Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Cycler's Day Off

Before I was a cycler, I was an avid--OK, addicted--flyfisherman. For me, there is nothing quite like hiking up a small stream in search of trout. I used to worry that bicycling and trout pursuing would be competing interests, but I quickly learned that the two go well together. Like so many things, it turns out that bicycling enriches my days fishing.

Yesterday, I pedaled to Rock Creek--a stream that is deservedly famous--and enjoyed a long afternoon on the stream. When I first started riding to streams, I had the same two thoughts that everyone else does: Wouldn't it take a long time? Wouldn't I be too tired to fish? As with most things living carfree, we tend to think of things in the wrong terms. We worry about loss and are completely oblivious to gain. Pedaling to a stream is not just a slower, more tiring way to get there anymore than bicycle commuting is a just a slower, more tiring way to get to work. It is an entirely different experience.

What I notice on the bike is not that my speed is slow but that my time outside is long. The transitions from travel to stream become seamless in a way opening and shutting a car door can never be. Sitting on a padded seat in a sealed chamber, doing no work while moving 75 miles-per-hour, and then stepping out into quiet woods is jarring to say the least. It lacks something real, like watching television, and our minds only follow easily after acclimation.

It took two hours to reach Rock Creek yesterday. Two hours of wind rushing past. Of sun warming my face. Of clouds moving up valleys. Of spring scents. Of impossible rock formations. Of winding rivers. Of ups and downs that registered in my lungs and legs. Of memories that will bring smiles next year. Of course, it would have only taken thirty minutes by interstate.

As I stood in the sun by the stream, my bicycle leaning up against a tree and a soft breeze drying my brow, a game warden leaned out the window of his truck. "That's a neat way to fish. You from up the creek?" "Nope, up from Missoula." "Missoula? That must take a long time." I decided to keep my little secret this time and gave him the short version. With a big smile, I said, "Yeah, it sure does."

We humans are masters at valuing potential loss. But we are rank amateurs when it comes to valuing potential gain.

Riding off to fish. Waders, boots, rod and extra layers are in the big saddlebag (a Rivendell Baggins "Hoss"). Food and other essentials are in the lumbar pack which sits in the front basket. The ride is a little over 50 miles, round trip. To answer another common question, I've only had someone mess with my stuff while fishing once. The thief carefully removed and took a $25 headlamp from my $50 helmet. I'm not too worried.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cycler's Wife

Rachel now has her own blog, riding because i can. In her words, "Very few women I know bicycle [. . .] and I think that could change if more women knew how to be comfortable, safe, and stylish on a bike."

Comfortable, safe, and stylish isn't a bad way for guys to ride, either. A link has been added over in the Other Cyclers sidebar.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New bike, only bike

This winter, a chain of events sent a used Rivendell Romulus frame my way. It's much nicer than any bike I've had before, and the bike just sort of hung around in the living room corner for several months. I really didn't know what to do with it. I'm not the type to build up a special occasion dress-up bike. Finally, an earth-shattering thought came to me: maybe I should just ride it.

While I was selling off parts to get more parts and build up the frame, the annual "just one bike" theme surfaced in discussions I haunt. Hmmmm. I sat down and made a list of things I needed a bike to do without sqwaking. It seemed to me the Romulus was as good as any and better than a bike that doesn't fit.

So, now I have one bike (plus half of the tandem, I guess!). I'm comfortable on it, but I'm not quite comfortable with it. While it never quite fit, the old Surly had seen me through a lot. We had fallen together, gotten lost down logging roads together, half-frozen on mountain passes together. I trusted the bike to do its job, and I trusted that no one else would pay it much attention. Bikes aren't alive, but they do become a real part of memories.

The Romulus is different. It shines. It makes tiny noises that I don't know yet. Other people notice it. They even notice things about it that I haven't yet. Can things absorb human experience? I almost think they can. Years from now, when the shine has been traded for memories etched into the paint, the bike will be a friend. For now, I can only say that it's a very nice bike.

For those interested in such things, I took a few pictures the other day. You can see them at Cyclofiend Jim E's excellent website. Special thanks to another Jim at Hiawatha Cyclery for taking time to put together a lighting system that won't die in the cold.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


I receive a fair amount of email from other cyclers who'd like to give up the car or at least go as "car-lite" as possible. About 1/10th of the time the obstacle is "roads too dangerous." About 4/10ths of the time the problem is a long, difficult commute. Surely there are impossible cases, but most of the time those 5/10ths of the obstacles can be overcome. At worst, it may be time for a move. This leaves the other 5/10ths of the cases: wife/husband/partner is not willing to give up the car.

Having had only 3 years of experience, I'm in no position to act as marriage counselor. My typical response is something like "There are many more important things in life than being carfree, and a spouse/partner is way closer to the top of that list!" That said, living without a car in the US is a huge experience, and I really can't imagine not sharing it with Rachel. Helmets off to those of you who live the carfree/car-lite half of a marriage.

When we first went carfree for a winter about 3 years ago, Rachel had only ridden in traffic for about 6 months. I remember one of our first outings--Super Bowl Sunday--during a fiercely cold night with blowing snow everywhere. Challenging conditions for anyone. Rachel noticed how the streetlights glowed through the snow swirls. She gave a big laugh at an intersection as we accelerated easily, quietly, while the truck next to us spun itself in a slow, helpless circle.

She's had falls that would make grown men whimper, but she's always back on the bike the next day. This winter, she slid out on an icy curve in traffic. Seeing a car sliding toward her, she yanked her bike out of the way and then comforted the frightened driver, who had been following too closely and only saw Rachel and the bike disappearing behind her hood. They hugged and Rachel rode on in to work.

Rachel is my bicycling hero. While I worried, she took living carfree in stride. She transitioned from practically zero bicycling to the most graceful cycler I've ever seen. No one spins as effortlessly through 3 miles of rush hour traffic, carrying a basket full of gear, and then shows up looking like nothing happened. Messengers maybe, but they don't wear skirts and heels. Rachel commutes on her bike year-round in all weather, rides home in the middle of the night after performing at the local theter, and generally makes it all look fun and easy. I love bicycling, but I sometimes complain and hem and haw about equipment, or the cold, or the wind. Rachel just rides.

I hope to get Rachel to write some guest columns here to share her commuting secrets. I'm too proud to ask her directly, and maybe I can read them here and show up places looking less like a hobo. Yeah, maybe.