Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fish and Visitors ...

Old Ben was right.

Monday, December 22, 2008

F*ck Linus

A blog title inspired by Sir Hurl.Happy solstice (yesterday) -- it counts since I'm still awake. Thanks, kids, for the comments. LF, I'm surprised you have time to comment. You got yer hands full and all with relocatin' and stuff. Folks are dedicated. I love you all.

So, I have nothing to say. Might as well throw up (figuratively speaking) some photos ...


April tried to contest paternity, but there was little contest. Never argue with a lawyer, even at your own party.

Whoa, whoa ... WHOA ... why don't I remember this level of abandon at my own party? Wait, I think I'd abandoned all hope before this photo was taken.


This is, I have to believe, not the first time the Schleyer has awakened to mystery progeny. Musta been one fun party, eh?


Sweet Sylvia. Need I say more? This little woman knocks my socks off every day with her budding intellect.


There was a Halloween party and there was Noren. I'd pull this trick with my real fake eye, but you never know where folks' fingers have been.


Oh, Sov and Simon ... there are volumes to be written about the stretchitude of lycra. However, I'm not so sure man-on-man love isn't a crime in this instance.


Who are these people??


Sister Erin, where are you now?


Sideways and all, I like this photo just how it is. Willa is walking and going places she wants to be going. (Cutting 6 teeth simultaneously and keeping us all awake is more like it.)


I sharpened all the kitchen knives tonight. Don't you feel better? If you break into my house, I've intricately studied which one I'd grab off the magnet to fight you to the death (or at least to the ER). Don't you feel better knowing that? They're all razor sharp meaning any incisions are easier to stitch back together.

Don't break into our house. Knock, and I'll let you in. We'll feed you an awesome dinner and give you a glass of scotch. We'll stare at the tree and listen to music and chat. You can even stay the night. Doesn't that sound much better?

Happy days of holly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like ...

... an overrated, commercialized adaptation of a pagan festival. Aww ... c'mon, Fleck.

All right. I'm not that cynical -- honest. But I have been dealing with comments to the effect of "Christmas has no meaning" from members of the family who shall remain nameless. I think it all depends on what you're looking for. Me? I tend to gush rather romantically when I envision fresh snow, candlelight, communal meals with family, open fires, time off from work, no reason to leave the house and, yes, giving and receiving a well thought out gift or two. For reasons of my own I do not assign a religious context to the holiday. However, one of my greatest spiritual ideals is unity and I do love the idea of a world united -- you know, Snoopy and the Red Baron style. While we do have a family "Christmas" tree, stockings, wreath, presents and all that other jazz, we will most likely spend more time and energy celebrating solstice this year.

We've had a weather whirlwind here in the T.C. of late. Last Friday night I added my tent to an urban camping cotillion attended by some two-wheeled partners in crime. Temps started out in the upper teens and only seemed to climb from there. Saturday was downright balmy for December in Mini-Soda. I emerged from the tent after 4 toasty hours and hardly felt the need for more than a vest up top. Sunday it actually rained most of the day and temps climbed to 38!

Then by mid afternoon the scale was plunging rapidly the other way. All that liquid precip was turning into a microfilm of ice on porches, sidewalks, roads, etc. Rain became snow (thank goodness -- snow covering ice delivers some traction at least) and we ended the wild mercury ride at -5F with a couple of fresh fluffy inches. A loss of 43 degrees in 12 hours or less is quite amazing. I had some serious soul searching to do before I could dress and mount up for the morning commute on Monday. Funny how 20mph winds at subzero feel as if they can literally begin peeling flesh from your nose and face. Maybe it's just me. Probably not.

About halfway to work I stopped off at a convenience store. The interior temperature was nice. I lingered and in addition to the purpose of my stop I ended up buying two candy bars. I don't often buy or eat candy bars, but it was so easy to make an excuse to stand inside the heated building just acting like I was "shopping" the way one might do at the mall or something. Heat was good. As if the employees didn't already find it strange enough that I was riding my bike in the subzero snowy weather, the fact that I was lingering in their quickie mart almost certainly pushed them to a conclusion that I was bonkers.

A little more about recent commuting experiences: I left work last night at about 8:45. The temperature was 2F. Steady snow all day had slacked off to a dreamy mist of glassy flakes floating through the sky. None of the secondaries had been plowed. I rolled out of the parking lot into one of my least favorite riding conditions -- pie dough that has been mashed and rutted by hundreds of car tires. Slipping back and forth I had no time to notice or think about anything else. When I popped onto a sidewalk and began breaking smooth, fresh snow my thoughts re-centered. There was little to no wind. There were also very few cars out and about. In the peaceful darkness I was alone to ride. My layering was perfect and the fact it was near zero was of no consequence.

I love the squeeky sound of bike tires crunching through cold snow. I enjoyed a lot of that. I slid through many corners. A few caught me off guard. My quick saves made me erupt into giddy laughter beneath my icy balaclava. The secondaries were sketchy but the paths were untouched save for a few footprints. Riding those was dreamy in 2-3" of powder. I cranked out steep hills at a brutally low cadence, hardly making it without walking, but I cranked them out.

Then just over halfway home I spied a car disabled, its driver crouched in front of the wheel well attempting to mount a spare. I stopped and asked if he needed help. He said he was fine. I noticed two things: 1) he wasn't wearing a jacket, hat or gloves and 2) my helmet light illuminated his work pretty well. So, I laid my bike down and helped him out. Before long I had the spare in hand, lining up the lugs while he cranked his pathetic little jack a centimeter at a time. We got the tire on within 10 minutes. He thanked me and I was on my way. He probably would have got it on his own but you never know. When he spoke I could hear he was cold and when people get mildly hypothermic they'll readily say they're fine because they think they are. Not saying he was, but I have developed a personal code that is shared by most winter commuting friends I know -- you never leave someone by the side of the road in winter. I've never had the opportunity to apply that maxim to a driver, but it felt good to put myself out there. Who knows, maybe that guy will notice bikers more, give us a wider berth when passing, tell others of his positive encounter.

Perhaps Snoopy and the Red Baron really can get along after all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cold in My Bones

I just can't shake it. I am not psyched for this winter riding season. I followed a friend's advice and invested in some new winter garments. Ibex woolen goods are awesome, by the way, and if you haven't explored the merits of wool -- be it thrift store surplus or flashy new superwool duds -- you need to do it. I'd say don't believe the hype, but there are countless merits to wool and, in my opinion, when you're using a fabric in a high-output activity like cycling, polyester quickly creates a not so pleasant sauna-like environment just beneath a shell. While the few items I added to my winter riding wardrobe have helped me dial in my layering better, there seems to be something missing. Maybe it's what Bob, Bob Seger that is, called the "fire down below."

It hasn't even been that cold yet. My chilliest morning commute was 15F so far. It has been gray and windy. The wind always takes it out of me, particularly those days when we get a wind shift that delights me with a headwind both ways. Maybe it's my longer commute, too. I tacked on another 20-30 minutes when we moved which translates to 30-40 extra minutes depending on weather and road conditions in winter. I see the family for an hour of frenzied activity in the morning. By the time I arrive home from work the kids are in bed. April's tired from work and shuttling the little ones to preschool and babysitters. There's a kitchen to be cleaned, a little quiet time and then a nagging reminder that it's time to go to bed and do it all over again the next day.

When I went back to school a couple of years ago I shifted into night owl mode. I'd stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning reading and studying and somehow still manage to get up at 7 to go to work or class by bike. I am convinced now that the inertia of excitement carried me through a lot of that period because I can't get by on 4-6 hours of sleep anymore. And I am less than zealous about leaving the warmth of the covers in the morning.

Maybe, too, it's something about my bike commuting. When you start riding your bike everywhere and looking for ways to curb your dependence on an automobile there is a lot of newness, creativity. Some of that has worn off. This is my third full winter of bike commuting. I sold my truck a year ago. I ride to work and anyplace I need to stop on the way home. It's just what I do. It's what I have to do and there's not much fuss to be made about it.

Am I happy I do it? Hell yeah. I believe in the commitment and all its benefits. I think I'm just tapping more into another side of it -- the occasional physical discomfort and the time commitment. An upside is I spend well over 2 hours a day on my bike and log about 160 miles per week. One downside is I spend well over 2 hours a day on my bike. I'm beginning to envy folks whose commutes are say 5 miles or so one way. 'Cause lately 16 miles has felt like a haul.

