Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Resolutions, like Rules, are made to be broken

I don't actually want to say I "broke" my resolution (to bike to work everyday). I just modified it. I was out late last night with some friends. Tanner and I are planning a winter "tour" to his parents' house 90 miles away in Rochester in 3 weeks. Blake and Brauer joined us at the Triple Rock as well. It was good to see Brauer before he departed on his extended bike trip.

This morning I was tired and the down covers were warm. I knew outside it was very cold. -14 with 20+ mph winds out of the west to be exact. I slumbered and rolled out of the soft haven of bed a bit late. April was up; Sylvia was bopping around. My sweetie very considerately asked, "Why don't you let us give you a ride to work?" "No ... I wanna ride," I replied while showing very little ambition to dress for the cold.

We chatted and did those fun family morning things we so rarely get to do. It was nice, very enjoyable in fact. April offered a ride again. I didn't immediately refuse. I ate a light breakfast with my ladies. Sylvia and I joked around. I gave into the ride offer. I took a hot shower and left the crusty biking clothes in a pile.

It was -9 with equally stiff winds last night when I pedaled home, so I didn't balk at the weather. But by "giving in" I was able to spend an extra hour and a half with my family. I'd have to say that's not a bad compromise at all. I guess even the absolutes I try to set for myself are relative after all.

Monday, January 28, 2008

We Will Begin Carding, I Swear

I couldn't resist. The Surly blog is rated R. I need to try harder. Johnny Nebraska's blog is rated R, too. I guess I don't use the word "dick" enough. Skiles got an NC-17. They must not know him very well. Snakebite is rated G; now I don't feel so bad.

This just means you should read my blog along with your parents. It's my way of contributing to the growth of family hour.

Rachel Dow Memorial Skirt Ride

I overcame an ebb in energy to head over to Chiang Mai Thai Saturday night for Rachel's memorial ride. When I pulled up at 9:40 Mark was waiting out front. He and I were among the first there. I was quickly to discover this group would be bigger than I had expected and wasn't going anywhere fast. We didn't leave Chiang Mai until around 11 -- right on time for our 10pm departure. All photos here.

Bike piles abounded around Calhoun square. Nothing like a big group of cyclists assembled on a winter's night to freak out the trendies driving around in daddy's SUV with all their painted friends. Here, Wrex's Karate Monkey displays a very innovative, low-cost front fender option.

Carl and Mark chat it up while the group hydrates in the back room of Chiang Mai. Our group eventually DID motivate -- just enough to ride the six blocks over to Bryant Lake Bowl for a pint or two more.

Rolling down the Midtown Greenway. Our route took us over the swanky new Hiawatha bridge. Here Matt shows the cheater Vulcan greeting -- cheating because it's much easier when wearing lobster mitts.

From here we proceeded to Pi, a high-energy lesbian bar in Seward. The vibe in this place was nice -- club music, dancing. And they had unisex bathrooms. It's pretty cool to walk in the bathroom, see a line of women but notice the urinals are completely free! (No offense ladies.)

Arriving at Rachel's impromptu memorial site along West River Parkway, near where her bike was found. Folks tended the little shrine, while others hiked down a short trail to the ghost bike placed in her honor.

This is perhaps the most elaborate ghost bike you might ever see -- lovingly crafted by BRose and Rollin and painted by Kelly. All parts have been welded to prevent theft and it has a cut plaque with Rachel's name, birth and death dates. It is beautiful. I rode back the next day just to see it in the light.

After a half hour or so at the memorial site, people were starting to speak longingly of the promised bonfire. We set out to warm up and ride to the river. A snowy trail descent plunged us into the peaceful depths of the river gorge. There we stoked a huge blaze. The night wasn't getting any warmer and although we had all tasted sub-zero weather earlier in the week, even hanging out in 15 degree temps was a chilling affair.

A shot of the blaze and the happy crowd soaking in the warmth. I didn't notice it at first, but the crowd, like our supply of firewood, indeed dwindled. I'd lost all sense of time. I don't think we arrived at the fire site until after 3am. A call from April around 3:30 reminded me it had already been a long night, but there was frivolity yet to be had. The handful of us left who were privy to the lightening eastern horizon began to talk about food. Colossal Cafe was decided to be our final destination. Brauer and I were the last two standing by the fire. As the embers burned down we shared a Two Hearted Ale.

There were only two ways out of the gorge. I'm not going to say Brauer and I chose the wrong one, but we did choose the more adventurous (and shorter) one for sure -- several hundred feet up a few flights of ice-packed stairs. The advantage of course was once we were partway up there was really no going back, except involuntarily from the consequences of a misstep.

The scene at Colossal -- Carla, Erika, Brauer, Zito, Mark, Kelly and Hurl in attendance. We overran the poor three-table establishment and its "respectable" early Sunday morning clientelle. (Gettin' breakfast before church, eh? Well, pay no mind to a bunch of half-drunk, skirt-wearin' fools ...)

Sustenance -- Zito models his breakfast for me. Colossal means good food. They even put slabs of brie on their pancakes. We left Colossal amidst cries from a few that we ought to stop for one more beer. I got separated from the group however and enjoyed a peaceful jaunt the rest of the way home.

Creeping quietly into the house I checked the clock -- 7:45am. Here I am sporting a mischievous grin before crashing hard and dreading the moment Sylvia would be up and shouting. I slept the sleep of the dead, however. I awoke to an empty apartment at 11:45, too wired to go back to sleep. There was too much energy, too many memories already floating through my head.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thoughts For the End of the Week

3-5 (above zero) commute this morning. Man, oh man, does that feel good! Yesterday was the coldest ride so far this winter -- 13 below at the start, but already warmed to 5 below by the time I arrived at work. Surprisingly, I over dressed. 20s and 30s for the weekend. Time to unearth some t-shirts and break out the kilt!

