Monday, December 24, 2012

Big Red Bicycle Christmas


Nora and One Left have a really fun album filled with very catchy songs that would make a great stocking stuffer for the cyclist in your life. Nora's dad Larry might be her biggest fan. He made sure I knew about her album just in time for Christmas. I've embedded the video above for your enjoyment. Christine literally squealed with delight on seeing the video.

For those of you who are not quite done with your Christmas shopping (or anyone who loves songs about bicycles) you can go to:

http://noraandoneleft.bandcamp.com/album/bicycle

listen to other tracks and buy the whole digital album for nine bucks. A nice deal on a very nice album.

Have a very Merry Christmas. I hope you all get what you want for Christmas and have a very Happy New Year.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ride 2 Blog Tour -- 3 Questions


Keith Snyder, the man behind the story collections RIDE: Short fiction about bicycles and RIDE 2: More short fiction about bicycles is a fellow who likes getting folks to tell stories about bikes. His latest plan, which may incidentally help sell a few more copies RIDE and RIDE 2, is to have the various authors in RIDE 2 ask each other questions. If the author has a blog, the questions and answers will be posted to their blog and all the questions and answers will be posted to Keith's blog at:

http://ridebikefiction.wordpress.com/

This is going to be spread out over the course of a few weeks and the order of the blog tour works like this:


Start: Rozan asks Peterson 3 questions.
12/23/12:  Peterson posts answers, asks Neuenfeldt
12/30/12: Neuenfeldt posts answers, asks Goffman
1/6/13: Goffman posts answers, asks Snyder
1/13/12: Snyder posts answers, asks Billman
1/20/13: Billman posts answers, asks Maher
1/27/13: Maher posts answers, asks Hope
2/3/13: Hope posts answers, asks Greene
2/10/13: Greene posts answers, asks Lempert
2/17/13: Lempert posts answers, asks Rozan
2/24/13: Rozan posts answers.

The writers get to pick the questions and the story order in RIDE 2 determined above schedule. S. J. Rozan wrote the first story in RIDE 2, so here are Rozan's questions and my answers:


--------------------------

1. When did you get your first bike and how did you feel about it?

Not counting my trike, which I got when I was three and used to try and escape and follow my older sister to school, my first bike was blue hand-me-down that used to be my sister's. I got it when she got a new bike. It was a kind of bike you don't see anymore, with a top tube that could bolt in lower position to make it a step-thru or a higher position to make it a "boy's" bike. I still thought it was girly and avoided it until I was about six years old. My dad won me over to the bike by adding these super cool Tiger hand grips to it. Esso was using those to promote their "Tiger in your Tank" slogan. I thought they were "Gr-r-reat!" 'cause they looked just like Tony the Tiger.

2. What's the weirdest thing that ever happened to you on a ride?

This is a toss-up, so I'm going to list two things. The first was in 1982 when I was biking from Minnesota to California. I had a series of flats, which turned out to be caused by slightly long spokes and a flimsy rim strip. On my final flat (it had to be my final flat, I was out of patches), in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, I figured out the problem. And as I looked down at the side of the road, there was a nearly used up roll of duct tape. There were no towns for miles, no reason for that duct tape to be there, but there it was. There was just enough tape for me to make a thick rim strip and ride the many miles to the next town where I bought a new patch kit.

The second weird thing happened in 2003 when I was racing from San Francisco to Portland in the Raid Californie-Oregon. I was riding at dusk, in northern California among the redwoods. It was just getting dark and the bugs were coming out and bats were swooping after them. It was astoundingly beautiful and just as I was thinking how amazing it is that the bats don't smash into anything, a bat, intent on dive bombing a bug, slams into my left hand and brake lever. I felt the bat convulse and die right on my hand.

3. What's your indoor sport?

When Christine, my wife, read this question she said "You don't have an indoor sport." "Yeah," I replied, "the only answer I can come up with for this one is Twitter." So that's what I'm going with.

--------------------------

My three questions for Eric Neuenfeldt are as follows:


1) You've got a day to show someone around your part of the world by bicycle. Where do you go riding and what do you show them?

2) You can add one more bike to whatever fleet of bikes you have now. What do you get?

3) Pick a movie or a book and explain how it would be so much better when you rework the plot to include bicycles.

You can follow the blog tour at Keith's site at:


Finally, thanks to those of you have bought RIDE and/or RIDE 2. Links from my site take you to Amazon where you can buy the Kindle versions of these books, but Keith's site at:


has currently has links to Nook, iBooks and Kobo versions. Sometime in January, the print version will be available.

Finally, if you have read RIDE or RIDE 2, please leave a review on Amazon, iBooks or whatever. Reviews, good or bad, help others in choosing books and reviews also help sell books.

I've got some more blog posts and stories in the works. Thanks for staying tuned to the blog and if you've bought any of my books, thanks for that as well.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA








Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dear Santa


This note has been making the rounds on Twitter. I hope you get that good cool bike you want for Christmas.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Safety Solution or Noise Pollution?

While I think we all can agree that there are no guarantees in life other than the basic certainty that something, at some point, will kill you and I think most of us also agree that taking reasonable precautions and trying to behave in safe manner is a good and prudent thing. But one person's reasonable precaution is another person's over-reaction. We, as individuals, can only see the world through our own eyes and, as Steely Dan noted, "the things you think are precious I can't understand." There is also the problem that we are much better at detecting and reacting to threats of the moment than we are at seeing long term consequences that result in increased threats to our safety. This, in large part, is why many people think sitting on their couch is safe while riding a bicycle is dangerous, when in fact our comforts are more likely to kill us.