Temps are predicted to dip to around 10F tonight. We got a little snow and things were a bit slippery coming in this morning. I'm gonna ditch the clipless and switch over to platform pedals for a while. Ride in hiking boots. Maybe go for a foot down in the corners, try to have a little fun. After all, winter hasn't even begun.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Try This at Home

I did something Saturday I recommend you never try yourself. While reconverting my Cross-Check from singlespeed for the MN State CX Championships back to fixed gear for commuting, I got my thumb caught between the fixed cog and chain. It wasn't bad, thankfully. No blood even, just a HELL of a lot of pain. I think what saved me was the rag I was using to wipe the chain was wrapped above my thumbnail and below the fleshy pad, so I had no direct steel-to-flesh contact. I also had just installed a brand new cog, not a worn one with chain-honed, sharky teeth.

I clean my fixed gear drivetrains frequently and am well aware of the danger of a stuck digit. Sheldon Brown (MHRIP) has some graphic proof of such mishaps. They ain't pretty pictures, be warned. To my credit I was following my usual, time-tested procedure -- reverse pedaling with rag right in front of the cog, allowing plenty of distance between fingers and chainring. The difference was I recall letting the rag flap about quite a lot. Somehow it got caught somewhere and reversed the drivetrain, tugging my thumb into the works momentarily. The thundering voice of Cog spoke: Keep thine rag in check.

Enough of the PSA. My efforts meant I pedaled to work on a crisp, quiet drivetrain this morning. The sun made an appearance. It was about 32F and quite pleasant. After 20s and even teens last week I am happy to have a slight upturn in the mercury.

Be well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big 3 Bailout?

"'My fear is that you're going to take this money and continue the same stupid decisions you've made for 25 years," said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass."

Well said, Rep. Capuano. You can check out the rest of the story courtesy of the AP via Yahoo. The $700B bailout is unprecendented, don't get me wrong. Am I saying our economy should spiral into massive unemployment and the collapse of an "iconic American industry" as it's labeled in the above article? Well, I'm not thrilled about millions losing their jobs but I am also not confident that the American auto industry has any clue about how to move forward, and the fact of the matter is I can't support any argument that implies an inkling of sustainability as it applies to US automobile culture.

What did the chief execs of the Big 3 have to say to Congress? "In testimony, they said their problem was that credit was unavailable, and not that they were manufacturing products that consumers had turned their backs on." In testimony, eh? That means under oath, doesn't it? Because that statement sounds like an outright lie to me. How do you think SUV sales have trended in 2008?

Seriously, you high-paid yokels, had you not flown a middle finger in everyone's faces by hopping your private jets to D.C. there might be some sympathy afloat. But now all the American people have to chew on is the dismal potential of millions of lost jobs. Your case is built on an economic threat. But you know what -- those jobs aren't sustainable or secure anyway because they're part of an industry that once forged its own path with no regard for the environment, alternative transportation, renewable energy, workers' rights, etc. Your industry is now lost in the woods it sought so zealously to raze and pave into freeways and drive-thrus.

What's next? Bailouts for pharmaceutical companies who can no longer push their exorbitantly priced placebos due to tightening insurance policies?

I like to think of this as a "come to jesus" time, folks. A reality check, if you will. A lot of fat cats who've been siphoning off mind-raped consumers are feeling the pain of poor planning and no consideration for sustainability. We all have a stake in this because we all support this consumer machine masquerading as a free and independent nation. It's time for all of us to share in the collective formation of a truer, more humble vision of reality.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do You Know What's REALLY Awesome?

Riding the Big Dummy home with a dead-on tailwind.

And I'll be flying almost as fast as a private jet to D.C. after I mount the poster on the back that says "The Big 3 Can't Have Any of My Money!"

Realizing the irony of such a poster strapped to a bicycle is a beautiful thing in my opinion. Are there stultifying ramifications to the Big 3 being in trouble? Yes, of course. Read here if you like since it provides a nice synopsis of the shockwave of the Big 3 toppling.

The Big 3 are a symbol of an antiquated way of corporate American life and culture, rife with over-indulgence, short-sightedness and greed. I can't support propping these companies up since they have naively smashed projects for alternative fuel vehicles, higher mileage standards, clean air initiatives and blatantly shoved the most ignorant of auto designs down Americans' throats with every kind of ego-driven marketing possible.

It ain't pretty, but I say they dug their holes as they simultaneously lined their pockets while fleecing workers, consumers and investors. They can find their own way out. What more fitting sign of the inevitable fall of American car culture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Germany the Beautiful

We're back-tracking a bit here, folks ... to a magical time in September, early September, when things were not so freezy here in the upper Midwest, when our youngest daughter was not yet showing signs of walking and performing all the feats of young toddler balance which include dozens of epic falls per day (many of which end with her landing on her skull -- do you ever wonder how the hell babies can make it through this stage of existence?)

Ah, Germany, where do I begin? Well, I went there to do some work. However, I want to focus my blog entry on the last day and a half I was there because I was not technically working at that point. We'll get to that later.

Eurobike was one huge spectacle that didn't seem so huge while I was there because I had no frame of reference. By huge I mean HUGE -- take your favorite well laid out bike shop and multiply it by 10,000 or more for effect. Eurobike had punch, gusto, amore. And that doesn't even count the fashion shows.

The show was really fun, for work that is. Eurobike is held in Friedrichshafen which is a actually a pretty small town. The hospitality is wonderful and the landscape and scenery are equally so. The weather was warm at first but then got cooler. Speaking of cool I met a lot of cool people. There was a party Saturday night in a pouring rain to slight drizzle. It was chilly. The lines to the beer tent were occasionally long since there were well over a thousand people. Bands played on a very large outdoor stage. Covers of Skynyrd, Metallica and Nirvana abounded. It was a fun time.

Yeah, it's blurry, but it still is not hard to make out the fact that is a trombone in the background on stage. This was one interesting party.


Two good blokes from the German distributor, Pieter and Igor, brothers actually. That's Igor with a long I, not a long E, please. (Think "Young Frankenstein.") What's that in my hand, you ask? Well, it is a hefeweizen. I'm an ale guy and at first I was slow to come around to the hefeweizen which is sweet and yeasty and not very crisp (not like you don't know). It's also served a bit warmer than we drink most beers here in Amuricah. By the end of the trip I was craving the stuff and have been most disappointed that you just can't find the real thing here. Can you say fresh? This beer was the epitome of fresh tasting. No Miller or Bud products proliferating this festival, just good ol' local German brews.

So, my boss and I had an agreement that even though the show continued through Sunday we'd take the last day off and go ride. We'd brought Travelers Checks and had ridden to and from the show everyday (about 13 miles round trip and we only got really lost once. We solved that by flagging down a very nice Indian gentleman at 11:30pm. Through broken German and hand gestures we got back on track).

From the hotel/inn in Bitzenhofen to Friedrichshafen there was a bike path beside the road. It carved its way through fields, apple orchards and forests. It was quite pleasant actually. As an aside I should say that Eddy Merckx stayed at our same hotel and we're not talking a place with a bunch of rooms either. I botched many chances at breakfast to strike up a conversation with a guy whom I thought would be a giant, but was more just a dude in casual sport dress. Nevertheless, he was one of my heros when I was a junior racer -- back when I really thought I wanted to become a pro. Some girls thought it was pretty cool that I could swap leg shaving tips with them in high school. Everyone else probably knew I was a freak.


Our "hotel" which I said was more like an inn. They had an on-site restaurant that served phenomenal food, not to mention a traditional German breakfast of rolls, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, granola, fresh juices and cider and lots of other stuff I wish I could be eating right now.


The road and path with orchards to the right. Courtesy of the wetness and abundance of fruit I saw the biggest slugs and snails I have ever seen along this path.

All the appointments were cleared for Sunday. One problem was we had that small obstacle of a party the night before our planned day off. We accrued an extra room guest, Christoph, as well since he was destined to spend a rainy night in a shoddy tent. He's a Surly fan and dealer from Switzerland. When we pedaled back in the wet darkness early Sunday morning we all stayed up chatting and sipping off bottles of hefe generously doled out after hours by the kitchen staff. I think our waitress got the request for beer more than she did my later hug of thanks for being so good to us.

The next morning Peter wasn't feeling it. By this time I'd had four days of orienting my brain to the general layout of the countryside and the locations of certain key villages. I was eager to explore. I hadn't flown thousands of miles with a bike in tow to stand around a convention hall the entire time. At a crossroads a couple of kilos from our inn we split up and I forged on alone toward the unknown (to me) -- bound for a lakeside town called Meersburg. Peter and Christoph headed to the Messe Friedrichshafen for the final day of the show.

