Monday, March 31, 2008

MPLS Weather: Snow With a Chance of Heavier Snow

As I was preparing to leave this morning I thought, "I really ought to take the camera." But I didn't. I pedaled to work and there were a few flurries blowing around. If you're not from here you have to know: the ground was bare to the green warmth of grass; the pavement was bare, too, and dry; the sidewalks were clear. It has been that way for a week or so. We've had many days in the mid 40s, even 50s, with sunshine. The photo above is the paved parking area behind our building when I arrived home tonight.

About 3 miles from the compound it really started coming down. I was still able to ride through the park though. "The park" is Hyland Park and it borders our work campus. Three seasons out of the year we bike commuters are able to enjoy the last couple miles of our rides along a smooth path that meanders through restored prairie and winds around a couple lakes. It is wonderful. During winter, however, it's off limits since cross country skiers drive their cars there and pay good money to slide along trails groomed to be extra smooth for their sensitive needs.

I normally regard spring as having really sprung when I can ride through the park again. I had been enjoying that immensely the past few rides to work. Looks like I might have to detour for a day or two while things melt again (and the skiers get a last hoorah before unleashing the most annoying of hindrances -- the roller ski).

I rode the Big Dummy today. It is one of my favorite bikes without a doubt. It is a cruiser without the slow factor. I've already raved about the Dummy's speed in prior posts, but its comfort is unmatched. And I really love how whatever the day throws at me (in terms of spontaneous load-hauling needs), the Dummy is ready to respond unflinchingly. Tonight was the first time I've ridden it in much snow. It did well despite the fact I was carrying nearly no weight on the back. I had a little slip while climbing a few hills, but the long wheelbase makes you feel pretty darn stable in the snow and slop. One thing was for sure -- by riding the Big Dummy to work I was effectively erasing the possibility of a ride home from a friend. The Dummy doesn't load well on racks or in cars. That's okay -- it's meant to be ridden. It is an all-weather automobile replacement device.

A word or two about the snow: I worked a 9 hour day today, all the while watching the snow dump hard and fast outside. I'm a little skittish, having endured my fair share of icy dabs over the past month. I was ready for the worst. It happened that my co-worker Jim and I were leaving at the same time. He'd contemplated catching the bus, but missed the pick-up time. We rolled out the door into the heavy streaks of flakes. It was warmish -- near 30 degrees. The parking lot looked to not have been plowed, but it didn't matter. It was warm enough that the snow humps were soft and squishy. Bike tires sank right down and pushed the sludge out of the way. Corners were firm, too. There was all the traction in the world. The only possible downer was a very stiff NNE wind pounding the heavy flakes into our eyes most of the way home. Glasses were good, but needed frequent wiping. And even though gloved hands did little more than smear the snow and water around, it was still better than snowflake missiles impacting bare eyeballs.

Jim and I chatted all the way to Minnehaha Pkwy. The snow kept our pace slow enough to be enjoyable. Walkers and residents regarded us in amazement. I'm sure many drivers did too, even if they thought we were stupid and/or crazy to be riding our bikes. We saw enough stupid, out-of-control driving that I was thoroughly convinced folks were insane to be out automobiling.

I really like how snow and ice collect on a bike while you're riding and how riding through puddles in near-freezing temps can create dramatic ice formations on the frame. It doesn't look like we got the 7-8" originally forecast, but that's a healthy several inches to bury the front wheel. That was at 8. As I write, it's a bit after 11pm. The snow's tapered off, but it hasn't stopped yet.

Viva the Minnesota spring! What's that bit about MN being second only to Siberia in March weather fluctuations? Isn't March supposed to be "in like a lion, out like a lamb?" That's one rabid, punk-rockin' lamb! And I think that lamb is damn cool.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hello, Spring, Can You Hear Me?

Little Willa at 4 days old. She's a very alert and generally happy kid.

We got out as a family today and went on a long walk to the Peace Garden and Roberts Bird Sanctuary. The day was perfect, I even dressed a little too warmly. It's a good thing we got out. A passing walker asking whether we had also seen the season's first butterflies along the trail remarked how they'd be dormant again after tomorrow's snow. Snow?! I haven't been checking the forecast; I've been blissfully floating in family la-la land. Ye old weather folks are calling for a 90% chance of frozen precip starting tomorrow morning and lasting all day. Total storm accumulation is predicted at 7-8". Now, I like to temper those predictions with the freak-out factor because I think weather professionals like to talk of gloom and doom. However, no way around it -- tomorrow looks to be a mess, as well as a test of my snow and ice-addled nerves. Nothing says "welcome back!" after a week off from work like a March snowstorm for the morning bike commute.

Walking around, seeing what there is to see. We observed a bunch of downy woodpeckers, chickadees and a pair of mallards. Sylvia climbed over logs and jumped in the lingering snow patches.

Sylvia in the Peace Garden. We can only hope for a little inner peace for this big sister. The past couple of days seem to have marked an increased jealousy concerning April's time and attention. Sometimes her moods resemble a regression to the stereotypical "terrible twos." That's our fiesty girl!

Willa slept the entire time on my chest. It's a tough life.

No, this isn't an old photo. It was just a couple of days ago. Sylvia doesn't know the meaning of seasonal garb -- every day is dress-up day! Her style is a sort of anachronistic fusion -- the prairie schooner pulled up for breakfast at Tiffany's on All Hallows Eve.

Be well, folks. And keep that snow shovel handy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Good Stuff

My grand plan for today was to get out of the house with Sylvia to give Momma and Willa some quiet time. The week off has been great for strengthening the daddy-daughter bond. I'm ready to get back to work, but I will also miss the unstructured days devoted to family. I've also been able to clear out a few lingering to-do tasks, some from over a year ago. Monday will come too soon, but I am fortunate in that I like my job and my co-workers. In addition, I typically get to learn new stuff everyday. However, I'm sincerely going to miss all the time I've been able to spend with Sylvia this week.

Anyhow, back to the topic: Sylvia and I set off about midday with bike and Burley for points unknown. The obligatory stop at CRC produced a chance meeting with the lovely Alix who was back from a training ride around Mtka. She joined us for a cup. BRose seemed to be having fun tending shop, but I have to confess he always freaks me out just a bit when he says in that slightly grave (and very fatherly, I might add) tone as I'm departing: "You be careful out there." It's like Hill Street Blues -- you never know who might not come back to the station house alive.

