Thursday, August 25, 2011

First time Overnight by bike

in which seemingly dumb decisions turn out just fine...

I've been longing - for years - to do an overnight bike trip. I decided this was the summer but with the approach of the new school year, my window was narrowing, until last week when I reached the "now or never" point. To tell the truth, I was scared to go, and finding excuses why I couldn't/shouldn't. But T - bless her - kept prodding, and I knew I'd regret letting my fears of the unknown keep me from this dream. So with a good weather forecast and three days open, I finally packed the panniers. I had a lot of options and still didn't know for sure until the morning I left which I'd choose. I was intrigued by Leafslayer's recent Lolo Pass/east side of Mount Hood trip, but was a little worried it might get too hot on the east side, and frankly wanted a little less solitude for my first trip, especially since I'd be alone.

In the end, I decided to ride the Max light rail to the end of the line in Hillsboro, and head to Astoria and the Oregon Coast via Vernonia. That would give me a chance to ride the 20-mile Banks-Vernonia trail. And if the loaded riding and 1000' climb to Stub Stewart State Park did me in, I could call it good there and head home the next day. This was the route, from the Portland Bureau of Transportation's great bike route site.

Pictures from my trip are here, as well as day-by-day description of my route. I started writing that description here, and realized that where I went/what I did was not the essence that made this trip so special for me. In hindsight I probably rode too much and didn't stop and linger as much as I should have. But I know myself well enough that it doesn't surprise me when I push myself too hard - I ended up covering exactly 300 miles, driveway-to-driveway, in three days. And no, that was not planned, just a kind of freak round number coincidence. I realized that without company - someone to talk to and share the experience with - I was free to do whatever I wanted, and what I really wanted to do was ride. And without having to get home - or anywhere, really - by a certain time, I also realized that someone in reasonably good fitness can ride a lot in a day, even carrying a load. Yes I was tired at the end of each day, but it was a good tired, a satisfied tired, not a dropping from exhaustion tired. For the most part I was glad to be on the bike, and my destinations came when I was glad to get off the bike. In that way, this first bike camping trip was exactly what I hoped it would be.

One thing that finally got me out the door was deciding this first trip would be a learning experiment. Since I've backpacked and climbed quite a bit, I had the gear and experience to travel self-contained. I just hadn't done it by bike. I knew I could always turn around, and if I had some irreparable mechanical breakdown, it wasn't like I would be out in the wilderness. I could get home somehow. The hardest part - truly - was getting out the door. The rest of the trip just unrolled from that first pedal stroke, and it alll went remarkably smoothly for something with little real planning.

Here's a short list of what worked

My Bike: I took my regular commuter, a 1986 Nishiki Riviera GT. Friction shifting, 27" wheels. The ride was smooth, and I had no mechanical issues at all.

Luggage: I have a Bruce Gordon rear rack that carried 2 smallish "vintage" Overland panniers. On front I have a Nitto rack that held an Acorn handlebar bag. Other than strapping my quilt and flip-flops onto the rear rack, these carried everything I needed with room to spare. I forgot to weigh it all before I left, but I did when I got home, and figured that with the food I took and ate, I was probably just under 30lbs when I left home, not counting water.

Sleeping: I took my homemade Ray-Way 2-man tarp tent (left the bug net at home), a ultralight Thermarest 3/4 inflatable pad, and my homemade Ray-Way quilt (strapped on top of rear rack.) I had tons of room under the tarp and slept very comfortably. I had to scout sticks for the tarp the 1st night, but for the second I found a long piece of 1/2" pvc along the road and used the saw on my Leatherman to cut two 4' lenghts which I strapped onto the rack and took to camp with me. But that night I ended up stringing the tarp between 2 trees. For backpacking, I use walking poles to pitch the tent. For future bike touring I can see the value in getting about six 18" sections of aluminum tent pole to avoid the nightly stick hunt.