The weather was misty and threatened of rain. Temps were in the 60s. I had a full repair kit, rain jacket, some Euros and credit cards. I did not have a cell phone. I normally always ride with my phone in the States and it felt exciting to be out without one, especially in a place where no one knew me and if something should happen I'd be at the total mercy of fate to deliver me to a kind-hearted English speaker willing to help. I wasn't really worried though.


A roadside church replete with the Byzantine dome. Old Catholicism in effect here.


And a trailside shrine, i.e. crucifix. I'm not a big fan of christianity but with all these centuries-old relics around I was moved to say the least. One can not help but breathe in the "oldness" and history of everything around.


I could see living on this estate. It was along the bike path which followed a highway to Meersburg.


A view from the woods. This photo does no justice for the actual density of the wood cover. This was wonderful old-growth and it glowed with an intense green light beneath overcast, wet skies.

A slight diversion from the paved bike trail which led me into the woods and orchards. This was a very unexpected fork in the trail but was well worth the extra half hour I spent exploring it.



An apple barn which is located in a town that is very proud of its apples. I wish I could have met the apple queen, pictured above (minutely), but she was no where around. I actually waited out a cloudburst in this town and stood beneath the eave of an unknown building until the rain slacked, then got on my bike and rode on.

This little day trip reminded me of the fact that I never go on bike rides like this. I am always commuting or running errands or headed somewhere with a purpose and usually a deadline. How magical it is to just wander on a bike, letting spontaneity take hold and adapting to sudden challenges like a rain storm with the freedom to just stop and wait.

Apple country fades into grape country. A view from the trailside up toward the perfectly spaced vineyards.



T-Check poses in front of the village map of old Meersburg on the shores of the Bodensee. Meersburg is an amazing village. It was quaint -- an entire district of historic buildings have been immaculately preserved and are actually occupied. The place was humming with the energy of centuries of history.

I'm no Catholic scholar, but this looks like St Christopher to me. He is sculpted at a port on the lake as if to protect (or dissuade) travelers headed out of Germany toward Switzerland. The gaze was quite haunting. [ED Note: Brother Houts has since corrected me that this is most likely St Nicholas, patron saint of mariners. However, this may speak to Houts' upbringing, he assures me he has now reformed to the rastafari ways.]

This sculpture in a square in the old city of Meersburg was lovely and haunting as well. The only parallel I could draw was with the piper legends of the past, drawing rats and mice away. Notice the German way of venting windows in the upper right. No windows, even in restaurants, had screens. Therefore, a lot of flying critters were found indoors.


When I saw this inscription on a building frontice I was humbled. It's older than our country and the grape leaves seem to symbolize that it will grow yet still. I remember thinking that my children shall see places like this that still thrive before they, themselves, are old enough to vote. That is one of my goals -- my kids will travel internationally while they're young, something I waited until my 30s to do.

I presumed this was the old governmental square in Meersburg. Three very plain buildings opened into a common court closed off by large wrought gates. Yellow is my favorite color and I admire any place that has yellow exterior painted walls. Hell yeah. And if you plant a red-flowering bush outside that yellow building, you're golden in my book. Can you say complementary color palette?


The heart of the matter -- lunch. Currywurst and frites purchased at a streetside tavern a block from the shore of the lake. Along with the hefe ... ahh, the hefe ... That whole meal set me back not 7 Euro, which isn't a bad deal at all. Fortified and content, I stopped off for souvenirs I'd scoped in shops earlier and was on my bike headed along the shore toward Friedrichshafen, and reality, again.



On the ride back toward Friedrichshafen I found great humor in this caricature of a man taking a "pissoir." Unlike our all-accommodating Biffies/Port-o-Potties/PortaJohns I think it is meant to say, "Don't expect to take a grumpy here" or "Standing room only."


If you're riding your bike and it's been at least 30 minutes since your last tasty beer, and you see folks gathered lakeside having beers served out of a little shack, it's pretty damn hard not to stop and have one yourself. So, I did and it was good. It was also good to sit and feel the wind, catch faint glimpses of sun cracking the cloud cover and watch kids play along the shore while parents reined them in occasionally with stern shouts in German. I wrote a half-liter's worth of journal entry and was on my way.

Just in time, too. Everyone was wondering where the hell I was and I suppose I was a tad bit late. I did after all take the time to get lost one last time in Friedrichshafen -- and rescued by a very kind rider who happened to speak excellent English. I guess the time hadn't been flying the way it did for me -- alone on my bike in a place I didn't really want to leave. I apologized for making the group wait, but on the inside I was gloating from having taken a magical day off in one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Know What You Did Last Homie

Don't worry. Really, I don't know. The answer for me was nothing. I had a little too much fun at the Homie Pre-Party, a Halloween party hosted by Swervy. I arrived home around 7:30 in the a.m., oozing bodily fluid from my nose and still reeling from the merry-making.

I had a wee nip of scotch with my eggs for breakfast. Whisky for breakfast is okay as long as you offer it to all the guests. I went to sleep while April took the kids and drove her aunt to the airport. I dreamed of nothing while I napped. My nose stuck to the pillow.
When I awoke, April strongly urged me not to go on the ride. Can you pick out the diplomatically worded portion of the previous sentence? I saw the clock tick past the meeting time. An hour or so later my phone rang. "No, I don't think I'll be making it. You guys have fun," I told my friend. No Homie for me. My ambition was lagging anyway. I made peace with it. I've spent entirely too little time with the family lately and I suppose the last thing I really needed was another party.
So, what did I do instead of Homie? Well, apart from playing with the kids and hanging around having meaningful conversations with my wife (which included more than a couple of apologies for coming home bloody), I got to do something I might not have made time for because it isn't exactly one of those glamorous or "high-priority" tasks. [Insert voice of inner woodworking geek here:] I tuned my planes. Hand planes, that is. In about 6 hours' time over the course of the weekend I made it through all of my block planes and got a start on the bench planes.
What does this entail? The time consuming part is patiently standing over a sheet of sandpaper stuck on plate glass, methodically sliding the cast iron sole of the plane back and forth until all of the mill marks are removed and the surface is dead flat. This is accomplished by working up from 80 grit to 220 or so. Then, there's the honing, among other adjustments like sanding the japaning off the front lip of the lever cap. (That'd be the thick black paint in case you're wondering.)
I recently read that when you buy a run-of-the-mill Stanley/Bailey, Record or the like, you should regard it as little more than a kit full of parts. From there, if you care to get good results and want to truly enjoy using a hand plane, you need to sand, fit and sharpen. And it takes a while. Is it worth it? Yep. Almost everyone who's used a plane knows what it's like to use a dull, poorly adjusted one. However, the experience of paper-thin shavings floating lightly to the floor, the smell of resinous wood being worked with a fine blade, the sound of a sharp plane gliding through grain almost effortlessly -- all are beautiful. No electricity needed; no roar of a high-amperage motor; no particulate dust. It's wonderfully meditative work.


To all who went on Homie and had a kickass time, I'm happy for you. Now I gotta go wash my hands. Was that a metaphorical reference?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Baggage


I'm often asked why I put a front rack on my Big Dummy? Well, how else am I going to transport my lunch and various sundries in addition to the two kegs I needed to get back for deposit? Well, duh! You figure it out ... (Just angle that non-drive side keg up 'n away from yer disc brake caliper, eh.)

Thanks, smart guy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ironik

I saw a VW Eurovan this morning. I'm a fan. If VWs weren't so fickle and unfair to me I'd own another maybe. Believe me, I tried. Ask Brother Houts. My '72 Westfalia was my pride and joy. It succeeded a long and tumultuous relationship with a '70 Bug. I drove the Westy intermittently when I wasn't busy growing my hair or it wasn't busy catching on fire or throwing valves. Bummer. Beautiful it was. Parked in my driveway, as it was mostly wont to do. I traded the bus to Herr Houts for a bike. I think I got the better deal.

So I saw a Eurovan this morning glide by me on Xerxes headed south. I like to notice bumper stickers and this van had two. One read: "Do No Harm." Now, isn't that a little funny? C'mon, you don't have to be a car-hater to get the flawed logic. Driving a car causes harm -- a lot of harm. There's the environment, oil wars, psychological malaise, aggression toward other travelers, etc. I'm not ripping this unknown person a new asshole. For all I know that was the first time that van's moved all week, all month or all year. All I'm saying is that piloting a machine that personifies harm-on-four-wheels and then adorning it with a sticker that implores folks to do no harm is a wee bit bass-ackwards. (Incidentally, I've got "Wage Peace" engraved on my AK-47. It makes me sleep better at night. Really, it does.)

