Archive | October, 2009

Hydroplaning on a bed of wet leaves

30 Oct

What a week!

It ended well. I got some very good news at work today. Even better, I went out on a bit of a limb with the department I’m leading, sort of a calculated gamble, and it paid off much better than I’d been hoping. Some sprinkes of good amid a trainwreck of a week at work. We’re under the gun, it’s crisis time, we’re trying to prioritize the crises as more crises arise-s and I’m having to coordinate, interview and hire contractors, figure out a way to spend most of but not overspend a million-plus budget – all whereas just a few weeks ago I was barely able to tie my own shoes, metaphor-manager-ically speaking. Stress city and 50, 60 hour weeks – sounds like a recipe for riding to work!


Wednesday, waking at 5:15 to let the pup water the lawn I stepped into a lake of water in the back part of our house… what the flood? I said. She just cocked an ear and gave me this look like ‘yer screwed dude’. Next up were about five hours of frantic trying to turn the damn water off at the meter (need to get one of those long leveraging key things), watching the water heater continue draining its 50 gallons, jury-rigging a Rube Goldberg contraption to route the hot water draining into a nearby shower, grabbing the wet-dry vac and realizing oh yeah I need to put a filter on that thing and instead grabbing two dust pans and scooping water with one into the other, calling the plumber, plumber saying “hmm in twenty years I’ve never seen a water heater do that before”, plumber saying “you need to call a water mitigation service, with this much water, all that drywall is going to rot, you might lose that tile, etc” and then working with SurlyLady to haul all of the bike room and random junk out of that room and into the garage.

So that ruined the ride for Wed, not to mention denting our savings account. New water heater and three days of house-shaking dehumidifiers and driers later, things are looking better. They had to put some sort of ‘inject-a-dry’ system to dry the walls from the inside, but anyway we’re close to back to normal. Thursday’s ride was off as well, due to having to be present to meet all these folks.

Friday then, and we’re thrilled to be back on the bikes. Unfortunately, for one brief period we weren’t!

The Burke was October-customarily wet and completely dark. I remember smiling as we pedaled off through our neighborhood – I needed this so badly. Somewhere past Sandpoint, with me in the lead, I suddenly felt my back wheel slip. Then fishtail. It all happened in a hurry but I do remember split-second thinking, yeah, even disc brakes aren’t going to help when traction is so bad yer hydroplaning. I was in that indecisive wobble second where it seemed I might go down either on the right side or left, because hitting the deck was now a foregone conclusion, and so I let out a very manly sounding Nooooo and thrust all my weight to the left in order to save the right collarbone and crashed, sliding about 10 feet. SurlyLady said “Oh shit” or something like that and crashed into my back wheel, knocking it from the frame and then doing a soft slide crash landing of her own. She popped up quickly so I was happy to see that. When I followed suit I was surprised, pleasantly, to find I hadn’t broken anything this time. The bike was a little more scary looking – at first when I tried putting the wheel back in I was having problems and thought that maybe I’d bent the frame but it was just a case of cold fumble finger. Had to bend the fender stays a bit, but other than that not a scrape on her, aside from the chewed up skewer handle. I think shoulder and saddle bag took the brunt of the fall. I wasn’t even all that dirty, come to think of it. I think the bed of wet leaves, while causing the fall, also cushioned it enough.

On the ride home I had to leave early and crank as fast as possible in order to meet the water damage folks at 5:30. Past Sandpoint and closer to Lake Forest Park I came across a strange scene: a squirrel, surprised on a section of the Burke that’s closed in with bushes, running ahead of and then beside me for a good twenty feet, me hitting the brakes, wondering how this was going to end, thinking the Adelaide pup would love to be with me watching this squirrel, until he found a suitable hopping off spot and did so.

It’s been a squirrely week.


rain, again

26 Oct

This morning, I got up to let the dog out and it was raining so hard that the dog just looked up at me, crossed her legs and shook her head no. I went and casually informed the mister that it was storming with such ferocity as to portend the end of days, and that our likelihood of death by drowning would increase by about 1500% the second we stepped out the door, and then nonchalantly added that I’d still be up for riding to work, if he was. I was half-hoping—no, let’s be honest, whole-hoping—that he’d be the one to wuss out and say “Nay, it is far too dangerous to attempt a two-wheeled commute on a day such as this. Instead, let us retreat to the moist haven of the overheated bus.” And since this was a fantasy, he’d then say “Come to think of it, you need to get more sleep and see more matinees. What’s say you quit your job and live a life of leisure, while I support the both of us in the manner to which we’ve grown accustomed.” Of course by this point the lad was snapping me out of it, fully dressed and ready to head out into the deluge. Dangit.

