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Bicycle Adventures and Stuff: Why I Write

Two parts inspiration, one part documentation, one part bragging and one part self-preservation. (Reminds me of my favorite five-part Douglas Adams trilogy.)

post by Shubhro Saha that hit close to home and a recent spate of people telling me they liked my writing has me shaking my head: I’ve always found writing, like cooking, “better” when someone else does it, when you can appreciate the finished product, savor the nuances, and “I could never…” yourself into ordering takeout next time instead of doing the work yourself. Maybe it’s the curse of all creative people, constantly cognizant of the little “I could have done this better” voice in the back of their mind, the “I missed a note there,” the “not enough/too much salt,” and the finally fatal (to creativity) “what if they don’t like me.”

And yet I keep doing it. Like riding a bicycle, it ultimately comes down to one reason: I enjoy it.

I’m not sure whether it’s my love of wordplay or if it’s in reaction to the open floor plan office at work, seemingly designed to destroy concentration, but sitting down to write at home in the first-two-cups-of-coffee part of the morning, free from the babble of colleagues collaborating about lunch, kids and hobbies (I mean “work”), has become a routine I cherish. Sometimes the conditions are right and I can achieve the mental state of “flow,” which is addictive, harmless and highly rewarding.

As Steve Yegge says, you may feel it your writing will be viewed as narcissistic and silly. I know I’m either writing about something I already know well or something I just worked out for myself, and either way it must be equally obvious to everyone else, right? Even if it isn’t narcissistic navel gazing, who would care? In a way it’s irrelevant. It reminds me of what a former colleague described as the “rubber duck” problem solving method he learned in grad school: sometimes explaining a problem to a rubber duck can be nearly as enlightening as discussing it with a real person, because much of the value of the discussion is in formulating the problem into words.

Finally, there’s the double bonus of boosting the likelihood something will remain in my memory by writing it down; even if the act of writing it down doesn’t cement it in my long-term memory, it leaves a written record I can refer to later. Conversely, writing stuff down has a habit of freeing my mind (or at least my short-term memory) from trying to keep track of the myriad daily details, kind of like a good mental house cleaning.

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Staying Small, Living Large

I’ve been downsizing my list of possessions for over a decade, gradually changing my focus from a life rich in stuff (I’ll be happy once I’ve got…) to a life rich in experiences. One of the unexpected consequences of this has been the challenge of finding a small enough living space for the stuff I enjoy using on a daily basis.

One of the biggest steps I’ve taken on this ongoing journey was moving from a modest three bedroom suburban house of nearly 2000 square feet to a smaller, 500-finished square foot, one bedroom house in the city, saving $500 a month on rent in the process. I spent two years happily living there, where my bikes “slept” in the bedroom and I slept on a futon in the living room, before the call of adventure became irresistible and I embarked on a bicycle tour along the Mississippi River, staying in a 21 square foot tent most of the 67 nights.

When I returned the little house had been rented to someone else, and I settled into a an ironically larger-but-cheaper 750 square foot duplex.

My current adventure, moving to Europe, was facilitated by a local employer and their fabulous relocation benefit. It seemed too good to be true: they paid to pack and move all the things I cared to bring. The downside is now I’m moving back, and I can’t justify the cost of moving a number of things I use on a daily basis, so I’m going to have to beg, borrow or buy them again.

For the furniture I’ve found it makes sense for me to own (futon, kitchen table and a couple of chairs) a small studio seems like it ought to be just what I’m looking for. Unfortunately, the studios I’ve found are in larger apartment buildings, meaning they don’t have their own outside door. Worse, there are usually stairs involved, and lugging a bike up or down flights of stairs is a real drag, especially in the winter when it leaves a dirty trail of melting icy debris that has to be mopped up in the name of good housekeeping and neighborly relations.

A place with a garage at first seems like a handy way around that, but raises concerns of security, because bike thefts from garages are distressingly common, and I’ve learned that sooner or later I’ll want to bring the bike inside for maintenance (usually about once a week in warm weather and more often in inclement weather) anyway.

Historically I’ve been unable to ignore the siren-song of adventure indefinitely, and I don’t see that is ever likely to change. Another constant is that most of my “tribe” of friends are fairly tied down in the Twin Cities metro area. One thing that does seem to change frequently are my so-called “plans.” Putting these three together means I could easily be stuck in a hysteresis loop of looking for an affordably small space at the end of the next adventure or trying to get out of that space at the start of the next-next adventure.