The other sticker read: "Wake Up." I can appreciate that sentiment, but I have to fall back on my first observation. The driver obviously needs to drink a stronger morning brew him/herself.

Pedaling on I entered the enlightened suburb of Richfield, a land where people begin to live on streets that end suddenly and go nowhere in a straight line, a land where sidewalks fade away and most 4-way intersections have only two stop signs or none at all. I approached one of the rare ones that has four stop signs. A van pulled up before me across the intersection to my left. The driver actually came to a complete stop. I don't blow intersections if there are drivers ahead of me, so I pulled up, stopped and did a trackstand expecting he (having been sitting there a full 4-5 seconds) would pull away as he had the right-of-way. I held my trackstand. He didn't move. I rocked the other way with my front wheel. He lurched, then stopped, then lurched again and sped off giving me the stink-eye. What the hell? Traffic laws. Just following them. Sorry if that offends you.

That encounter sparked a memory of my ride home last night. At that same intersection I did a quick stop and proceeded through with the right-of-way. A driver from my right did the California stop and rolled right through her stop sign in front of me. I calmly squeezed my brakes and continued toward the driver's side door. As I was inches from T-boning the car, the woman saw me. I'm sure I loomed large -- standing on the pedals of a long bike with my 5 white LEDs blinking dead in her face through the window. She actually jumped and took her hands off the wheel. I had the whole thing under control. I'm glad someone had it under control. She swerved to the right (away from me) and kept going. I slid past the trunk and kept pedaling with nary a word or gesture.

I could tell the incident really shook her up. Good. It's healthy to be scared from time to time. It teaches us to pay attention. When I shit my pants I usually have a corresponding moment of supreme awakeness and clarity. I hope others have the good sense to realize behaviors that malfunction and recognize moments that command greater attention.

Maybe that's what the "Wake Up" Eurovan driver was trying to tell everyone? I doubt it. But I wish them luck in driving their way to doing no harm.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hell Yeah!

You know what I mean. Celebrate. I was thoroughly convinced half our nation were idiots. Now I'm beginning to think not all voices were speaking.

Change. Yes.

Friday, October 31, 2008

We Interrupt This Program to Bring You a Special Annoucement ...

Just knock it off with this whole "socialism/socialist" accusatory bullshit. I am so tired of every ignorant fucker in America being pandered to by some high-minded, aspirant politician who wants to insult another politician by labelling him/her a socialist, or some idea or policy as socialist or leaking verbal effluent such as, "America is too good for socialism." Jesus-F-ckin'-Tap-Dancin'-Christ-on-a-Pogo-Stick -- you'd think Joe F-ckin' McCarthy himself had risen from the dead and is in our midst. Get off it you dumb fuckers. And the rest of you dumb fuckers who don't understand the first thing about "other" economic theories get a damn book and attempt to educate yourselves. The only thing this is doing is proving to the rest of the world that we, as a nation, have done little more than bully the world and consume way more than our fair share of trinkets for the past 60 years. Because this kind of talk spouting from assholes and their entourages, leaders in our land nonetheless, is embarrassing proof that we sure as hell haven't progressed intellectually as a nation.

The only Red Scare that strikes fear in my heart is the image of an election night map overrun in rouge; the pathetic thought of some washed-up, fear-mongering windbag dragging his flabby, cancerous cheeks and the haunches of a psycho-fundamentalist hockey mom onto the steps of Capitol Hill. Take that, Joe 6-Pack.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming ...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Damage Control

If you were there you know -- Flecktoberfest did not disappoint. I think we funneled around 90 guests through the house and yard over the course of the party which ran from 4pm until 5am. Don't ask me how I remembered to look at the clock. We were gifted 3 bottles of single malt, a bottle of Surly Darkness and various remnants of 6 and 12-packs. In addition were the countless consumable goodies. These did little good, however, as the house was almost completely devoid of food the next morning. EVERYTHING we set out got eaten.

There was a generous and strong love vibe in the air -- plenty of hugging and a little kissing. Great jokes, big laughs and lots of fun were had by all especially as hijinks like the all-male topless Twister game hit full effect. By the end there was gratuitously good natured nudity and harmlessly rampant debauchery of all kinds. If you see photos they probably have not been altered in any way. It was epic -- from the beginning to the very end. Thanks to everyone who attended and joined in or at least tolerated the craziness. We have awesome friends who've made our house feel that much more like a home. This was the best Flecktoberfest ever.

More autumnal oddities are on the horizon as the Homie Fall Fest rides through the T.C. this Saturday. Oh yeah. We'll just test out this phrase: "Honey, I'm taking off for a Halloween party on Friday night. Be back on Sunday."

Here's some nice political humor (special thanks to my friend, Bear, for this forward). Take a break from the last minute campaign shenanigans and mudslinging to give the letter below a read. And, as always, be well. Don't forget to vote early and often next Tuesday.

A Letter to the Red States

Dear Red States:

If you manage to steal this election, too, we've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches.
We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood.
We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.
We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss.
We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama.
We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80% of the country's fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of the nation's fresh fruit, 95% of America's quality wines, 90% of all cheese, 90% of the high tech industry, 95% of the corn and soybeans (thanks Iowa!), most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford, Cal Tech, UCLA, Berkeley and MIT.

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92% of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia.

We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the war, the death penalty or gun laws, 44% say that evolution is only a theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61% of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

Peace out,
Blue States

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something to Chew On 'Til I Update My Blog For Real, NOREN!

Hola, Friends and Disparagers of All Things Right and Holy,

I am sorry I am busy having a life. It happens I hear. I love you all. Really I do. I'll take this opportunity to say (if you haven't already been invited) you're welcome to come to our Flecktoberfest celebration this Saturday 10/25. It's kicking off about 4pm with family friendly frolics and digresses from there until no one is left standing. There'll be lots of beer, fire and good eats. You may have bobbed for apples but have you ever bobbed for PBR? You should give it a try. And you can -- this Saturday at our house. Now look, I'm not gonna leave my address on this here blog. I will say we do have convenient access to bike paths in the 6-1-2. Pop me a comment with your email if you're up for attending and I'll supply details. Word.

The only other big news is my recent decision to support McCain/Palin. I just couldn't deny the inevitability of it all once I was availed of this campaign poster:

I can't imagine life without an impending apocalypse, can you? May the woman known to some as "god" help us all. Thanks to Aaron for the image. He was the only party guest zealous enough to show up for Flecktoberfest exactly one week early. And he brought friends even.

Get thee somewhere fun. More news soon.

Heart,

Patch O'Houli-Fleck

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Brian!

To the man who is alternately known as Dad and Papoose, congratulations on helping create the woman of my dreams AND winning the costume award at the 2008 New Belgium Chicago Urban Assault Ride. For a photo, if you dare, he's on the left.

Let's make many more memories, shall we ...

Love,
Yer Son-in-Law

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Family That Bikes Together ...

Shortly following the escapades of my trip to Japan back in August (literally a day and a half after arriving home) we loaded kids and bikes into the trusty Subaru for a drive down to Preston MN. There we joined April's parents, sisters and our nephew Julian for a long weekend of riding and relaxation.


The riding was good. Those who know me know that I tend to vacillate on the topic of bike paths. The experience of riding paths can, after all, be a blessing and a curse. If you're looking for solace or quiet enjoyment of river valleys and countryside sometimes the bike trail system is the wrong place to be. Still, paved trails that are relatively flat and very easy to navigate are accessible by folks of all skill levels. And that's not a bad thing for kids, families with Burley trailers and the like. Or folks who look as if they haven't been on a bike since they were kindergarteners -- the ones who weave and bobble and generally don't know WTF a bell dinging from behind and a polite 'On your left' means. At least they're on bikes and who knows, maybe they'll be hooked. But I digress.


A nice shot of April and me (and Sylvia, as usual trying to butt into the picture) in Lanesboro.


Willa is belly up to the table and ready to chow down.

As far as bike trail systems go, the Lanesboro/Preston/Harmony area is top notch. Even though the paths in and around the towns are frequently congested with gawkers, the outlying portions of the trail can make you think you're really out there. Often on the way to another town one sees few if any other cyclists.



Hannah gliding through the bluff country of SE Minnesota.


Willa's toothless grin. How can you not smile, too?


