Archive | September, 2009

Hakkalugi Hero

30 Sep

I (we) commuter’d today, first time this week. Enough about me.

Instead I’ll present a picture of yesterday, early evening. I was coming back from the Taphouse to my building in order to wrap some stuff up before going home. Note on the Taphouse: was there with my department, the rendezvous point for everyone after a team scavenger hunt outing, and when asked by the waiter if I wanted anything I asked what they had on tap; barely hiding his indignation he replied they had 160 beers on tap. Oh, I thought, hence the name Taphouse. Who knew? The nearby Nike store isn’t about Greek goddesses, nor does the nearby Brooks store sell lots of Blazing Saddles DVDs, so what’s a feller to do. Enough about my day.

Upon leaving the house of 160 beers on tap behind (they have Carlsberg (P.S. Carlsberg has “Probably the best website in the world”) on tap, place is nuts… oh and I got a black and tan and then drunkily expounded on to me drunkie poo Irish companions about the black and tans and Parnell this and Parnell that and oranges and greens and a rainbow of wee colors with a pot o’ gold at the bottom, by gibberty gibbet! hmmm… just went from bad Irish to crusty prospector, not sure that worked as well as I thought it would). Enough about my drinking escapades.

What I was trying to say was that it was raining outside. Heavily. Big cold suicidal drops. I quickly left the downtown zone (for Non-Seattle-ites that means about six blocks either direction) and was nearing my building when I saw a line of bicyclists working their way up the main North/East arterial drag that goes past my building. To center my story I must digress and say this arterial gets clogged with rush hour traffic to the point of paralysis; oftentimes when I’m walking along that street at that time of day I will cover the five blocks between our company buildings faster than the traffic. Imagine then how cool it is to be on a bike, not staying stuck in the traffic which would I guess be the legal thing, but instead to hop on the sidewalk and skitter forth. Surlylady does that everyday while I wait impatiently for her (inside joke!). Enough about traffic patterns.

As I was saying I spotted some cyclists and one of them had a very distinctive look about him. Sure enough, it was IbisLad. What wasn’t squaring, as I spotted him between stationary buses and cars on the other side of the street, was that he was on a green bike… what the, a new bike? I had to say hi. So I ran/caught a light and alighted. It was IbisLad, on his green Hakkalugi. Keep in mind it was raining dogs and horses this whole time and there he was, looking like he was the consummate pro commute biker all decked out in jacket and glasses, a very heroic figure talking about slogging through 17 miles more of this rain. The light changed and he waved goodbye and took off into the muck. What an inspiration!

Later, when I was waiting to cross that same street to catch a bus I waited next to a biker on the sidewalk; another pulled up next to us, looked up at the sky, then looked at the other biker and they shared a rueful grin and a shake of the head. Then, light change and they were off. If it was a cigarette ad in the middle of an old western paperback they’d be Marlboro bikers, I swear.

There’s just something so cool and heroic about these winter commuters. I know I’m susceptible, and biased to boot, and frustratedly jealous, and I’d had nearly two entire beers (that’s nearly my total yearly capita) but still I think the image of Ibislad and the other commuters in the rain was beyond cool, like those pictures you see of cyclocross racers in Belgium or certain old school Parix-Roubaix pictures, a certain resolute silhouette, slight figures against rain-dark skies, all such grown more compelling as the days get shorter and the bike rooms get emptier.

Last week I was riding the elevator (what, you try walking up eight flights in bike shoes) and a co-worker from a distant IT territory looked over and said, “So summer’s ’bout over, you probably won’t be riding in much more this year right?” I took a swig from my water bottle, the one with the graphic that reads ‘Me Bikey, You Stupid’ and after a considering pause looked over with Surly-steel blue eyes and replied evenly, “I ride all year long.”