I could easily look for another small duplex, except they tend to be larger than I need these days, and then I wind up paying for extra space. What’s bad about Extra Space? Nothing, other than my all-too-human tendency to justify filling it with just-one-more-thing (i.e. “I’m paying for this spare bedroom, I could better put it to use if I had another table. And another chair. And a work light. And …”). And the cost of heating and cooling it. And the time it takes to clean it. It all adds up. And that’s a great way to inflate the burden of either selling-and-re-buying stuff or storing it when the next irresistible adventure comes along. That seems sub-optimal at best, which brings me back to the idea of a small house. Getting the monthly cost on a small house down to a reasonable level looks a lot like having to buy. If I rigged up a secure storage area in the basement then I could rent out the living space while I’m away to both pay for the cost of having the house and the cost storing my stuff. If I’m really ambitious maybe I find (or build) a house with a small studio apartment in the basement. Then I could rent out the living space full-time and still have my own basement to crash in and my own couch to surf, not just between adventures, but any time. This has the added bonus of passive income, which dovetails nicely with someday retiring from paid work. (Note to my Future Employer: my spreadsheets currently put retirement about 15 years in the future. Don’t Panic.)

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Lonely (In a Crowd)

People have asked if I ever get lonely on solo tours, with hours or days between major cities (or even small towns), but I’ve never felt lonely while on the bike. On the bike things are always in motion. There’s sometimes a peaceful zen-like state, yes, regardless of the beauty or struggle raging all around, but the very act of moving has always distracted me from getting too introspective. Things like physically maintaining balance, avoiding road-hazards, fluctuating blood sugar and the constantly changing state of the body manage to make the zen-like moments while I’ve been piloting a fully-laden touring rig all about the being in-the-moment piloting of the fully-laden touring rig, and sometimes appreciating the scenery, too. Introspection tends to strike me when the body is still and the mind is spinning away, sleeplessly grinding up and over the what-if’s, woulda’s, coulda’s and shoulda’s till sheer physical exhaustion blissfully stops everything.

On solo tour, yes, there is much time spent alone, which makes the chance meetings of random strangers (generally one or two at a time) welcome opportunities to indulge in human connection-through-conversation, even for this introvert. What surprises me is how alone I’ve always felt in a crowd. Case-in-point: last weekend’s annual company meeting ended with a colossal dance party; hemmed in between a massive wall of sound and the cataclysmicly pulsating lights was a grotesquely gyrating mass of humanity easily 3000 bodies deep (oh, the humanity). I couldn’t even begin to thread my way through the costumed crowd without the aid of earplugs and three beers’ of liquid stupidity^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hcourage (don’t worry, I took the tram home to avoid the risk of injury) , and it took the rest of the weekend hiding in my apartment with the curtains drawn to recover from the ordeal.

It’s funny how it took being lonely in densely-populated Europe to make me realize I’m actually a very social person: I dearly miss my people, my tribe of friends and close acquaintances I’ve carefully curated over the last nine years since I re-discovered my love of bicycling and woke from my fitful nightmare of over-consumption and suburban conformity. Fascinating how we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Call it human nature.

 

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(Grateful to be) Starting Over, Again

Somebody I used to know euphemistically called personal tragedies like major illness, grievous bodily injury and divorce “Learning Opportunities.” While I hated this sugar-coated euphemism at the time, I’m starting to see the silver lining of the cloud.

Moving across an ocean with nothing more than I can pack in a suitcase (well, with a little unexpected help from my friends, seven suitcases) means I’ve touched, weighed and considered every single item I’ve chosen to keep in my life. Some things I valued didn’t make the cut simply because they were too big to fit in a suitcase, like my bicycle repair stand. Others had an unfavorably high opportunity cost because of their weight-to-replacement value ratio (goodbye cast-iron skillet and forearm-sized adjustable wrenches).

Generally it comes down to two questions:

  1. How much will I miss not having the use of this item?
  2. Will it cost more to move or replace this item?

Note that number one above isn’t how much will I miss OWNING this item, just having the use of this item. That’s an important distinction because people like to help, and you’ve probably got at least one nearby friend who would be happy to swap books, tools, etc. with you on occasion. Which isn’t to say owning a thing is bad, just acknowledging that the costs of ownership (purchase, storage and maintenance) need to be weighed against the frequency of use and costs of borrowing or renting the thing when needed.

