Sunday, February 28, 2010

Solar Climb

Here in the Mpls area we have been treated to a couple of weeks of very mild, pleasant and sunny weather. It is welcomed wholeheartedly, as everyone appears to be ready for winter to pack it up and move on. We're finally emerging from beneath icy shells that encased most of our world since Xmas.

I believe living far north helps one tune into changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Perhaps it's also a product of getting older -- I've had more time to chart the cycles of the moon and the seasonal shift indicators. However, our latitudinal distance from the equator means the angle of the sun shifts dramatically as we head into spring. The extra light seems to grow by minutes per day. The power of el Sol manifests before your very eyes as the ice slides away into pools of water. The patches of brown earth begin to speckle an otherwise uniform white landscape. The buzz of life and growth trembles gently in the thawing ground. Hallelujah.

The bike commuting lately has been good. I like riding in the 20-30F temperature range. The necessary layers are minimal and it's easy to stay warm. A lot of the pavement has been cooked dry by the sun. Still, we are in an interesting time of the year with drastic freeze/thaw cycles. The bike paths often collect the melt water in pools and puddles. These freeze overnight creating sections of trail that make one think ice skates are perhaps a superior commuter vehicle. I've been fortunate to stay upright most of the time.

Winter really got to me this year. I can honestly admit I began pondering the question of whether or not I envision living out my days in MN, or will I eventually be drawn to consider some place south again? Of course, it could be the length of my bike commute wearing on me during the core winter months. The snow, the cold -- I don't think I mind those as much as the requirement to add a 32-mile roundtrip bike ride to the mix. Unbridled enthusiasm certainly carried me through my first few seasons of winter riding.

There have been bright spots. I had two bikes breakdown within 24 hours. That might sound like a negative thing, but it really wasn't all that bad. It provided the opportunity for me to walk a couple of miles during a stunning winter sunset as well as the gorgeous morning that followed. What a perfect way to slow down and break the normal routine of getting on my bike to arrive somewhere by a specified time.

Things came together in terms of parts I'd been collecting and some I scored from friends. I just recently assembled the Pugsley I'd been planning. Riding that bike has contributed to a dramatic shift in my attitude toward winter. It has also nudged me to get out for a couple of wander sessions aboard the bike -- no place to be and no time constraints -- just pedaling down every little snow path, attempting to bridge larger and larger snowbanks, as well as crossing the lakes on the groomed width of the ski trails. The snow is so packed the Pug barely leaves a track. It rolls right over the snow and rutted ice without the jostling skids of a skinny tire. It's just plain fun to ride. The footpaths become singletrack trails. Unlike my commutes when I am seeking the clear pavement, with the Pug I'm steering into the snow and ice.

We've been getting out with the kids whenever possible. One of my goals is to help them see, from a very early age, the joy of immersing yourself in the seasons no matter the weather. The fact that we can create adventures right from our door makes it even better.

However, one highlight of February was a chance April and I had to go for a ride together without the kids. We took off for the start of Stupor Bowl, not intending to race but instead just cruise around with some friends. That didn't work out but we rode around and ended up running into countless bike folk. The City of Lakes Loppet was also taking place. We were headed toward home, but chanced one last stop on the ice beside the course.

On the way out we discovered a striking pyramid of ice lamps. This glowing beacon seemed to give off warmth as the darkness approached.

We might have long winters here in MN, but there is no shortage of ways smart and creative types can get out and enjoy the freeze. Still, for now I'm soaking in the sun anxiously awaiting spring.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


(In the minor sense) I don't care
Do you care? (In the major sense)
This (all caps) truly means nothing
beyond what some stuffed scarecrow says it means

When I live outside the crows call me
I am a friend to the crow
Others have told me
It is creepy that the crow is
one of my favorite birds.
Creepy like death?
Creepy why?

I love the crows.
As opportunists they utilize everything we cringe.
Detritus, effluent.
As opportunists, they prey on everything
Including opportunists with their guard let down.

Stupid opportunists
If you're going to be a social predator
A capitalist opportunist
You best be prepared to have your carcass --
dead or half alive --
fed upon at will.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Back to the good stuff. Winter that is. I returned from the UK last Saturday afternoon. The sky over Mpls was covered in a perfect flat blanket of low clouds. The plane plunged into the mist and emerged below. What opened to my view was the familiar white frozen landscape I'd left 9 days earlier. Welcome home.

Traveling abroad is always fun. I often get to visit bike shops and observe riding styles, gear and the overall bike culture in these destinations. It never ceases to get me even more fired up about bikes. I come home thinking of the modifications I've been meaning to try, projects I've temporarily postponed or the next new frame/bike I want to put together. I was eager to get back on the bike for the ride to work.

On Monday we had a steady shower of snow all day and temperatures hovered in the teens. I quit keeping a bike log some time ago, but if I had one I would have recorded something like: "Perfect snowy ride. Enough precip to make things fun but not so much that the going was miserable. Warm most of the way. No rude drivers. Plenty of beautiful, quiet solitude."

The next morning Sylvia came out to help with clearing the snow. It was light and powdery with distinct flakes that glistened in the bright sun. In short, it was a serendipitous expression of winter's beauty.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I swear I can feel spring starting to blow in the air. We are on the downhill side, looking into the light. I'm gonna hold my chin up and keep pedaling.