23 Sep

No ridey today makes Surlylad a grumpy gus. Due to ‘social obligations’ last eve, wherein said grumpy had to pick up a soused Surlylady from an afterwork soiree, and wherein home-ness wasn’t attained until a very pained 10pm-ish which, together with the inevitable results of that social soused-ness, meant no ridey today. Which is probably as well as I needed to make it in early to try to get some work done before I attended a “Developing Your Leadership Style” class in the AM. Sadly, I was hoping that in terms of Leadership Style, plaid shirts and bloo jeans would be ‘in’ for 2010. Such is apparently not the case. Instead I can look forward to shopping for things called ‘leopard prints’ and ‘peasant blouses’ and ‘nobility leopard tunics’ – I don’t get fashion. Bike fashion, on the other hand, is now a nearly intuitive thing. There are really just a few basic rules:

1) Make everything match in color, consistency and brand.

2) Make everything scream said branding as colorfully and consistently as possible. The ratio of brand-to-garment must never drop below three-to-one.

3) Under no circumstances wear black socks on race day.

4) Communist-inspired graphics are lost on other affluent bikers as far as an ironic device.

5) You can’t go wrong with purple, if you have a collaborative, synthesizing personality; however, in truth, if you’re more concerned about essential biking truth, pick either blue or red.

6) Yes, you do look ridiculous when not on the bike.

I just bought a pair of Cutter knickers (okay I know they’re technically knickerbockers, but then the NY Knickerbockers are the Knicks, so I’m going to say Knickers as a compromise from now on.) These knickers are nice and all, fit well, kind of look like real-person pants, but they didn’t come with a shammy. It’s like a whammy on my hammy.

If you’re still reading, I suppose I need to figure out whether to get some of those insert chamois things or go au natural. With a Brooks saddle, it actually sounds kind of Thoreau-pure-ish as a possibility, or it could bring a new world order of hurt.

Right, speaking of bikes, how about those bike magazines! Specifically Bicycle Quarterly.

As KonaLad prompted in the comments previously, today (yesterday) was an event of great rejoicing for the randonneurish types around the globe. Speaking for myself, I moonwalked around the front room in my bike socks upon seeing the discreet white envelope couching the retro-grouching bikiness.

Aside from that sweet cover of the old-school mountain bike with drop bars (hmmm, haven’t given up that dream, or of a singlespeed or rigid 1×9 650B’er), there is an article about the Long Haul Trucker, a review even (as KL mentions)! Haven’t read it yet. I’m sure it’ll be all about how it doesn’t compare to $7000 purpose-built constructeur bikes etc and how he wouldn’t be caught dead riding it 600 miles through a dark blizzardy night on a ho-hum rando ride due to wheel flop and sub-optimal planing. (Check that, just read it and, actually he’s quite charitable! I mean that in relative terms. This isn’t a sponsored-mag puff piece by any stretch).

But, even better than the Bicycle Quarterly… gasp from the bike-leaning crowd, muttering, general wonderment, orchestra of doubt tuning up… Bookforum came the day before and I’ve been grooving on that (snap finger). Bookforum: not as snooty as you sneeringly think, but not as sneering as you snootingly hope. I love that thing. Some issues are a bit… off… or maybe it’s me. It’s probably me. It has nothing to do with you, Bookforum, you’re great. It’s just me. I have issues… yes, I know, so do you, volumes of them. Right. What was that? A little louder. Yes, certainly. Let’s subscribe to the idea of being friends.

Anyway, here are some initial highlights from BF (BFF!), to give you a taste and encourage you to get it. Afterward I will then off to change gears and settle into a comfy chair and read those other technical articles KonaLad was mentioning are in that latest BQ:

1) Thomas Pynchon has a new book out. From my reading of the review, it sounds a bit like Crying of Lot 49, with the Big Lebowski dropped in the middle of it. Sweeeeet! (said the Red Lobster waiter).

2) Jonathan Lethem, speaking of potboiler books, is also about pot, and he apparently out-Pynchons Pynchon when it comes to character naming. I have only read one of Lethem’s books, I think (scratching head… yeah, or did I just start one). But. Dude. Rule of thumb: if you out-Pynchon Pynchon on anything, while he’s still alive and writing, you’ve gone too far. Maybe the rest of the book is interesting.