(Paper documents have always been a special kind of hell for me because they’re historically how I offloaded stuff from working memory that I didn’t want to forget forever, but I managed to reduce them down to a manageable level by spending a month scanning most of them to PDF, making doubly redundant backups, and then shredding the originals. Also, PDFtk has become one of my new BFF’s.)

The fun part begins after wheels down, when I move out of my temporary accommodation couch-surfing with a friend and into my own digs: identifying the things I use often enough to actually go buy, not because I enjoy spending money, but because it’s an opportunity to exercise my creativity: remember, that shiny “new” thing becomes “used” the moment I take it out of the package at home. In other words: do I really need a brand new kitchen table? Probably not. What about a replacement for that too-heavy-to-fly 12-inch cast iron skillet? Nope, a thrift shop probably has a perfectly good one for a fraction of the new price. How about those stainless-steel pint “glasses” I’ve been lusting after for three years? Ooh, that’s a toughie. I’m sure I can find perfectly usable glass ones for cheap, but I’ve got a history of breaking glass things and then cutting myself on them, and plastic tumblers have an unsavory habit of picking up and holding scents. I might finally be able to justify buying one (or maybe even two) of those stainless steel tumblers–you see the fun part is exercising your creativity in finding the most perfectly “you” sized solutions to your everyday needs, the few favorite things that you use so often that it really does make sense to own.

Just for fun, I started to list out the things I think I’ll need, and whether they really have to be bought new or if I can take advantage of the often substantial savings of buying used:

New

  • pillow
  • futon mattress
  • hand-crank burr coffee grinder
  • 8-inch chef’s knife

Used

  • kitchen table
  • 2 folding chairs
  • 2 plates
  • 2 bowls
  • 2 forks
  • 2 spoons
  • 2 blunt table (“butter”) knives
  • 2 sharp table (“steak”) knives
  • 12-inch cast iron skillet
  • 2-quart pot and lid
  • 2 stainless-steel pint-sized tumblers (hey, it’s possible I could find them used)
  • heavy-duty folding bicycle repair stand (ditto)
  • 2 bath towels (nothing a little bleach and laundry detergent can’t fix, right?)
  • 2 hand towels
  • 2 dish towels
  • 2 wash cloths
  • sheets, flannel
  • sheets, cotton (because Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road construction)
  • pillow case, flannel
  • pillow case, cotton
  • mattress pad
  • futon frame
  • clothes drying rack

Now that I think about it, I may have to ask friends and family if they have any of these “used” items laying around, taking up space but never actually in service before I start spending money at thrift shops.

Creativity: I has it.

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The Kindness of Strangers, or “the story about Skip and Faye”

I’ve dreamed of riding the Pacific Coast of the US since sometime in junior high school. On a business trip to California in February of 2007 I borrowed a wonderfully light-weight, woefully under-geared, road racing bicycle from a co-worker in Pleasanton and, one weekend, rode from Half Moon Bay (near San Francisco) south about 35 miles along Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH-1) towards Santa Cruz.

The views were spectacular: rolling hill with alternating fields and cliff walls on one side; a sharp drop-off on the other, and and ocean as far as the eye could see to the West. I zoomed down the hills at break-neck speeds I’m sure I would have been afraid of had I known just how fast they were in an attempt to make the climb up the equally-steep other side more manageable. As the day wore on the reddening sun continued to sink, and about 4:30pm I decided I had to head back north. I managed to brake to a stop at the bottom of one such gulch, avoiding the line of cars parked at the beach and crossed the road, abruptly realizing (a) I had no more (and possibly even less) shoulder on this side of the road, (b) there were flimsy-looking nets attempting to contain debris from all-too-fresh looking rock-slides, and (c, rookie mistake) I now had to climb up that ridiculous hill I had just descended. I sweated my way back to the top, then stopped for a breather only to realize the sea-breeze was now in my face: the tail-wind I’d unknowingly enjoyed all day was now a head wind and the return trip would take much longer than the three hours I’d already spent on the road. Starting to cool off before I’d really regained my breath, I zipped up my windbreaker vest, duck-walked up out of the drainage ditch back onto the road and plummeted down the other side, Northward. Half-way up the next rise I was sweating profusely and had to unzip the vest again. Pause at the top, gasping for air. Only a few rollers later I my growling stomach informed me lunch was an all-too-distant memory, and I broke into the last of my rations: a Raisin-Oatmeal-Walnut Clif Bar. Choking it down with as few sips of water as possible, I pressed on.