It was dumping but good, but it’s funny—once I’m soaked through and past the point of caring, there’s something about the stormy, before-sunrise Burke this time of year that really appeals to my adolescent love of creeping myself out. It’s pitch black, almost completely deserted, with rain waterfalling loudly through the leaves above and the wet leaves below making an eerie dull-knife-slicing sound. As the miles roll by, it gets psychologically interesting. Like sensory deprivation with a teensy bit of waterboarding mixed in for good measure. By the time I get to the UW, I’m ready to talk! To myself, at least. Sadly, myself is not a very good conversationalist.

Anyway, where was I? Sopping, sniffling and splashing into work, hanging wet woolies wherever I could (sorry about that, coworkers), wondering what the ride home would be like. And what do you know! It was dry and mostly blue skies. Which is really good news for the poor dog’s bladder.

Bike Fit Therapy Blues for a Dumb Ass

25 Oct

What a week. My manager is gone, last day (or really hour) was Friday. Bit of limbo to be sure but early indications are that the status quo will remain, i.e. myself, the lower manager, filling the gap upward of one and 13/15 headcount, with the manager above helping out for that 2/15 th’s part. I don’t complain that much about all of this, surprising even me (and likely surprising SurlyLady who’ll be rolling her eyes), but I think it’s cuz I recognize this has been a period of forced growth, and I am definitely the type that learns more quickly that way, i.e. cut off those apron strings and let me go and fail and flail a little bit then boom I’m running smooth for six months then I’ll get bored and look for something else to do.

In spite of all the work shenanigans, Friday was a two-appointment day – one in the morning to return a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, the other in the afternoon to get a bike fitting at my physical therapy clinic on First Hill. First the blood pressure monitor. Ugh. Kept me up pretty good Thursday night. You wear one of those BP cuffs on your upper arm, tethered to a smallish unit that, at 15 minute intervals, performs an inflation and BPM/BP routine. At night it cycles down and does it infrequently, but enough to make the whole sleeping thing hellish. Even worse was the ride in the morning – according to the tech at the hospital, oh yeah you can wear that cycling, no problem! What she failed to say was that in the middle of exertion, having a torture device come on every 10 minutes or so (it came on more frequently because I think BP drops during exertion, or maybe I was only imagining the stepped-up frequency) that squeezes your arm so hard it goes numb, and you have to pull your hand down to your side because touching anything at all is too much. This all sounds so exaggerated but I think what was happening was that after 24 hours of my left arm getting squeezed periodically it was going over the top. One of the last sessions, just before I called a taxi (raining, had to deliver a 3 hour presentation/work session in half an hour), I watched as my left hand almost doubled in size, became a deep chestnut red color and had veins popping up all over the place… so glad to take that off. I wouldn’t recommend riding with one unless it’s daylight out – on the dark Burke, having to go one handed to pass around people and prepare for unseen roots was a bit challenging.

Later that day, glad to leave the building as the gossip vultures circled regarding the news of my manager as it started to circulate, I jumped into my bikey clothes and onto the Poprad and rode a little over a mile to First Hill. Walked my bike into the reception area and smack dab into the coolest bike fitter therapists ever. I had two, each representing a different ‘school’ of thought on bicyling and physical therapy (Dutch versus Flemish perhaps) – an instant ‘second opinion’ as I quipped and they dutifully laughed at. To get down to the essentials, I was in there secondarily to talk about the shoulder (still having pains) but primarily due to the knee. Ever since I started riding I’ve paid no attention to lactic acid thresholds (something about dairy intolerance?) or VO2 max threshold (hair spray?)… I’ve read the articles in Bicycling Magazine, nodded my head, and understood not a word. In my world, I have only been concerned with KPT – knee pain threshold. Friday then, I was going to get the benefits of two physical therapists who had each been trained as bike fitters – a mix of mechanics and pain. Perfect!