I'm planning to partake in the Rachel Dow Skirt Ride tomorrow night. Leaving from Chiang Mai Thai at 10pm for points unknown. Celebrating a friend's life, two-wheel style. You should pack a flask and roll on over to enjoy the January heat wave with some like-minded folks. Fire by the river to follow. I have to plan my wardrobe.

Snakebite is in town again this weekend. I said the same thing the last time he was in town, but I just maybe, just might pry my lazy butt out of bed tomorrow morning to check out this ride of mythical proportions which is sometimes led by ATW Ray -- the Hiawatha Cyclery Ride. They sell Rivendell and I've never seen their shop. Perhaps I have avoided popping in because I know something drastic may happen and I'll end up adding weight to my bag for the ride home (i.e. I'll spend money).

Have a good weekend, friends.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Initiative from Our Friends at Trek

The folks whose bikes I love to hate have started a pretty cool website. It's part of an initiative to promote cycling as transportation. (Well, and as a lifestyle, which -- let's face it -- is good business for a bike company. But we'll not get into that 'cause it's way better than auto companies trying to get people to buy hybrid SUVs in my opinion.) Check out 1 World 2 Wheels

A couple of reasons I like this site: It stresses the ease of adopting a bike for transportation, especially for trips under 2 miles. This might seem like a trite notion to hardened pedal crunchers but these two mile and under trips are a big percentage of auto travel. I've heard varying stats but they are all astonishingly high (this site says 40% of all trips). Simple solution -- walk or ride and be healthier. The site also features some videos of commuting basics and how to change a flat, a simple task that I am continually shocked many riders do not know how to do or how to do quickly and efficiently. 1 World 2 Wheels also promotes getting kids to ride to school. Check out the blog feature about elementary school kids in Colorado riding to work on a 30 degree day. That brings me to the last reason I like the site -- the blog. Sure, it's got a PR-laden overtone but it has some interesting info nonetheless. It ain't edgy like the Surly blog, so you'll have to go elsewhere to vent your spleen.

-4 for the morning commute. Tomorrow's high: -1. Pedal on.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hairy Legs And All

Winter is a time for many things: time to bundle up, re-organize your CD collection, get used to leaving the message "I've got what's going around" in your best sicky voice on your boss's voicemail, queue up some NetFlix movies, mend worn gear, eat high fat foods, drink beer (duh) and let hair grow in uncustomary places.

This little art piece makes me think of washed up Euro trash superstars. The kind you see photos of 20 years after their retirements, wearing tight polo shirts pulled over prosperous bellies. Guys who were emaciated, sinewy with eyes bulging, rocking their classic steel machines over obscure passes high in the Alps in some black and white photo from the heyday. Now they're living large and chasing a tan along with young Adriatic women on free-for-all Italian beaches.

My tires got a little taste of snow again today. The forecast was subtle and, well, sort of missed the mark entirely. A light dusting of flakes pelted me on the way in. It was peacefully sublime. It really started snowing while I was at work. It basically didn't let up all day. It wasn't heavy, but it also stayed cold. We ended up with a couple of inches of snow that had very little "bite." Lots of fun wheel play was had in the mashed down ruts from cars. That was all well and good, but for some reason I took a detour down a street I don't normally pedal on the way home. It had some fantastic solid ice humps along the edges. I moved right to avoid a car into what I thought was beautiful, undisturbed snow. Well, it was undisturbed snow -- covering a very disturbing hunk of tractionless ice. Another sort of "bite" was experienced, the bite of my body hitting the pavement-reinforced ice. The driver I'd generously moved out of the way for had the decency not to stop and inquire about my ignominious agony; he simply kept driving as I pried my body and bike off the street. How thoughtful.

A last feature in this grab bag of tricks is a nice photo from prayers for the deceased yesterday at our Buddhist center. Prayers for the dead are intended to help departed ones have a favorable rebirth and are a nice way to stay in touch with the ever-looming presence of death. The cards have names of friends and loved ones printed on them. This year we added one for Rachel Dow. You never know where you might meet departed friends again. But it's nice to think that place will be a happy one, both for their sake and yours.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Flu Virus Lives at 5 Below

Friday was a fun day at work. I had several special writing projects to finish. And co-workers are always in a good mood on Fridays. It was cold though. The day started out around 10 degrees and just kept falling from there. Nonetheless it was a nice ride into work. I seem to have my winter layering pretty well dialed after a few years of winter commuting.

Sylvia had been sick Wednesday night and Thursday with a vomit-encrusted bug of some sort. She was feeling better Friday morning by the time I left for work. Little did I know I was incubating the mutant spawn for a surprise attack.

Shortly after lunch I knew something was not right. I started getting that feeling as if someone had planted Alka-Selzter tablets in my stomach. Then came the fun stuff. I'll just say I made several trips to the bathroom. I was also beginning to ache and feel very weak. By the time 5:30 rolled around the temperature had dipped to around -5. I was wondering if I should try riding home. I'd put my head on the desk for a while. I tried lying on the floor. I wasn't going to shake it on short notice. There was even a happy hour at work with FREE BEER and I wanted no part of it. (That's a bad sign.) As I packed up and shuffled toward the exit, my boss and a couple of co-workers said I shouldn't ride home. They offered to give me a lift. I had thought about this scenario and although I was truly miserable and quite sure it wouldn't get better soon I somehow couldn't get over my personal commitment (nay, RESOLUTION!) to ride to work everyday. I thanked them. They looked very concerned. I said I'd be okay. I hoped I was right.