An hour later, as the sun slipped below the horizon, the situation was starting to look grim. I was riding on a highway with shoulders at most a hands-breadth wide, and all the rolling hills made for extremely limited visibility. Shivering, I stopped and fished the zip-off sleeves out of my vest-tail-pocket and reattached them. Fingers stiff from cold fumbled with my wedge-shaped seat bag, groped for the lights I’d questioned the wisdom of bringing along weeks ago when I packed my over-stuffed suitcase before the flight. Success. I had a 1-Watt white LED headlight and a 1-Watt amber xenon strobe light I’d home-brewed onto a conduit-clamp seat-post mount along with a 12-Volt battery pack I’d scavenged out of a remote-control toy. Thankful the airline had let them pass security, I was doubly delighted to discover they still lit up. Onward.

Half-way up the next hill I finally had to accept an even grimmer-truth: my legs were shot. I twisted my ankle, painfully, attempting to un-clip my right shoe before I fell over and tumbled off the road and into the drainage gulch, managing to only lose a little skin from my calf in the process, and started trudging up the hill. Realizing the trip was now going to take at least three times longer, I switched off the lights–it was dark enough I could see headlights from any approaching cars in time to turn them back on, and I wasn’t sure how long the little AA and AAA batteries would last in the 59F (15C) (and dropping) temperatures. At the top of the next hill I gingerly settled onto the narrow racing saddle, switched on the lights, and mostly coasted down the other side and as far up the next hill as possible before dismounting and walking to the summit. According to my watch I repeated this for nigh an hour. Trudging around an up-hill right-hand curve, I saw a car approaching from behind and switched on my improvised taillight, hoping that the ever-slowing flashes would keep up long enough for the driver to see me before hitting me. They must have, because I heard them slow to a crawl. Pulling alongside me, the passenger rolled down the window, and hurled at me, much to my surprise, no, not a half-empty-soda, but an inquiry as to my destination, condition, safety and general well-being. Driver and passenger briefly conferred, and then passenger said they’d pull off the road at the first safe spot at the top of the hill. They drove off. I stumbled forward. An eon passed before I again saw the shadowy silhouette of their Volvo 240 wagon. By the feeble dome light they looked like my Uncle Jim and Aunt Chris (right down to the rusty old Volvo wagon). They might have been angels for all I know, but said they were Skip and Faye, and they were happy to drive me the remaining 10 miles to Half Moon Bay where my rental car was parked. And they wouldn’t take anything but thanks and gratitude for their trouble.

This became the first of many instances where I’ve been shown the kindness of strangers. Always when I’ve been most in need, and had nothing to pay back. Instead, I’ve always been encouraged to pay it forward.

As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world.

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Enoughing

I crashed my bike again last week, this time badly enough that when I regained consciousness I found myself in the hospital. It’s funny how life has a way of telling you you need to make a change: subtly at first, so quietly it’s easy to not notice over the clamor of everyday events. But the tugging at your sleeve doesn’t go away, no it continues to get more insistent, until BAM it reaches a level you can’t help but notice. I must be particularly hard-headed, because it took landing on my face to get my attention. I think I’m lucky because it was mostly flesh wounds that will heal on their own, and a competent dentist ought to be able to fix the rest. Over the last year I’ve listened to friends tell of their (or their family’s) struggle with cancer; whether the prognosis is months, years or decades, it’s a reminder to all of us that (ultimately) our time is limited.

If you aren’t loving the life you’re living then you’re doing it wrong.
There’s two important parts to loving the life you’re living: what you’re doing, and how you feel about it (attitude is everything, baby).

