth and the real earth. I won't be challenging Mario to any sprints any time soon.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I'm not one of those folks. Over the years I've owned lots of bikes, but most of my bikes have come to me via a combination of scavenging and circumstance. Even the times when I've gotten a "new" bike, it quickly diverges from the original factory specifications. I certainly have ideals and ideas, but I also tend to learn something from every ride, so what I ride is seldom static. As Buckminster Fuller would say "I seem to be a verb."
I have far more ex-bikes than bikes, something that my wife will tell you is a small consolation. The other night she asked me about the red Stump Jumper M2 that was casually leaning against the dishwasher in our kitchen. "Is that another bike?" I confessed that it was. She rolled her eyes in an expression I know well, "We need to get you a shed."
The Stump Jumper is here because, well, I'm not really sure why it's here. Perhaps it's here because the Green Gary Fisher became the perfect beast: the bike that can haul damn near anything, with nearly indestructible tires and relentless practicality. So maybe I've learned most of what I need to learn from the Green Bike.
But what if I went off in a little different direction? Start with a lighter frame and don't put racks on it. Maybe some lighter tires. Heck, Planet Bike makes a set of low cost fenders, why don't I give those a try? And I could use that LX derailleur I have kicking around in the parts pile and that sweet set of Suntour Power Ratchet shifters. Oh, if I match that 42/32/22 crankset with the 28-11 cassette this thing won't just be a Stump Jumper, it'll be a Stump Puller...
I don't have a clear idea, I have lots of ideas. I don't have a perfect bike, I have various bikes that approximate perfection.
A Zen Master would have just one bike (fixed gear, naturally) or perhaps he'd be beyond bicycles all together. But an Issaquah Taoist, who lives at the foot of Tiger Mountain and often sees only dimly through the mist? All I know is that I do not know. And I have this red Stump Puller.
Perhaps I need to get a shed.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
There is an otter in the picture above, but there are quite a few gallons of Issaquah Creek on top of the slippery beast so you'll have to take my word that there is an otter there.
I can tell you that otters like playing hide and seek. Until this morning I didn't know that there were otters living around here, but this otter seemed to enjoy tempting me to follow.
The otter drew me downstream, silent and slick, popping its head up from the water just often enough to keep me following, never long enough for the camera to catch up.
A second otter joined the first, right before they both slipped into a tiny gap in the blackberry thicket on the opposite side of the creek.
I lingered by the creek, exploring on foot and wheel. I saw ducks feeding on the rotten carcasses of salmon, felt the November damp brush up against my legs, heard the water rhythmically pull and release a branch that had fallen in the swift current.
I thought about what Gary Thorp had written in his lovely book, Caught in Fading Light. Gary quotes Paul Theroux who once wrote, "It is my good fortune that I've never owned a camera." Gary goes on to write:
Many times in my own experience I'd missed a good look at a hawk or squandered a coyote sighting by reaching for binoculars when I didn't need them. It was purely a reflex action, and now I didn't want to spoil my chances of seeing a mountain lion by fumbling with a camera case. If I saw a cougar, I would always have the memory, and I wanted to prolong the experience as much as I could, without interruption.
One can develop the art of looking just as certainly as one can master the art of playing the violin. Theroux compared the freedom of traveling without a camera to the adroitness of riding a bicycle without using one's hands. And even after all these years, it still seemed like good advice.
While I see the point that both Gary and Paul are trying to make, which is basically another reminder of the Zen precept to "be here now". I also have to note that I, as a human being, relate to and move through the world with tools. As a near-sighted person, I almost always see the world through lenses. I stopped by the creek today because I was on my bicycle and because I had a camera. I go farther awheel than I do afoot, but I seem to see more the slower I go. This is definitely one reason I prefer the bicycle to the automobile.
The camera is often a good excuse for stopping. Even if the heron has flown off or the otter is completely camera shy, I can't complain.