Cooking/eating: I took my Snowpeak Gigapower stove, which with the cartridge nested inside a Snowpeak titanium Trek 700 pot which nested inside a Trek 900 pot. I could use the smaller pot to brew a bunch of tea and have dinner going in the larger pot. Everything nested together in one nice light compact little bundle. For both dinners I ate Trader Joes Indian food retorts over Uncle Bens boil-in-a-bag rice. Both packages fit in the larger pot at the same time and took about 10-15 minutes to heat. Very tasty, very filling. For breakfast I went with Russ and Laura's suggestion of PBJ wrapped in a tortilla. I also brewed a big pot of tea first thing each morning. During the day I didn't really stop for lunch, but would stop late morning somewhere for coffee and a pastry, then throughout the day munch fruit/nut trail mix (raw nuts), whole wheat fig bars, and maybe stop and get a banana. I felt like I was regularly shoveling food in, which is why I really like handlebar bags.

Water:  I'm kind of a camel. I tank up on tea in the morning and sip throughout the day.  I consciously decided for this trip to only mount one water bottle. I had a pretty good idea I'd never be more than 30 miles from a store or park where I could refill, and only carrying one bottle would force me to get off the bike and maybe also meet some people. For the most part it worked. Surprisingly, the driest section of the ride was the last leg, between Yamhill and Hillsboro, when I was coming back into town. I leaned over the fence and filled up at a nursery irrigation sprinkler.

Clothes: I wore my Keen commuter sandals with light wool socks for riding and they were great. Off the bike I wore flip-flops. I decided for this ride not to dress like a cyclist. It was an NLR (No Lycra Ride). mostly this was an experiment in comfort, but I also had a theory that drivers would see me differently if I dressed like a tourist on a bike as opposed to a cyclist. most of the time I wore lightweight nylon Patagonia Gi II shorts and a puckerwear SS shirt. In the cool of the morning I wore a lightweight Patagonia R1 longsleeve wool zip shirt with my Marmot DriClime windshirt and some nylon running pants. I was as comfortable on my bike as I've ever been - this worked for me. I also had along my old Burley rainjacket; it stayed in the bottom of the pannier.

And I took Bagbalm and used it liberally. It worked - 'nuff said.

As an experimental ride, this was a roaring success. Getting this under my belt has given me a tremendous confidence boost to continue ranging out on overnighters. I scared myself away from returning over the higher and more remote pass up the Nestucca River, opting instead for the longer but more moderate Little Nestucca route. But already, a week later, I'm planning on how and when I can go back and ride that road.

I want to thank Kent (Mountain Turtle) Peterson, Michael (Leafslayer) Johnson, and Russ Roca & Laura Crawford (The Path Less Pedaled) who all, unknowingly, provided inspiration and encouragement with their practical and down to earth trip reports and touring advice, most of which can be summed up by saying, "Don't worry about the bike, don't worry about the gear, just get out there and ride." I did. I will.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Praise of Ritual

If you are oppressed, wake up about
Four in the morning; most places
You can usually be free some of the time
    If you wake up before other people.

William Stafford, from "Freedom"

When I say to my wife "variety is overrated" and she rolls her eyes at me as she searches her library of cookbooks for a new recipe, that's a telling snapshot of one of the differences in our personalities and one of the great ways we balance each other. I like routine, and while I admire spontaneity, it doesn't come easy to me. I'm also aware that one man's ritual is another's OCD.

I'm a morning person, by necessity and temperament; bike commuting forty-five minutes to school and showering in time to be in my classroom by 8 A.M. means my days start early. I suppose I could sleep until the last moment, throw on some clothes, grab a pop-tart and roll out (for that matter I could do what nearly everyone else does, stay up late watching crap on TV, buy a second car, and drive to work every day). I prefer my ritual.

For nine months of the year, Monday thru Friday, I wake at 5:20, eat a breakfast of organic steel-cut oats, toast, tea, and grapefruit juice. I take my time with this part - it's a ritual, after all - since it's the only time of the day that I'm present and awake and the house is quiet, so I read as I eat. I find this short time is a good time to read short things. For instance, while the bible is a big book, it's easy to read 3-4 chapters a day over breakfast, and get through it in a year. I've done that a couple times and probably will again, but I'll need a new translation to keep it fresh. Recently I've been starting each day with poetry. Several years a go I picked up a copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry from a free pile left behind by a retiring art teacher colleague. As a recovering English Major, I'm plenty familiar with all things Norton, but I also realized that with the exception of smatterings of Whitman, Eliot, Yeats, and a couple others, modern poetry was an unfilled gap in my education, so I started reading. Three years, 1500 pages, and countless footnotes later, the gap is filled. I enjoy poetry, and looked forward to this ritual; one could do a lot worse than starting each day with oats, good poetry, and a ten-mile bike ride. I'd often think about a poem or run a couple lines in my head like a mantra as I turned the pedals. Usually I didn't, but still found the poems often set the tone for the day. Some poets were hard plowing - like reading Leviticus/Numbers/Deuteronomy in the bible. I know Ezra Pound is a giant of The Canon, but when the explanatory footnotes take up more page space than the text, you know you're in deep waters and you start looking for shore (ie, who's next?) Others, like Hopkins or Snyder, were pure delight, and their poems were the ones that stayed with me all day.