Despite any ill portent, I'm pleased to report Sylvia and I had a fine day. It was sunny, windy and warmish in the mid 40s. Sylvia fell asleep shortly after leaving CRC. The past dozen or so trips in the Burley she's been complaining about the bumps. Today I tried something and it seems to have done the trick: put a full size pillow in there with her. It absorbs the shock and keeps her from banging the sidebars of the trailer when she slumps over for a nap.

She slept away and I just kept riding. Geez, but how I love being on a bike with no destination, no timeline and no expectations. It just doesn't happen all that often to be honest. We went from Uptown to the Cedar Lake Trail in Kenwood, then headed west. I had no idea it connects again in Hopkins. That makes for a nice loop. We passed so many empty playgrounds in St Louis Park I regretted Sylvia was asleep. That section of the Cedar Lake Trail was not too heavily traveled either, making for easier pedaling than the springtime free-for-all around the lakes area. I just try to take deep breaths and keep my fingers to myself and near the brake levers.

The folks I relished making fun of (to myself) the most while riding today were the roadies. Racers or rec riders, it didn't matter. And, no, I don't mean the sound and rigging guys from the last Metallica tour. I mean the cyclists who were out taking things way too seriously (IMHO, as the acronym goes). Dudes, and dudettes -- let's be equal opportunity, you're on a multi-use recreational path endangering the safety and wrecking the enjoyment of countless other users by ripping by at 18+mph riding 2-3 abreast. Of course, some of you decked out in local or (my favorite) replica pro kit had winter insulation adhering to your bodies that kept you from going much faster than me towing a Burley. All right ... one more mockery and I'll stop. I absolutely want to knock these particular folks off their $4K Scotts and Ridleys -- the freaks who crown their team kit with the garishly Euro cinch-style training beanie. No helmet of course; the Europeans don't train in helmets, you domestique! The beanie sans helmet is comforting when you consider the only riding action most of these folks saw all winter was the virtual video in front of their Tacx trainers. Add to that the notoriously twitchy handling skills of most roadies and, well, let's just say the smart money goes on the Cubs for the next World Series. Okay, done.

Headed back east toward Uptown Sylvia awoke just as I saw a train approaching. We were the lucky ones who made it across the tracks in time, but we stopped anyway so Sylvia could watch the train go by. And it was a long one, too -- about 15 minutes. In all my miles of riding the greenways in and around Mpls, I've never been held up by a train. This was pretty cool and Sylvia got a kick out of it as well.

Since the co-pilot was now awake, I was taking her orders: "To the playground!" Which playground was up to me. I wanted to keep riding, so I meandered down the Midtown and over to Powderhorn Park. Sylvia had a great time. I enjoy working with her at playgrounds, talking her through challenges when she asks for rescue and seeing her solve problems and build confidence.

Here's Sylvia climbing all over the piece of equipment she calls "The Pretzel." My frame of reference is her skill level from last fall. She now climbs stuff that blows me away and even scares me a little. You wanna have some fun and realize just how out of touch adulthood can make you with your own body? Go play at a playground.

An action shot of my fearless daughter exiting the tunnel slide. I had to help her into this slide the first half dozen times, but eventually she just started running laps and bombing down it on her own. The Powderhorn playground is not as shiny-new and safe as other parks in the city. This slide had a huge, intimidating (for a 2 year old) gap between the platform and tunnel. "Safe" playgrounds are kind of funny. I read a story last year that sited research evidence proving the "safer" authorities try to make payground equipment, the more risks kids take while playing on it. Amen, brother. Falling down, crashing and occasionally drawing a little blood are necessary thrills.

We must have spent an hour and a half at the park. I was getting cold. The sky darkened and the wind increased. Sylvia was fine though. I asked her about that and she told me, "I don't get cold because I'm warm-blooded." All I needed was someone to fittingly add an "Oh, SNAP!" from over my shoulder.

My attempts to coax Sylvia away with the promise of french fries did not work. (Okay, Matt's Bar was only 5 blocks away and I was being a bit selfish.) She wanted to go home instead. Whether or not she could see through my ruse, I admired her for saying no to the fries. We all need to exercise a little self control from time to time. That's a good reminder.

Of course, one block from home she was screaming from the trailer, "I WANT TO GET FRENCH FRIES!" Go figure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Drinking With Satan

Tuesday was Belgian beer night at the Bulldog. Tuesday was also Alix's birthday celebration. I happened to be checking work emails from home and got the invitation. Here I am sipping a Lucifer Ale (from its namesake glass) among friends. I tried to strike a regal pose since I'm not accustomed to quaffing ales from such dainty receptacles.

Wow, that was a tough ride home. Beware the party guest who seeks to buy a round of bourbon for everyone at the end of the night. The Big Dummy rides smooth, but it doesn't have autopilot. I found that out as I leaned into a corner a couple blocks from home and washed out in a layer of post-melt gravel. (Or, so, that's my story.)

Stuff often breaks when you crash. Including, in this case, riding glasses, which in turn can create fun gashes and colorful black eyes. Not a bad crash but I still took a knock. Is a guy proud to crash while riding home from a bar? Personally speaking, no. But crashing happens. In a somewhat hypocritical way, I guess I'd just like to say: Wear a helmet. If you're part cat and can always manage to crash upright without knocking your head -- well, more power to you. I guess you're a better, smarter or sometimes more sober rider than me. Yeehaw. I mean shitting my pants and having someone take care of me for the rest of my life sounds kinda fun and all. But why take that chance? If you're a straight-edge know-it-all, guess what? Unbeknownst to you, your skull might have a pavement magnet built in. Wear a helmet and don't leave any unwanted moral highroad comments on my blog.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Little Wisdom from Wendell Berry

One of my favorite poets and a man whom I admire deeply. He writes his drafts in pencil. His wife types them up on an actual typewriter. He refuses to buy a computer. I edit so much writing electronically. I admire that sort of "old school" creative commitment, that willingness to directly and confidently channel a message. That is art.

This poem has one of Berry's more quotable lines: "So, friends, every day do something that won't compute." I like to think of that as how I aspire to live my life.


The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
By Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Childbirth Pt II

For the benefit of family and friends who care about such matters, here's a little more info on the birth. (Soon enough I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming of anti-car essays and bike rants interspersed with family cycling updates -- like the challenges of biking with two kids.)