Dressing for the ride home was slow going due to a few extra, uh, trips to the potty. I wasn't concerned about puking, should that occur. Puking is as easy as pulling down your balaclava and making a deposit into the shoulder of the road. My concerns were: 1)that I, due to weakness, would not be able to pedal fast enough to stay warm, and 2)that if I (to put it bluntly) shit my tights it would freeze and make my ride very, very uncomfortable. So, I left the shoulder loops of my bibs down as a precaution (so as not to have to peel a jacket and jersey in the event of necessary commando action). Plus, as I pedaled I tried to think thoughts as pleasant as possible -- thoughts that had nothing to do with explaining anything extraordinary to either my wife or the Brooks saddle company.

I ticked off the mental waypoints -- Poplar Bridge, most of the hills down, 1/4 of the way home; I-494 crossing, all right! halfway; the Crosstown, doing great! 2/3 down -- and for the final 2 miles I actually watched my odometer with those precious tenths of a mile sliding by. I knew I could make it. And I did. I was none too proud of my mood or my facial expression when I walked in the door.

You can't see it here, but I must have grimaced for 3 hours straight Friday evening. There was a little comic relief as April and Sylvia found the icicle on my chin to be quite amusing and snapped a photo of it for posterity. I peeled my layers as quickly as possible then began resuming trips to the bathroom. Each trip became more difficult since I was attempting to bury myself beneath successively thicker layers of blankets on the couch. Each trip I'd have to extricate my shivering body from 10+ pounds of covers. Finally, it happened. The remainder of lunch came up the front end and delivered about 5 minutes of agony. Then, all felt remarkably better. I was still shivering (not from the ride, mind you) but my suicide bombings of the bathroom had ceased. All I had to do was sleep.

Well, the beauty of these sneaky bugs -- they hit quick and hard but they usually don't hang around for long. Today I awoke and felt normal again. Hooray! Just in time for what looks to be a week straight of subzero commuting temps.

I thought I'd throw in a photo of the new Surly in its finished commuter form (fenders, rack and all). I'm debating whether to go fixed or leave it free. Even with its astonishingly low gear of 46X20 I am sucking wind on the hills. I don't know what's wrong with me. Maybe I've had the flu all winter.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Blaming the Victim

I'm gonna take a step back, a shuffle sideways and then another step forward and bring it all back around. Bear with me.

News media tactics suck. I guess it goes just a bit deeper than that -- prosecutorial tactics suck. And, wait one minute, I think I have it -- the skepticism of our distinctly Western, pragmatic (patently American) way of doing/seeing/interpreting things is what really sucks.

Take news stories. Someone is the victim of a crime or a horrendous accident. It gets reported. There is pity and headshaking, particularly if that person/victim is dead. Sorrow and proclamations of "What a shame" and "How could this have happened?" abound. Then, what follows closely on the heels of the tragedy? The inevitable propensity to blame the victim. Oh, they were drunk; they were buying drugs; they were cheating on their spouse; they were hungover on a Sunday morning. Because, you know what? We are all part of a culture full of people who can't handle death and the fact that weird, freaky shit just happens sometimes. So we gotta pick and pry and rip away scabs until we can trace "the cause," find "the answer." Well, you know what else? Sometimes there just aren't clearcut answers and people (like many journalists, police investigators, and shallowly unsympathetic bystanders) would do well not to venture down certain paths lined with defamation and pain.

Some time ago (Sept '07) I blogged about the brutal murder of Mark Loesch -- a family man (with four kids) who went out for a 10pm bike ride, got beaten to death with a baseball bat and never came home. He died a protracted death on a stranger's lawn a couple miles from our house. The news stories followed the path of tragedy, lack of answers, the perpetuation of senseless violence. There were memorial walks and vigils.

Once a suspect was arrested, the "enlightened and honorable" Mpls Police Lt Amelia Huffman, head of homicide, stated that the suspect had reported Loesch was attempting to buy drugs -- pot, at that. Here's a family man, successful freelance consultant who is entering middle age, and you wanna go implying he's riding around southeast Mpls trying to score weed? And get this -- the suspect said Loesch had $40 in his pocket. No wallet or anything else. Has the police department checked the price of marijuana lately?! $40 ain't gonna get you much and you're damn sure not going to enjoy whatever it gets you a whole hell of a lot. When this follow-up came out in print, I was pissed. So was the family, you might guess. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever read. The paper took it further -- apparently Loesch had been to rehab many years prior and they painted it to be a relapse.

A RELAPSE??? On pot???? Jesus F-ckin' Tap Dancing Christ on a Pogo Stick! Can you get any more conservative than that?! I'd think we had a RELAPSE of the Reagan-Era "War on Drugs" on our hands. It was senseless reporting that rivaled the senseless violence committed against Mark Loesch. But, it allowed casual paper readers to sign off in their minds: "Oh well, that freak riding his bike at night deserved to die since he was trying to buy DRUGS from that street thug/gang-banger."


Well, a cop cried "bullshit," too. And he is no longer working in the homicide unit. Sgt Charlie Adams went to the Loesch family and apologized for the statements made by his police department against their lost loved one's character. He was demoted. My hat is off to two people tonight -- Sgt Adams and Nick Coleman, the columnist for the Mpls Star Tribune who wrote this follow-up. I am pasting it in its entirety below because you can't access links after 30 days without signing your personal information away to the Star Trib. I want everyone to know and I don't care for you to give your demo info to the Mpls paper.

If you take the time to read the article you'll also note that our illustrious "pro-cycling" mayor (whom I voted against last election, for his own shallowness) has a very telling comment: "You don't have to worry about crime unless you are involved in 'high-risk lifestyles'." Well, Rybak, you just labelled cycling a "high-risk lifestyle." Loesch wasn't out to buy drugs, he was just enjoying the sheer thrill of a bike ride, something many of us relish after dark in our fair city when car traffic has ebbed and idiots are often deposited away in bars or at home.