Finishing the anthology probably puts me in some obscure and exclusive group that numbers less than a dozen fools who read The Whole Thing including introduction, author profiles, and all the footnotes. I tell my own students life is too short to read bad books. This was not a bad book, and a ritual I'm glad I did. Next hole to fill: War and Peace?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Praise Of Unnecessary Errands

The edge of the world
is just across the threshold
the unknown that close

When I was 18 and working as a cook at Old faithful Lodge in Yellowstone Park, I once rode my bike  - a red Montgomery Wards 10-speed - to the town of West Yellowstone for a burger and a milkshake. That was 62 miles round trip, and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain coming back. I was so tired after the climb past Firehole Cascades that I pulled over at a riverside picnic spot and took a nap on a table. But it was a really good burger, and probably one of the most memorably scenic rides of my life.

This last Tuesday I rode 25 miles round trip to buy the new Gillian Welch CD (which I highly recommend, btw). It's not that I needed to ride 25 miles to get it; I could have given my money to the faceless BigAppleiTunesStoreCorporation without leaving my seat. Or I could have done what I normally do and take a short ride in support of my Local Independent Record Store. But I had a gift card from my mom and no pressing business, so I went for a ride. I got some fresh air, saw some good scenery, explored a new trail, supported some artists who I think make the world a better place, and came home with two really fine collections of music (I also picked up Pat Metheny's new CD, What's It All AboutBonus points - name the 60's song he covers that contains the title line, the actor who starred in the original version of the movie, and the actor who starred in the recent remake.)

I don't much like driving, and despise having to run errands by car. But running unnecessary errands by bike, like picking up some great new music, or finding out if the pour-over coffee at Coava really is better than french press (I think it is), or checking out the new food cart pod on the Springwater Trail - those kinds of errands feel more like a blessing, like something that makes my day richer. I am thankful for unnecessary errands that get me out the door and into the world, and that add to my community rather than subtract from it.

Read, Ride, Repeat.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Laudem

"In Laudem" is Latin for "In Praise of," and I want to use it as a jumping-off point for an exploration of things and experiences for which I am thankful. I had a mini-epiphany yesterday and realized that ignoring the richness of each day was an invitation to discontent. It's a hazard of busy-ness and perhaps a crime against the community - family, friends, neighbors - I share my life with.

Edward Hirsch, in his book Poet's Choice - a collection of poems and commentaries that originally appeared as columns in Washington Post Book World - says that "praise restores us to the world again, to our luckiness of being. It is one of the permanent impulses of poetry." In the same chapter (a discussion of Gerard Manley Hopkins "God's Grandeur" which I wrote about when I began this blog) he quotes Auden, who says, "there is only one thing that all poetry must do; it must praise all it can for being and for happening."

So in that spirit - In Laudem...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ronde redux

One day in April
De Ronde Portlandia
Hell of the Northwest

For the fourth year in a row I've joined a growing group of local riders for the word-of-mouth "unofficial" De Ronde Porlandia. I wrote about the ride two years ago here. The appeal is hard to explain unless you're the kind of person - like me - who finds a certain joy in climbing hills. If you know the meditative feeling of slowly gaining altitude, you get it. And for me it doesn't matter much whether it's on foot or on a bike. I remember a couple long days on my Nepal trek back in 1980, switchbacking with a full pack up out of valleys for 5000' to reach some ridge top campsite or village. The rhythm of breath and step, the burn in the thighs and salt in the eyes - it's all a reminder of how well the body knows its work. I've climbed lot sof mountains with lots of wonderful people. As a Mazama climb leader I had the pleasure of helping lots of folks make their first real "climb." It seems to me climbers can be divided into two types; the "dashers" who just want to get to the top, and the "plodders" who enjoy moving up the mountain. I'm in the latter camp, and I prefer the company of those who aren't feverish for the summit.