April kicked off her labor about 5am Saturday morning. Her dad and stepmom were in town and were planning to come get Sylvia for an outing anyway. April went on about her morning, having mild contractions. By 11am it became apparent that things were moving. We called the hospital about noon and they gave us the green light to come in. Sylvia ran off with the grandparents and Angela (our good friend and birth assistant) stayed with us. April was very casual and wanted to make sure we waited to go to the hospital until it was time. Around 2pm she said, "Let's go."

The last birth was long and miserable. April had almost two full days of prodromal labor -- she was in pain with what felt like meaningful contractions, but they did nothing to advance the delivery. She was spared that this time around. The attending nurse midwife said she was at 3cm and her contractions were coming regularly and strong. At 3pm they admitted her and we settled into our room. The delivery wing was nearly vacant with only one other expectant mother in the house. After about an hour of more frequent contractions April asked if she could get in the birthing tub (think whirlpool on wheels without the jets). This really got things going and by 5:30 the nurse said April was at 8cm. Contractions were coming fast and furious and the nurse was convinced she would be delivering very soon. She couldn't actually deliver in the tub, however, so we had to move back to the room.

There was excitement in the air. I remember thinking how quickly it was all going and I was happy for April. A 14 hour labor would be so much better than the 36 or more hours of torture she endured the first time around. It seemed like a fitting reward and it was all but assured. There was a shift change in midwives and nurses. All of a sudden we were dealing with new folks who had to come up to speed with our short, but momentous, history thusfar at the hospital. Then, things stalled. The nurse said nothing had changed with the cervix -- April was still at 8cm. It began to seem a bit too much like the first time. "Man, this sucks," I thought. After another hour or so (sometime around 7pm) it was time to move to Plan B.

"Plan B" makes it sound like we had a Plan B. In reality, everything other than "Plan A" would be Plan B. Plan A was like last time -- April labored and pushed Sylvia out without any drugs. She did take an Oxytocin drip to get things going after a similar stall, but she endured a day and a half of labor (after more than a day of "pre-labor" pain) without any anesthetic. She wanted this delivery to go the same. That was Plan A.

The necessity for Plan B was like a reality check. April was tired and starting to hurt a lot. In addition to the contractions, she had cramping between the contractions. She wanted the labor to be over and I respected that. Who wouldn't? The nurse and midwife discussed the options: an Oxytocin drip would get things going; an epidural would ease the pain. After several rounds of advice, April agreed to both. She asked me if I was okay with that. I told her no one was judging her. The ultimate goal was a healthy baby and a healthy mother. It was nice because there was little delay. The anesthesiologist was up within the hour. She was thorough and efficient. She was also tall and broad-shouldered (of some pure Scandinavian stock, and looked like she could certainly kick mine and probably Eric Sovern's asses). Soon April was able to rest. Angela and I did the same. With lights out we all did our best to nap for an hour or two.

Details are foggy, but by midnight things got going again. Contractions were coming on in earnest. The epidural was dialed so that April wasn't numb -- she could still feel the building pressure and know what was happening. Soon enough it was time to begin pushing. At "go time" the delivery room becomes a buzzing hive of activity full of people who've never been present until that moment. Last delivery I was so sleep deprived it was like I was tripping. All I remember was a large, wheeled bright light shining at April's crotch. When I took the time to look away from my post next to her, the room (which had been empty aside from April, Angela, the widwife, attending nurse and me) was suddenly populated with 4-5 more people cheering us on. It was quite surreal.

It took a little vacuum assistance (which is a hand pump, not a machine, for anyone wondering), but Willa was born well into Easter morning. April was ecstatic and a little weepy. It had been another experience full of ups and downs. However, it wasn't quite over. Once the baby is delivered, the mother still has to pass the placenta. I refrained from posting my photos of that, but the placenta is an amazing mass of life-giving tissue -- it is an extra organ. The other weird thing (and the best advice I can give to a new father/partner preparing to endure the experience) concerns the actual egress of the baby from the birth canal into the room. Newborn babies look dead. It doesn't matter that you've been standing there for hours looking at a monitor that shows your baby's heart rate of 140-150 beats per minute; when the kid actually squeezes out of your partner's vagina -- all purple, bloody and waxen -- it looks stillborn. There is a moment of shock -- "It's all gone wrong, the kid is dead!" But soon the baby starts wriggling and crying. If it's your first kid you might think that crying sound is loud. If it's your second (or more) kid, you think about how that crying is only going to get exponentially louder and you have to listen to it for many years to come.

Following the birth everyone leaves except the nurse. She is stuck with the ungrateful job of cleaning up the room. That includes changing the blood-and-goo-stained sheets of the bed, disposing of soiled things, helping mom clean up, bathing the baby, as well as weighing, measuring and recording stats. I love the attending nurses because they love what they do and most have been doing it a long time. They like to see new life ushered into the world and they have kids of their own. They're weathered and necessarily stern. They grab newborns and administer shots and tests despite crying and revolt. Yet, they are soft and compassionate. I think many have found the balance, at least in their professional lives.

One last thing I will say: The connection you can make with your partner during childbirth is unlike anything else. Staring into her eyes while you are following her pain, trying to direct her to breathe with you, is an amazing experience. Giving yourself up wholly and fully to that moment is supremely worthwhile. Pupils locked to every movement, reminders to stay focused, hugging and kissing -- it's all the utmost expression of affection and heartfelt love.

Well, enough of the narrative, here are some photos:

Angela brought these spring bulbs along. When we arrived only the purple (which looked like crocus, but might actually be iris) had bloomed. The yellow daffodil was a bud when April began laboring at the hospital. Snow fell throughout the night. When Willa was born, it bloomed. We contemplated "Daffodil" as a middle name, but opted for "Ravenna" -- isn't Ravenna way more conventional?

This is one of my favorite photos ever and I didn't even capture it. Sylvia is going to be a great big sister. Except for the moments when she isn't, but those will be great, too. It goes without saying that April is an awesome mother.

Grandparents, Brian and Sabra, appreciating the little morsel of joy.

Megan, one of Sylvia's primary caretakers holding Willa at 8 hours after birth.

Bobby takes a turn with the baby. He also gave me a ride home. (I biked back the next day to pick up everyone with the ramp-parked car.) We were also supposed to grab a beer, but as soon as food hit my belly, I was ready for sleep.