Cycling is too often regarded as risky and marginalized activity by everyone from motorists to legislators to your scared-to-death-almost-dead grandmother. Again, I cry "bullshit." Cycling for transportation is one of the sanest things any one of us can do. Our current war, which has driven our country into an unprecendented deficit, is about control of oil. Patriotism be damned. If you're hiding behind that tattered flag, your cellulite will soon show through. The fact that politicians (like the aforementioned Mayor Rybak) will not acknowledge the effectiveness of alternative forms of transportation is egregious. The fact that they will not begin taking steps of their own accord to assert the rights of cyclists to shared right-of-way on streets and roadways is equally damning. The victory belongs to those of us not burning fossil fuels. And it will be won.

I have to go ... gonna write a letter to Sgt Adams and send an email to Nick Coleman.

Nick Coleman's article (from Dec 2, 2007 Star Tribune):

The decision by Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman to remove Sgt. Charlie Adams from the homicide unit had nothing to do with his ability to solve murders, at which he has proved unusually good.

No, he was punished for deviating from the official spin in a brutal murder and letting decency come before bureaucracy.

You can't allow decency to ruin a police department.

Adams got into trouble by reaching out to the family of a murder victim who was smeared by police superiors.

Mark Loesch, a 40-year-old father of four, went for a bicycle ride the night of Sept. 12 and died the next day after being found, badly beaten, on Elliot Avenue S.

His murder was the kind that makes city officials nervous: a random killing that might make the city look like a place you can get killed taking your bike for a spin.

I hate to break it to you, but Minneapolis is a place where you can get murdered while out for a ride. Or walking home wearing a cool basketball jersey. Or on the town with your family or your fiancée. Or doing your homework at the dining room table when a bullet comes through the window.

Do random murders happen? Yes. Not as often as in a lot of other big cities maybe, but one is all it takes to wreck your family.

Over the past few years, as street killings were rising, the city and police have tried hard to get ahead of the curve. And it seems to be working: Crime, including murder, has throttled back. This is good.
Not so good is that the city -- going back to Mayor R.T. Rybak's 2005 claim that you don't have to worry about crime unless you are involved in "high-risk lifestyles" -- has gotten into the habit of blaming victims to minimize fears. The drill is: First you get murdered, then you get besmirched.
That's what happened to Mark Loesch.

After Adams helped arrest a suspect in Loesch's murder, higher police officials kicked dirt on his name.
Lt. Huffman, the new head of homicide, called a news conference and said the suspect had said Loesch was trying to buy drugs when he was killed.

Loesch had no drugs in his system and no wallet, and there was no proof of this claim. But if a suspect said so, it must be true. Right, Lieutenant?

The slur against Loesch had all the importance of the suspect saying he was thinking of getting a Big Mac or the Vikings need a stronger arm at quarterback. It meant nothing.

But it inflicted great pain on Loesch's family, and allowed city officials to breathe a sigh of relief: A father of four had not been killed "at random." He had been clubbed to death by a guy who was unhappy with some unknown aspect of some alleged and unprovable transaction. Feel better now?

It's common for a victim to have his character attacked in a courtroom, when a defendant tries to pin the blame on the demised. But in a court, there is a judge to decide what is admissible, lawyers to cross-examine and a jury to give proper weight to the claims. At the news conference, there was only a suspect's "word" for it.

The suspect was a member of a gang, but the city didn't reveal that. It can be disconcerting to know that gang members are on the street, with bats and guns. That's not good spin.

Mark Loesch was beaten badly again, this time by the city. His family was outraged.

Sgt. Adams and his partner, Sgt. Richard Zimmerman, had made the arrest in Loesch's killing. After Huffman's news conference, they went to Loesch's family and apologized for the words of their superiors. For that act of "insubordination" -- and of basic decency -- Adams was transferred out of homicide.

Another loss to the city.

Adams and Zimmerman were "incredibly professional and honorable in their dealings with us," says David Barnes, father of Loesch's widow. "They were everything you'd expect a great public servant to be. If it hadn't been for them, the Police Department would look like ..."

Yes, it would.

A man is murdered, allegedly by a gang member who just got out of prison. But don't worry about a system that put him back on the street. And don't think too hard about a city that tries to keep the calm by blaming the victims.

The real culprit here has been caught and punished:
He was the cop who solved the murder and then behaved decently to the bereaved.

Nick Coleman

Monday, January 14, 2008

Festivities, Pt II

Mostly this post has to do with Hurl's surprise 4-0 b-day celebration (expertly planned by Kelly Mac), but it would be impossible to write about it without mentioning the sad news that preceded the celebration. About 11am Saturday morning April, Sylvia and I headed for a walk toward CRC. One the way we met Matt who gave us the news that Rachel was missing and that her bike had been found by the river. I had been feeling pretty peppy thinking of the night ahead, hanging out with friends -- one of whom I hoped would be Rachel. The last conversation I had with her was awesome. We talked about academics and the decision to go on to grad school in fields that weren't exactly lucrative. We talked about studying things like history and literature for the love of the subject matter, for all that might be learned and conveyed to others. It was theory tempered with knowledge of the real world, a mutual lament that decisions to follow one's heart so often are overshadowed by pragmatic considerations. The conversation took place on one of my final Wednesdays of class. I always went to CRC to study and enjoyed the short talks. She asked me about joining a book club she was thinking of starting. I left intending to drop off a copy of my senior paper for her to read. I never thought anyone beyond a classroom would want to see that 15 page extrapolation of Dracula and Victorian society. But her studies focused on 19th century women's issues. We'd struck a common chord.

Needless to say, I can't express how sudden her passing was. I can't say how many people it has affected. Log onto a host of Twin Cities bike blogs and you'll see. Her friend network went way beyond cyclists, too. I also didn't know her that well. Others are hurting, grieving, seeking answers way more intensely than I am. My thoughts are with you all. Like all momentous events in life, this is a time to reflect, pray, chant, re-dedicate one's life to the consideration of others. Love is paramount.