Not many would call "De Ronde" a fun ride, but if you like to go up, there is a joy in sharing the burn with six-hundred other grimpeurs.

The build-up starts in early April when someone forwards the announcement that once again, there will not be an official Ronde on the Sunday following the Tour of Flanders (the inspiration for de Ronde and source of the kitty mascot.) This year the UCI didn't coordinate their schedule with the unorganizers, so the date fell on the weekend of the Amstel Gold, which was perhaps more appropriate for reasons which have to do with certain teams and their malted beverage sponsors. In short, de Ronde is about climbing, but it's also about beer. The day of the ride was mostly clear and windless, with highs forecast for the upper low 50's - perfect. I rode from home, and by the time I hit the NW industrial area, it was like a gathering of the clans, with kitted-out riders converging from all corners of the city. 
I chatted a bit the last few blocks with a long-legged rider on a single-speed Bianchi. He'd never done the ride before. No fooling? De Ronde has been done fixed, but I hear the guy left his knees on Council Crest under a rock somewhere. On this ride, the derailleur is your friend.

College Place
The last three years I rode the Nishiki tourer - it's got fenders and is my only road bike with a front triple. That 26x28 combo comes in handy on this ride. But I also felt like I needed the lower gears to push a heavier bike uphill, and lots of guys ride it all on a compact double. Which I don't have. But I thought maybe the Trek 560 might be fun to ride. It was, but 38x26 was my lowest gear. I was able to ride Brynwood and College, but not without pulling into a couple driveways and spinning short recovery laps gasping like a fish. Still, I was happy to be on something a little more sporty. Besides, steep hills have been tackled on steel for decades.

I heard rumors of a keg at the top (unfounded), but with the team affiliation of the person definitely not responsible for this ride, beer was obviously on a lot of riders' minds.

The person definitely not responsible for organizing this ride


More Beer
Like years past, finishing time was about four hours, and the party on top all smiles.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The sun peeked out for a day or two earlier in the week. March set a couple records in Portland this year. Most days with precipitation (30 - the previous record was 27) and latest date to hit 60 degrees for the first time in the year - I think we barely squeaked it in on March 31. but we're back in full wet wintery/spring 40's and wet mode now. In commemoration:

April 14

Low gray sky cold rain
A shivery soggy joy
I'd still rather ride

April 15

Worms on the trail
it's OK I'll weave my way
while you find new homes

Read, Ride, Repeat.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Redwing's five-note song
in morning's merciful light
bids winter farewell

Friday, March 4, 2011


Tarik Saleh says
ride your bike don't be an ass
what more do you need?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hit and Run

In which I get Smacked in the Head and Dream of Malcolm Gladwell and Al Qaeda

I started this a couple weeks ago. I violates the central Baiku principles of brevity and simplicity, and on a couple occasions I fear skates dangerously close to old-white-guy-manifesto territory. But whatever - I got it out of my system.

Saturday I got out for a longer ride. I had planned on hooking up with some team members for a jaunt out to Sauvies Island, but at the meet-up I found out JB had pushed the start a half-hour later and since my time window was kind of narrow, I headed out alone. At first I figured I’d just stick to the initial destination and maybe we’d cross paths there, but the nice thing about riding alone is being able to follow whims, and some quiet climbing was appealing, so I left Hwy 30 and headed up Saltzman to Skyline, and then out to the “Rocky Rabbit” loop. I ended up being a really nice ride, and I even got to play leapfrog with a small pack of Grundel bruisers.

I returned through St. Johns and right where Willamette Blvd turns into Rosa Parks, I was t-boned and laid out into the street by a runner who crossed without looking up. I was a little bruised, a little mad, but generally OK. The guy was in a hurry and after asking if I was all right, he continued with his run. I guess he was really lucky I wasn’t a car. It was a weird encounter and has me thinking a lot more about the price we pay when cars, bikes, and pedestrians come into conflict.