Our individual actions take place within society and in sum alter society and those alterations are not always the desired outcomes. Take, for example, the car alarm. The original idea is that of a device that goes off when someone messes with your car, scaring them off and alerting you and your neighbors to a theft in progress. Now, it seems like darn near every car has a car alarm. I've heard dozens, heck hundreds of them go off. Because of people fumbling with their keys, or a big truck rolling by, or because of a bunch of things other than a crime in progress. I don't think "Oh my, a crime is in progress, I will leap into action to thwart the criminal!" No, I think, and you may as well, "Jeez, some idiot's alarm is going off. Again!"

It is thoughts like these that came to mind when I saw the Kickstarter for Loud Bicycle: Car horn for your bike. I understand the sentiment behind the device and I think the man behind the project, Jonathan Lansey is an earnest, well-meaning guy. I know some cyclists who are enthusiastically backing the project and, of course, BikeSnobNYC gave the project great press by mocking it mercilessly. My own thoughts are more mixed. I think it's too big and too loud and I'm not that confident of it succeeding. But a part of me fears that it will succeed and thus add to the cacophony of our city soundscape. Giving a bicycle the arrogant voice of the automobile isn't the answer I choose.

Christine and I use bells, specifically the classic Crane Bell. It's small, brass, loud and attention grabbing without being obnoxious and it never needs batteries. It's like a little gong.

There are times, however, when I can see the need or desire for something with a more piercing tone and another Kickstarter seems more in tune with my thoughts on warning devices. This device, called an Orp, is a small dual decibel bike horn & warning light. It looks like this:


I like the two levels of noise the Orp has and the attention grabbing light is nice addition as well. I'm not sure I'll be getting one, but I'm thinking about it.

I don't know what the marketplace and the street will decide is the right kind of warning device for a bicycle. What's your solution? Do you ding, beep, whistle or yell? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Velo Orange Sabot Pedals


For the past month Christine has been riding the Velo Orange Gran Cru Sabot Pedals. The folks at Velo Orange were kind enough to send me a set of these pedals to evaluate and as soon as I saw them I knew they should go on Christine's Allant. These pedals are nice. Classy. Like my wife. Like her bike.

Now Christine had never complained about the stock nylon pedals on her bike and in truth those pedals have held up fine on her commutes and adventures. But the Sabots gleam like jewels. After her first few rides with the Sabots Christine noted how smooth the bearings are in the new pedals (Actually she proclaimed them very "spinny"). Each pedal actually has two sets of inboard sealed bearings and an outboard sealed bearing making them very solid, smooth turning and low-maintenance. If the pedals ever do need to be serviced, the sealed bearings can be replaced.

The pedals have a big, flat (actually slightly concave surface) with replaceable grippy pins. They work great with the footwear Christine and I favor, Keen Sandals, but the Sabots would work well with pretty much any shoe. As you can see in the photo below, the Sabots are big pedals, with a bigger platform than the stock pedals they replaced. The additional surface area together with the pins makes for a real solid shoe pedal connection even in wet weather. (Unfortunately, bike commuting in Issaquah in November has given Christine lots of opportunities to verify the truth of this.)



The Sabots are a very nice, high quality flat pedals. Christine likes them a lot and so do I. Russ Roca also has been putting some miles on a set of Sabots and you can read his review here. BTW, Russ takes  much better pictures than I do!

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Sunday, December 09, 2012

RIDE 2: More short fiction about bicycles


Just about a year ago, a story I wrote was published in a book called RIDE: Short fiction about bicycles. If you're a regular reader of this blog you probably know this because I wrote about the book when it came out and I've shamelessly had a link to the book on the right side of this blog ever since. While the book hasn't sold in numbers to keep Stephen King awake at night (which hardly seems fair since Stephen King books have managed to keep me up late on several occasions), the sales of the book have bought me a few cups of coffee which in turn have kept me awake. Since I'm up, I might as well write something.

This is how blog posts happen. This is also how stories happen and another one of my stories made it into another book. This book is called RIDE 2: More short fiction about bicycles and like Ride, it is edited by Keith Snyder. Keith is a damn good editor but he's not exactly original when it comes to picking titles. So it goes. BTW, a friend of mine on Twitter noted that when men get gushy and rave about something the word "damn" shows up a lot. Damn right. My own story, Made with Extra Love, which you may have read in an earlier version on this blog last spring, wound up being a lot stronger and tighter thanks to Keith's editing. I'm sure if I'd given Keith a crack at this paragraph, there would be fewer "damns" in it and it'd be a damn sight better. He's that damn good.

Any collection of stories by different authors is going to have various voices, tones and tales. Not every character is admirable, not every story is a beacon of hope. But the tales run true, which is the ultimate test of fiction. You can tell in the reading that Eric Neuenfeldt knows urban bike shops and bike polo, Jan Maher and Barb Goffman understand the dynamics of families and S.J. Rozan knows love and loss. And Keith Snyder's entry, which I was wary of since it is both poetry and "Part 1", shows that yes, the man knows how to make words behave on a page. Don't let the poetry and Part 1 scare you. And by the way, Jon Billman knows a hell of a lot about the dirt roads of Oklahoma, the line between this world and the next and the importance of a good breakfast.

The common thread in these tales, besides humanity, is bicycles. The machine is more than tubes and tires and chain. In each of these tales, it is the bicycle that takes the character and the reader on a worthwhile journey.

Yes, I'm totally biased but I'm also extremely proud to be sharing the pages of Ride 2 with the other authors whose tales fill this book. I hope Keith keeps this series running for a good long time.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Favorite Bicycle-related Magazines


On Twitter I asked folks this question:

"What is your favorite bicycle-related magazine and why?"