Nearly three years ago I bumped into an interesting lady, and against the odds, up the relationship ladder we went. A year ago it looked like we had a pretty nice life: a nice apartment, a bunch of friends, and stable jobs close enough to where we lived that we had the luxury of choosing to ride our bicycles or take public transit, not just being forced to drive. Winter 2013/2014 in Minneapolis was one of the harshest I remember in a lifetime living in Minnesota, and it really got me down. Instead of saving money and doing something good for the community with our non-working hours, we spent most of our free time (and cash) at one of the many brewpubs that were springing up all over and buying a house-full of really nice furniture. It wasn’t a bad life, but I wasn’t happy with it, and I was always too busy, too over-caffeinated, too burnt-out to put my finger on what “it” was that made it so. So I moped, she blamed me, we blamed the weather, the terrain and the infrastructure, and then we moved to the Netherlands. Surely being in a “better” place would fix it. Amsterdam was wonderful: we loved the beauty of the canals and the old architecture, the mild weather, the generally flat terrain, the world-class bicycle infrastructure. She immediately set out to make new friends, and I set out to excel at my new job so I didn’t get fired and we didn’t get deported back to that “awful” place we came from. The short commute was so easy, the work hours and vacation schedule so reasonable it “should” have been a piece of cake. But I wasn’t happy just to be good-enough, I wanted to wow them to justify what they were paying me. It was harder than I expected, and I stubbornly refused to ask for help. When I did ask her for help she only heard the anger and frustration I was feeling, and the message only got more garbled by those feelings after a handful of the silly little (25cL) too-small, too-strong beers they served everywhere. I’m sure you see where this is going: she left me over a misunderstanding and claims it’s been going on too long to ever heal. (I hope someday she chooses to write her own blog about what happened from her point of view, because she refuses to tell me in the here-and-now.) Of course, the biggest problems weren’t external (the life we were living, which was materially pretty good), they were internal (our attitude about it, and communication thereof).

Then WHAM. The road rose up to meet me and shake me out of my funk. I’m lucky to have lived to tell about it.

In the last week of struggling just to go about the minimum daily requirements of life in the modern world (bathe, put on clothes, eat, go to work, …) I’ve realized I’ve been primarily focused on me and more, not appreciating what I’ve got (time to live, enough to wear, enough to eat, friends to be with). In that frame of mind nothing would ever be enough, like trying to fill a bottomless pit, because there was always “just one more” thing that I could add to it. On reflection, the greatest happiness I’ve had in life has been using my natural talents, doing what comes easily to me, to give to people who have a need and really appreciate the gift.

I’ve been offered another opportunity back home, one in my chosen field of employ (wait, you mean people will actually pay me for doing this?), so the chance (and cost) of failure is pretty low, one with enough of the external things to make a nice life possible. By now I’ve finally realized that no Job-Charming will ever save the day so I can live happily ever after, rather, happiness is a choice, and change must come from within. So I’m looking at choosing to be happy and changing the focus of my life, looking at things I value in life more than money, things like friends, social justice, transportation equity, and sustainable living. A job’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t want to live my life for it any more. I’m inclined to use it to buy a place to live that I can also put to work paying for itself, and later myself once I eventually retire from paid work. I’m inclined to find a way to help others who are trying to make a positive influence on this world, things like helping fund that little public jazz radio station I love so much back home or one of the dozens of open-source software projects I benefit from daily. Things like volunteering for one of the bike shops that fix bikes and gift them to people who can’t afford them but need them to get to around. Things like supporting programs that promote safe passage on bicycle paths. Most of all, I’m inclined to change my attitude about it.

Life’s not about how much you have, once you have enough to get by, it’s about being happy with what you’ve got and sharing it with others: in other words it’s not about the size of your paycheck, it’s about how you feel about what you do with it.

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Bicycle Commuting vs Bicycle Touring

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve crossed the line from bicycle commuter to bicycle tourist and back several times over the last decade, and yet I am still struggling to integrate both into my life. Let’s take a look at why.

Twins Separated at Birth
Bicycle commuting fundamentally is just riding your bicycle to and from work. Short distance or long, once a month or every day, you start at home, hopefully enjoy the ride (or else you’re doing it wrong), and then go about your business. Repeat the other way-round at the end of the day. You might tailor your bike with lights, fenders and even fat studded winter tires depending on your climate and length of commute. You might even choose to move your home and work to be more bicycle-commute friendly, with amenities such as agreeable weather, cycle paths, bike lanes, secure parking and even showers depending on what you value. At some point, if your commute is long enough, what you bring along every day to handle contingencies like inclement weather, injuries and mechanical breakdowns might start to look a lot like what you might bring on a bicycle tour.