Little baby feet. On Willa's left ankle is the sensor to prevent her being carried away (or the wrong baby being assigned the incorrect parents). It also prevented any congratulatory cell phone calls since cell phones interfered with the security system. I had to walk downstairs and out for that. But it was a nice break.

Sylvia takes her own opportunity to check Momma's blood pressure. She has a thing for doctor stuff right now.

Corey, Megan and Sylvia check out Willa.

That's about it until next time folks. Be well!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Rebirth

Willa Ravenna Fleck was born this morning at 2:43am. Pertinent stats: 21.75" (55.25cm) long and 9lbs 13.2oz (4.46kg). I'm not lying, look at the scale. That's a big baby. Start to finish was about 22 hours of labor, but things went relatively smoothly. It's been a long couple of days for Clan Fleck.

Shot of the proud new dad exhibiting proper logo placement. This shirt quite literally freaked out our admitting nurse. Not entirely sure why. Maybe it's the 666 license plate. I guess it's a good thing April talked me out of wearing the "I'm with Big Dummy" t-shirt.

Here's a family shot. Sylvia is quite pleased to have a little sister which is a very nice surprise for us. April is even more pleased to no longer be pregnant and she looks damn chipper for having been in the thick of labor just 9 hours earlier. (Yes, I took two CRC shirts to the hospital. I packed at the last minute. It just happened that way.)

Angela, our birth companion for Sylvia's entry into the world, came back for round two. I can't begin to say how much her presence and support meant to us. Thank you again, Angela.

Mommy and Willa getting some necessary rest. Willa seems to be a pretty laid back soul. She took to breastfeeding immediately after the birth. She's alert and looks around a lot, studying her surroundings, trying to figure out who all these weird people are. It only gets stranger from here, kid!

Thanks to all our friends for the well-wishes and support. I've slept a couple of hours in the past two days. I'm headed off to bed. I'll be sure to post more annoying "friends holding the new baby" shots tomorrow. Nighty-night!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Winter That Refused to End

The view out our window this morning. It snowed all day. The bike commute was loads of fun. I didn't crash, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Happy spring.

Here's where we are. One and a half weeks overdue. April can still muster a smile. Maybe the baby is just waiting for all the friggin' snow to go away.

Quit looking at your computer and go ride somewhere.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Ever Happened to Zito's Ham?

The Slick 50 was a profitable ride. I spent money on beer; I rode away with a big ham. We made good use of that ham. Just you see.

In order to explain, we need to back up a bit. The Sunday morning after the Slick 50 began with a trip to the MN Children's Museum in St Paul. We loaded up and cruised over to that "other city."

Here's a family shot on the walk to the museum. Don't they look happy?

This is a shot of Aunt Hannah with Julian (Sylvia's cousin) and Sylvia. They are hard at work on art projects. For Sylvia that mostly meant squirting a lot of glue onto a piece of cardboard, but who am I to judge art?

The culmination of the day. Zito's ham went into the oven for a few hours and we worked on side dishes -- greens, carrots, sweet potatoes and biscuits. Angela and Eric came over and brought the carrots. It made a southern boy like me proud. That ham was GOOD. Thoroughly local, totally smoked. Even Angela (the "vegetarian") said, "Yum."

Zito's ham went on to feed a few more people the next day and care baggies went out to friends. The day after that more people ate from it and today it comprised the better portion of our lunch. By the time of writing it is almost depleted, but its memory will live on. We'll make soup from the bone. That ham was special. Locally processed, really tasty and many people enjoyed it. Plus, how often does one buy a ham and feed one's friends? Isn't that part of the greater meaning of food and meals in general?

Thanks, Zito!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

You Big Dummy!

After leaving work via car last night to meet up with visiting family (and not wanting to throw my bike on top of the roof because of slop and slush), I was left with a dilemma -- well, sort of. I like dilemmas because they are perfect learning opportunities. I knew I could just ride my Dummy to work and pick up my Cross-Check to haul home.

Friends and co-workers had their doubts as they walked past me on the way out from work. "Have you done this before?" asked one. "No," I replied. But I've seen pictures. (Thanks to Paul L. for sharing photos of trailering a Karate Monkey with his Xtracycle.)

I'm pleased to say you can pull off this stunt with little more than the straps from the Freeloader and a couple extra bungees for safety. I had to stop part way home and shift the front wheel over to make the trailing bike track straighter, but other than that it was smooth sailing.

Imagine the implications: How about a bicycle wrecker service? With a fork mount attached to the Dummy you could haul a bike and its rider easily to their destination or a bike shop for a repair. With the Dummy you could even haul a pretty extensive repair shop around fixing commuters' bikes on the spot. Vacationing snowbirds could pedal to FL, their sporty bikes in tow. Racers could warm up on their way to a race and be ready to crank serious watts upon arrival. Okay, enough of that. Do those ideas really seem that far-fetched though? (Well, okay, old folks pedaling from MN to FL yearly ...)

I have to brag a bit about the weather. I've always been a weather person but moving to MN six years ago intensified that interest. The evening was clear and 40F. The moon rose and the streets were relatively quiet. All the snow from our storm yesterday morning is gone. The roads are melted all the way to the shoulders. Except for a few thin patches in the morning, the ice is also abating. It is my favorite season to ride in MN. I love this calm, too, because soon enough we'll get the rain and wind. That can be interesting in its own right.

But tonight I saw the nearly full moon. The season's first bats fluttered around me at Lake Harriet. The western horizon never fully darkened even though I left work late. Riding tonight was magic.

Happy vernal equinox. May you find balance.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dummy Press

You, dear readers, have not heard me say the words 'Big Dummy' much lately. I have been riding my Cross-Check fixed gear in prep for last Saturday's ride and looking ahead to the Almanzo 100. With snow this morning and more forecast tonight I will most likely stay on my Cross-Check for another day. Fixed gear is superior in the snow in my book and my body is used to riding this bike again. Plus, my Cross-Check is just so sexy!
Other folks have been talking about the Dummy, however:

The Mpls Star Tribune did a nice feature on the Big Dummy in yesterday's paper.

Momentum Magazine, out of Vancouver, also has a blurb in their current issue. They did a spread on Mpls bike culture and interviews with a few figures from around town, too. If you dig bikes for lifestyle, transportation and just plain ole "rockin' the boat" kind of reasons, you might want to bookmark the site. Better yet, tell your local outpost of bike culture to start carrying Momentum in hardcopy.