Last year, 62 pedestrians were killed by cars in Oregon, a big jump from the previous year. I say, “killed by cars,” but the car is, of course, just the instrument. I’m trying to be conscious of my language whenever the subject of car/bike/pedestrian conflicts comes up. The other day I went off (alone, in my head) on a poster on a cycling blog who claimed, “Cars hate bikes.” Whatever. Some drivers really have a hard time sharing the road, and some may even “hate” cyclists as a group. But we dilute the real issue when we lay the blame on an “cars.” A car is just a tool, like a bike or a hammer, and any of them can do damage if wielded recklessly.

That said, I’m also reluctant – especially since my “run-in” with the pedestrian – to lay a blanket of blame on all the drivers behind the wheel of the cars that killed those 60 pedestrians. When a cyclist or pedestrian is hurt or killed by a car, my instinct, like that of many cyclists, is to lay the blame on drivers, assuming inattention, alcohol, phones, or outright aggression. Last week we had a cyclist seriously injured by a driver who turned around to attend to her dog and veered into the bike lane. But Saturday’s encounter was a reminder that quick judgments that always blame the driver are often false, and the whole story is, of course, more complicated. If I had been in a car instead of on a bike when that runner collided with me, and if – God forbid – he’d been killed, it would have been his “fault.” I have to assume that at least some of those pedestrians killed last year made a similar mistake with tragic results. According to Portland police bureau traffic division captain Todd Wyatt, who spoke at the Active Transportation Summit in Portland last week, “most of the people killed last year who were pedestrians, most of the time it's the pedestrian's fault. I'm sorry but I want people to know that so they cross safely." A lot of people view that as an extreme example of victim-blaming, but he’s basing his information on the actual accident investigations.

And if you want to argue his point – ask yourself why. I think for too many of us (passionate cycling advocates) our agenda sometimes gets in the way the truth. What we really all want – and I think most people who drive cars would agree with this – is less people getting hurt and killed on the road. We have to know why it’s happening – beyond the simplistic “cars are coffins” sloganeering – before we can find real solutions. Captain Wyatt may bring a police bias to the issue, but that may also include knowledge from which we all can benefit.

Another story: like most cyclists, I also drive. Last week I had to run some errands in inner SE Portland on a dark, rainy evening. Negotiating the narrow side streets in the most cyclist-dense section of town, with parked cars blocking my view around corners, I was aware of how easy it would be to miss seeing a rider or pedestrian, especially if they were unlit and/or in dark clothing. And if I hit someone, like others drivers involved in similar “accidents,” I have no doubt I’d be vilified by some in the “cycling community.” But I’m one of them too. Aren’t I? Again, it’s too easy, too simplistic, to frame the argument as “cars vs. bikes” especially when most of us spend time in both camps.

Getting behind the wheel of a car is scary – and it should be. I wish more people were scared to drive. Cars can be incredibly destructive machines. I’ll be the first to admit that the consequences of a mistake or aggression behind the wheel usually have far more serious consequences than the same action taken by a cyclist. I dread causing an injury – or worse – to someone while I’m behind the wheel. And it would be no consolation to me if it was the walker or rider’s “fault.” I have no doubt that each driver who was behind the wheel when those 60 pedestrians were killed will never ever forget that moment. It’s a tape that will continue to replay often without warning and beyond will. Some may, in the future, suffer symptoms of PTSD. And who was at fault makes no difference at all – blame brings no peace - in terms of the permanence of the loss to those left behind.