I can ride a bicycle without using my hands, but I still have handlebars on my bike.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
On Saturday November 10th, 2007 my friend Matt Newlin and I rode our bikes over to a Total Reclaim warehouse in Seattle to help load a shipping container with bicycles to go to Ghana. Total Reclaim provides warehouse space to the Village Bicycle Project and Bike Works who gather up various donated and abandoned bikes. Several times a year VBP ships a container load of bikes to Africa and Saturday was one of the loading days.
After Matt and I carefully locked up our bikes (we wanted to make certain our own means of transport didn't accidentally get loaded in the container!) we pitched in with the work. Some of the bikes we were loading were bikes that had sat for months in the Metro and Sound Transit lost and found, some had been donated by various individuals and organizations. Quite a few folks were helping out and the folks who'd done this before, people like VBP volunteer Meg Watson , Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim, and Melanie Lyons of Bike Works, provided clear direction and guidance to those of us who were new to the process. They also made sure we had both breakfast and lunch, which was good because even with a dozen or so volunteers, it took a full day to get the container loaded.
The bikes were made as small as possible by lowering the seat, removing the pedals, taking off any extra bits and turning the handlebars. Bikes with serious problems were stripped of useful parts and the parts filled every extra bit of usable space in the container. We rolled bikes, stripped bikes, moved bikes and packed bikes. A fellow named Ben Haney had a real skill when it came to figuring out what bike or piece would fit where in the container. I suspect Ben might have played a lot of Tetris at some point in his life.
The most surprising part of the day was also surprisingly hard. I'd expected to see what we saw the most of: Huffys, Magnas and other low-end bikes. There were also some very nice and serviceable old Treks, Giants, Peugeots, Bridgestones and things like that. But there were a few bikes, a full Xtracycle, a custom 531 Rodriguez and an unlabeled Campy Record equipped road bike that Matt and I argued would do more good at Bike Works. "Keep the bikes here, sell them at Bike Works, and send the money to Africa" was our basic pitch. Meg Watson agreed with our logic, but that those bikes had been donated to go to Africa. Meg was right and we have to respect the wishes of the donors. We loaded the bikes into the container. It was really hard.
At the end of a long day we got 487 whole bikes, who knows how many tires, brakes, wheels, derailleurs, saddles, handlebars and other assorted bike bits packed into that shipping container. On the ride home Matt and I speculated that maybe years from now we'll see some African rider racing in the Olympics or the Tour de France. The interviewer will say, "how did you get into bicycle racing?" and the rider will reply, "it was the darnedest thing, some big container full of bikes from America had this one Campy-equipped racing bike tucked in with all this other stuff..."
Maybe it won't go that way.
But I want to load the next container bound for Ghana and I want to get more involved in collecting the bikes to go to good causes. And if someone wants to donate a high-buck bike I'll still try to talk them into turning that bike into money and using the money to pay for shipping or training Africans in bike repair or buying tools to keep the bikes going.
The website at:
has great stories of how bikes and bike know-how change lives in Africa. If you've got a bike that you're not using folks like Bike Works, VPB or your local equivalent can repurpose it and do some real good, maybe in your neighborhood or maybe on the other side of the world. And if you've got a little bit of skill with a wrench, that can do a world of good.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Some concerned Seattle area bicyclists have set up a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the nitbrains who shot bike commuter Peter McKay last week.
Peter, a member of Seattle International Randonneurs, was riding home to West Seattle after work on Thursday when someone shot him from a passing car.
Amazingly, he completed his ride home after the incident, although he felt pain with every breath. He found blood on his clothes and two small bumps when he arrived home. Doctors at the hospital found one BB pellet had penetrated his left lung, releasing air into his chest cavity. The other just missed his aorta and spinal cord.Blog article
He was released from the hospital Friday evening and returned to commuting on his bicycle on Monday. In "A Few More Thoughts," Peter talks about the spectacular ride over the I-90 bridge, adding "We live in a very beautiful place."