Never the Twain Shall Meet
If your commute is long enough, not only are you packing most of the supplies you’d bring on a bicycle tour, but also you’re physically conditioning yourself for bicycle touring. If you’re like me, you’ve had an “a-ha” moment when you decided you could handle that bicycle tour you’ve been noodling about for so long, and you do. At some point you’ve spent enough that you decide you’d feel more secure with more savings, and you stop touring to work. If you still have the urge to continue your tour at some point then things get interesting. Depending on the length of your tour, you may have chosen to maintain a household, and maybe even your job. For short cycle-touring vacations, this is the case, and returning to “normal” is easy: you just go back to it at the end of your vacation and start dreaming about the next cycle-touring vacation. For longer cycle tours, this may not be the case. If you’re like me short cycle-touring vacations only fuel the desire to make life more cycle-touring and less vacation from work. Maybe you got rid of your stuff, including your car and house or apartment, to generate savings and reduce expenses. Then going back to “normal” isn’t so easy, but you aren’t really concerned about “normal,” you’re just looking for a brief interlude to build up your savings. You’re now looking for the specific combination of short-term work and short-term housing, and it becomes an exercise in optimizing for maximum income and minimum expenses. In my field and home town places offering short-term housing tend to be in the city, while places offering high-paying short-term (contract) work tend to be in the suburbs, outside the range of public transportation. Making matters worse, the climate means winter bicycle commuting to those places requires a very winter-specific bike, and you may not find much for bicycle-commuter-friendly amenities (even secure parking and/or showers) when you get there.

That sucks. Now what?
The obvious answer is “Don’t Do That,” but stop to work somewhere with a milder climate. (Or maybe just “Don’t Do That There in Winter.”) Or, if you really insist on doing that there, buy a property you can live in when you’re working, storing your winter bike there and renting out the living space when you’re touring. Huh. To be continued…

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Squirrel Theory

You’ve probably seen squirrels, those cute, fuzzy critters that climb trees, zipping and zooming erratically hither, thither and yon. Cute when it’s in nature, not-so-cute when it’s in front of your moving vehicle, and their instinctual predator-evasive techniques lead them to darting in front of you and then freezing; not understanding that your goal, strangely, is not to eat them but rather to avoid hitting them.

I’ve seen far too many car-bicycle interactions just like that. When I took driver’s ed two decades ago, seeing and stopping for pedestrians was one of the topics taught. Ignoring ostensibly “modern” (Cold-War-era) urban-planning monstrosities like “stroads” for the moment, this decades-old conventional wisdom still generally holds true. However, it starts to break down when bicycles are introduced to the mix. Shaped more like vehicles, but slower off the line than pedestrians, but with a top speed approaching city street speed limits, many drivers in the US seem instinctively confused: is a person on a bicycle a vulnerable pedestrian obnoxiously camouflaged to look like a vehicle or an obnoxiously fast-accelerating, slow-moving, non-car-shaped, under-lit stealth vehicle? (I’m going to ignore both”salmon,” wrong-way cyclists and”ninja,” unlit stealth cyclists; till a later rant.) Either way, out-of-date expectations are not met and irritation ensues.

Consider the following common scenario: a cyclist waiting for a suitable gap in two-way traffic to safely cross the road.

In the first case (a vulnerable, strangely shaped, pedestrian), a driver from one side happens to see the cyclist, remembers other cyclists that they’ve happened to see who darted, squirrel-like, out into traffic and stops abruptly, regardless of traffic behind them or whether oncoming traffic from the other side has stopped. They cannot fathom from their limited viewpoint in their car why the cyclist is not then grateful for the opportunity but instead frustratedly trying to wave them out of a dangerous situation, and they get mad. The driver fails to understand they not only have a worse overall view of traffic than the cyclist, the cyclist has already calculated how much of a gap they need, and would have already gone if traffic conditions (from both directions) safely permitted it.

In the second case (a fast-accelerating vehicle that isn’t shaped like a car and has less than 110 watts of halogen-powered headlights), a driver from one side fails to see a cyclist waiting to safely cross the road, and then freaks out when the cyclist takes advantage of a suitable gap in traffic to safely cross the road in front of them, mentally adding to the tally of “irresponsible” cyclists who darted, squirrel-like, out into traffic.