My sister-in-law, Hannah, rode the Dummy briefly yesterday. She also let me take her around the block on the snap deck. I'd consider her a casual cyclist but she loved it and said it makes so much sense. She even asked me how much they cost. I don't think I answered her. It's not the cheapest bike one could build, but when you consider what it does as well as the endless possibilities -- and if you're serious about eliminating the conflicting values of internal-combustion technology in your life -- then, it's worth every penny.

THIS JUST IN! It has nothing to do with the rest of my post! Campy shifters and SRAM Red derailleurs/cassettes are compatible. Who knew?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Slick 50 -- 2008 style

More photos from the Slick 50 may be found here. Mark E shot some video. Swing on over to his corner of the blogosphere to sample that.

If you were there you know. If you stayed 'til the end, you know even more (the parts you can remember anyhow). And if you missed it -- well, there's always next year.

Once again, Hurl assembled a pleasantly challenging concoction of trails and cut-throughs of varying surface quality for this Ides of March edition of the Slick 50. I wasn't certain I'd be joining the crew. April had some twinges of pre-labor on Friday. She gave me the green light Saturday morning, however, and even came to the Triple Rock for breakfast and pre-ride trash talk. Things remained stable and I didn't get "the call." In fact I stayed out entirely too late, my Slick 50 experience blending seamlessly into a dinner meeting with Manderson and the illustrious Mr. Rahn, then ending with a backyard blaze in an undisclosed S Mpls location.

Highlights of the ride: pedaling through icy tunnels and slushy culverts; watching sludgy icicles form at unlikely angles on various parts of bike frames; storming Main St Hopkins, 30+ dirty riders raiding the first bar we came to; Zito winning a meat raffle at said bar and me hauling most of the massive ham home in my seat bag. Total mileage: 50.17. Crashes: 0. The facial expressions and comments of Hopkins residents and "normal" patrons of the Tavern: priceless.

This little diversion temporarily set aside the obvious question: When is that critter going to make its entrance into the world? I guess when s/he is damn good and ready.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shin Splints

Beautiful day in Mpls. It started out around 31F. I suited up quickly -- it's amazing how much faster you can dress when it's not -5. I rolled away from home my usual 5 minutes late. Pedaling through Lyndale Farmstead Park I had to dodge a biker who wasn't paying attention on the trail. About 50 yards later I saw why he was facing downward because huge glare ice slicks were everywhere. I fell into the trap of scanning the path 10 to 20 feet ahead. As I prepared to pop out onto the road I didn't notice the entire intersection was ice, instead I was focused on the car that was also approaching from the north toward the stop signs. I hit the street and no sooner did I literally hit the street. Wait, I'm not gonna admit it. I didn't crash again. Instead, here's what really happened -- the road rose up to meet me; it smote me upon my knee, my right knee, like a vengeful god, a damned jealous god. Damn that jealous god! That makes three impacts on the same spot in two weeks.

I showed a co-worker my knee while he was eating a late lunch of sushi. It seemed well timed. The beauty of it is this -- two thicknesses of scab pressed into the raw flesh to create a new, larger third scab. Just yesterday I was victoriously picking away the unnecessary scabby edges. That's it -- it's time to shave my legs again. I always crash less with shaved legs.

Thursdays are my short workdays except today I didn't have to be home early. Instead I was headed to the Hennepin County Government Center to apply for my passport. I rode away from work at 4pm in a wool jersey with no vest. Full sunshine massaged my shoulders. The temperature was around 46 degrees. My lungs happily drew in the warm air. My body was soaking in the abundant heat. I locked my bike outside the government building totally prepared with a pre-printed application and all necessary documents. Or, so I thought.

Turns out my birth certificate is not certified. I mildly disputed this with the woman at the counter. How could this birth certificate have worked for everything else I have ever needed it for my entire 35 years of life? She said it wasn't right. She asked where was born. I told her West Virginia. She couldn't even find West Virginia on her photocopied form of contacts for official records. Instead she just pushed it toward me and said I could figure out how to contact them for a certified copy. I told her this certificate had worked to get me into Canada many times, no questions asked. She said, with a fake smile, "A lot has changed since September 11th." I told her I'd used it just last year -- in 2007. "Have a nice day," were her last words. I thought they ought to be her LAST WORDS. The scene was straight out of Fargo. Riding away, without passport application submitted, I thought what had really changed since 9/11/2001 was that our government gets to treat us all like suspect assholes. I'm thinking of becoming Muslim to really tick them off.

I called April and vented my spleen. She calmed me and told me things were cool, we're not going into labor today. That knowledge procured, I stopped off for some beer and pulled a solo Bridge Club on the Bryant Ave pedestrian bridge. It was so sunny and so warm. I stood there sipping my Horny Goat and watched all the activity occuring around me. People walked, folks rode, dogs barked and jerked on their fools' leashes. Things of note: I saw a lot of bare flesh. People in MN never cease to amaze me. As soon as it's relatively warm they eschew all long layers for short sleeve shirts and shorts. I wonder how many muscle pulls and strains are suffered in March? In addition I was shocked by how many fat couples I saw jogging together. I am a modern person and hesitate to use the word 'fat', but these were people who appeared to have last subjected their bodies to vigorous physical activity in Sept/Oct of last year (or 3-5 years prior). Oh, bless you, pudgy folks. But you're gonna hurt so much for the next three days you're not gonna run again until next spring.

The other thing of note: the number of cyclists on clean bikes of all vintages and conditions who were bombing down the path sans helmets. It's 2008, people. Helmets are light and cool and color-coordinated. Buy one. Wear it. Especially if you don't ride your bike all year long -- that means you're going to be rusty with bike handling come spring. Add ice and other gawking trail users to the mix and you have a high probability of a crash onto your already feebly populated melon.

Then, it hit me. Why, in our culture, do we treat exercise as a leisure or recreational activity? That is a complex question, I know, but it strikes at the heart of my ethos. I had lots of other thoughts, but I'll briefly extrapolate this one. I am anti-car for the trifles we label "daily needs." I am also anti-mass-transit for a like reason: both encourage duffing, i.e. sitting on one's ass and letting an engine take them where they want to be. Carpooling and bussing and trains are better for the environment, but they still encourage lazy people. It also occured to me tonight that my main argument is not about the environment, it is about laziness. Automobiles, in fact internal combustion engines, are a luxury. It is only our society that has constructed them as necessities. I stood there on the bridge and thought, rather haughtily, I drink plenty of beer. Before I left work I ate a slice of deep dish pizza that I didn't need to eat which probably provided me 500 calories. But I'm not as worried about those things because I ride my bike everyday, two hours a day. Most "health professionals" recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. My 2 hours is more intense than moderate and I don't have to pay a membership or schedule extra time -- plus, it serves a purpose.