Now this is in no way a scientific survey, vast swaths of people aren't on Twitter and only a tiny fraction of the millions of Twitter users bother themselves with following the 140 character texts from some bike mechanic in Issaquah. By the same token, most of the users of the internet never cross paths with this blog. Given those limitations, however, I found the results to be an interesting look at the kind of folks who actually do read my stuff.

The most-mentioned magazine was Jan Heine's excellent Bicycle Quarterly.  Bicycle Quarterly got raves for its technical articles, real world tests, historical perspective and as one person noted "Jan Heine knows more about bicycles and cycling than I ever will. The ads are cool, too."

The next most oft-mentioned magazines were Momentum and Bicycle Times. As my friend Barb listed these two magazines as a tie for her pick of a favorite citing "reviews of bikes/gear I might actually buy and non-racers profiled." Scott enjoys Bicycle Times' back page "How We Roll" feature and his wife calls it her "get-your-stoke-on" magazine. Momentum got various positive comments for featuring good articles with basic info, lots of images and content for and about women.

Another magazine getting multiple mentions was Dirt Rag. Cited for its nice graphics and punkish attitude, it was also noted that the magazine is "fun to read." I'd add that Dirt Rag also has better depth to its reviews than many of the glossier mags and I love its annual literature contest.

Before I mention my personal favorite magazine, I'd like to call attention to some other excellent, but perhaps less well-known magazines that were mentioned by Twitter folks. Although they are zines and not really magazines (no ads, no gloss, no BS) several people made sure to mention the works of Elly Blue. Elly's zines are little books on a given theme are always nicely done with that indy, DIY, you can do it vibe to them. Go to http://takingthelane.com/ and check out her stuff.

Grant Petersen's Rivendell Reader can be had in electronic form and some back print issues can be found at:  http://www.rivbike.com/product-p/rr.htm Again, interesting stuff for folks interested in the non-racing aspects of bicycles.

By the way, there is certainly nothing wrong with racing bikes but my own interests and those of most folks answering my question tended more towards other aspects of cycling. Of the zippier magazines, Peloton, Switchback, and Pavedmag were cited as having a "not just racing" approach. Rouleur was also called "glorious" and since it features the writing of Paul Fournel, I would have to agree. The racing classic Velonews is still loved as the go to source for racing coverage.

My friend Davey recommends two magazines called Boneshaker, one from the US and one from the UK citing their "beauty in bicycling" and "thrill of words." I tend to trust Davey's judgement in these matters. For those of you looking for a more urban bike vibe, check out Urban Velo, the product of a couple of good ex-DirtRag dudes. Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, COG is another nice city-focused magazine.

But my personal favorite magazine, the one that Christine and I both devour as soon as it comes in the door, is one you won't find at your local newstand. It's Adventure Cyclist and you get it as one of the many benefits of membership in the Adventure Cycling Association. This magazine is not about bicycles, it's about traveling by bicycle and nobody combines great writing, wonderful pictures, solid information quite as well as these folks. This is the magazine that will inspire you to see the world from the seat of a bicycle. If you are not a member of Adventure Cycling, you're missing out on some of the best travel tales available.

OK, I'm sure there are other great magazines out there. If you know of something great that shouldn't be missed, please add a comment.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review -- Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain


George Mahood is the sort of chap you'd like to have a beer with. Actually, I think he's the kind of fellow you'd find yourself buying a beer for after just the briefest of conversations. I say this having never met the man but I feel like I've just had the adventure of a lifetime with my new pal after having read his very funny and surprisingly inspirational book Free Country.

Free Country tells the true story of two young men, George and his friend Ben, who decide to cycle the length of Britain from Land's End to John O Groats. While this ambitious journey has been undertaken by many others, none have done it in quite the same way as George and Ben. Because, you see, they begin with nothing. Well, not quite nothing, they each have a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts (and George later confesses, a camera, a notebook, a pencil and stack of cards containing the words "I am OFFICIALLY a very nice person.")

Over three weeks in September, with a vow to spend no money, they wander their way north like the maddest of monks on the most quixotic of quests. What they find along the way is a country filled with very interesting people, a great number of whom are very nice. Ben and George manage, through charm, wit, fast talking and willingness to do tasks ranging from cleaning, to loading onions, to singing for their suppers, to acquire clothes, food, bicycles and someplace to sleep every night. It is a wonderful adventure and very, very funny. George is a great observer of life and a very witty writer and he and Ben bicker throughout the journey in the way that only true friends can. A few quotes will give you the flavor of this delightful book:

‘Yeah. There’s a place called Neilston in another ten miles.’ ‘Ten miles? Are you kidding me?’ asked Ben. ‘Err, no. It doesn’t look like there’s anything else before there anyway. We’ve done really well today. I reckon we’ll have done over 90 miles.’ ‘WHAT? My god, you are such a slave driver. If I’d known we had done anything near that much, I would have stopped for the day ages ago.’ ‘I know. That’s why I didn’t tell you.’

-----

Before eating the sandwiches we tried a rendition of Silent Night in German that I could still remember from primary school. A guy on a bmx, in his mid thirties, approached with a small paper bag from Greggs. ‘Hi guys. You can have these two donuts if you promise to stop singing.’ ‘You’ve got yourself a deal. Thanks, mate,’ I said.

-----

The descent from Kirkstone Pass was undoubtedly the fastest I have ever been on a bike. It was possibly the fastest that man has ever travelled, in any form of transport. If The Falcon had had wings, I swear she would have taken off. It was one of the scariest, but most exhilarating things I have ever done. Braking wasn’t really an option for me, as The Falcon’s brakes only had any slight effect when travelling at a ridiculously slow speed, or uphill. I just gave in and let The Falcon do what she was best at doing - not stopping.