So what do we do? First, we drive or ride or walk like our lives and the lives of others depend on it, because they do. What we do – including how we choose to get around - can and does profoundly affect our community every day. I’ve been thinking a lot about that – especially since reading this: The whole speech is good. But around the middle of page 9, Malcolm Gladwell begins discussing the difference between Private good and Public good, and the importance – the necessity – of investing in Public Good. It’s what Andrew Carnegie did when he built those wonderful libraries we still have all over the country. It’s what Kennedy called for in his famous “What you can do for your country” speech that launched the Peace Corps. And it’s what bike infrastructure is doing in creating safer, healthier, and more livable communities – whether you actually ride or not. Those focused on Private good ask “What’s in it for me?” while those who seek the Public Good know that’s the wrong question, and are willing to give – in time, taxes, and toil – to make their communities better.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 killed 2819 people. Since that day the U.S. has spent billions upon billions of dollars to make us “safe” from terrorism. In the process, the “War on Terror” has become perhaps the world’s biggest growth industry But safety is, of course, an illusion, and the fact is that even if we hadn’t gone to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, or created a Department of Homeland Security, or started body scanning airline passengers and conducting warrant-less wiretaps – if we had done nothing but bury the bodies and grieve - each of us would still, today, be far more likely to walk out the door and get killed by a car than by a terrorist. In 2008 nearly 38,000 people were killed in car accidents in the U.S. That’s about one every 12 minutes, and it’s the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 2 and 34. The carnage costs each of us about $1000/year, and the total annual bill is about $165 billion. Each year 2 million Americans suffer permanent disability in a car crash.

What’s my point here? And what does this have to do with terrorism (or Malcolm Gladwell for that matter?) 9/11 was a horrific tragedy, and I don’t mean to imply that we, as a nation, didn’t suffer and shouldn’t grieve collectively. And of course we have a responsibility to attempt to ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again. But at some point we need to ask the hard questions about how far we’re willing to take our anti-terrorism campaign, and whether what we’re doing is worth what it’s costing us, financially, as well as in personal freedom. For ten years now, it seems as if anti-terrorism measures have received a blank check. Businesses are thriving by thinking up new ways to make Americans “safer” from terrorists, for which the government apparently just takes out another line of credit. But are we safer? Do you feel safer? Does the world look safer? Ten years later, what’s the return on our investment?

In all the discussion regarding the causes and cures of our current financial crises, it’s only recently that anyone is hinting that perhaps we might begin to crawl out of the debt hole by scrutinizing more closely our military spending. I hope this leads us as a country to begin to have the discussion we need to have about what “homeland security” really means.

I would propose that if we’re really interested in protecting American citizens, there’s lower hanging fruit than chasing Al Qaeda around the wilds of central Asia. Instead, it’s time to shift our focus to investing in substantive changes that bring real results that will not only make us safer, but will improve our quality of life and the way our communities feel.

This is where Malcolm Gladwell comes in. In the speech referenced above, and in the introduction to his book Outliers, he talks about the town Roseto, Pennsylvania. This was a place founded by immigrants from Italy and named after their Italian hometown. Gladwell discusses them because of the remarkable physical health of their community. The people of Roseto showed almost no incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer – the things that kill people before old age kills them. And their health, after intense study, could not be attributed to diet, exercise, locale, genetics, or any other medically understood factor. Ultimately, The people of Roseto were found to be healthier because they were a community, in the true sense of the word. They went to church together, raised their kids together, ate together, celebrated together, sat on their porches in the evening together, and grieved together. They lived in little houses set right next to each other and were in constant contact with each other on a daily basis – they lived, in Gladwell’s words, “cheek by jowl,” and the fact that they shared their lives as a community made them physically more robust.

Now Mr. Gladwell doesn’t mention bicycles or sidewalks or cars, but it isn’t hard to fill in those blanks. Today, Roseto is no longer any different than the communities that surround it. It no longer has the unique community feel, and its residents suffer the same health maladies of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that are killing Americans all over the country. But the lesson they left behind can show us a path to Homeland Security that no amount of military spending can buy.

Ask politicians and transportation officials what their number one priority is and they’ll most likely tell you that it’s safety. But look at how the transportation dollars are actually spent, and it’s pretty clear that safety, while a priority, takes a back seat to the speedy and efficient movement of people and goods. The bulk of transportation money is going to new interstate projects, bigger bridges, and wider freeways – in other words, increasing the car-carrying capacity of our nation’s roadways. And the ugly truth behind this - the truth I suspect we all know but rarely speak – is that the sacrifice of ten of thousands of lives destroyed on our roads each year is a price we have been willing to pay for the privilege of driving wherever and whenever we want. Think about it – just one-hundred years ago car crashes didn’t exist. Now, you would be hard pressed to find someone in this country who hadn’t lost someone close or had a family member permanently disabled in a car wreck. Road carnage is ubiquitous; it’s part of our shared culture now. We drive by, shake our heads, and press down on the accelerator once we’re past the flashing lights.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. City planners around the country are waking up to the improved quality of life offered by intentionally designing roadways to accommodate all users – not excluding drivers, but finally recognizing that community and road planning that leaves out pedestrians and cyclists ends up creating communities that are unhealthy, unsafe, and ultimately self-destructive. Increasingly, people are fleeing the auto-centric suburbs and bedroom communities surrounding our most vibrant cities, and seeking out neighborhoods where they aren’t required – by the design of the community itself – to get in the car every time they need to buy a loaf of bread or want to dine out at a local restaurant.