Stops at city parks make cycling day trips way more bearable and enjoyable with the kids.

We all shared a house in Preston, so that was a bit challenging for a privacy loving introvert like myself. Still, it was great to spend time with the family and to watch the kids play together, to eat communal meals and view the opening spectacle of the Olympics on the satellite TV. (Cable? You're lucky to get a cell signal in Preston.) I'm not a fan of the Olympic games, marching bands, dance troupes, acrobats, Shriner parades, etc. but even I was blown away at China's efforts in the ceremony. Now, if they could apply one-tenth that diligence to their human rights policies.


Group photo around the fire.

Julian was very proud of the knife I bought him on the trip. I was busy fixing a flat.

In all this trip was another excellent adventure. And like many trips you realize how special it was a couple months later when you go back and view the photos again. I have to send out a hearty "thanks" to Dad and Sabra for keeping the family bike vacation going for the fourth year in a row.

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Why am I prattling on about this stuff? I dunno, maybe just 'cause I haven't had much time to prattle of late. I've been traveling a lot -- gone more than 3 weeks out of the past 8 -- to places that were another part of the world or felt like they ought to be another part of the world. Upon my return each time, inevitably Willa has achieved some new developmental milestone and Sylvia's personality has grown by leaps. All the while April has been holding it all together on her own, being the amazing mother and resilient, cheerful partner she is. She never seems to balk when I announce my next big trip. Thinking about the family and these happy times together has been a constant source of comfort while I'm away.

Things have also been a bit heavier lately. We've been in our new home long enough to have discovered a few of the dark patches of its underbelly, long enough to realize we gotta work at this thing. And that's cool -- we're not afraid to work. But the news headlines hardly make one feel at ease about supporting a family and retaining faith in a positive future for our kids, for our nation and its people. The illusion of comfort is just that, an illusion, so I try not to stake too much on anything especially a philosophy of worry and anxiety. The pettiness of an election year, the big money that runs our government, financial woes, folks getting kicked out of their homes, "our nation's" war, the cries of petroleum dependent fools ... these things add up. That's not to mention how someone like Sarah Palin can be regarded as remotely qualified for high office in our country. Is anyone else losing any sleep over this shit? I think you are.

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Last night I took a break from the endless hours I've spent in the garage developing my personal microcosm of order and shifted attention to the spare room in our house. It also will function as our office. Problem is it looks much the same as when we unloaded boxes back in July. When we moved we chucked all our files in banker boxes and weeded out nothing. I began separating the chaff last night. Foolishly perhaps, I started with the box that contained folders full of old letters from friends and family, some photographs and cards. I guess I would have had to go through it at some time.

I pulled out a piece of kid art that had the name 'Dustin' written across the top. It was a photocopied tree trunk that had colored paint splotches for leaves applied by a very young hand. The person, my nephew, who painted it is a young man in his 20s now, a young man who was indicted a few weeks ago for attempted manslaughter because he stabbed another man at a bar. I pulled out another hand-drawn piece of crayon art, immaculately colored within sketched pencil lines. The scene was a backyard with a fence and apple tree. A cat leisurely walks the fence top while jolly worms harvest some fallen apples strewn among bright flowers. A dog tied to a house seems unperturbed. The rays of a yellow sun shine down upon all. My niece, Angel, who drew it is now in her mid 20s, a single mother who married early. Her baby was taken at birth because it was so premature it needed care in a different city. I've never shaken that image of profound separation from my mind. In the same folder was a one page short story written by my oldest nephew, Chris, when he was in grade school. The essay was about Sam the cat and how great he was and the pain Chris felt when he found out Sam had died. Chris is now the father of two. His marriage to a hometown sweetheart went south a few years ago and he was left with the kids. I haven't heard news of him lately.

Different lives. Different times. But I remember holding all these young people when they were infants the size of Willa. I remember seeing them grow. I grew myself and moved from town and acted out dramas of my own. Somehow I thought to hold onto a few little momentos. Funny how things swing 'round.

I quickly flipped through my old letter file and discovered a copy of the letter I sent to my father in January 2000 telling him I no longer desired his manipulative and destructive presence in my life. He passed away a few years ago. We never really reconciled any of our problems. I think I'll never understand how he thought and said many times we had such a "close" relationship. There was a photo of my mother and her last husband taken at least 15 years ago when she still had a spark in her eyes and the flush of health and happiness in her skin. Her health has not been stable for many years now. I spoke with her on Sunday and she told me her doctors are relatively certain she's developed Alzheimer's disease. She'll undergo tests in a couple of weeks to assess how advanced it is. She's living in Memphis with my youngest sister. We're planning a visit, with the whole family hopefully, sometime around the holidays. My mom who sacrificed much of her health for the benefit of many others can't remember her grandkids' names or even where she is a lot of the time. Yeah, that's kinda heavy and I have to admit I had no fucking clue how to talk to her about it when she got me on my cell phone Sunday morning fresh from the frenzy of a tradeshow in Las Vegas. Yeah, that's kinda heavy.

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So, why do I prattle on about family stuff and gatherings and bike vacations? I commemorate, I suppose. I can go on about my favorite bike and the short list of epic rides I've completed on it. I can tell you the merits of my favorite shop tool or kitchen knife or gadget du jour ad nauseum. I can extrapolate the beauty of my favorite thing or possession that has lasted me a decade or more. Some people might actually like or appreciate that. But I think I have always been and will always be a poet at heart. I'm not trying to imply one can't wax downright poetic about material things. However, I return throughout my life to moments that beg abstract incapsulation in words, moments that are both painful and pleasurable, moments that make me wince but from which I could no sooner turn away than die. I tend to move, as I think do many, through my friendships focused on good times and parties and comaradery. But I am struck dumb when I fathom the ocean of pain we're all steeped in, the waves of fear and hurt and inevitability that surround us all. We move and rock and bathe in its tides. Sometimes we surf; mostly I think we merely tread; eventually we all drown.

Sorry to brood on the doom and gloom. I have to admit though I don't shy away from thinking about pain and death from time to time. I consider it a highly grounding, motivating meditation -- even if it is disorienting, frightening and surreal. But I figure why avoid the obvious? Why shut out the hidden knowledge, the obscure truths?

How else may one so fully appreciate the beautiful images of life?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dollar-Cost Averagers Rejoice!

This is a GREAT time to buy those shares for your retirement account. Well, unless you were planning on retiring this year. Sorry if you were. My kids might learn about this financial crisis someday in a history class and wonder how we lived through it. Well, by recycling our tea bags, mending our clothes, reading by candlelight and keeping the house at 55 degrees through the winter of course. Oh, and riding a friggin' bike instead of pumping our paychecks into a car.

I just spent a week in a little stinkhole called Las Vegas. Ever heard of it? At least the people I was there to see were worth seeing, talking to and drinking beer with. Me and the town don't get along so well. It's a new-agey, hippie energy thing. Las Vegas is to my inner starchild what The Man is to the long-haired 60s holdover. I won't go into detail. It's damn good to be home even if I'm still hearing the tingling of slot machines in my head, even if the images of overweight chain smokers popping coin after coin into the abyss are forever seared into my brain.

Sorry for the slow upload of comments to my last post. Thanks to everyone who set me straight by explaining that asphalt is easier on the knees and joints than concrete. Whatever. The best comment came in the form of another query courtesy of Hiawatha Jim, "The real question is why would anybody run in this day and age when they could ride a bike?" Well played, Jim ... well played.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will Someone Please Explain ...

... to me why some runners choose to run in the street when there is a perfectly good sidewalk 3 ft away up the curb? I don't see it everyday but I see it often enough to ask myself 'WTF?' I get that some drivers exercise similar indignance when they see me or other cyclists pedaling our happy asses down the roadway. However, their ignorance of cyclists' rights to the road fuels that ire. Rather, my argument is based on the irrefutable ignorance of these joggers I've seen. Sidewalks are after all for foot traffic. Roads are not the smartest place to go for a run, especially a busy road as was the case this morning.

Well, is it ignorance? Any runners in the blogosphere want to enlighten me as to why one would choose to briskly perambulate in the vehicle lane as opposed to the adjacent ped walk? Is asphalt softer than concrete? Is there a radical pedestrian rights movement of which I'm unaware?