-----

We explained our challenge and asked if there was anything we could do in exchange for some free food. ‘Oooooh, what do you reckon, Jan? Should we give these two strapping young lads any food?’ she said to her colleague. ‘Yeah, why not. If that one with the skimpy shorts shows us a bit more leg,’ she laughed. ‘That’ll be you then, George,’ said Ben. This was a new low. I was being made to flaunt my body in exchange for food. I felt used. I felt cheap. I liked it. I lifted up the side of my skimpy blue shorts, and exposed my flabby white thighs. ‘Phwoooooaarr,’ said both ladies...

-----

If a nutritionist had analysed what we ate during the bike ride, I think they probably would have concluded that we should not be alive, let alone fit enough to cycle. I read somewhere that beige food is bad for you. Almost everything we ate was a shade of beige; bread, pasta bakes, chips, pasties and bananas. Anyway, all I’m saying is that peas and carrots taste unbelievable if you only eat beige food for 17 days beforehand. Give it a try.

-----

Free Country is one of the funniest books I've ever read and it is a book that celebrates the tremendous kindness that exists in the world. George and Ben completed their journey thanks to the kindness of strangers, but after reading the tale of their journey, I feel that I owe them much more than the meager cost of this book for the laughter and wisdom I've found in its pages. George and Ben, if you ever make it to Issaquah, look me up. I'll make sure you've got a good meal and a place to stay.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Chile to Kili (with a stop in Issaquah, Washington)


On Monday I met Elvis Munis, a young Tanzanain ecology student who currently cycling around the world, unsupported, to raise funds for education for his fellow Tanzanian students. Elvis is currently in paused in Issaquah, and next week Vino Bella, a lovely little wine and espresso bar just two doors south of the Bicycle Center where I work, is hosting an event where Elvis will show slides and videos and talk about his journey and his cause. The event is a fund raiser and as I talked with Elvis and his friend Garth, I became more and more impressed with this quiet young man and his work. I told Elvis I'd do what I could to get the word out.

That is why I'm posting this here. The best tool I have at my disposal is this blog and if you are anywhere near Issaquah next Wednesday, I strongly urge you to come to meet Elvis and hear his story. Below are the details from the announcement on Facebook.

Chile to Kili, Issaquah WA

Meet Elvis Munis, the amazing Tanzanian ecology student who is cycling around the world, unsupported, to raise funds for his education and fellow Tanzanian students.

Chile to Kili was conceived by 26 year old Tanzanian student and naturalist Elvis Munis, a member of the Conservation Resource Center and ardent conservationist and cyclist. As many of you know, Tanzania is a beautiful country filled with unique and wonderful natural ecosystems, but many of these ecosystems are being threatened. Protection and proper management of these systems is critical to not only the plants and animals but to the Tanzanian people who depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods, from food, wood, and medicine to supporting the tourist industry that provides so many jobs. Elvis identified one of the major problems in conservation in Tanzania: the lack of opportunity for Tanzanians to obtain education necessary to manage wildlife and natural resources.

Elvis started his amazing endeavor in South America in January and since then has cycled 11,000 miles, making his way to the Pacific Northwest. We are glad to host Elvis here in Issaquah and welcome you to hear about his journey.

The event is hosted by Vino Bella Wine and Espresso Bar and will include:
- Slide show and videos from Elvis' travels
- Music by Michel Gotz
- Silent auction and raffle

We wish to help Elvis' goal of raising fund for conservation education scholarships. We believe that we can raise $5,000, which will allow Elvis to get his first degree in Conservation Biology as he continues to cycle and raise funds for other students. By supporting education for Elvis and his peers, we will be helping to fulfill their dreams and support critical ecosystems of Tanzania.

Date/Time: Wednesday November 14, from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Venue: Vino Bella. 99 Front Street, Issaquah WA 98027.



I'm helping Elvis out by donating this lovely old Nishiki to his cause:


I wrote about this bike a few months ago, noting that "now I just need to find somebody who needs a good old bike." What we are going to do on Wednesday is raffle the bike off. It'll work like this. We'll have a jar and slips of paper. For $5, you get to print your name and contact info on a piece of paper that goes in the jar. If you pledge $10, two pieces of paper with your name go into the jar. You can pledge as much as you want and every $5 earns you another slip in the jar. At the end of the night, Elvis will pull a piece of paper out of the jar and if your name is on that paper, you win the bike. All the money in the jar goes to Elvis and his fellow students at the Conservation Resource Centre in Tanzania.

Christine and I will be at Vino Bella Wednesday night November 14th to hear Elvis talk about his trip and his work. I hope you can join us and help Elvis keep rolling.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Of Bridges and Herons


I don't know what on earth I was thinking when I agreed to this. I might have been imagining how beautiful it is out on the Olympic Peninsula, how wonderful it would be to spend ten days with Kent, riding our bikes on roads less travelled in early fall when the weather is cool and the leaves beginning to turn, camping by the water in our excellent little tent and watching beautiful sunsets every night. But when Kent suggested we ride to Seattle from our home in Issaquah instead of taking advantage of the bike racks on Sound Transit, and I agreed to try it, I don't know what I was thinking.

Yes, I knew it would involve a long and arduous climb. I knew I'd be riding in a lot more traffic than I am used to. And I knew that there would be bridges to cross, most notably the long I-90 floating bridge that links Mercer Island with Seattle. But I was feeling brave and adventuresome, and I agreed to try it. Now that I have survived the long ascent out of Issaquah and the harrowing descent of Honda Hill and we're making our way along the trail through the Bellevue Slough, I am well aware that I am already very tired and there is some very hilly terrain ahead, and I have used up whatever bravery I started out with going down that hill with trucks roaring by, and the dreaded I-90 bridge is still to come. Of course there is a smaller bridge to cross before this, and as we start to roll across it, I am tense and seriously worried that I have bit off more than I can chew. And what I am thinking is, can we maybe catch the bus with bike racks at the Mercer Island Park & Ride?