If you'd like to get right into happy photos, here's the link to the set.

The birthday boy after a short thank you and dedication of the party to Rachel.

No explanation needed.

My bike is the ghostly gray one buried in there. I love bike pile pictures. Think about how much money is wasted on elaborate parking lots for cars.

Hwood and Kristy. Oh, and Zito sharing the love.

Pinata round two. Brauer contemplates something. I think this is one of the only photos I got of Snakebite during his visit. Good to see you, my friend!

Zito, Sov and Blake doing things they all do so well.

Gene O is discussing the upcoming elections with the local authorities.

Paul and Sov derbying. I tried derbying again, but a bike two sizes too small (I grabbed the first one unlocked atop the pile) and a patch of ice I couldn't seem to miss enabled me to win top honors for derbying myself out of the competition. One thing's for sure -- Sov is a Jedi Derby Master.

Impermanence. The fire behind One on One.

Riding home from Matt Anderson's, 3 am, over the 40th St ped bridge. I thought about Rachel the whole ride. I thought about that need to explore freedom on a bike, a freedom those fucks stuck in cars will never understand or know. I thought about the peace of riding well after dark on a cold night -- few cars, few people, abundant quiet. Maybe that's what Rachel had gone in search of on her late night ride -- abundant quiet. A chance to tune in and listen to one's own thoughts. Peace be with you all.

Festivities, Pt I

The scene: my humble workplace. Our company holiday party was scheduled for Thursday, Jan 10. A bit late, but with free food and beer, who's complaining? At first I thought we would not be able to attend since April had to work and I have to admit I just wasn't quite up for riding home, loading up Sylvia in the trailer and pulling her back out to Bloomington. So, at the last minute Matt A generously offered to swing by and pick us up after getting his daughter Alicia. Sylvia and I loaded into the little Toyota truck and away we went.

Tom the IT guy cuts loose with a little Metallica. I missed a lot of the karaoke competition due to chasing Sylvia. I missed my man, Chris D. I did catch the latter half of his rendition of "Sex Machine." He's good, awesome in fact. I'm glad I didn't get to try to sing with him as we had originally planned. Instead, I belted out a version of "Sweet Caroline" after the crowds had mostly dispersed.

For Sylvia, this was the main excitement of the evening -- a huge box filled with recycled packing paper in our warehouse. She jumped around and made me pick her up and drop her into it until my arms ached. Finally I was able to distract her to the art project room.

Geez, but I love these guys -- Anthony (half of his face anyhow), Matty, Trevor, Tony and let's not forget Bill highfivin' someone in the background.

Daddy and Sylvia along with Daddy's rad co-worker, Alix.

Mr Skiles posing for the shot. Andy is another rad co-worker and a good friend. I love spending time with Sylvia and it's cool when we get to go off on Daddy-Daughter adventures. (No offense, Mommy.)

Miker and Alicia locked in head-to-head competition while Matt officiates. Don't cross the center line -- he's watching.

Oh, parties and party memories. We stayed until most everyone else had left (a whopping 10pm). Sylvia is a trooper -- already learning the art of closing down a party. That's my daughter.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good bye to a friend

A lot has been going on. There is much to report. But the main thing on many people's minds yesterday and today has been the loss of a friend. Rachel, you are missed. Your big extended family of bike friends are all grieving. Thoughts and prayers are with you. Tears and smiles, sobs and hugs abound on your behalf. Safe journeys, sweet traveler. May you find the enlightened society we spoke of. May your kindness and warmth radiate to all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Other Unfortunate Costs of Automobile Culture

I feel good ... getting my car rants back, yeah!

So consider the fact that the environmental degradation of automobile dependence does not end with the drilling, refining, combustion and emissions of petroleum and its by-products. That petrol has to get to the pump so cars can fill up. Sometimes during that process of transportation things go horribly wrong. This just in:

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) ― Multiple interstates near downtown Minneapolis have been closed after an accident involving a tanker spilled a significant amount of fuel.

According to the State Patrol, the 18-wheeler rolled on the ramp to I-394 from westbound I-94. Fire crews arrived at the scene and began to form a dam in an effort to prevent fuel from contaminating nearby sewers. According to Kent Bernard of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the truck held about 7,000 gallons of fuel and was, at one point, leaking as many as 100 gallons a minute. Traffic was blocked off in the area.
Among the roads closed: the ramp from eastbound I-94 to Westbound I-94 as well as the ramp from eastbound I-94 to eastbound I-394; westbound I-394 from 3rd Street; and eastbound I-394 at Highway 100. The Lowry Hill Tunnel is also closed. Authorities said the accident may affect the evening commute. People in the area noted the strong smell of gasoline in the air, raising concerns about possibly hazardous fume levels.

Pleasant thought, eh? All those motorists can't get where they want to go as quickly as they're accustomed to doing because a truck turned over, ruptured and is leaking the very lifeblood of their internal combustion contraptions. Pity. Fuel is expensive; that truck might as well be leaking precious metals. Gold or silver would be a hell of a lot less polluting than fuel. It will never be completely contained or cleaned up. Our ground water, creeks and rivers will absorb the excess. You might notice a little extra "kick" in the drinking water around Mpls for the next few days. Sorry if I sound terribly cynical and unsympathetic, but the real problems are with the underpinnings of an unsustainable system -- an infrastructure that bows to the automobile as its god du jour. Authorities and lawmakers are locked in reactionary mode instead of looking through to the heart of the matter -- dependence on automobile travel must simply be curbed.