I don't know if I could be that positive if I'd been through the same ordeal.
John's Ramblings blog reports that the Seattle International Randonneurs and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington have already collected $5,000 toward a reward fund. It will go to Seattle area Crimestoppers posters and public service announcements seeking information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.
In addition to bringing the perps to justice, publicity about the reward will show the public that the local cycling community is very serious about stopping this type of crime.
(See more about the reward fund at Tripieper Tales & Travels.)
Anyone can donate by mailing a check directly to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, P.O. Box 2904, Seattle, WA, 98111 with the notation Crimestoppers -- Cyclist Shooting Reward.
----------------Peter McKay sent this note to the SIR mailing list. It shows Peter's spirit is bullet-proof and so is the spirit of all those who've responded:
Date: Fri, 09 Nov 2007 00:53:52 -0800
From: Peter McKay
Subject: [SIR] Thank you!!!
Dear Tim, Shan and the countless other supporters,
I never dreamed that my shooting would attract so much attention. It all overwhelms me. I apologize that I have responded directly to only a handful you. To all of you, thank you for your kind words and wishes for a speedy recovery.
I am passionate about riding my bicycle. Through the experiences during the last week, I learned that there are a great number of other individuals who share this passion. While Harborview cared for me, many individuals approached to share that they also ride their bicycles to work, similar to many of you. The tremendous outpouring of support from each of you reinforces the greatness of our bicycling community.
As my injuries do not prevent me from riding my bicycle, I continued my commuting on Monday. My physical healing continues. Any involuntary reaction, such as a sneeze or a burp reminds me that my tissue is still healing.
Thank you for all your support. I am honored to be a member of the bicycling community because we all care about the community in which we live and commute.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Thanks to funds provided by Seattle cycling attorney John Duggan, proceeds from the "Share the Road" license plate program, various individual donors and support from the bicycle component company Planet Bike, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington provides bicycle lights to low-income cyclists through a program called "Get Lit". Riders gathered at the Seattle Bike Station and delivered lights to Goodwill Industries, Union Gospel Mission and Plymouth Housing Group for distribution. Other light recipients include Bike Works in Columbia City, the Salvation Army, Spokane's Pedals-2-People and various homeless and low-income individuals.
It was a beautiful night for a ride and various drivers and pedestrians had great questions and comments for the well-lit, highly visible and enthusiastic group of riders. The ride concluded at the Seattle Bike Station with hot cider, a comparison of various riders lights and gear and reflective stickers for all.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
While riding home from work Thursday night, my friend Peter McKay was shot. Peter is going to be OK and in fact, knowing Peter, I'll say he's going to be better than OK. You can read about it here:
My immediate reaction was "you bastards!" and to think about a vigilante biker gang delivering some u-lock based education to the obviously thick skull of the shooter and the equally moronic driver. I figure it's pretty hard to shoot and drive at the same time so Peter's assault was the work of at least two sons-of-bitches.
In the face of such obvious evil and hostility, it's tempting to give in to anger or despair. This week another friend of mine, a tough fellow who has been car-free for years, has been taking the bus. Too many close calls with too many aggressive drivers have worn him down. "I just can't take it," he told me. (And no, this isn't me and this isn't one of those "I have this friend..." stories.) But I know my friend will be back on his bike. I know that because I know him and I think I finally know what to say to him.
My friend Peter gave me the answer. Read Peter's post. Especially the last sentence: "I still really love riding my bicycle." Sure anger passed through him and I'm sure despair did as well. But anger and despair aren't what Peter McKay is all about. Peter is a man who sees the beauty of the day and chooses to ride his bicycle.
I certainly hope the bastards who shot my friend are found and brought to justice. We will never rid the world of the evil and the idiotic, but we will certainly never defeat them with their own tools, anger and despair. We win by keeping on, choosing what is sometimes the harder road because in our hearts we know it is the better road.
It's a beautiful day. I'm going riding on my bicycle.