Suddenly Kent calls out from behind me. “Look, a heron!” I stop on the bridge, and sure enough, there it is, a blue heron standing still at the edge of the water on its long legs, searching for signs of living things moving in the depths.

I have a sort of history with herons, odd as that sounds. Years ago, living in White Plains, New York and raising two small children, during rare hours of time to myself I'd wander over to a small pond not too far from where we lived. There was a heron who fished there, standing very still in the water, waiting, its beak occasionally darting at amazing speed beneath the surface. I'd sit on the grassy bank and watch the water, watch the heron, watch the clouds, reveling in the peace and quiet, coming back to myself within my days spent as wife and mother. When we moved to Issaquah, I knew I would miss that place, and I would miss the heron. But a salmon stream flows through the center of Issaquah, and one morning as I was walking to work in the early darkness, I saw a tall, slender distinct bird-shape, motionless in the moving water. I stood on the bridge over the creek, quiet and delighted. The heron looked up at me, and returned to its fishing. I came to look forward to seeing the new heron on my early morning walks, and I often did. I would stand for awhile on the bridge, cherishing those moments of pre-dawn companionship, listening to the sound of the creek and looking up at the stars while the heron fished for its breakfast.

What grace a heron has, to venture on slender legs into deep waters, to wait, still and patient, as water swirls around, scanning the depths, perpetually seeking. And yet in flight, they are magnificent, their extended slender bodies, long beaks, and wide blue wingspan evocative of prehistoric ancestors as they soar. Our four-year-old son, in a stage of fascination with dinosaurs, once saw a heron in flight and pointed excitedly. “Pteranodon!” His dad said gently. “No, Peter, that's a heron.” But Peter remained convinced that he had seen a pteranodon, and I'm still not sure he was entirely wrong.

A few years ago, I had ventured out into deep waters of my own, exploring a sense of call to ordination in my church. It is a lengthy and arduous process, which involves evaluation by committees and commissions and boards and so forth at a number of distinct stages. Many questions are asked, and one that was asked of me was: “Are you willing to drive?” What might have been a no-brainer for most people was deeply challenging for me. Having lived car-free with my husband for over two decades, I had to ask myself if that was something I was willing to change, and it was not a small question.

I am convinced that the ways we choose to get around in the world are deeply formative for us. They shape how we experience the world, and how we experience ourselves in the world. They dictate the pace at which we live our lives, they expand or limit our range, our options, and our vision. At least as significantly, the choices we make impact and shape the world around us, for good or ill. Even if we fancy ourselves drivers, we ultimately are all passengers on this fragile blue-green world that sustains our lives as we travel around our star.

I mulled the practical questions. How would I visit hospitals, respond to midnight emergencies, visit people in their homes? In theory, a church that pays significant lip-service, at least, to the responsibilities of environmental stewardship should not be adverse to hiring a walking, biking, public-transportation-using priest. But those ways of getting around, at least on the average, take significantly more time than simply hopping in the car. If I am accustomed to a slower pace of life, the average parishioner today is not, and I suspect that most would not be willing to adjust their expectations for response time to their pastoral needs, especially if they are paying for that time. Of course, Jesus did not drive, and except for a few journeys in boats and a notable ride on a donkey, spent his entire public ministry walking from place to place. It strikes me as odd that people talk a lot about emulating what he did, but not the pace at which he did it, or the mode of travel that enabled those life-changing personal encounters with a woman who reached out to touch the fringe of his garment, a blind man that cried out to him in passing, or a short tax-collector who had climbed a tree to get a better look at him. Paul did not drive either, and managed to spread the gospel throughout the then-known world, covering over 10,000 miles between his own life-changing encounter with God on the road to Damascus and his martyrdom at Rome. In fact, for the vast majority of the church's history, people have celebrated, preached and attended worship services, and have been baptized, counselled, married, and buried without the involvement of the automobile. But a sense of history is a rare thing these days, and as I say, expectations have changed. The work I hope to do is work to which I believe I am well-suited and called, and driving is something that most people would not think twice about. Maybe I need to be more adaptable in order to get where I hope to go. Yet I have never believed that the end justifies the means; I find it much more likely that the means determine the end, and I'm not convinced that our collective reliance on automobile transport is achieving more good ends than otherwise.

I think about the life Kent and I have shared, the many ways we have chosen to live simply and travel slowly and the relationship forged over decades by those choices. I know many couples live happily even as one person drives while the other does not. But I also know that there are threads you pull that can unravel fabric faster and more irrevocably than one intends, bridges we cross that lead to places we only belatedly realize we did not want to go. I do not doubt that we would continue to love one another. But if I were to decide to drive, our relationship and our lives would be changed more fundamentally than by any choice we have made yet, except for the decision to have children. To at least some degree, we would travel at different speeds, in different orbits far less synchronous than the ones shaped by our very real but complementary differing interests and occupations. One can love a comet that passes every few years into one's view in the night sky, but that kind of love does not sustain a life together on the earth. How can I place at risk the most precious thing in my life?

I have been pondering the “Are you willing to drive?” question, and all that hinges on however it will eventually be answered, for weeks. I am turning it all over again in my mind as I wander home from work on a partly wooded trail, when a sudden stunning cry fills the air and a streak of blue wings fills my vision. The heron soars past me, so close I could reach out and touch. Awestruck, I follow his flight with my eyes, my own heart soaring as he turns and ascends on the wind, disappearing over the tops of cedars, flying back towards the creek. I would have missed this, is the thought that comes to me unbidden, and there is no longer a question. I know that I will not drive.