On a biking note, I had my first cold weather flat tire this morning en route to work. Joy! Fixing flats at 15 degrees can be chilling. A week ago it was below zero though. Gotta be thankful because things could always be more difficult. Fellow riders, with the lack of snow streets are coated with fine gravel and shards of glass and whatever else has been scoured by freezing and plowing. Keep those patch kits (and spare layers for warmth while standing around) handy in your bag.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

MN Logic

I think I've realized why many people believe bikes belong on the sidewalk. It's because pedestrians are actually busy walking in the street. I'm not from MN, and I will freely and gladly admit it. I am from West (by god) Virginia by way of Tennessee. Down south we didn't walk in the roadway no matter what season of the year. My parents and role models taught me it was a pretty stupid thing to do actually.

Now I've made a little study and it certainly seems to be a winter phenomenon up here. We get some snow and all of a sudden people think they need to walk in the street. It is bizarre, twisted and warped. Examine the logic: it's darker, the streets are narrower and any moving vehicle approaching you has potentially limited traction and control to avoid creaming your flabby buttocks into the slush; of any time of year to keep you and yours out of the friggin' street, this is it. As a cyclist it adds to the frustration I feel that the Mpls Park Board only plows one path for peds and cyclists in the winter (the bike path, at that) which forces those of us trying to get somewhere to dodge ignorant, gabbing, cell-phone-dialing, snack-size-dog-on-a-leash-walking throngs of pleasantly well-off urbanites who can't hear bells, shouts or abject verbal threats from a cyclist patiently trying to get them to move to one side. As if that weren't bad enough, I also have to ride around their darkly-clad dumbasses in the middle of the street.

Why? Why do they do it? I am not from here. Frankly, some of your customs scare me. Someone please explain. The sidewalks just aren't that bad. Tonight, for instance, the street the couple was walking down had more ice in it than the perfectly clear sidewalk 15 feet left of them. Here, in the city -- the land of sidewalks EVERYWHERE, a mecca of walking -- folks have to duff their loads in the roads. WHY?

I'm starting to think one of those airhorns, like the Coast Guard requires of small watercraft, would be worth the weight to tote along on my commutes. Maybe I should design a bicycle handlebar mount for one.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Winter Respite

Don't worry, most drivers don't seem to regard these signs either, meaning they think bikes BELONG on the sidewalk.

The ride this morning was great except that I left too late. I keep arriving at work when I should be sitting down at my desk. Arriving by bike, it isn't like I can go straight my workspace -- I gotta de-layer, sometimes shower, change into clean clothes and do my hair. On a good day the process takes about 9-10 minutes; it's much nicer to have 15 or 20. Somehow I need to find that part of my brain where I can re-wire my morning motivation. "Dude," I say to myself, "get up 20 minutes or a half hour earlier and your day will go so much more smoothly." Easy for you to say, smart guy.

This morning I slumbered because I knew I had an ace in the hole. I wouldn't be riding my heavy, studded-tire mtn bike. Instead I would spin in on the new Cross Check SS. Yesterday was heaven on a bike (as far as winter riding in MN) and this morning was pretty nice, too. Temperatures hovered around 30 overnight. No face mask. No neck layer. A single jersey beneath my windshell. No vapor barrier (plastic bag) socks. Glasses instead of goggles. Gloves instead of mitts. And I took the time to adjust my Ortlieb panniers and repack my gear last night so I could leave my posenger bag at home for a change.

The trip was indeed about 15 minutes faster than riding my ice bike. Surprise! The Cross Check SS rides just like my geared Cross Check. And that's what I wanted. The Cross Check is one unbelievably well-balanced, versatile, sexy, hardworking hunk of 4130. A cyclist could do a lot worse than running out and buying one. I hate that "If you could have only one [blank], what would it be?" question. But if I were unfortunate enough to have to part with my other rides, I'd fight tooth and nail for my Cross Check.
Roads were not totally clear. The ice mounds were mostly gone, but a lot of refreezing had occurred, forming sneaky little sheets of ice in the low spots of corners and along curbs. I experienced squirrely tail a couple of times, but managed to take it easy enough to avoid the asphalt bump-n-grind. Geez, it felt great though to ride all the way to work and arrive not the least bit cold or chilled. Feet? Warm. Hands? Toasty. I wanted to keep riding unrushed, at the pace I wanted to ride, seeing all there is to see.

If I leave the house with just enough time to get to work I have to take the most direct route, hold a pace and think about making it on time. It's too difficult to be in the now -- I'm always thinking 10 or 15 minutes ahead. I'm more tense, so I'm going to react more tensely to the stupid stuff that drivers will inevitably do. I have a great stupid driver anecdote from this morning: At a little 2-way stop I like to affectionately refer to as "my favorite intersection" there was a Richfield cop pulling up to the stop sign on my right. I had no stop sign. [Incidentally, I've ranted about a Richfield cop at this intersection before. Maybe it was the same chode.] Sure enough, he didn't fully stop and proceeded to pull out in front of me. He did have the mental wherewithal to look and stop short so I could swerve around the front end of his cruiser, which was nice because I didn't slow down. I typically charge cars. I can handle my bike and as long as I can see them I'm not going to hit them. But dammit I want it to look like I might, so at least SOME of the feeble-brained drivers who cross my path might soil themselves for their lack of attention. (Try explaining that when you finally arrive to the place you're going that is so important you have to treat me like a second-class road user.)

Anyway, what was this post about? Oh, well, let's see. Guess I got carried away. It'll happen. Now I remember -- I actually wanted to admit how, a couple weeks ago beneath the icy blanket of two back-to-back snows, things looked desperate. The darkness of solstice and getting socked in with snow made me suspect the worst -- that it was going to be a long, challenging winter for biking in MN. Then the past few days with temps in the upper 30s/near 40 have changed it all, again. Winter is far from over, but it's also not going to be all ice ruts and freaked out drivers. Maybe I'm just hitting the winter biking stride a bit late this year.