What does it say about my life that this is one of the most perplexing mysteries I've encountered in my 35 years? Maybe I need some new hobbies.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Confessions


Where does all the time go? In between travel and work and all the fun that summer can spontaneously throw in one's path I've been working on a few projects. Painting siding? Remodeling the kids' room? Well, not exactly. Something arguably more fun -- setting up shop in the garage. No, not a bike shop (that's located elsewhere), but a place to create sawdust. Years ago I set up my first shop on a tiny back porch and then another larger one in the basement of a bigger house we rented. However, a series of moves culminating in this most recent one to Minnesota 6 1/2 years ago necessitated that I stow all the tools and sell off some of my larger machines. It was sad to let that interest lay dormant for so long, but that is changing now.

I suppose I've always dabbled in woodworking. My dad was a carpenter (not to mention his skills with plumbing, electrical, cabinetmaking, trim work and so on). In his spare time he worked at carving, inlay work, reproduction gun making and engraving. From my earliest days I would follow him into the shop and onto the jobsite. I sustained my first good knife cut by the time I was 4 years old. I picked up scrap wood and held boards and cleaned nails from lumber. I still remember the first time my dad let me use his Skil saw. I remember, too, what a powerful, scary tool it was for a 10 yr old and to this day I have a healthy respect for safety when it comes to power tools.

Spare weekends and some evenings have been spent strategizing and building the new shop. It would be awesome to have a fancy hardwood bench, but considering cost and practicality I prefer to make my own. I needed two of different sizes for this layout -- a single stall in our 2-car garage -- which provides ample room but not so much that I can haphazardly waste space. Starting from the ground up presents a few challenges. It's nothing like moving furniture into a room and then arranging stuff. First everything must come out and then the benches must be built which takes several days -- finish time and all it took 3-4 days per bench. When you have the disordered contents of a garage pulled out for working little things like a rain shower can pose more than a slight nuisance. But the basics have all come together and the shop is starting to take shape.


"Daddy, why do you have so many clamps?" Sylvia loves to ask. Indeed that is a lot of clamps. Here they are being used to glue the top to the second miter saw bench.


And storage for all those clamps, out of the way but close at hand. Yep, I've been carting these and many other tools around from place to place and state to state for over 7 years. When I unpacked my shop boxes I examined the newspaper stuffed inside. It dated back to July 2001. Wow, time flies.

The previous owners of our house had done what most folks do with a garage I reckon -- they stuffed it with bikes and a canoe and cars and yard stuff and old wood scraps and all the other things that don't fit or belong in the house. The problem with that, in my humble opinion, is that you are left with a space that simply holds your shit -- and by shit I mean a lot of stuff that obviously doesn't mean that much to you or it wouldn't be piled in a heap, lining the corners and blocking floor space. I sure as hell can't say I'm spartan when it comes to accruing possessions, but I can say that I have a knack for organizing and storing things in such a way that utilizes space to a better than average degree of efficiency. The garage will be a workspace primarily but will also store canoes, paddling gear, bike trailers and yard equipment. It will also (and this has been a fun challenge) preserve space for parking the car in winter.

To put it bluntly (and this is the confession): I have been in anal-retentive organizational heaven. The house is overrun with other humans who don't share my innate love of organization, mind you, so why wouldn't I be overjoyed to have a space where I can impart order to my heart's desire AND reasonably expect that it will be maintained. I relish the sight of the garage each time I open the door now and I can see my little world free of rampant entropy -- a tiny 23ft by 22ft space that is free from the chaos of the world beyond. It's pretty damned ideal for someone wired like me.

What am I gonna build? Whatever I want. I've done some tables and shelf units as well as smaller things like jewelry boxes and picture frames in the past. I'm planning to embark on more furniture down the road. But for now it's great to have the tools accessible and an orderly place to work. Our house is nearing the century mark in age after all and I hope to invest time and energy toward keeping it going for another 100 years. Productivity is all well and good, but it's also great to have a place to open the doors, survey some little accomplishments, dream of grand new projects and drink a few beers.

Open the doors and windows. Smell the cool air and soak in the wonderful warmth of the sun. Plan a project. Drink a beer. Enjoy the early fall, folks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Japanimation

... alternate title "What It's Like When a French Bartender at a Mexican Restaurant in Tokyo Tells You the Bar is Closed."

So, yeah, it's OLD news now but a few weeks ago I spent a week in Japan. It was work, don't get me wrong. But when you work for a fun loving, outside-the-norm bike company that has a slight reputation for partying ... well, let's just say I wasn't donning a coat and tie to sit in meetings everyday. Here's the play by play, in gory detail.

This was my first trip to Japan. In 8 days I visited Nagoya, Kyoto, Tokyo and Chiba City. I traveled with my boss who lived in Japan for 7 years and functioned also, luckily, as a guide. We toted Travelers Checks; their soft backpack cases also served as luggage. We rode the shinkansen from city to city with our bikes packed and then assembled them at our destination. I stayed in hotel rooms that ranged from your average American mid-price to downsized dorm rooms with bathrooms barely larger than an airplane crapper. I ate some of the most unbelievably good food I've had in my life -- definitely the best consecutive meals I've ever had on a business trip. These included homestyle miso, squash and vegetables; burgers Japanese style (open face with a bowl of rice); Korean barbecue (vegan friends will cringe, but Japanese meat is leagues beyond what we eat here); sushi of course; and we even ate at the only Czech restaurant in Japan. For those in the know, I tried 'natto' as well -- a rancid bean curd that has a distinct aroma and is reported to be extremely good for one's health. Its helpful to keep that in mind while its slimy consistency is clinging to your esophagus as you work to swallow it and keep it down.

I had been told that Japan is the land of vending machines. It's not just sodas and salty, sugary snacks either. There are herb drinks, noodles, dried fish snacks, rice and soy milk, coffee drinks, electrolyte beverages (handy since it was hot and humid as hell) and beer. There was also chuhi. Oh, chuhi ... nectar of some jolly god that descended the celestial plain, plucked a couple lemons along the way and created the ultimate thirst quenching toddy. At 150 yen ($1.42) from the machine and 100-125 yen at the store it was a bargain. And it was always right around the corner from the hotel room door.

Ride highlights: We rode the most in Kyoto. Some Surly loyalists had organized an alleycat/scavenger race. It was a photo contest actually. In teams of 4 we had to scour the city looking for the best photo image from a list of required subjects. We pedaled the narrow, traffic laden streets of Kyoto, up steep climbs to temples, over bridges along the riverfront. The sun set and we stocked up on food and beverages for an afterparty and slide show of each team's efforts at artistic expression. Our party progressed to the river where we lit sparklers, chatted and sipped beers and more chuhi from our messenger bags. The night was still, clear and much cooler than the heat of the day. I was so far from home but probably the happiest at that moment of my whole trip. Kyoto felt like a home away from home. We sang karaoke and got to bed way too late, reeling from the chuhi. The next day we rode 45 minutes out to Ryoanji Temple to take in the grounds and the famed rock garden which us groomed every morning by Zen monks. The history and energy of the place was astounding.

Afterward we rushed off to the train station to catch the "bullet train" to Tokyo. Packing our bikes in the plaza was unnerving since the humidity made me feel like I was working inside a sauna. My clothing was seldom dry in Japan except when I was inside an air-conditioned hotel room at night.

Courtesy of our Japanese distributor we had a fairly full schedule of meetings/presentations and dealer visits. During the course of our trip we were asked to sign bike frames, shop walls and even customers' t-shirts. This was a bit odd and kind of freakish to me that we were afforded a certain celebrity status, but I went along with it. I think I promised a guy he could borrow one of my bikes the next time he's in Mpls. That's okay. I was extended such hospitality while in Japan that the least I could do is try to return some in kind. The hospitality was truly beyond measure and it reminded me that American culture has lost a great deal of our hospitable civility, if we even had that much to begin with.

Riding a bike in Japan was a blast because cycling is such a part of the culture. Bikes are everywhere on the road, and by that I mean cheap, heavy town bikes adapted with racks and kid seats to haul whole families and loads of all kinds. Hipsters and recreational riders are more prevalent in the urban areas, but they are still the minority. What was most noticeable was the acceptant attitude of motorists. The streets are very narrow in Japan (most -- but not all -- cars are smaller, too) and people don't exactly drive slowly. But the presence of bikes is accepted. Bikes part the gap between lines of stopped cars -- no problem; bikes ride against traffic on a one way street -- that's fine; bikes roll stop signs and intersections when it's clear -- no honks or indignant screams; bikes cut from the road onto the sidewalk and back to the road to dodge a stopped car -- bully for you!