It was probably a thread I pulled that began the unraveling of my ordination process; I will never know for sure. Eventually, I turned aside from a path that promised to become increasingly adversarial, fraught with misunderstandings and dictated by an agenda that had nothing to do with who I was or what I had to offer. I got a green bike and headed out on another road.

All this I am thinking, all of it brushing my mind as swiftly as wings, as I stand on the bridge over the Bellevue Slough, watching the heron scanning the depths of the water. I know that eventually, he will find what he is seeking, or something better. And what I am also thinking now is that yes, I really can do this. With a last glance at the heron, I smile and get back on my green bike, heading across the bridge with Kent for the great I-90 floating bridge, Seattle, and points beyond.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's a good story


Pictures or it didn't happen. That's the saying, isn't it? Well, I've got no pictures, so say this didn't happen. Call it fiction, it's easier that way. Better.

I'm not going to tell you exactly where this happened, I promised a buddy I'd be vague.

So here's what happened. Uhm, didn't happen. I'm still getting the hang of this fiction thing.

My pal Andy and I used to ride together a lot, back when we worked at the same place. I was doing code and he was doing art and we both spent way too many hours per week making pixels move a certain way on certain screens and when we couldn't take it anymore we'd throw the bikes on the rack on the back of Andy's jeep and head for someplace green and rocky and far away. When the roads got real small and eventually ran out we'd park the jeep and hit the trails on the bikes.

Andy is fearless, way better at descending than me and the man can find trails like nobody else. One time, we were riding north of Roslyn, up and over the ridge that I'm sure they've built condos on by now. Andy was in the lead, turning onto smaller and smaller game trails, trails an elk would have a hard time sneaking through but somehow Andy would find a gap just a bit wider than his handlebars and slip on through. Eventually we wound up splashing across the Teanaway river and popping out at the campground there. “Where y'all coming from?” a camper asked. “Roslyn,” Andy replied. “I didn't know there was a trail between here and there,” the camper said. “As near as I can tell,” I told the fellow, “there ain't.”

Eventually the company we both worked for got bought. I moved onto another company and then another company after that and finally got around to making a living with wrenches instead of a keyboard. As I tell my old software pals, the nice thing about working on bikes is that these days most of my problems are hardware problems.

Andy's still a pixel-pusher and he wound up moving to Vancouver. When he's not staring at screens he's out on a bike, flying down trails I'm not sure you could rightly call trails.

He calls me up last week, says he is in town for a conference and has a few hours. Would I like to go riding? Of course I say yes.

Andy says he knows a spot, down near Rainier. Even if I wanted to I couldn't tell you exactly where we wind up going. Andy is navigating with his mixture of GPS, a hand-drawn map he'd gotten from a buddy of a buddy and a kind of dead-reckoning that seemed to involve a lot of staring at the sun and sniffing of the air.

So there we are bushwhacking and by that I mean we are getting whacked by bushes as we push and scramble behind our bikes up one hell of a ridge. At last we clear the crest, well “clear” isn't the right word, we're still surrounded by trees but Andy sees a gap that points down and lets out a whoop with all the certainty of Brigham Young seeing the Great Salt Lake and declaring “this is the place.” Andy hops on his bike and goes tearing down what I'll generously call the trail.

Andy is a fast and fearless descender. I am what I like to call cautious, what Andy likes to call a “weenie.” Weenies are the guys who call 911 when their buddies hit a bear.

And that's what I would have done if we were in cell range instead of on the backside of some ridge somewhere in western Washington.

It takes me a minute to process the scene. Andy is crumpled in heap about six feet downhill from his bike and his arm is sticking out at an angle that doesn't look right at all. The front wheel of his bike is what we in the business call a taco, the result of sudden impact with a very big, very brown, very stunned bear.

Holy shit, that bear is not very stunned. It is getting up.

Holy, holy shit, that bear is not a bear.

I never knew anything that big could move that fast. Even if my legs were working, even if my mind was working, I couldn't have out run it. One second it is a heap, the next instant it has grabbed me and is lifting me off my bike.

The eyes are big and very brown. The creature is big and very brown. It's got to be eight feet tall and it hasn't grabbed me with a paw, it's grabbed me with a hand. It's...

“Sasquatch”

The thought is clear in my head, but there is something else, something odder even then being held and studied by an eight foot tall hominid that any school child could recognize. There is another voice in my head and it is not my own.

 “You won't believe that I'm a bear?”

“Jesus!” I squeak.

“No,” the voice continues but the creature's lips don't move, “you had it right the first time.”

“You talk?” I ask, surprised at my own composure under the circumstances.

“No,” the creature sighs without sighing, “I think, you understand. You talk, it's a more primitive form of communication.”

“Holy...” I begin.

“No,” the creature interrupts, “This is nothing holy or supernatural. I'm just here and so are you. I prefer to stay clear of your kind. Your lives are so...” here the thought seems to be reaching.

“Messy?” I venture.

“Cluttered,” the creature counters. “You make things so cluttered with houses and gadgets and complexity. I don't understand why you need all that.”

“It makes us comfortable,” I explain.

“Well,” the creature thinks at me, “it makes a lot of the rest of us uncomfortable and perhaps if you'd spend more time thinking and less time talking and making yourselves comfortable you'd see you're not actually making yourselves comfortable at all.

“I never thought of it that way,” I confess.

“I'm not surprised,” the creature sniffs, “your kind is not very good at thinking. But enough of this. Let's help your friend.”

Andy is still out cold but the sasquatch takes his twisted arm in one huge hand and grabs his shoulder with the other. There's a quick tug and a sound like a clutch being popped and now Andy's moaning but his arm is pointed the right way.

