Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bummer Encounters

I actually find it mostly pleasant interacting with cars in the city. There is a type of negative interaction that always sticks with me in a bad way. It happens maybe once every 4 rides, and I've taken to calling them "Bummer Encounters." These are interactions with motorists in which neither party really does anything wrong, but both sides leave with reinforced stereotypes and general bad vibes. Here's an example:

I took my first ride up Rocky Butte a couple of days ago. It's about 11 miles from the apartment, and instead of using a map, I decided to make a game of following the bike route markers (little bike symbols marking turns on the pavement and occasional junction signs) to get home. I rolled up to a stop sign at a busy cross street intersection. A minivan opposite me was already there, waiting to turn left onto the busy street. Since the van had the right-of-way, I took the opportunity to check out the sunset and have a drink (of water!). Little did I know a Bummer Encounter was unfolding. Either the driver didn't realize he had gotten to the intersection first, or he had been trying to yield his right-of-way to me. In other words, he'd been waiting for me to go and had maybe passed up a chance or two of his own. I gathered this quickly as he rolled down his window, leaned out, and looked like a person about to yell something not-too-nice at me.

Well, just before he did, a horn--beep-beep friendly style--signalled me that the cross traffic wanted to let me through. I took the opportunity to ride straight across and up to the minivan's window. I'm not a confrontational person, and I really wanted to diffuse this potential Bummer Encounter by explaining that the right-of-way was his, and I'm sorry if I missed your signals, but we cyclers would rather you just do your legal thing here. So, I rolled up to the window, and closer inspection reveals he's more upset than maybe I realized. A little confused, I say something really erudite: "Hey, what's up, man?" As I say this, the driver turns away and the power window winds slowly up in my face--comically slowly, really. I see he has a couple of car seats in back.

I stand there a second by the closed window sort of befuddled (more than usual). He keeps his head turned, and that's that. Who knows, but my guess is at best he likes cyclers on the road a little bit less, and at worst, he confused my action as aggressive, critical mass style biker dude. Neither of us really did anything wrong. He should have been more aware of his right-of-way, and I should have payed him more attention. But, nothing 10 seconds of chatting couldn't have straightened out. Shoot, a real Bummer Encounter.

These things happen between cars at intersections all the time. You know what I mean. People wind up mouthing things behind glass, but they get over it pretty quickly. From my time logging complaints about cyclers in Missoula, I think that these incidents make more of an impression when a bicycle is involved. Probably, it's just because Bummer Encounters are so common between cars and so uncommon (even in Portland) car-to-bike.

I still haven't successfully diffused a BE-in-the-making. I feel like it's hard to communicate verbally with drivers without coming off as aggressive, especially when there's already a "situation," however silly it may be. Anyone have any stories with happy endings?

On a more positive note, the ride up Rocky Butte was well worth it. Best panorama of SE Portland and the Cascades I've seen so far from the nifty park up top. The climb's not bad, either, a little sketchy through the tunnel maybe. Oh, and the bike route that took me back home worked great. I think there was only one intersection where I was left guessing a little. Portland's on to something with the bike route markings, for sure. Thanks to all those responsible!


Friday, December 15, 2006

Comfortably Damp; Blog Interrupted

(We now interrupt the blog interruption to bring you a post. School, work, riding, writing; I had to pick three for a while. New ideas on the writing front, though, check back soon!)

I think it was Kent Peterson who first introduced me to the idea of being "comfortably damp." I didn't really understand it at the time. Living in a semi-arid valley in the Rockies, the little moisture we did get usually was either a) frozen or b) driven by violent thunderstorms. Neither a nor b really lends itself to being "comfortably damp." I filed it away somewhere in the mental bike bin and mostly forgot it.

And, then we moved to Portland. And, then, well, it was a whole lot like Missoula for a couple of months. And, then, well, I hear Portland had the wettest November since soggy people have been here and recorded their sogginess. I commuted my 12 mile round trip 20 days in November. One day, as I was wringing out my clothes outside the building entrance, the phrase "comfortably damp" whispered to me from my mental files. I wasn't that. My shoes would be wet for the next week and a half, and I smelled like a public bathroom floor that had been recently mopped, but not very well. I set out on my own quest for damp comfort.

Occasionally, I had caught a glimpse of someone who had completed his own quest. We would both smile, but this other person would just look so damply comfortable. Sure it was fun in that little kid sort of way to see how much water I could soak up. But, there was no Mom on the back porch waiting for me with dry clothes and a bath at my cubicle.

Observing the comfortable few, and reading rain initiates like Kent P., I realized that this had to be a personal quest. Some people I noted wore full rainsuits. I had tried that once and was already soaked with sweat before I had finished the pit zip disco maneuver, inside. I met one guy who just stripped down to shorts, cotton tee, and sandals, and then put his clothes on at work. My version of this ended about halfway in to campus one blustery day along the Willamette River when I put on everything I had in my saddlebag.

I was getting somewhere, though, with these experiments. I now knew I was shooting for that narrow zone between shiver and sweat, with the secondary goal of shedding as much rain as possible. Oh, and with a budget constraint of about a hundred bucks of new gear.

Monday dawned dry but threatening, 45 degrees. I had the morning off and headed for Washington Park, hoping for every bucket of the forecast rain. Someone had waved in the general direction of the West Hills and said, "Just follow Jefferson up. You can't miss the park." I know I was on Jefferson, and then I was climbing past a small reservoir on my right. And then a concrete divider appeared on the four-lane highway. Highway? And then a sign said "Non-motorized vehicles prohibited beyond this point." Now, I'm all for taking signs like this as "informational," but I've never found much good beyond this particular sort of sign on my bike. Right then, no kidding, the skies opened up and began dropping the first of many buckets. I made some clothing adjustments and rode against traffic a little ways until I found the unmissable turn I'd missed.

I started the long climb, zigzagging up maybe 800 vertical feet to the top near the zoo. The whole time the rain pounded, the gutters filled, I climbed. I passed another cycler. I smiled. He grimaced, and gave my goofy outfit a double take. We both knew it. I'm no master of rain yet, but I had achieved a state of damp comfort.

It may not work for you, but here's my getup for 40-50 degrees and rain that falls in drops (most credit to Kent P. and some new friends here in this, um, rain blessed country):

cotton cycling cap
Rainshield O2 cycling jacket ($35, actually breathes fast enough to climb in, for me)
Duofold 2-layer wool/poly shirt ($23, I think they call it Insulayer now, look for the wool content)
Windsor Wear thin wooly shirt
WoolyWarm knee warmers (rivbike.com)
SmartWool microweight skivvies
MUSA pants (rivbike.com, shorts work fine, too)
Rainlegs nylon chaps from UK (I've been told the dork factor is high. These things really work. Your call!)
Smartwool Mountaineer heavy wool socks (or two pair lighter wool socks)
"river" sandals (Chaco, Teva work well, needs to grip the pedal and dry fast)
[Edit 12.17.06: Forgot the hands!]
Ragg wool gloves
OR rain claw mitts (Just the wool gloves keep me comfortable, but it's no fun putting them back on after riding in a downpour)

And (this is why the sandals work) a dry pair of socks in the cubicle's file cabinet.

P.S. If you have trouble finding the O2 jacket or anything but the rivbike stuff and the rainlegs, you can get it through the Mountain Turtle Market's Amazon portal and benefit a real live cycler at the same time! Just type the names into the search box there.

P.P.S. Just one more question. Where the heck is the damp drizzle?