In short -- bikes are everywhere in Japan. Motorists acknowledge and for the most part seem to respect cyclists. Taxi drivers are a notable exception -- they're impatient like everywhere else. But the entire time I was riding my bike or being shuttled by car in Japan I only saw one driver get pissed, speed and swerve through traffic. And that's something you can witness dozens of times per day on an average commute around the Twin Cities.

Why is this, I wonder? I think the fact that cycling is (and has historically been) a dominant mode of transportation is one. I also talked with a couple of Japanese about driving. It is not cheap to own and operate a car in Japan. Petrol was around 185 yen/liter. That's about $6.85 per gallon. Licensing runs, I'm told, the equivalent of approximately $2000 US. In short, there's more training and it's more strict to get a license. Plus, once you get a car the expenses don't quit racking up. Our driver in Tokyo said he pays over $400 a month just to park his car -- at his residence no less -- and that does not count parking at destinations in the city.

Still, I appreciated the tolerance of Japanese drivers. I admired the variety of tiny cars, trucks and vans -- intelligently designed vehicles that we would laugh at in the US as toys or devices meant to curb the necessary luxury and roominess we associate with a "proper" automobile. You've never seen people park cars in the tiniest available spots the way they do in Japan. Space is at a premium. That struggle has not been answered by kicking bikes and pedestrians out of the picture or segregating them to separate lanes/paths, but through consciously maintaining an attitude that all road users deserve the right to get from point A to point B.

And do you think gas prices aren't affecting other drivers around the world? Well, I already related the price of fuel in Japan. Our Tokyo driver also told us that traffic in the city is comparable now to what is was 30 years ago. That's a subjective estimate but impressive nonetheless. Have high fuel prices had such an impact in the US? Gas has trended down in cost (just in time for elections!) You still hear a little prattle of people radically altering their driving habits, but we have a long way to go.

It's good to be back friends. I hope you're well. There are too many great things to relate about my trip to Japan and some stories I'd probably not care to divulge on the blog. We'll save those for the next party we host ...

And as a side note: Sorry for the lack of updates. I just returned from Eurobike in Germany this past Monday. I also missed coverage of our annual family bike vacation. I have some catching up to do but more work travel is coming up. Maybe I'll post news of the fun happenings by Christmas. Ha!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Same Old Shit: MORE STOLEN BIKES!

Okay ... this is getting really old. In this newest cut-and-run the thief (thieves?) pulled a double-whammy and stole a 1X1 and a Karate Monkey -- both loved very much and both lovingly built by my good friend, Johnny. Visit the link above for photos and descriptions. Many of the previous thefts I've noted have been opportunistic -- someone leaves their bike in a garage or it's secured with an underpowered lock. These two bikes were locked with two other Surly Steamrollers using a U-lock and 3/8 cable. The perpetrator(s) cut the cable and stole the two mtn bikes leaving the Steamers. Who knows, maybe they would have been back for those. The point I'm making is the person(s) who stole these bikes went lookin' for bikes to steal because you can't cut a 3/8" cable with the Swiss Army knife you just happen to have in your pocket. If you love your bike take precautions, friends.

If my friends are having so many bikes stolen I can't help but think of the thousands of other Twin Cities cyclists and their bikes whom I don't know. Case in point, I'm in my garage Saturday afternoon, doors open, putzing on some shelving when a young kid of maybe 12 yrs rolls by. I say 'hi' and give him a quick wave then glance down to notice his ride -- a relatively new Cannondale with Headshok which is obviously a couple sizes too large for him. He's followed by two kids a little younger on the standard issue Magnas. Which one of these things is not like the others? I may be profiling to presume that there's something incongruous about a black kid (any 10-12 yr old kid for that matter) riding a new, too large Cannondale, but fuck it -- the circumstantial evidence points to the fact that I saw a stolen bike roll by my garage, accompanied by some young miscreants who were cruising the alleys for more easy pickings.

Bike thefts sound like they're approaching epidemic proportions. A bike blogger could make a full-time spew of posting the stolen bikes in the TC this summer. Record your serial numbers, folks. If the police find the property you can't claim it without identifying it. This helped out a friend recently whose bike WAS actually recovered by the 5-0. Also, lock your bike securely even if it is inside what you think to be a secure garage.

In the meantime, look at the photos in the link above, keep your eyes peeled and consult Hurl for the appropriate action to take when encountering bike thieves.

Thanks!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Belgian Connection

Hola, fair readers! Long time no blog. Yep, there's tons to catch up on: I have 377 photos from my Japan trip; We had a fun family bike vacation two weeks ago; After one massive weekend of work and organization you can now walk through our garage; Willa is almost crawling. More on those topics later.

For now, however, a very excellent cross race is in danger of not happening this year. The Hub's Powderhorn Cyclocross race is having some trouble securing the necessary permit from the park board. Following is a message from Joel Cahalan, worker-owner at The Hub:

Help save cyclocross in Minneapolis Parks! For the past three years The Hub Bike Co-op has sponsered a highly attended cyclocross race at Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis. This year we are having trouble securing a permit for the race due claimed damage to the park. We need folks to attend this Wednesday's Park Board meeting to show support for keeping cyclocross racing in Minneapolis parks and specifically at Powderhorn Park. Besides having some supporters at the meeting we need people who are willing to stand up and speak for 2-3 minutes about why it is important to keep the cyclocross race at Powderhorn. If you live in the park vicinity and or feel strongly about this please contact me about signing up to speak (Joel Cahalan 612-203-5280(cell), 612-729-0437(shop)). I will have some talking points put together and emailed out before the meeting. To speak you must be signed up by 3pm the day of the meeting. The meeting starts at 5pm with time for us to speak at 5:30. It is located at:

MPRB Administrative Offices, Board Room Suite 255
Address:
2117 West River RoadMinneapolis


If you live in the Powderhorn area, love cyclocross (and who doesn't?!) and can help out by attending the meeting to show support please do so.

On a somewhat related Belgian note -- what the hell is all the fuss about Belgian beer? It seems to be quite fashionable these days. I've frankly about had it. I have drunk my fair share of Belgian delights and they are just not all that. Some are okay, many aren't. Give me an IPA, a complex porter or a meaty stout. Besides, I like a beer I can pronounce. I'm sure to get a few comments for sticking my neck out like that.

Be well, friends. More posts soon. Thanks for those of you who've assailed me with requests to update my blog.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy

We had a wonderful weekend visit from the family. Thanks for everything Dad and Sabra.

Off-line for a bit, friends. Be well. Say "hi" to the kids and leave a light on for me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bright Spots

Been feeling a little blah lately. Haven't had much energy to devote to updating the BLAHg. Blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Between settling into our new place, cleaning our old apartment, working, eating and chasing Sylvia through the maze of boxes which is our living space -- well, it just doesn't seem like there's been much time left over. But I have to say it is very nice, exceedingly great in fact, to be out of our old apartment. It is grand that we're not lining the pockets of our slimy landlord anymore. It's awesome to be able to crank Black Sabbath twice as loud as I ever listened to it in our old place and not risk pissing anyone off. It's beautiful to hear the girls' voices echoing through the hall upstairs.

Twice in the past week I've had a couple of extremely out of the ordinary encounters with SUV drivers. While riding my Big Dummy in different parts of town, both these drivers pulled alongside me and had conversations out their windows about my bike. The guy in the Yukon this morning wanted to know what frame size I was riding because he's going to get a Dummy. He's already an Xtracycle rider he told me. The woman last week wanted to know where I got my bike because she wants to check one out herself. Pretty cool and definitely not what you often expect when a car slows and the driver rolls her/his window down to have words with you while riding.

If you ride bike paths, and I know you do, do everyone a favor: A) get a bell and ring it and/or B) don't be too shy to state in a firm and audible voice "On your left!" when you pass other trail users. I was reminded this morning of one annoying thing you shouldn't think adequate for the situation -- flicking your brake lever. You know the trick: Slick roadie on his Trek Madone pulls up behind you, palms on the lever hoods with finger cocked to give the lever tip a short snap producing a just-loud-enough-to-be-truly-annoying "TICK! TICK!" that is supposed to indicate "Coming through!" It's minimalist and I'm sure quite chic and Euro in some crowds. But just like the autobahnesque double light flash on the interstate that some stuffed chode thinks is really supposed to get you out of his way so he can do 90 all the way to the cabin, it's rude and arrogant.