What if people thought of exercise serving a purpose? Don't look for anyone to market that angle anytime soon. That would seriously cut into sales of gym memberships, snow blowers, lawn mowers and, well, cars. Not to mention ATVs, jet skis, fishing boats, leisure yachts and Segways. I don't care what it is -- if it burns petrol (okay, I was just picking on Segways 'cause they're stupid) for anything but useful purposes (and I'll define useful ON MY BLOG -- like food production, for one), I'm against it. NASCAR can kiss my ass and Formula One can kiss it, too. Seafood in Nebraska -- why? Cruising and joy riding ... parents can give their children a better legacy, if they care to. Fuck it -- I'm anti-oil for the simple reason that it has defined our culture. And everyone driving a car everyday, you're so outdated. Start dressing accordingly.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

T-Shirt Idea

For the expectant father ... suitable for wear at work particularly ... available in gender-specific (if you know the sex) or gender-neutral (if, like many, you believe gender is learned and relative for that matter) ... plain, yet bold font that reads across front:

"Still No Baby."

Due date was yesterday. And, no, I'm not driving to work in case I need to make a quick getaway. It doesn't (usually) happen like in the movies. C'mon! But if it does -- won't that make a much cooler story about how Daddy had to meet Mommy at the hospital on his bike? Yep, sure would.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Weekend Came and Went

No baby yet. Now it's Sunday night (or it was when I began this post). We temporarily lost (or paid forward for the next two seasons?) an hour of our lives. But hey, it will be light for the commutes home -- yippee! Those of you with kids will understand when I say that the "red zone" is a tough time. April's technical due date is Tuesday. When you get within a week of that date everyday feels like a crap shoot. "Is today the day I might have to drop everything and rush home?" Who knows?

So, I'm gonna back up a bit. I had a visit last Thursday evening from an old friend, Chris. We used to work together at the Great Bell Canoe Making Company up in the glorious burgs of Zimmerman and Princeton. Chris lives in another central MN ivy league town, Cambridge. It's only an hour away, but we just don't get the chance to hang out much. He is a winter adventurer and a damn fine photographer who is actually making his dream (to be a professional photographer) come true.

Chris and I used to do lunch time training rides together. Princeton might be far from the Cities but it has some nice rural roads for riding. And everything is laid out in big squares, so there's little danger of getting lost. The rides were good for the body, but also the soul. Some days it seemed he and I were the only level-headed ones around the office. Getting out for an hour was vital for preserving sanity. That was so long ago it seems. Haven't we all had a job (or jobs) like that? A couple years' hindsight leaves you wondering how the hell you stuck around as long as you did?! Having a co-worker who is also a good friend helps.

Somewhere in the midst of bike conversations, Sylvia lost interest and gave in to sleep -- right at the dinner table. I carried her into bed and Chris and I tinkered with changing over a wheelset on his single speed. The hub he got from me is fixed only. Screw the freewheel -- time to grab life by the horns and ride! I hope he is exploring the joys of riding fixed and not hating every minute of it. Like clown bikes and recumbents, fixed isn't for everyone I suppose.

I found this photo by surprise on the camera. April snapped a spontaneous mommy and daughter shot. I like it.

On Sunday (gasp), we went to Southdale Mall. I had to visit ProEx for passport photos. We used the remainder of the time to walk around and observe people. Oh, and make a stop at Ben & Jerry's. Sylvia also got some excellent practice in escalator technique. When I was a kid I remember how cool escalators were. We had to go to a big city to see them. All the malls in my hometown were small and flat. That pretty much sums up life in my hometown of Clarksville TN.

Sylvia has known her alphabet for almost a full year. She also likes to type. She can read letters in words and find them on the keyboard. Here she took dictation from mommy and successfully typed the word "dad." Those are the moments that make all the two-year old meltdowns and tantrums melt away, just like my heart.

Monday morning commute started at around 8F. We had a high of 35 or so. Today it was 35 when I got on the bike and it's forecast to hit nearly 40! With full sun, the melt has begun. Happy pedaling!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Best Defense

is a good offense. Sorry to borrow a football adage (which I think applies more to the real football -- soccer) but it seemed fitting.

My request of you, my fellow cyclists: Everytime a driver does something shitty to you -- confront them. I don't mean middle finger waving, etc. (That has its place, though.) This might sound way more "in your face" than is necessary. But all you need to do is question your fellow humans' actions.

Case in point: I was riding home tonight and a driver on a residential side road took the whole lane and did not slow down -- barreling toward me at 30mph. One detail to note is that fresh snow had narrowed the safe path on the road. His sideview mirror came within 6" of my handlebar. I looked back and noticed he was taking a right and surmised he would most likely be pulling over at the next block, since it was a residential. I looped around and sure enough was right -- he had just pulled into the curb and was walking toward an apartment building (his V-8 idling, by the way). I stoppped him with an "Excuse me, sir." He turned and looked at me. "You almost hit me a block back on 39th Street. You should slow down and give room for cyclists on narrow roads." This guy was big, about my height and 250 if not more. I expected him to yell something at me and I was prepared to yell back. But I hadn't yelled at him, just spoken to him. Instead he replied, in a shaky, defensive voice, "I didn't think I was THAT close to you." "Dude, your sideview mirror almost hit my handlebars," I replied. "Well, I didn't notice. I'm sorry," he said. "I'd appreciate it if you show more consideration next time," was my retort. "Well ... I'm sorry and I will," he blurted out apologetically. "All right. Thanks and have a nice day," I told him in the most authentic tone possible. He actually told me, "You, too," as I wheeled around to ride the final three blocks to home.

So, here's the deal, people -- call folks out. It's very un-Midwestern, I know, but I am not from the Midwest. Hit the brakes, turn around, loop the block, tail people. If you can catch up with them, confront them and TALK to them (don't yell, don't curse, don't swing). Tell them what they did wrong and why. You have a bike. If it turns sour, you can always ride away. But if you don't call them on their stupid shit, they may never know why it was stupid. In this case, I had a very valuable revelation reaffirming many other observations -- many drivers just don't see/recognize cyclists. In that case you are doing them (and your fellow pedalers) a favor by drawing their attention to the fact that they need to open their eyes wider while driving.