Friends, don't ever let your mind run away with your thoughts and convince you that luck has turned, that all of a sudden things are just gonna suck for a while. Bullshit. Every moment is pregnant with glorious potential and right around the corner is change.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Family Bike Outing

When it's winter in Minnesota, and you have a toddler as well as a very pregnant wife to consider, you don't often think about the prospects for family bike outings. Well, yesterday temps nearly reached 40 degrees and today they went beyond 40. We've had a massive melt and a huge shift in riding conditions; today it was nice to ride around with exposed flesh catching a rare bit of winter sun. Besides that the ice build-up on the side streets had turned soft and squishy, not wet and extremely slippery. It was one grand day for bicycling in the TC.

Our outing consisted of a planned trip to the Mpls Institute of Arts to view the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit. Little did we know it was sold out (final day showing). That didn't matter much since what we really wanted to do was stretch the legs and get Sylvia out of the house. Our quest (like many good bike outings) began at CRC Coffee Bar where it was nice to see Hurl after the holiday break. Turns out he'd been in California. Maybe someday he'll link my blog.

Sylvia shows off a perfect milk moustache to complement her uber-sophisticated, slightly wistful, Jane Austen stare. Pinky out, honey ... pinky out.

Wrex (aka Bones) looks above for his inspiration. I always got the vibe he was a spiritual guy. Maybe he lost his wi-fi connection and is actually looking at Hurl threateningly.

Sylvia immersed in a sea of color at the MIA. We spent all of our time in the kid's room and none in the galleries. Such is the life of a parent. I had fun constructing a Zen-inspired temple from the Lincoln Logs and playing with the other kids however.

April on the ride home -- 7, going on 8, months pregnant and out for a spin. Lots of "authorities" say don't ride your bike while pregnant. April took the advice the first time around but now she is here to say: "Ride yer damn bike!" Granted, an upright cruiser might have its advantages with a belly full of baby.

Looks like a good week of commuting ahead with highs in the 30s and a little precip forecast. Today was the true (Iron) maiden voyage of my new Cross Check SS. Smooth, like Schlitz Malt Liquor.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

2007: The Year in Numbers

I completed my biking mileage totals for 2007. I logged 286 trips. Some were separate trips on the same day, but in all I spent some time on my bike about 78% of the days in the past year. Total miles pedaled: 6,731. Using an estimate of calories burned per mile ridden (55 cal -- gleened from a website somewhere), I figure I burned about 370,205 calories riding in 2007. I like to examine data from different perspectives, so I converted that to number of Big Macs I could have eaten as riding fuel. The yellow-arch-encrusted fast food giant reports its Big Mac to contain 540 cal. I could have consumed 686 of McD's signature sandwich -- nearly 2.5 for every day that I rode. I don't eat fast food much at all, but April was quick to remind me that one of my primary sources of calories is beer. Thanks, honey.

That basically means if I stop riding my bike I better get ready to go shopping for some bigger pants ... or quit drinking beer. Hmmm, more incentive to keep my resolution to ride to work everyday. And good food for thought -- how much trimmer might you (the rhetorical "you") be, or how many more indulgences could you justify, if you got out on your bike more often?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pregnancy Update

Yes, amidst all the partying we have a pregnancy in the house. April is due March 11. Check it. (Well, I mean as in the expression "Check it." I'm not expecting you'll go pull her OB/GYN records and such. But they're probably on Youtube ... who knows?)

As of Dec 26th she was still pregnant. Here is the photo as proof. Would we have it any other way? Of course not. It is as it is meant to be. We are letting this critter be a secret as well (as far as sex of the baby). Do we have a feel? No, but girl names still are coming more easily than boy's. We have a hunch it is, however, a boy. I am shocked how many people think I should want a boy. How weird. We don't live in China. I don't care. All I want is healthy children. One down, one to go.

Soon we'll have another one of these little squishies around the house.

Soon we'll have to deal with more of this. Not like we don't deal with it with a two-year old, but at least you don't have to hold them up -- they just run away screaming what they want (or think they want).

Last thought: April is amazing. I love you, Sweetie.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Instead of making one long list I have decided to roll out my resolutions gradually. Maybe I'll share some of them. Don't you feel lucky? By making them public, friends, family and those who just don't like me can call me out on them whenever I reveal my hypocritical side. Yeehaw!

One of my primary resolutions is to ride to work everyday this year -- no copping out and taking the car because I slept late, think I feel a little sick, or just want to do my make-up while I drive in. Maybe I'll allow myself a carpooling and mass transit clause, I haven't decided yet. The point is this: NO lazy single-person trips in the car. None. Okay? Got it.

So, yesterday was Day 1 of my new work year. I awoke but didn't want to crawl from under the covers because it was between -4 and -1 depending on which temp readings you note. Let's not split hairs -- it was cold. I had failed to lay out my gear the night before (something I always say I'm going to do because the process of layering takes about 20 minutes, longer if I can't find my stuff). I fumbled in a haze of half-consciousness -- tights, two layers; liner socks, plastic bags, thin wool socks, thicker wool socks; LS baselayer, LS jersey; balaclava, fleece hat, goggles; liner gloves, ice fishing mitts; winter boots (too tight -- gotta take off a layer of socks); neoprene overboots (wow, these things do not want to stretch over my winter boots); helmet. It's hilarious to say goodbye to April and Sylvia who are usually slumbering in bed -- I clop into the bedroom, my only exposed flesh is my nose. Sylvia always smiles a sleepy smile and tugs at my balaclava for a kiss and insists that mama get a kiss and a hug, too. Then it's out the door and into the frozen world.