As I was saying, I pulled in and we swapped out the skewer (amid bike talk, the main therapist liked my Carradice, buddy flaps, Brooks saddle, Speedplay Frogs, Schwalbe tires… she apparently recommends the Frogs and Brooks as often as possible) and hopped up on the trainer. Immediately she noticed the Brooks has a nice dimple on the right side only. Apparently not only is the Brooks great for short and long rides, etc, but it’s the only seat, including the Selle Anatomica, that is actually anatomic-forensic friendly. In this case, my bully right cheek showed that I possibly have one leg shorter than the other, a condition my dad enjoys. Hmm. And it’s on the right side. And my right knee is the one that always hurts. Hmm.

First off, while on the trainer, they spotted that my handlebars are way too wide, ‘pparently cross-bars are nice and wide for leverage when sprinting through the mud etc, or possibly the 44cm size is just a lowest/highest common production bike denominator. She recommended a 40cm, after measuring my shoulders in front, back and with arms straight out front (zombie pose). Secondly, they saw right away that the seat post was wrong. They raised it up quite a bit, several centimeters. I could tell a huge difference. Not satisfied they raised it another centimeter. Wild. I never dreamed I was off that much. Guess my home school measuring is about a good as you could expect. One trick for measuring (the two therapists used two, one a bend-enabled sort of compass plastic thing held up to the knee) is to have your crank arm at a parallel angle to the ground, pedal out in front. Take a plumb and line and the tip of the knee should line up with the center of the pedal spindle (Knee Over Pedal Spindle, KOPS). My left was okay, the right was bad. Good KOPS, bad KOPS. Raising the seat sort of evened out the differences between the two legs, I guess for a relative ideal. I was curious to how raising the seat height could help with the knees. Their explanation, and it’s a good one: Stand with feet held shoulder width apart, but feet placed as far behind the knees as possible. Bend down. It hurts. I can’t even do a couple. Move the feet forward, keeping the relative width the same, and it’s much better. You get the same squat motion executed, but the pressure on the knees isn’t as bad. Next up was some pedal technique eyeballing from straight ahead to see deviation from the up-down mean. And boy did I have some deviation! The right leg, unsurprisingly, had a tendency to flop all over the place. I had noticed this in a spin class once while I was checking myself out in the mirror, saying, Oh yeah, you’re the guy, keep on pedaling, Travolta? Ain’t shit. Mel Gibson? Val Kilmer? Don’t ask. Julian Sands? Who? The therapists explained that this was causing the knee pain. In spite of all the mitigating steps (pun) I’d taken, Speedplay Frog for maximum float, trying to stick with a high cadence spinning style in easier gears, it still wasn’t enough. Essentially my problem is I have a dumb ass, i.e. the right cheek especially isn’t working the way it should, and the foot is compensating, either for being a shorter leg or for the relatively weak hip action, meaning the knee is flopping left to right. On top of that, the seat height was way too low, and so even though I wasn’t putting pressure on the knee (mitigating steps) it was getting ground between two out-of-synch forces, the foot and the hip. Curiously, the two therapists each had a school of thought about the Frogs; one felt they allow too much float, that something like SPDs enforces the good stuff whereas Frogs encourage laziness; the other felt that Frogs are great for the float, and to really fix my knee problem it’s not the pedal, it’s the hip/core/abdominal and strength/pedal training and technique). They had me do some one-legged pedaling (what is the sound of? ideally, it’s the sound of a constant pitch whir with no speedup/slowdowns or dead spots) and hot dang that helped. When I looked down and watched myself and concentrated on keeping everything lined vertically, and also sort of clinching the dumbass, all per instruction, it felt better. They recommended I do the one-legged pedaling (I’ve heard about this in magazines, nodded, didn’t understand a word) several times a week.

Verdict: on the ride home, on that high, high seat (so high I felt like I needed a bib and some airplane/hangar inducements, or, conversely, so high that I could almost see eternity) was freaking awesome. Huge reduction in knee pain, and that was with still poor form – hard to concentrate when in the middle of a deluge such as the SL described (odd how she never ever exaggerates). Early days, but I’m happy. And happy in a way because I know it couldn’t have been a ‘one thing’ fix, that they gave me a range of fixes to try, namely 1) seat height, 2) pedal/knee/hip alignment technique, 3) strengthening/training work to develop the technique. I guess we’ll see. I do know that if I’m ever to get to my goals of one-day STP (200+ miles) and 4 days a week of commuting, maybe even 5, then I needed some help.

there’s gonna be a floody floody

23 Oct

It’s possible that, on the rarest of occasions, I’ve been known to exaggerate, but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve never been rained upon with such mighty, biblical force as on today’s ride home. The monsoon started about five miles from home, just when we were starting to get cocky about beating those bruise-colored clouds in the distance. My town turned into a lake, my bike turned into a boat and I think I turned into a religious person, because the hot shower I just took felt like pure heaven. Amen!