I have tested this tactic many times in the past couple months and it works. The key is to not attack, but confront. Know the law -- the legal passing distance is three feet. You have the same rights as a car and they wouldn't buzz a car that close, they'd pull over and wait. Be authoritative, but maintain level-headedness. Educate without berating. The primary goal is to SPEAK UP. Be heard. Hell yeah!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dummy Loads of Fun

Two mornings ago this was my load to work: two wheel boxes stuffed with other cardboard for recycling and a set of wheels to ship to an Ebay buyer. I haul all my bike parts packaging back to work for reuse or recycling. (Yah, our BS landlord doesn't have recycling at our building. Crucify me for that too, Skiles.) With a Burley this would have potentially taken me two trips. No problem, and lots more fun in the crosswinds, with the Dummy.
I want to congratulate my friend and loyal reader, Biz Mark E, for graduating to the good life. The lucky bastard was gifted a used King headset from BRose. He likes to trash my slight penchant for King headsets from time to time. But here is his Steamer, pictured below, effulging the glorious radiance of the King. Or, as Johnny Nebraska likes to call it, the "headset for the endtimes." The endtimes might well be nigh ... for oil. Yeehaw!

By the way, ya might wanna do a little better job of aligning those cups next time. Do the Reverend King some justice.

I just couldn't get enough last week. Tonight on the ride home I took a slow motion fall on my right side while cutting through an icy park for a pee stop. Fell right onto the healing knee scabs of last week's fun in the sun pavement ritual. I've grown accustomed to hopping up from so many falls it was kind of interesting to have one where I actually paused for a few minutes because the pain of re-injury made me see white light and curse like a sailor on leave who's sober against his will.

I'm tired of winter. Actually, I'm tired of clear, glassy, slicker-than-owl-shit ice. I read today that only Siberia has greater temperature fluctuations than Minnesota. (For March we have something like a 114 degree temp range.) I'm ready for clear roads. I'm ready for that first evening I pedal away from work overdressed because it got warm and stayed warm. I'm ready for that first after work beer ride where the sunset doesn't urge me toward indoors because I'm freezing my chamois off.

Those days are coming. We have at least one more night forecast to be below zero this week. Then, perhaps, a warm weekend. Maybe. But, before that, snow tonight? Joy. It's been a long winter.

Monday, March 3, 2008

When Are We Gonna Wake Up?

Sometimes I despair what I perceive to be the "state of things:" a corrupt and underhanded national government that ignores the citizenry in order to pursue the interests of power mongers and corporations; a ridiculous two-party political system that is lubricated with massive amounts of money permitting candidates to effectively buy nominations; voters who believe they are making a difference by choosing between two diametrically-opposed, yet thoroughly sold-out major party candidates; a citizenry that is apathetic, dull, ignorant and unwilling to accept the crucial need for massive modifications to our "American way of life;" and scared, car-dependent simpletons who might otherwise consider themselves sophisticated and progressive, yet will drive themselves and the environment into bankruptcy before they'll relinquish their keys and face their oil addictions. That's just to name a few.

Do you know who I admire? Jimmy Carter. Now I don't know a whole helluva lot about the man and I am sure not saying he's my hero or an icon. But I think he had guts and foresight and wisdom to deliver his "Crisis of Confidence" speech. He sure had more chutzpah than any other president I've known since to tell the American people they were in the midst of a crisis. That speech was delivered on July 15, 1979. Has anything changed in the last 29 years? Not much. In some ways we've become worse -- more hedonistic, more gluttonous, more uppity, more belligerent as a society. A good indication of this slide is the simple fact that we've done nothing as a country to curb our reliance on private automobiles as a primary means of transportation.

Carter hit the nail on the head, mostly. But he did say our political and civil liberties would endure. He bragged about an America that was at peace everywhere in the world. Without a doubt, we live in different times.

And he had some lofty goals, e.g. 20% of US power coming from solar by 2000. He had some worthwhile, if heartily ignored, advice, too: "And I’m asking you for your good and for your nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense, I tell you it is an act of patriotism." Of course, he mentioned nothing about riding a bike. And sadly, politicians in Washington, in state capitols, in town halls still laughingly dismiss cycling as a viable means of alternative transportation.

But not all of them do. That is partly thanks to folks who cry foul when politicians need to check themselves and citizens who everyday hop on a bike instead of cranking up a car. We're revolutionaries, plain and simple. It might not be an armed and bloody revolution, but everytime you leave your car parked (or sell your car or don't even own one in the first place) and ride a bike or walk (or take mass transit for that matter) you are making a quiet, yet bold, statement in the face of a lazy, self-serving society. These are the braindead fulfilling the status quo -- upholding the frail, unsustainable legacy of the Americans who couldn't stomach Carter's reality check, those who chose to usher in the Reagan era of pomp and false prosperity.

We've had our cake and eaten it too for far longer than we've been entitled. I've about had it with the posturing, trite debates and sensationalist name-calling that go along with the lead-up to a presidential election. I want to see leaders who will lay it on the line -- give the mofos in TV-land a mental gut check and make some jaws drop. But that can't happen when the national political arena is mostly inhabited by two-faced shapeshifters. Before anything can happen I believe we need a populace that is genuinely receptive, not some mob of reactionary lefts and rights whose panties get wadded to the point of gridlock everytime abortion, gay marriage or separation of church and state get mentioned. Or who freak out at the mention of an oil crisis. C'mon, man, the oil crisis happened in the 70s ... right?

Here are a couple of ways to create an environment of receptiveness: voluntarily or out of undeniable necessity. As much as my strong humanist tendencies attempt to sway me, I have no faith in the intelligence nor the progressive motivation of the masses -- i.e. the voluntary route. Change will have to come about of necessity; some external need must bear down on the lazy, slumbering party of pablum and petroleum fed. I have the ultimate faith, however, in the argument of imminent necessity. Oil reserves are finite. Demand is outstripping supply. Do people really care yet? It doesn't hurt enough, yet. Necessity is when filling your tank means you can't pay your mortgage or buy food for your family. Sadly, for some families this is already becoming the new reality. But the necessity will transcend class distinctions eventually. How long can you afford to not re-evaluate your daily reality? How long can you afford to not hold leaders accoutable for wise, sustainable solutions to such crises?