3) A separate article, in reviewing a separate book, mentions, separately, a very intriguing reference which got my Google fingers to crackling. Something about an ‘Art Workers Coalition’ around 1969-1970. Per our Information Lord Google: “The Art Workers Coalition was started by cosmopolitan “tech-artists” and included critics, minimal and conceptual artists, painters and sculptors. “Destruction artists” committed to street theater formed the Guerrilla Art Action Group as a fraction within the AWC.”

I love, love, love the idea of tweaking the noses of the quisling quizzlers by hiding in the mountains, attacking the supply trains of the occupying commodity armies in the misty dawn; destruction done, silent dispersal back into the population, plucking the stray twigs of escape from our biblical beards later that morning as we sit down in an institutional cubicle underneath HVAC white noising for another day of process collaboration. Or maybe I’m just grumpy gus today.

Surly = Happy

21 Sep

Life is good. Not only do I have a ‘make-aholic’ in the house but tonight’s she a lemon cupcake make-aholic. Then, I got to ride my bike to work today!

(speaking of) This morning I was champing at the bit while stamping on the pedals. Felt very good; crisp pre-autumnal air, pinkish sky, and today I was back on the Long Haul Trucker. Riding that bike is, as I’ve mentioned to others, like driving a Cadillac (possibly Town Car, or possibly Crown Vic cause it brangs so much steel justice). In fact, the 37c tires, slightly underinflated, combined with spinster gear choices and that unmistakable ‘point me down the middle’ Surly steering vibe all add up to the corinthian-leather comfort of say a smooth old Caddy limo, so easy all you have to do is every couple of rides push the intercom button to inform the driver that the dry bar is nearly out of Bombay Sapphire.

So this morning I thought I’d get back on the horse. The rootin’ tootin’ commutin’ hoss. Last night we went out to dinner at Bamboo Garden at a–for-Seattle–late hour (as a Seattle author once said, to paraphrase, “In Seattle the waiters are running the vacuum at 10pm whereas in some European countries the restaurant is just opening”). Anyway, fairly late for us and probably not the smartest thing to do before a 5am bootie commutie call, eating a bunch of crazy good Chinese food etc. But a few miles in to the ride the cobwebs had blown away and I was back to appreciatin’ the fine handling (or non-handling) of the Surly LHT. The other aspect of this Trucker hoss idea of mine was the weight-loss hoss (double oops on the Chinese food story) so I loaded him up with two stuffed panniers and forced myself to do ‘intervals’ which, when you’re on a Trucker, means a barely measurable increase in perceived speed outwardly, while inwardly your LT and HR/BPMs are pegging. I attacked every hill and tried to do batches of interval speed-ups. I don’t think the Surlylady even noticed, sniff. Then for the feather in the bicycling helmet I managed to sprint and make the orange light just past REI, which was, to quote fondly from one of the most obsequious Rush fan waiters we’ve ever had at the Red Lobster (back when we went there once or twice for the air conditioning): ‘Sweeet.’

Then work. $&)(@*#)@(#)(*)(!*@)!(*@)$%&%&%&^++!

Then, after a long ass day, back on the road and I was again pegging it like a VU meter on a Polvo recording. Everything was hunky and mostly dory. Blew thru town, Eastlake, UW, Sandpoint and then… slow… down… all the bump action from the Burke started doing a number on me shoulder. In this case about a seven on a scale of 10. It got all weird and stiff (what? Surlylady just laughed). Then the knee started hurting. Them my goiter, gout, caulking and grout began failing at the same time I was waylaid by a wave of beer belly-itis and flabbo-enza. So I geared down. Hit the brakes because on the way home there’s a barely perceptible downgrade on a lot of the Burke. Sometimes makes it hard to find a comfy gear to go slow; do you ever find that problem of needing a gear just in between two you already have?; isn’t Campagnolo working on that?