“He'll be fine,” the creature thinks at me, “but you two have to roll out of here.”

This last thought is not a suggestion, it's an order.

I undo the quick release on Andy's wheel. It's bent, but no spokes are broken and the tire is holding air. I whack it against the trunk of a tree. No change. The creature sees what I'm trying to do and takes the wheel. Grabbing the wheel in his massive hands, he gives it a twist and a tug. Not bad for a first time mechanic. Not perfect, but it'll roll.

“Your friend is coming to,” the creature thinks, “I'm leaving now. Go home. Don't come back.”

“I won't,” I say.

“Good,” the creature thinks as he fades into the gloom of the woods, “just tell your friend he hit a bear. It's a good story.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Of Batteries and Brothers: Bright Lights, No City

I started out looking for a little battery powered USB charger for my phone and my Kindle, some way to keep these devices charged up while I'm out on my bike tours. I actually found two interesting chargers and one hell of a good story.

I've written previously of solar charging and most of the time I use the solar panel to charge a couple of AA NiMH batteries during the day and used those charged cells in an "emergency" cell phone charger to charge the phone or the Kindle. The problem was the little AA cell phone charger I was using had a flaky connection and not enough juice running NiMH cells to reliably charge my devices, so I went questing for something better.

Of course "questing" these days mostly means using Google and Amazon, clicking links and reading reviews. This process led me to the Burro Mobile Charger, a small bright green device with a very low price and (at the time) nothing but good reviews.  It runs on 4 AA cells, it is priced at ten bucks(!) and as you can see below, it charges my Kindle:


Clicking around I also found that Burro has a smart AC charger for AA or AAA batteries. Various devices these days, including a lot of nice LED headlamps and bike lights, use 3 batteries and a lot of chargers (even some so-called "smart" chargers) only charge 2 or 4 batteries. The Burro charger can charge up to 4 batteries but has smart charging for each battery and works fine charging an odd number of cells. This AC charger was only fifteen bucks so wound up adding it to my Amazon order as well.


Burro's product descriptions mentioned their work in Africa and a few more clicks on Amazon led me to Max Alexander's book Bright Lights, No City. Max is the brother of Whit Alexander, an ex-Microsoft guy who went on to be the co-creator of the board game Cranium. Whit's current project is Burro, a company founded to sell affordable goods and services to low-income villagers in Ghana, West Africa. Whit is one hell of a businessman and Max is one hell of a story teller.

The story of Burro is not one of charity, although the folks at Burro are clearly doing good work. It is a story making the world better through business, of working hard, being honest and making a difference. The book also happens to be very, very funny. Whit's big brother Max is a keen observer and he tells the tale with warmth, honesty and humor.

If you have the slightest interest in business, you should read this book. This is the opposite of a dry business tome, it is a real human story with real people solving real problems. Max notes:

Nothing in Africa gets thrown away, because there is no money to buy new, so Africans have learned how to repair just about anything. Ghana’s manufacturing sector may be sadly underdeveloped, but its knowledge base on how stuff works, based on the country’s vibrant repair business, is profound. The console television that Ray the Repairman serviced in our living room was made in America. It seems reasonable to observe a correlation, and perhaps causality, between a society’s ability to fix things and its ability to make things. Could it be mere coincidence that our throwaway culture parallels the demise of our manufacturing sector?

What success Burro achieves comes not from imposing outside solutions, but in learning the ways of the land and the locals. Africa is not America, something that becomes obvious to Max on one of his first Ghanaian car trips with Whit:

“You gotta get the horn thing down,” demonstrating with a short blast while swinging wide around a man on a wobbly bicycle balancing a large piece of lumber on his head. “You know, to a bicyclist there’s nothing worse than jerks who honk when they pass,” I said. “You think a guy on a bike doesn’t know a car is coming?” “Not the point. It’s a conversation,” he said, flipping his thumbs across the horn buttons in a staccato rhythm. The conversation. It has been observed that in Africa the car horn takes the place of the brake, but I think it is more than that. The horn is more like the muse of the African driver. Honking, which Ghanaians call hooting, in the British manner, constitutes a tribal language of its own, with grammatical rules.

Over the course of a few hundred pages Max profiles not just his brother and his business, but various Ghanaians from all walks of life. This is a book filled with fascinating people.

I started out looking for a gadget and I found not just one, but two that I like. Both the little green boxes I bought from Burro do exactly what they should and I'm happy with them. While I'm happy with the gadgets, I really love the book. I learned a lot of things I didn't know about another part of the world and the story is really inspirational. As one Amazon reviewer wrote, "The problem with this book is that it so made me want to go back to Africa!" I think Max's vivid descriptions of some of the difficulties encountered there will keep me from jumping on a plane, but this is a book that will make you think hard about just what you can do to make the world a better place. As Max writes near the end of the book:

"With Burro growing rapidly, Whit can’t yet envision the day when he can spend less time coaxing a green truck through red mud, and more time in Seattle sipping lattes. Burro has taught all of us that while there is a business to be made serving the world’s poor, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not for people who wither in the heat, worship Wi-Fi, and like their food cooked just so. It’s not for me, in short—but I admire my crazy kid brother for making it his."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bike Talk: Build vs Buy

Dean H. Saxe (@n3rd1ty from twitter) asks:

When is it better to build a bike vs. buy complete? Advantages/disadvantages to either?

This is, at its core, a bike geek question. Only folks who geek out on details and like to think about each little part of the bike even think about building a bike. And by build, in general, we're not talking about building completely from scratch, like the guy who built a toaster and wrote a book about it, we're talking about getting a frame from some place, a nice set of wheels from somewhere else, a seatpost, deraillers, shifters, cables, etc and putting it all together. If you really like to geek out, you can build your own frame and lace up your own wheels.