While I'm on the topic of picking on cyclists, get some damn lights! People, please, for the love of Jesus and the Mary Chain, BE SEEN! You might think you're all safe and stuff on the path away from dangerous drivers. Nothing can hit you of any consequence, right? People die from bike collisions, by the way. Or maybe going stealth is just your style. Well, guess what? That shit ain't cool. Bike lights are cheap. They blink a long time on one set of batteries. I actually had a friend tell me he has had folks on the Greenway tell him his bike lights are too bright as he rides by their unlit asses. Get over it. The paths are crowded, at this time of year especially. If you wanna hide out stay at home with your door locked and lights off.

Lastly, if you don't know me and I don't know you, don't draft my wheel. True story: Just last week some twit in tights, aero bar and all, drafted my Big Dummy for nearly a mile before I turned off. Classy -- a try-to-be-athlete drafting a 40+ lb cargo bike. I guess I should take it as a compliment that I hold a good pace.

After a recent comment from a friend and reader, April and I had a wonderful discussion about my attitude and blog persona. The thing that was most enlightening for me was being reminded of something I've known a long time: I am not a cheerleader per se, nor am I a very good handholder. I think, I examine, I do. I'm not going to love everyone all the time, in particular if they pull stupid human tricks or exercise a flagrant lack of judgment. I expect others to think and I hope they examine and I am happy to see those who connect the dots in order to engage the do portion of the equation. But too often if one moves to the do without thought or examination that leads to errors and a generous margin for ridicule. That's where I step in. I love to call these lapses in synapses as I see them.

I'm not so upset that I'm not more of a cheerleader either. There are people who start clubs to engage everyone and their Aunt Edna to join with them in what they believe to be the greatest hobby that has ever been contrived. Please visit them for casual conversation and gratuitous amounts of back patting and bottom slapping. (For cycling, might I suggest Mpls Bike Love.) Over the course of my life I've had countless friends and acquaintances tell me I've inspired them or someone they know by the things I do. I take that as a huge compliment. I try my best to do and to do well and to do consistently. I really couldn't care less why someone else doesn't do. But in the grand scheme I see that too many hide behind walls of excuses. That may just be a human trait -- hell, I love a good excuse as much as the next bipedal. However, when I see fortresses built of excuses I get bent.

We need doers. We need cheerleaders, too -- don't get me wrong. We need lots of things, like critical discourse. We need to be able to take that criticism and enact real changes from it. We need examination and we need thought. It's never a good idea, in my opinion, to shut one's brain off, nor to engage in action before shifting one's brain into gear.

Enough of that. Give it all up and check out the funniest Ebay post ever. Thanks to Sov for revealing that little gem.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

APB: Stolen Bike, S Mpls!

It's bike thievin' season in Mpls. Please look out for yet another one-of-a-kind ride that has been ripped off from a good friend. Bike thieves should learn a bit about what they're stealing and not steal custom and otherwise easily recognized bikes owned by people who have lots of bike friends all over the city and aren't afraid to take action to reclaim the goods. If you see this, and someone will, here's the drill: tackle first, take the bike and ask questions later. Fools.

This is a custom bike. It has distinctive features and NICE parts. You'll see a hooligan on it and know right away something is up. Take that person down -- derby style! It went missing last night from the 40th and Elliot vicinity.

Here's the message from J.B.:

My Specter 29er was lifted from my garage last night. Help me get it back and I'll give you something nice for your assistance...

Flat Black 29er Frame and Fork; Gray Specter graphic painted on downtube
Has a stainless coffin for the brake bridge and the seattube has a big stainless plate on the back where it's been cutout. There is not another one of these frames around, it's the only one...

Black King h-set
Hope brakes with goodridge lines, front caliper is black and rear is silver.
Hope Front hub on Salsa rim and salsa QR, surly hub on salsa rim in rear bolt on.
Race Face Deus SS Cranks blk, x type
silver shimano clipless pedals
Surly Torsion Bar on salsa cro moto stem
rouge lock on grips...
niterider light mount on bars.
knog taillight on seatpost
axiom saddlebag
trail a bike hitch on seatpost too...

PLEASE help me get my cherry back! If you see it, call me and I'll come a runnin' with my tommy gun and brass knuckles.

612-741-7468. or 311 to get connected to the police.

Thanks very much.

JB

Of note: The a**hole that did this also removed my daughters training wheels and took them also... I just don't get that...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cycling in the News

Here in the Twin Cities I've definitely noticed a sharp increase in the number of riders I see daily who are obviously on their bikes for a reason other than recreation, meaning they are using their steeds to get to work, run errands, etc. It's not too difficult to gauge someone's "greenness" just by observing them and asking a few internal questions: Do they handle the bike confidently? How do they react to other cyclists around them? How are they dressed and how new is their gear? What do they do when negotiating a traffic-clogged intersection? Those are just a few.

Of course, I'm a cyclist and you'd think that would mean I'd be overjoyed to see so many more people out on bikes. On a certain level I am, but I am also hip to the fact that I need to be aware of safety concerns posed by the presence of a glut of newbies on the trails and in the lanes. If I, as a cyclist, think like that then imagine what the increased presence of cyclists means to habitual motorists and commercial/professional drivers.

Well, this issue has made, and will continue to make, its way into the media. I don't have to point out that one of the mainstream public's favorite things to do is address the safety (or most often the lack thereof, as depicted in the media) of cycling. This article from MSNBC, Cars vs. Bikes, is no exception but it presents some valid observations from the "outsider" perspective. Four Wheels make Room for Two is a local story from Rochester MN. It features quotes from and a video of legendary rider Chewie Moffit. (Never mind that they call him "Brian". News folks always check their facts and get the details right y'know.)

In both articles there are two fairly distinct sides presented. Sounds kinda like American politics, eh? The cyclists and advocates say "Yay! Give us more space, acknowledge our rights, take notice!" The drivers say "Geez! You guys and gals are in the way, we can't get around you, this is a real problem." Who's right? Both, of course, and while I am no fan of the villification of transportation cycling it cannot be denied that there sure as hell have been no provisions for the boom that the US is experiencing in ridership. And I do not feel the least bit out in left field to say we're only viewing the tip of the transportation cycling iceberg.

What does this mean? A lot of different things for sure. But one big one is don't expect, brothers and sisters, for the stink eye to shift away from cycling anytime soon. Legislators and officials are baffled. Drivers are frustrated, in some cases justifiably so. They're gonna bitch and moan and that, combined with the regally stoopid stuff I see some riders do, will likely increase scrutiny and regulation of cyclists' actions. That means I think we can expect more enforcement (i.e. citations) in an effort to make cyclists "ride safer." And perhaps that is not entirely bad to get some of the lackbrains on 2 wheels to clean up their acts. I am, on the contrary, extremely resistant to the idea of regulating cycling, but that's a topic for another essay.

Ride safe, ride aware. Take the highroad whenever possible. Keep your third eye open and carry your Zen mind in your hip pocket. Most of all, be aware that the psychological impairment of habitual driving can only be heightened by high fuel costs and more of us -- the "annoying cyclists" -- on the road. Rubber side down.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Arbitrary Achievements

Bike mileage for the first half of 2008 -- 3576.55. That's not too bad, I suppose. It is mainly comprised of commuting and transportation miles since I've done no racing, nor have I done many long rides just "for the hell of it" (I think I've only done one long ride, come to think of it). Still, I was hoping to crack 10K this year. I don't see that happening, so I'll shoot to break last year's mileage at least.

One thing I have to say I'm proud of (Can I toot my own horn? Wait, this is my friggin' blog): I've taken a number of days off from the office for work, family (Willa's birth and care) and a few sick days, but I have only driven to work two days this year. I got one day's worth of rides to and from work from friends. I've also been picked up by April so we could leave for roadtrips a couple of times. My "stretch goal" was to not drive at all. I blew that obviously, but I am not entirely displeased to look back at the stats and see that I haven't done a half bad job of going car free.

I used to think of the car as a last resort if I was running late or under the impression I just wasn't feeling up to the ride. Now every morning I realize the bike is my "car" and wherever I need to go it needs to be under pedal power. It's a big commitment, don't get me wrong. And I'd be lying if I said that I love every minute of every ride. But the truth is I've spent so much time outside of a car, working my body to get where I need to go, that I honestly can't fathom regularly turning an ignition switch as a viable alternative. I'd rather suffer temporal discomfort (temporal because I only perceive it as discomfort in the moment when weather conditions are less than ideal or I'm feeling shitty) than suffer the long term discomfort that reliance on internal combustion transportation signals in me.

Is the rest of my life aligned? Pshaw! Far from it. But I'd have to say this rather large part is. And I'm going to bask in that a while ...