The good news is this: today, while pinching my ear on an interminable requirements meeting conference call (seriously, that’s how you’ll get the terrorists talkin’! Um, so, okay, um is that an assumption?) I was looking for a reference file and was poking around my My Documents folder (hardly ever put anything there, at least not since 2004; wonder if I’ll ever get an upgrade to my PC at work, that reminds me; should try to pull some strings) and found a picture of me, taken at a team picnic from June of 2007. From the side. As in, in profile. And… wow. I’ve changed a lot. Like, scary changed a lot. This is going to sound odd to people who know me… crickets… I mean, to those who imagine what I must be like cloaked as I am in anonymity like a Vulcan ship (Surlylady just snickered from the other room)… but I never really had many pictures of myself, from back then. I like to think of it as 2007 BB (Before Bike) or AB (Anno Bicicletta). So holy crap it was weird to open some random jpg thinking what the heck is this 1.2 MB jpg named some camera-serialized something and BLAM who the hell is that guy??? (that’s seriously what I first thought)… Anyway, that made my day (?) he asked uncertainly. So back to being back on the commutin’ hoss. I’m going to pretend it’s February all over again. Training is starting in earnest, and the importance of being in training. I’m going to ride the Trucker and weigh that sucker down with the kitchen sink if I have to in order to break a sweat (was skating by all summer on the commute rides hardly breaking any all unencumbered as I was by arm warmers, track jacket, leg warmers, long-fingie gloves, kitchen sink). It was last January after all that I first started going both ways (what? she’s laughing again) to work, riding  both in and out (what? stop that), so now I will try to recapture that ‘start of the year square one’ squareness. Along with all that yadda yadda cross training schmultz mentioned in previous posts etc. It’s gonna happen, a project just like the Lady likes to do.

Now, to go have some lemon cupcakes. As a quality control measure, of course.

Rainy Rides = Good Vibes

16 Sep

Oh boy, this morning was tough. I’m feeling old. Recovery times are down, hairline’s receding, my ‘little’ bro is having his 40th birthday, and the high-school-age son of my best high school buddy just died. For that, I can’t even comprehend (I’m childless, and as such I still see my HS friend frozen in time so to speak, and I can’t even comprehend that he had a son that age, or what it’s like to lose a son that age).

Lots to think about. One nice thing about this morning’s ride then, I suppose, was the sort of automaton automation that kicked in where my entire reality was encompassed in two threads: 1) don’t fall down and 2) man everything hurts. In truth, what a nice morning it was. The sort of unicorn-poster-purple sky with a sliver of a moon hanging there was nice, the feel of pulling on the arm- and leg-warmers even nicer…

But on the physical side, mucho slowness and pain, particularly in the shoulder and knee. Had to slow way down about halfway in to work. On the brighter, wetter side, on the ride home felt much better. About midway it started raining lightly… eh, no need to change anything… then nearing Lake Forest Park the deluge splooged and I pulled over to put a seat cover on the Brooks and a light rain jacket on the torso; said jacket turned completely sopping wet in two seconds flat but at least the yellowness added a bit of jaundiced visibility to the suddenly, awfully autumnally dark BGT.

To sum it up, it was actually a fun ride home. The adversity of rain, the exclusionary aspect of it (passing other cyclists in the rain equates to an exclusive club) gives those commute rides a certain memorable vibe. As for progress, I sucked today but I’m telling myself to take baby steps, which means crawling with occasionally rearing up for a wobbly second or two. Just trying to keep the spins at a high RPM without getting too impatient, trying to keep fairly good form without putting too much weight on the right hand… all in all, an excitingly mundane day back in the saddle.

Status Est Tardus

15 Sep

KonaLad mentioned recently about how this blog has been silent. ‘s true. I figured, hey I’ve got insomnia, maybe I’ll make some noise.

Haven’t ridden since over a week ago, which was my maiden commuter voyage. Am hoping to do so again tomorrow but there’s this insomnia thing… driven by work worries and life worries. Too much worrying makes Johnny an insomniac.

Lately I’ve been concentrating on different things, or perhaps not concentrating on them. Camping. Road tripping. Hiking.


River, not a crick.