Get well Peter. I'm looking forward to seeing you on the road.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The alliance invites bicyclists to take part in the free Get Lit ride November 5 in Seattle. Riders will meet at Bikestation Seattle at 4:30 PM. After a brief discussion of safe night cycling, riders will ride as a group to the Union Gospel Mission, The Salvation Army, Plymouth Housing Group, Goodwill and Bike Works. At each of these locations bicycle lights will be delivered to be distributed at no cost to low-income cyclists. These lights have been provided by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington's Get Lit program as part of an ongoing effort to improve road safety for all cyclists in Washington. Major funding for this program has been provided by attorney John Duggan, individual donors and Bicycle Alliance income from the Washington State Share The Road license plates.
All riders must register at the start of the ride and have lights, reflective gear and a bicycle helmet. An award will be given for the best-lit cyclist and the most creatively lit cyclist. All riders will receive reflective stickers. Hot cider will be provided at the end of the ride.
When: November 5 (Monday) at 4:30pm
Start: BikeStation Seattle, 311 3rd Avenue South.
Finish: BikeStation Seattle
Cost: free (disclaimer form must be filled in)
Distance: approximately 10 miles
Sunday, October 28, 2007
A century ago, the ball-bearing was invented. It reduced the coefficient of friction by a factor of a thousand. By applying a well-calibrated ball-bearing between two Neolithic millstones, a man could now grind in a day what took his ancestors a week. The ball-bearing also made possible the bicycle, allowing the wheel -- probably the last of the great Neolithic inventions -- finally to become useful for self-powered mobility.
Man, unaided by any tool, gets around quite efficiently. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer in ten minutes by expending 0.75 calories. Man on his feet is thermodynamically more efficient than any motorized vehicle and most animals. For his weight, he performs more work in locomotion than rats or oxen, less than horses or sturgeon. At this rate of efficiency man settled the world and made its history. At this rate peasant societies spend less than 5 per cent and nomads less than 8 per cent of their respective social time budgets outside the home or the encampment.
Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man's metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.
The ball-bearing signaled a true crisis, a true political choice. It created an option between more freedom in equity and more speed. The bearing is an equally fundamental ingredient of two new types of locomotion, respectively symbolized by the bicycle and the car. The bicycle lifted man's auto-mobility into a new order, beyond which progress is theoretically not possible. In contrast, the accelerating individual capsule enabled societies to engage in a ritual of progressively paralyzing speed.
Bicycles are not only thermodynamically efficient, they are also cheap. With his much lower salary, the Chinese acquires his durable bicycle in a fraction of the working hours an American devotes to the purchase of his obsolescent car. The cost of public utilities needed to facilitate bicycle traffic versus the price of an infrastructure tailored to high speeds is proportionately even less than the price differential of the vehicles used in the two systems. In the bicycle system, engineered roads are necessary only at certain points of dense traffic, and people who live far from the surfaced path are not thereby automatically isolated as they would be if they depended on cars or trains. The bicycle has extended man's radius without shunting him onto roads he cannot walk. Where he cannot ride his bike, he can usually push it.
The bicycle also uses little space. Eighteen bikes can be parked in the place of one car, thirty of them can move along in the space devoured by a single automobile. It takes three lanes of a given size to move 40,000 people across a bridge in one hour by using automated trains, four to move them on buses, twelve to move them in their cars, and only two lanes for them to pedal across on bicycles. Of all these vehicles, only the bicycle really allows people to go from door to door without walking. The cyclist can reach new destinations of his choice without his tool creating new locations from which he is barred.
Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim.
Illich really goes to the heart of what I respond to about a bicycle. It seems to me that a bicycle is perhaps mankind's most delightful gadget. I am swifter with a bicycle than I am alone. With a bicycle I can go more places, see more people and carry more things. Traveling by bicycle makes me stronger but still keeps me in touch with my limits, the shape of the land and the weather of the moment. On a bicycle I am still an active particpant in my journey rather than a passive passenger.