Below zero days make for some of the most peaceful riding. The ice and snow squeak when you ride over them. On sections of clear pavement the crackling sound of tire studs keeps the cadence. In all it was a nice commute with hardly any wind. I stayed warm, a little too warm in some areas like my neck, chest and face. Sweating inside your goggles poses a real issue when it's so cold -- the inner lens collects a layer of ice that gradually creeps toward the middle of the lens. I can usually make it to work before it gets too bad to see. Usually. I was not so warm in other areas; I'd forgot to put cycling shorts under my tights. These remarkably flimsy looking garments provide a nice insulating layer for certain, uh, sensitive areas when the air gets really cold. Another interesting thing about subzero commuting is the trippy feeling I sometimes get. It's just a spacy, floaty feeling. It must be lack of oxygen or exertion or some combination. I dunno. I do know my winter rides (heavier bike, fatter tires, more clothing, and a half-mile longer route) are about 15-20 minutes slower than the other seasons of the year. I stopped yesterday to see whether a brake was rubbing my rim. Damn -- it wasn't, I was just that sluggish.

Today I was pleasantly surprised to check the digi-weather box at 7:15 and discover my commute temp was already at 16 degrees. All right -- heat wave! With winds out of the south it did indeed feel warm. Proof of the relativity of awareness -- 16 deg with a 20 mph wind can feel genuinely warm after hanging out in the zeros. The problem today was the wind -- too much of it blowing in the opposite direction I was pedaling. But the trip home tonight is going to rock!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Party Recap: Sculpting Snow

Or, (alternate title): "Everything was going pretty smoothly until someone fed me bourbon-flavored beer and champagne, I acted like a crazed jerk on crack for an hour and then went 'nighty-night' on the couch." I'd work on a New Year's resolution to "Quit blaming other people for my problems" if only some folks weren't so damned culpable. Okay, sorry, I promise to "own" my behavior.

Our impromptu New Year celebration was a fun time. Not bad for something we decided to do two and a half days earlier. Here's a little recap in photos:

Mark Rahn's firebox had been living here since the Flecktoberfest back in November. It shows evidence of what things have been like in MN since the time we could last see the bare earth.

Snow (boatloads of snow) presents its own pleasantries -- you can carve custom-made furniture out of it. Here, with the aid of nothing more than a crude snow shovel, I've built a beer cooler and firewood holder. Drink holders were as simple as shoving your bevvy into the powdery upper layer.

On 14 degree nights, lots of firey implements are in order (with their own recessed snow slots, of course).

Sylvia was a trooper. She spent a lot of time outside learning the nuances of fire smoke and cold weather comforts. Earlier that day she let me know what a trip to the beer store meant to her -- she got to get a sucker. Oh, innocence.

Mark Rahn's triumphant arrival. This guy is a gem. He hauled two growlers of Surly Furious over and took care of the fire. Mark, I'll gladly bow out as firemaster whenever you're around. All I have to say is you and I need to do some BWCA camping sometime ... soon.

More friends on bikes taking advantage of prime snowbank bike parking. If you're reading this post from points south here's proof you have no excuse to quit riding your bike all winter. These particular friends arrived after reading about my party on my blog. Yeah! Someone's paying attention!

Carrie and Matt (two of the bike arrivals). Very nice chatting with you both and meeting you, Carrie. Even though not a bike freak, she rode over anyway (more proof that you softies down south need to keep riding). Matt makes a mean mocha at CRC when he's not teaching your kid how to play guitar, designing stuff for Space 2 Burn or rocking out in his band. Oh, shit -- that reminds me I forgot to invite Trevor! Sorry ...

Erik Noren (background) and resident shutterbug Emery in the foreground. I was happy to see Noren crawled out of his shop for the party. Mark on the other hand is always there, sometimes when you least expect him. Careful, he has a very techy camera and a quick shutter-release-button finger. If you commit it, he will catch it on digi-film. Don't mess with him -- he turned down a Celebration Ale for a PBR.

Mark Rahn shovels some grub while April goes for a wine glass for the sparkling cider -- ever the responsible Mom. My excuse: I'm drinking for two. Would that hold up in a court of law?

Gratuitous fire shot. The fire carved some beautiful patterns in the shoveled-out snow. More on that a bit later.

Carrie and Johnny. Things were way foggy by this point for reasons mentioned above. These two arrived as our last guest, Mr. Rahn, was leaving. I can recommend (with some reservation) that if you haven't tried it you ought to quaff a Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Stout. It will change the way you see the world. (4 packs only. May not be legal in some areas. Limited restrictions apply.) Johnny and Carrie were good sports (Especially Carrie. Rollergirls can handle anything you can dish out. Thank you for not punching me. And BTW, Johnny, your double middle fingers would carry more weight were you not sporting a Flanders jacket. I'm just saying it because others are thinking it.) I never thought a video I'd play at a party would be the 1934 Canadian Canoe Demonstration. It's a cool flick and all. You can probably find some of it on Youtube. Hell, there are probably videos of you showering on Youtube and you have no idea. Better check -- NOW.

The remains of a successful celebration. The fire took the ice out straight to the bare ground and also left some incredible melt patterns. You can see two layers from separate storms -- the earlier, dirtier layer and the later, pristine white layer. One of my least favorite things about snowfall is the technology we throw at it in order to get it out of the way. Dude, snow just wants to be.

Detail of ice melt. Dig it.

The day after. Sylvia discovers the Dragon mask in her toy bin. (Sorry, Johnny, it's not another nudie.) Later we headed to IKEA. I have to confess I love IKEA. It appeals to my anal-retentive sense of order and minimalist design. We ate lunch at IKEA. I left my heart in IKEA, but we didn't spend any money (beyond lunch) ... yet.

Currently? 3 degrees, headed to -4 overnight. One of my most important resolutions? Ride to work EVERYDAY. That means tomorrow. Gotta dig out some clothes. Currently playing? Sabbath N.I.B.. Sabbath may actually be surpassing the esteem I hold for Led Zeppelin, narrowly, of course. Rock on, friends.