In both cases, regardless of who legally has the right of way, experienced cyclists know that disobeying the laws of physics has a much higher likelihood of grievous bodily harm. This has unfortunate consequences even where I’m living in the Netherlands, where most drivers are also cyclists, and will (generally) execute a much more graceful slowdown instead of a full panic stop. I’m still not expecting to be seen or given consideration as a fellow road user, so I hesitate when I should go and go when I should hesitate. I’m afraid I’ll have lost my learned-distrust of drivers should I ever move elsewhere. Stupid squirrels.

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Scottish Highlands

July 25th – August 3rd three colleagues and I engaged in two-wheeled shenanigans in a semi-leisurely, mostly-clockwise manner from Newcastle, England to Aberdeen, Scotland. Beers (and whiskey, and boat-loads of cereal bars) were consumed. Gravel was crushed. At least one nickname was forged. Minor mechanicals were solved with Yankee ingenuity. There were some hills, some head-winds, and some belly-aching. New brake-pads were purchased, and some even installed. ‘Nuf words; the scenic vistas were the highlight of this trip. Oh, yeah, and some friendships. But first, the pics to prove it happened.

I DO believe! Isn't it a pretty blue, too?

Isn’t it a pretty blue, too?

Pretty, clean, skinny-tire'd carbon-fiber road bikes. For now.

J & M with their pretty, clean, skinny-tire’d carbon-fiber road bikes. For now.

North Sea Cycle Route

North Sea Cycle Route

We savored the English sunburn the first two days.

Coast and Castles

Coast and Castles

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Caution: Do not stray from path. Field may contain un-exploded ordinance.

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Fickle. Definition: weather in Scotland.

 

 

Rack-less in Scotland.

My 2010 Surly LHT, packed light. Rack-less in Scotland.

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I wonder if we could get a sponsorship?

I wonder if we could get a sponsorship?

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Trying to be artsy.

Trying to be artsy.

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What a pass. We got buzzed by two F-15's, a Tornado, and then another Tornado even lower. Scary LOUD.

What a pass. We got buzzed by two F-15’s, a Tornado, and then another Tornado even lower. Scary LOUD.

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Over the edge.

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Un-paved cycle tracks in Scotland were often large gravel.

Un-paved cycle tracks in Scotland were often large gravel.

 

 

From Aberdeen we caught the train back to Newcastle. A few monster burritos later and we were back at the ferry.

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At the end of a long line of cyclists waiting to board the ferry.

I’ll try to go back and add some more narration as time permits.

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Europe

Hey, are you still there? It’s been too long. I got stuck in a rut, trading time for money. Not that the time was entirely wasted, because staying put for two years made it possible to turn some casual acquaintances into really great friendships. But, tired from the daily grind, it became all to easy to slip back into the habit of acquiring stuff in lieu of living a fulfilling life. Stuff has it’s uses, and gives you options for doing things, but options are only useful if you exercise them.

The impending four-day 2013 Labor Day weekend holiday led to ‘Ina and me asking one another “just how far can we go on a non-stop flight?” The answer was “Amsterdam Schiphol airport,” so off we went. We were dazzled by the bicycles, the beautiful old canal houses from the 1600’s, the restaurants, the all-inclusive road infrastructure (sidewalk, curb, bicycle path, curb, car lane, curb, bus/tram transit lanes, curb, car lane, curb, bicycle path, curb, sidewalk), the breweries, and oh, did I mention all the bicycles? Before the trip was half-over we were asking ourselves how we could stay, or at least move back. Incredibly enough, I found a company willing to move us, and our stuff, to Amsterdam.

That was the good part. The bad part: four months of living with one of the worst winters I can remember in a lifetime of living in Minnesota, and having to play secret-agent with my former employer, lest they get their panties in a bunch over my departure at my whim, not theirs.

You’ll notice the conspicuous silence. Writer’s block is a horrible thing.

Labor Day weekend 2014 just came and went. The city: Amsterdam. The weather: somewhat more moderate. Pay is low, prices are high. The job keeps finding special little European ways to disappoint. It feels like I’m going nowhere, fast, and mostly alone again.

Fortunately, epic is a state of mind.

So, what do you have when everything is up in the air, and nothing is going your way? Infinite possibilities, if you know where to look. And the best way to do something… shh… is to just do it.

I’ll let future historians comment on the value of trading editing for content. Next time remind me to tell you about bicycling in Scotland.

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