I’ve been editing a book written by a friend, acting as three different types of editor, Reader, Line-level Editor (grammer… heh), Continuity/Plot Editor, and Editor Editing with Suggestions for Changes Aimed At Attracting a Real Editor. I’ve also thrown myself into the concept of advancing at work, at pushing myself in ways I haven’t done before in terms of people skills and responsibilities. All of this has been good, rewarding, yadda. I’ve made some progress, I’ve learned some things, including about myself. But none of it means much squat in the morning when I leave the bike behind in the cold, cold garage.

Riding a bike was a way of centering, of staying fresh and close to rebooted as possible. From an identity standpoint it was (is?) a huge part, maybe 80% of how I see and carry myself. A cyclist. An endurance athlete. Maybe ‘wannabe’ needs to be prefixed in each case, but still. Not being able to do it has been a challenge, not just in the obvious sense, but almost in a spiritual sense if I may escalate my stupid self pity to such heights. When I was roadtripping with my Dad we got to talking about a related topic, and I excitedly prattled on about my theory of cycling as a form of prayer or meditation, the yin/yang of the pedal stroke, the unity of all the circles and geometry and speed across geography and how you get into a certain rhythm or groove and you almost leave the body, or pray… saying all this BTW to someone who’s a big time Baptist, meaning the analogy wasn’t as appreciated by both parties in the car as I’d thought it might be… anyway, if there’s even a sliver of truth to this, I’ve been without it. I tried the trainer last night for the first time and, while it was good to break a sweat, it’s just not the same. I’ll keep doing that for fitness but, again, not the same.

To wrap up, this morning as I walked to the bus stop, enjoying the crisp late summer morning, a fellow that lives near us (Cascade member due to stickers on cars) and rides a black Surly Crosscheck came tootling by, panniers and mudflaps and all, and again I just had one of those immediate, almost palpable precognition moments and could almost smell the intoxicating rhythm, the infinity of circles within circles around this big earthly circle. Hopefully tomorrow it’ll pick up, the pain won’t be so bad that I have to abandon for another week, and I can claw my way back to shape and sanity; in that order I’m sure.

It’s supposed to be like riding a bike

2 Sep

I’m back from a five-day jaunt to Eastern Oregon with my pop. One idea of what a road trip with him is like: new car, new Garmin GPS device – score two for modernity, you’d think. Except that the only printed material he brought (my own fault for not going and getting anything myself, but he did assure me he was hitting the Half-Price Books… the night before our trip) consisted of two books and a Thomas Guide map. As we were driving south toward Yakima he began reading from the Introduction to one of the books. After the first several paragraphs I said, and I grant I’m bragging a bit, “I bet you anything that book was written in the late 60s or early 70s. Certainly no later than the early 80s.”

Dad thumbed to the front. “Huh, 1971. How did you guess that?”

“Because it sounds completely like the overwrought prose product of a 1950s public school education with a semester or two of Latin at the state college along with an assistant editorship on the glee club newsletter consisting chiefly of positive-thinking articles.”

(So maybe I was already grouchy).

Later, as we disappointingly came upon a ‘ghost town’ that consisted of neither, per the breathlessly enthusiastic description of a book called something like ‘Betty Dean’s Guide to Cheap and Free Attractions in Eastern Oregon’ I again asked, a little more innocently this time, say Squire, when was that book published? 1992? Ah. Nice.

Third – the Thomas guide. These can be awesome maps. Each page is a square with indicators of what other pages to leap to, all so that you can see stuff at a fixed and larger-than-usual scale. During one of our many off-roading adventures in the Oregon mountain ranges, having gotten lost, and serving as the swaying from side-to-side navigator to Dad’s Euro rally car flashbacking, as we were getting thoroughly lost because the GPS unit’s British-accented lady kept telling us to turn right down dead ends or non-existent roads (hard to fault a GPS for not being better at dirt roads, I admit) I paged to the front and noticed, with some satisfaction at this point, that this map-to-beat-all-maps was in fact published in 2000 and therefore probably wasn’t ‘ware of what looked like freshly-minted dirt roads placed there for our Hazard County enjoyment.