The time is ripe for transportation planners, elected officials, and community activists to put their heads together and realize that investing in infrastructure that allows people the choice to not drive is a win-win proposition. We create jobs. We create vibrant neighborhoods that people want to live in and businesses want to locate to. We improve safety. We reduce health care costs. We create community – and maybe along the way, we create some new Rosetos – places where people begin to get to know their neighbors, share their streets, and live happier, healthier lives.

A final story. Twice in my life I have been called before a Grand Jury to testify as a witness to a crime. The first time was because I saw a young man toss a handgun in a hedge as a cop was making a U-turn to question him. The cop didn’t see this because he was in a car; I did because I was riding by on my bike. I pointed it out to the officer as he was questioning the young man and when his partner found the gun, the guy was cuffed and taken a way. The second time happened because I was walking in my neighborhood and a neighbor of mine had her money snatched at our local ATM. She yelled, and I chased the woman who snatched the money, shouting that I’d continue chasing until the police showed up. She stopped, the police came, and she was arrested. I told her “not in my neighborhood, you don’t.” Again, if I had been in a car, this never would have happened. My point here isn’t to brag at all – in both situations I don’t remember thinking about what I did; it just seemed like the right thing to do. I was taking care of my neighborhood and my people. But I also know that the chances are slim I would have noticed anything if I had been driving, and if I had, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have bothered stopping – most people in cars don’t.

I would propose that for a lot less money than we’re currently spending in Afghanistan and Iraq right now, we could begin to create communities where people want to walk and bike. Calming traffic and making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclist means more eyes on the street and less crime. Neighborhoods where people feel safe are neighborhoods where people care about each other, and where they want to protect and foster that feeling of community they are building together. If you ask me, that’s the true definition of Homeland Security.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Say Hi

Old couple with dog
two friendly girls on bikes
love when they say hi

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

East Wind - Day 3

Bitter cold headwind
black pyramid of Mount Hood
rides a corral sky

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Curbside Recycling

Riding home Monday evening I spotted this old Schwinn mountain bike parked on someone’s parking strip. A beater to be sure, but a perfectly functional beater, and in Portland, even beaters parked unlocked and unattended are thief magnets, so I rode by, glancing over my shoulder as I wondered what was up. It was then I realized that some other folks on the street had already put out their garbage and recycling. So I went back, leaned my bike on a tree, and knocked. The guy who opened the door, noticing my helmet and garb I suppose, said simply “Please, God, take it.” That was all the invitation I needed so I thanked him and walked the final blocks home with 2 bikes – one with very flat tires. One concerned driver stopped to gruffly ask “Is that your bike?” I’m not sure which one he figured didn’t match me, but I briefly explained what was up. It was good to know at least one person would question the shadiness of someone wheeling 2 bikes down the sidewalk.

The bike is a 1986 Schwinn High Sierra. I recognized it immediately as I was riding by – the Charlie Cunningham designed roller-cam brakes are pretty distinctive – because I just picked up a nearly identical bike two months ago Actually, the first one isn’t technically ‘mine” as I only brokered the deal and it’s owned by the new bike club – “Wheelz” – that Mark A and I started at our school. That bike costs $40 and while rideable now, will supply hours of wrenching experience for our budding adolescent bike mechanics.