Dischord Changes

21 Oct

5:00 AM, roll over. 5:20 slumber’d unspok’d argument, one loses gets up to pee- and feed-enable the pets. Other takes the time to roll over. Then run thru stretches before heading to the kitchen to throw a couple slices in the toaster oven and whisk a coupla eggs. Woolens, cottons, strtetchy stuff, the slightly tight fitting compression from the bike clothes aiding in some excitement building. Last minute packing, tell the pup to have a good day (wish we had that kinda day, lounging around, oh I think I’ll nap in this corner for an hour…), booties, jackets, helmets, gloves, go go go have an 8AM meeting! Glistening streets, chronic street construction obstructions, dodging cars splashing you with puddle spray, only able to check the speedo under infrequent, watery yellow-red streetlights, make sure not going too fast for the knee and the long term; ah, there’s that pothole. Great.

Down Frisbee hill, tuck, stop pedaling, keep feet at 3-and-9 to avoid spray, feel the cold intensify, going from Fall to Winter in 10 seconds, become almost polar palpable, past the idling Community Transit bus perpetually parked at the bottom of the hill, glance back to see Surlylady’s headlight seemingly showing twice, is that a car or is that her, one light above and one from the pavement reflection. Down and out of Mountlake Terrace to Lake Forest Park, dodge the circling Starbuck-driver-throughers, wait at light. Wait. Wait. Remember to turn off annoyingly nuclear blinkie. Wait. Light changes, on to the Burke. Dodge the pair of chatty Kathy joggers who couldn’t be bothered to wear anything luminous. Dodge the other pair of joggers similarly dimmed and dim-witted. Then the day-glo wannabe marathoner. Then the walker clad in dark clothes walking the black dog with a black leash for some black humor philosophy problem. We dodge the silent tree that’s fallen and since samaritanly pushed aside; did this tree, did this sight make a sound? No, just a hand signal and a slight swerve. Up along t’ward Sandpoint we come to Shawn’s favorite pull-over spot, there he is, cross-your-heart style reflective sash and blinkie, as we parallel he mumbles something, to us, himself, the world? What if it had been substantive, some essential alchemical secret we could use to poach fish or hunt poachers with? We wave as usual and continue on, Surlylady on my six, long ago abdicating first-place throne in order to hakkalugi.

You really notice the canopy in fall, even in the weak streetlighting, some trees still hanging on to their green like a graphic in the corner of a new ad campaign, other trees long since relinquishing to the red and gold phase; today the trail is showing the strewing and piling effects of the cyclic cause, hiding root bumps and winter debris, adding a little more excitement, some grist.

Tonight, emphasis on night, I have a late meeting in which I learn in a matter of days I’m either getting a promotion or, if not, then by extrapolation a demotion. Especially eager then to get out of the building and take that first clean deep breath of air I practically launch out of the alley and sprint along to beat a red light next to Subway, past a line of people waiting at the old Off Ramp (what is it now, Corazon something something?) past REI and into the promising sky which hints at some full-on sun breaks.

At the top of Eastlake I’m suddenly glad I’m on the Poprad; Buick Riviera in front of me, awkwardly in the right lane (not really a two-lane road but since the Lincoln Toe towing monopoly is so zealous about the 4-6pm offenders it’s a bit of free-for-all) decides to turn right; I squeeze the disc brakes, then squeeze harder, then harder still; I barely avoid becoming a trunk ornament on a late model Riviera. Said disc brakes come in handy later on the Burke, not too far from Lake Forest Park, as a car came flying down one of those access roads; again the brakes worked, mercifully, stopping me so quickly I almost twisted sideways.

There were portentous clouds as soon as I pulled up in LFP. The skies northward looked particularly dark and nasty. As soon as I climbed to the top of the pre-Mountlake hills the rain came down, cold, all encompassing, flash-flood menacing, it’s not funny any more I just want to be home and wearing my jammies, staying in the big ring up that last hill because dang it I’m in a hurry kinda rain.