Edit – I had meant to work toward a better news story with this sidebar. While we were lost more than a few times, it was the most lovely country you could imagine to be lost in. One day we took a dirt road from Imnaha up to Hat’s Point, overlooking Hell’s Canyon. This dirt road was spectacular and I soon got to thinking of what a ride up would be like. Technically, thanks to Dad’s GPS, it’s a climber, from around 2000 feet at Imnaha to near 8000 feet at the top; most of that is within the first 9 miles where there’s an average grade of 16% (man, that seems steep); overall it’s a 48 mile round trip to Hat’s Point and back. And Hell’s Yes we’re gonna do it someday soon! Perilously breathtaking views of the Seven Devils in Idaho etc. Doing so in June, with the wildflowers rioting would probably be the most perfect ride ever.

In addition to MTB (or possibly cyclocrosssing) thoughts, there was Hwy 39 – about eight or so miles out of Joseph you turn on to this road and soon you’re in an isolated wilderness of winding road, lovely arid-style alpine pine country full of motorcyle tourists, the occasional RV and, as we saw on the day we took it, a Seattle Randonneur couple. Once you’ve worked through several miles of elevation gain you come to a summit somewhat; from there it’s, by my guess, about 50-ish miles of downhill through some of the most beautiful scenery around. It’s not all downhill at a gulp as there are lots of winding switchbacks and national forest parks with facilities. I spotted one NFS park that had a hand pump for water but you may want to bring some water purification tablets in case. In all I estimate it’s about 75 miles from Joseph to Halfway (that’s the town name). Once you come off of Hwy 39 and onto Hwy 86 to head toward Halfway (about 10 miles along busier Hwy 86) you have essentially emerged from the evergreen forest and into the straight-up desert, so save some water. I’m not sure how we’d work that, maybe continue on to LaGrande and spend the night, or ask someone to shuttle us back to Joseph, but aside from logistics, that looks to be one heavenly stretch of biking.

Back to biking – I was back to biking today. Watched the Surlylady ride off into the pre-dawn darkness with her flashy lights and headlight (oh, summer is going!) and that cool morning air and felt that twinge inside turn to resolution, something like 1280 x 1024.

I pumped up the tire volume, jumped on the ‘Rad and took off for the Mountlake Terrace hills down to Lake Forest Park. And I was awful. Kind of shaky, swervy, didn’t really look out for cars like I should have, my legs felt all discombobulated, my lower back hurt, the whole posture felt weird, my right hand which still has a deep bruise from the wreck was in pain, I popped a chain, seemed to hit every bump, almost ran into a parked car and forgot my glasses… and I loved every minute of it! Pulled up to the stoplight at LFP and, boldly for me, pulled right up to an older chap out for his morning monarchistic constitutional and I casually reached down, grabbed the wottle, took a sip, looked over and gave a Marlboro-biker man nod. When the light turned green however I tried to out-of-saddle and that’s where the still very tender shoulder is failing me, as in I’m okay riding and keeping the bars relatively straight but not so good at pulling up on the bar for leverage in a big gear or going up hill. Other than that, I eventually worked into better form. Kept it slow, nothing faster than 15 mph, more often at 12 or 13, as I kept telling myself that literally this was a recovery ride. One mechanical note was I noticed the front wheel out of true again. The Bontrager wheels on the Sarthe seem okay, although they’ll soon be replaced, but maybe I should have focused on the Bontrager wheels on the ‘Rad first. Because even though the disc is in the center and doesn’t seem as privy to rim-warble as regular pad brakes, it’s still a slight factor in rubbing. I did about 10 miles out and then turned around to hit the hills back home.

Later in the day I jumped on the Sarthe and repeated this route, this time heading the other way down the Burke to meet the Surlylady halfway home. The weather was perfect, mid 70s, warm but with a soft kind of pre-fall coolness. Just so grateful to be back on the bike. This ride was much, much faster as I hauled ass down the hills and onto the Burke. I’m seriously out of shape both lung- and leg-wise but I know I need to be patient and take it easy. It’ll all work out.

Next up are some long rides on the weekend to take advantage of this weather, long unplanned rides like the one Surlylady describes in her recent post; those are seriously the best. You find cool new places and routes and you find yourself as well. You can call me Dr. Surlylad now.