Both bikes are the same “bronze” color with chocolate brown rear triangle, mostly Suntour friction drivetrains, and plenty of braze-ons for racks and fenders. The specs can be found here. The one I just picked up is way too tall for me – the seat tube is 23.5” C-T, but I don’t really care; I just want to get it back out on the road or trail. Speaking of trails, in my poking around for info on this bike, I came across this interesting tidbit. Seems Ned Overend won the Pacific Suntour MTB series in 1984 riding for Schwinn on a stock High Sierra (though by 86 he had a custom Paramount MTB for racing.) So while the bike may fit the “clunker” status by today’s dual suspension-crabon fibre-disc brake-200mm travel standards, it carries a fine pedigree.

Once I got the bike home and looked it over, I discovered some pretty interesting modifications, highlighted in the pictures below. Obviously, the person who owned this bike was tall and rode it in the dark. The 12V headlight is huge – I think it’s a motorcycle headlight – and the customized heavy steel plate mount is tapped directly into the handlebar, not clamped on. Initially, I was stumped by the customized padded platform bolted to the water bottle bosses. A step to help mount the bike? Combined with the mismatched pedals – plain cheapo newish platform on drive side, original Suntour beartrap with custom heavy-duty adjustable rubber toe strap lag bolted to custom made steel plate on left – I thought the bike had been modified by some giant machinist who for some reason could only pedal with his left leg. Neighbor Paul solved the mystery, pointing out that the plug on the end of the wires from the headlight would just reach a motorcycle battery installed on the platform above the bottom bracket. And then there’s the grease fittings. The one below the bottom bracket may be stock – some 80’s MTB’s had them – but I’ve never seen one on a headtube. Who was that guy? There’s also a magnet on the front wheel and one on the left crank, so whoever he was he tracked his mileage and cared about cadence.

I’m a believer in beausage, and this bike’s got it in spades, though of a very workmanlike quality - more like a 50-mission B-17 than a vintage Mercedes. It may be ugly as sin, but someone put a lot of love and sweat into making this bike their vehicle, and they obviously rode the heck out of it.

Another thing I noticed is the small chainring seems to have the most worn teeth. If the rings are all original, it’s no doubt from hauling that battery around. And I’ll bet dollars to donuts he pulled a trailer too.

It still gets to me that these early mountain bikes, or ATB’s, or utility bikes, or whatever you want to call them, get so little respect. This bike was on the trash heap and headed for a meltdown, though a few hours work on my part should have it ready for another 25 years of faithful service with only basic maintenance. Meanwhile, a Schwinn Varsity from the same year, with a gaspipe frame, considerably lower grade components, steel suicide wheels (at least in Portland; you’re just asking for it if you take those out in the rain) and a steel cottered crank, will fetch $100-$250 from the fixter crowd. And while a Varsity is fine, for what it is, I’ll take the High Sierra any day.

Final point: 1986 and the bracketing years were a helluva time for bikes, if my basement is any indication. Between T’s Bridgestone T-700, my Trek 400, Trek 560, Nishiki Riviera GT, The Miyata Terra Runner, and Big C’s Japanese Bianchi, we’re rocking the mid-80’s bike boom.


"Suntour XC-Power" "Cunningham Design"

Is that a step? The customized battery platform...

...for powering this bad boy.

Wouldn't it be easier to just buy a toeclip?

Grease fitting on back of headtube. Dreading what I'll find when I open it up, but I'll bet the stem isn't stuck.

Speaking of stem. Mismatched shifters - right is 6-speed Shimano indexed. Check out light switch on the left and that forged cable guide.

Friday, January 14, 2011

False Spring

This week brought a pretty crazy swing in our weather. Once again, hopes were dashed for Portland snow, and a forecast that initially predicted a possible 6 inches Tuesday night fizzzled to "possible flurries and freezing rain," Which was pretty much all we got. Tuesday evening I rode home from work in full winter gear, a strong tailwind howling out of the gorge, and the first dry snowflakes dancing in clouds of ground snow ahead of me on the Springwater. Tuesday night brought light freezing rain and a 2-hour late school start. My ride in was still a little dicey; the car lane was clear, but the bike lane a wet sheet of ice in most spots, and since I was coming in later, there was more traffic. By the time I left for home, the thermometer was up to 50, and it hasn't dipped below since then. We had plans to visit friends in Sisters for some XC skiing this 3-day weekend, but that's not gonna happen.

Dry snow on Tuesday
swirling around my wheels
Thursday I dodge frogs

Three frogs cross my path
Can they think that spring has come
in January?