April showed a friend the photos of our little date ride last Saturday. The friend's husband was dumbfounded and basically asked, "Why would you ride a bike somewhere when you can drive?" When April told me the story I immediately realized how my reality is completely different. My operative question is always: "Why would I drive somewhere when I can ride or walk?" It's about reality, folks. Reality is perceived differently by each and every one of us. If you never work a muscle it will atrophy. If you don't stretch your brain by flexing your perception of things, much the same thing occurs.

Many Americans are carrying on as if their reality is some sort of happy, whimsical lucid dream devoid of accountability. The alarm is going off, it has been for decades. It's high time for American society to wake up.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Date with the Dummy

Okay, I know two posts in one day is a bit overzealous. But it was a good weekend and there's a lot to catch up on besides sleep.

Saturday afternoon was date time. April dropped Sylvia off at a friend's house and we got to spent a few hours together without the kid. It was a warm day and naturally I thought it would be nice to go for a ride. April thought so, too. Except, she is one week from her due date. Very pregnant women and pedaling don't necessarily go so well together. It's a belly clearance thing. So I offered that she should let me chauffeur her on the Big Dummy. She saddled up on the snap deck and away we went to Pizza Luce and CRC.

Now, 185lbs of prego wife and unborn child were a test of both capacity and safety of the new bike. I am pleased to say that it was a pleasant experience all the way around. April felt the balance of her seat was great. According to her she barely needed to hold on. We still had room in the Freeloaders for a pannier and leftover pizza and she was able to access the built-in foot rests. I enjoyed studying the facial expressions of pedestrians and drivers whom we passed en route. It's great to stop people in their tracks, don't cha think?

On the way to pick up Sylvia we went for a little hike down to the Leap Day fire spot. We caught the sunset and paused for a photo.

Yep, she's ready to go any day now. April told me she has a hunch that I shouldn't plan anything for the upcoming weekend. I haven't necessarily told her yet, but this upcoming weekend would be perfect -- so I can still make Hurl's Slick 50 ride on the following weekend. I'm a horrible husband, but I have an amazing wife. Thanks, Sweetie!

Leap Day Ride 2008

The Leap Day ride started out strong, but quickly thinned out. The night was a bit cold and breezy. It was only 17F when a handful of us left work. A few folks had ridden out nearly an hour earlier -- meaning they were very chilly by the time we arrived at the hill. We stayed about 30 minutes before deciding to push on. Over half the group bailed to go to a friend's house. Seth and I were headed to the SA for some food and firewood. Nick was headed toward home. Nate and Mark said they'd come by the fire later. It was time to get moving to warm up.

Seth and I cruised down Minnehaha Parkway to the convenience store at Cedar. The SA had polish sausages and dogs, as well as tornadoes (little rolled up tacos stuffed with mystery meat and process cheese food) on the grill. We parked our bikes and camped out in the store eating and warming our bones. With fire stoked in our bellies, we ventured out to load up.

Estimated weight: 100lbs. Three bundles of firewood, a 12-pack of Leinie's and my two panniers stuffed with clothes and other gear. By far the heaviest weight I've had on the Dummy, but it felt very solid. I learned my first loading lesson -- the cam strap I used to span from one wide loader to the other was too firmly tensioned and pressed the load into my brake caliper and derailleur. I had limited gears and a sticky brake. We only had about 3 miles to go, however, so I let it slide.

Seth and I rolled into the fire site and got things going right away. Thanks to Seth for springing for a Duraflame "cheater" log. Hey, it was cold and I wasn't out to practice any junior woodchuck skills, just make sure we got warm so we could focus on the task at hand -- drinking beer. About half an hour later Dave Gray rolled in with more wood. This was to be our group for the night. Everyone else went home and got warm -- the inertia of comfort took over from there, I suppose.

Between our two loads and a bit of found wood at the firepit, we had a decent stack of fuel. This allowed us to keep the fire going strong for several hours. We talked about what guys standing around a fire drinking beer normally talk about: feelings, mall shopping and our current diet plans. Seth needed some help accessorizing, so Dave pulled a handy belt from his rolling Surly emporium of utilitarian, yet fashionable, goods.

Behold! Surly junk strap, usage #83 -- the impromptu belt.

Our friends at the Sierra Club were kind enough to leave behind the remains of a dismantled crate labeled "Base Camp." None of us knew what the hell that meant. A fire pit within a major city park seemed hardly worthy of such a lofty moniker normally applied to thin-aired Asian plateaus. But we did know one thing -- that leftover crate made good firewood.

Some right wing conservatives would probably love to see the Sierra Club go up in flames. That wasn't our intent, but we had fun burning the panels of the crate and observing the dynamics of the fire as it first melted off the snow, then slowly burned a hole through the flat plywood panels.

Various bottled, flasky and miscellaneous treats were passed. The Sierra Club crate kept us entertained for a couple of hours between swapping stories of travels and adventures, memories of such distant times as high school and recollections of pinewood derbies and starting fires with flint and steel. The wood eventually ran out and although I had beer left it was freezing in the can. That's okay, since I still had to be able to safely ride home. We all threw our legs over the top tube a bit after 2am to roll on to warmer places.

On the climb out from the creek I noticed I wasn't wearing my helmet. I remembered exactly where it was on a rock back at the fire. I decided to ride back the next day to fetch it. I didn't want to reverse the upward progress I'd made on the snowy trail.

Smart choice. My helmet was still there and the day was glorious with bright sun and tolerable temps in the mid 20s. "8-CAMPFIRE AREA," as the plaque indicates, is a very cool place. There just aren't many spots within a major metro area where one can burn a legal outdoor fire on the ground.

Big Dummy illuminated by the bright late winter sun. I added the Nice Rack on Friday afternoon. I just didn't think the Dummy had enough cargo hauling options.

I'd have to say the Leap Day ride was a success. Sure, only 3 people signed on for the full gig, but we had good laughs, great conversation and a beautiful fire. All of that in a peaceful little urban hideaway, and none of us drove to get there. The riff-raff reemerge with the warmer temperatures. A 10 degree night on the last day in February was the perfect time to have the woods all to ourselves. That's another fine reason to love winter in Minnesota.