Here, as I see it, are the advantages to "building" your own bike:

You'll get to spend A LOT of time and effort doing it. If you find this kind of stuff fun, you'll have A LOT of fun. You'll get to talk to A LOT of folks about it. You will learn A LOT. Do you know about seatpost diameters and setback? Do you understand the relationship of seat tube angle to front shifting performance? Do you understand what the chain wrap capacity is of various derailleurs? Do you understand the relationships of bottom bracket spindle length and crankset design? These and a few thousand other questions will be asked and answered as you build your bike.

You will stimulate the economy. You will learn by experience and unless you are very, very good, very, very experienced, or very, very lucky, you'll guess wrong and buy some stuff twice. And if you are very, very experienced, you're well past the point of asking if this is a good idea.

The biggest theoretical advantage of building your own bike is that you get exactly what you want. In practice, your bike, like any real object in the real world is constrained by budget, time, and the laws of physics and mechanics.

Despite my pessimistic tone in the past few paragraphs, if you're a true bike geek, you're going to go for it. If that's you, go for it, you'll have a ball.

But here's the other side of the coin and the route I recommend:

Buy something off the shelf with something wrong with it. This is astoundingly easy to do because everything has something wrong with it. And by wrong I mean it has some feature you don't like or that doesn't work for you. Buy the flawed thing and fix the flaw. Or even better, try the flawed thing and see if the flaw really messes up the bike for you. It might not and you might be surprised.

Here are some of the advantages of buying off the shelf:

You can test ride. The bike is right there, you can ride it. You can feel how smooth or rough the shifting is, you can see how tight the brakes feel, and see how the bike handles a corner.

You take advantages of the economies of scale. Guess what? When Trek or Specialized buy a derailleur from Shimano, it costs them less than it costs you or me. Because they buy thousands of them at a time and they put them on thousands of bikes. If you buy one frame and one rear derailleur and one seatpost and so on, you'll spend a lot more money than you would if you buy a whole bike from the big guys who buy in volume.

By the way, those folks at Trek, Specialized, Giant or whomever? They've got a lot of experience figuring out what components work on what bikes. Yeah, they want to hit a price point and that may be why the bike doesn't have component X that you wish it had. So buy the bike and change out component X.

If you want to find a good deal on a bike, find last year's bike on close out. If it was a good bike then, it is still a good bike now even if something newer is out. And your local bike shop is motivated to move it.

The best way to buy a bike's worth of components is to get a whole bike. I once bought an entire bike that was completely the wrong size for me, transferred wheels, drive-train, etc to a proper sized frame and then sold the big frame and came out money ahead on the deal. I bought an entire bike at a thrift store once just to get the pair of Phil Wood CHP pedals that were on it. I came out ahead on that deal as well.

In the end, I think every bike is a bit of mix of build vs. buy. We buy when like the bike more than we like the money it'll cost to buy it. And I think we really make the bike our own not in the buying, but in the ways we tweak it to make it our own and make it last.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Port Townsend Tour: Day 10 Illahee State Park to Issaquah


After breakfast we pack up the bikes. It's a quick ride from Illahee State Park to Bremerton, followed by a lovely ferry ride to Seattle.





The morning fog has burned off by the time we get to Seattle.



We work our way through the busy streets of the city, stopping to refuel at the Specialty's Bakery. One of the shortest arguments I make in favor of bicycle travel over car travel is the quality of the fuel stops. Would you rather stop at a bakery or a gas station?


We roll out of town on the Mountains to Sound Greenway.


We roll through the tunnel.


And stop to take in the view.


Now it's time for another big bridge crossing.



The trail across Mercer Island is quiet and car-free.


We roll over the bridge to Bellevue.


There's a good bit of climbing but there's a reward at the end.


The last few miles are a long coast down Newport Avenue.




And we're back on the home trails of Issaquah.


It's very fun to travel, but somebody sure missed Christine.


She missed him, too. It's good to be home.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Port Townsend Tour: Day 9 Kitsap Memorial State Park to Illahee State Park


Today's trip has us rolling along the lovely Big Valley Road and returning to Pouslbo to resupply at Sluys Bakery.




I've been working harder than usual this day to keep up with Christine and the back end of my bike feels especially bouncy, so I deduce that my rear tube has developed a slow leak.



We stop in Poulsbo, get our baked goods and I determine that yes, I have a thorn in my tube and a bike pump that has been neglected too long. You can read the full story here.


After changing the flat in the lovely park by the marina, I strap our new, big pump (which Christine has christened "UffDa") to my rear rack and we roll out of town.




We've decided that rather than backtrack to Bainbridge Island, we'll head south and revisit Illahee State Park, where we'd camped last fall.



After going more than a year without a puncture, I manage to get my second flat of the day by running over a small tack on the road to Brownsville. It only takes a few minutes to patch the tube and a few strokes from the mighty UffDa to get us rolling again.



We'd conveniently repressed the memory of the huge damn hill we have to climb to get to the park and as we're pushing our bikes up this beastly bit asphalt, a portly fellow on a big Harley coming the other direction comments that we're "supposed to be riding those things, not pushing." Christine, who is more saintlike than me, does not reply with the first two words that come to her mind, while I mumble something about "big talk coming from a fat man with a motor." I'm sure Mr. Harley isn't really interesting in our thoughts on the matter even if he could hear us over the over the rumble of the big bike's engine.






In camp we typically run three loads of water through the Kelly Kettle, the first being used to re-hydrate the evening meal and the second two going into the thermoses for coffee and cocoa. Tonight's dinner is frugal and filling, instant Rice-a-Roni with a can of chicken tossed in for added protein. And, of course, we have bakery cookies for desert.