In short, no matter the seven-course variety of riding through several zip codes, it all seems somehow familiar and comforting; especially the bulk of the Burke section which after a year plus seems to pass so quickly now. I find my mind drifting off and then processing the fact I’m only a mile from the turnoff and I think how the heck did that happen? Who was that masked mental lapse?

A comfort attempt after the pivotal meeting included a ‘the only constant is change’ comment (groan). Throwing on my old empirical David Hume hat (David Hume could out-consume…) it seems to me the only constants are decay and the illusion/elusion of free will. The former is the guiding absolute, the omega behind everything; the latter is the noise before the decay defeat, to twist Sun Tzu’s phrase. Nothing is constant, everything is constant; in thousands of commutes I could experience nothing greater than slight knee pain or I could be a Riviera trunk ornament.

Stream of Concrete-sciousness

20 Oct

The Burke Gilman trail stretches along Lake Washington, a beautifully car-free boundary line connecting points north with the University of Washington campus. Such Rick Steveisms’re prolly worth repeating, as I tend to repetitively talk about my commu-bike experiences on the B & the G. In the street sections, at the beginning and end of my commute, I’m on extra alert, especially in this time of year when the dark mornings are made more so by a Seattle swirl of fog and fireplace. Entering the Burke, in both directions, I tend to heave both a mental and physical sigh; this is sanctuary, sweet sanctuary for the hunchback’d bikemuter.

Speaking of hunchbacks, and stream of concrete-sciousness, my thoughts yesterday along the Burke, other than bemusement at the larper pop of riders than last Friday when it was cats and dogs, made for many mental bunny hops. Hunchbacks, to begin. I’m working on a new book involving a budding demagogue who’s a skateboarding hunchback. Before you laugh, I think this is targeted for a niche demographic that is just about to TAKE OFF, trust me.

Comedy Dual Duo

Comedy Dual Duo

Speaking of books, the one I’m reading lately is ‘Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!‘ – highly recommended. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Not only is it from Dalkey Archive Press (the best little press in the world, or at least from a town called Normal) but it’s highly inventive, episodic, period-pitch-perfect yet sort of modern in scope and flow. It kind of reminds me of Raymond Queneau’s The Blue Flowers mixed with Chris Bachelder’s U.S.! Yes, virginny, that good!

Speaking of the Blue Flowers, I was thinking of the Duke d’Auge. What a fun chap he was! Everytime I hear the Fiery Furnaces song Cabaret of the Seven Devils I think of this book, to wit/paraphrase:

The evening in question was a moonless Monday.
And carrying his own purse,
With only one valet (only one—but by far his best swordsman)
The Duke marched into the least auspicious tavern,
Tossed his silver bag at whom he assumed was the proprietor
And said, or barked, rather,
“This establishment will now serve my purposes.
And I should like it to be known as the Cabaret of the Seven Devils.

Such an awesome song. T’ward the end, when they repeat ‘carrying his own purse’ there’s this nice little drum and bass thang going where you can picture a long-fingered bass player adam’s appled bobbing along, probably wearing a bicycle cap backwards.

Speaking of bicycle caps, I sure love my Pace. It’s not from New York City, fer shure. It’s got a shorter brim which helps so that I’m not totally blinded when leaning forward and looking up. It helps shade in sun and rain, and I consider it indispensable as a pair o’ gloves on cold mornin’.

By logging this web log, I have now established myself as an expert in the micro-reality of Burke-Gilman bicycle commuting reportage; as such I expect to be quoted, unknowingly, in a ‘real journalism’ piece on CNN any day now. When it happens, I’ll consider advertising. Maybe Dalkey Archive would be interested?

the bright side

19 Oct

Even though I’m cranky and sleep-deprived, and most likely coming down with the swine flu or maybe the Hanta virus, and my muscles feel all atrophied from a week off the bike, and my jacked-up gearing made me say bad words—out loud!—no less than three times on today’s ride, and I’m four dark months away from my next real, two-week vacation, at which time it will have been six whole years since my last real vacation, and my dog has developed an irrational fear of the backyard, and I’m the type who, left to my own devices, will spend large amounts of time pondering my dog’s psychological condition, and I’m having trouble finding a rubber chicken to go along with my halloween costume, at the end of the day at least there’s this to look forward to: