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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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Glacier National Park, Montana

“Sweet, I’ve got enough frequent-rider points for a free ticket to Montana. Hey Sean, wanna go to Glacier National Park?” my friend Jim asked. And so another bicycle tour was born.

Tuesday, August 7th, my affable- and frequent- bicycle-trip companion Jim and I set off for Glacier National Park in Montana via Amtrak. The train was two hours late in arriving in St Paul, and another hour late in departing. We took it in stride; if we were in a hurry we wouldn’t be riding bicycles.

Over the next twenty-six hours, we saw the splendors of the prairie, the first hints of the rough terrain to come, and miscellaneous and sundry bad puns were tendered.

 

Hay man, look!

We arrived about 2AM, MDT. We were glad to have reserved a hotel room given the late hour, but we had to pay a premium for it because Whitefish is a tourist town, and August is peak tourist season.

De-trained at Whitefish, MT.

The weather for the duration of the trip was consistently in the low 50’s Fahrenheit at night, reaching into the low 90’s during the day. We indulged in breakfast at a local cafe, collected edible supplies at the Safeway grocery store, and then rolled north for the hills.

We soon turned off the pavement and rode part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

After 29.6 hard-won miles, and one scenic detour, we made camp at Upper Whitefish Lake, elevation 4,433 feet.

Upper Whitefish Lake

Although our fishing attempts were for naught, and the water was too brisk to be refreshing, a quick dunk in the lake did wash off most of the day’s accumulated dust.

The next morning the lake was still as glass, and it was hard to leave such beauty and tranquility.

Day two proved to be even more grueling. We crested Red Meadow Pass, about 5,570 feet, riding on loose and frequently rutted gravel roads.

The speed as we descended from the pass was exhilarating. So were the mountain tops teasing us from over the trees.

We paused briefly for refreshment at Polebridge Mercantile. Jim still had a vestigial AT&T signal, but I had lost touch with Sprint back in Grand Forks ND days ago and was over-joyed to find the Mercantile had WIFI.

Polebridge Mercantile. Photo credit: J. Thill.

Then we crawled our way into Glacier National Park.

For six miles we bumped, skittered, sweated, and choked on the dust of SUV’s roaring past every thirty seconds on this one-lane “rustically-maintained” gravel road. The bumps eventually got so bad that I ran a Surly “Junk Strap” around the bottom of each pannier to keep it attached to the racks.

Some how we scored the second-to-the-last campsite at Bowman Lake Campground, 31.2 exhausting miles of punishing roads after leaving Upper Whitefish Lake. We were too tired to protest the exorbitant $16/night campsite fee; at least it had running water and pit toilets. The reward for this exertion was a stunning view of Bowman Lake.

Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Day three dawned with the Bowman Lake Campground Host telling everyone to be cautious because a mountain lion had been on the beach overnight. According to the campground host, mountain lions usually attack smaller lone creatures, not adult humans, but fighting 120 pounds of muscle, teeth and claws for my life didn’t sound like much fun to me. Fortunately we didn’t have any further encounters. We back-tracked the six miles to the park entrance. It was already getting hot, so I refilled my entire 10 liter water supply. Then we headed for the main campground at Apgar. The road to Apgar was far more pleasant than the one to Bowman Lake because it was temporarily closed to motor vehicle traffic after the first seven miles.

Inside North Fork Road. Photo credit: J. Thill

Thirty-five miles after leaving Bowman Lake we reached Apgar. After days of wilderness solitude, entering Apgar was jarring to the senses: paved roads, the cacophony of cars everywhere and people swarming over everything. The upside to this was $5/person-night hiker/biker campsites, and the first bacon-cheeseburger of the trip.

Day four we had breakfast at the restaurant, attempting to get an earlier start on the “Going-to-the-Sun” road. Our destination was Avalanche Creek Campground, 16 miles away, but we only made the ten miles to Lake McDonald before we had stop because bicycles are prohibited due to the extremely heavy traffic on this narrow road from 11AM – 4PM.

Lake McDonald. Photo credit: J. Thill

The water was the warmest we’d found yet, and Jim caught a fish.

At the stroke of 4PM we resumed riding for Avalanche Creek Campground, delighted to find it also had a $5/person-night hiker/biker campsite.

Day five dawned cool, and we continued riding the Going-to-the-Sun road, the mountain tops looking ethereal in the fog. We crossed Logan Creek, and wondered if it was the distant trickle we saw near the pass.

Then the climbing began in earnest. Just before the hair-pin turn we paused for a peek at Heavens Peak.

Climbing up to 5,000 feet, the pavement suddenly turned to gravel and we were stopped for road construction.  The flagman said that traffic was being lead, one-way-at-a-time, in 20-minute increments. This afforded us with 20 minutes of traffic-free climbing alternating with 20 minutes enforced rest to catch our breath and soak in the view on the narrow, winding road.

Logan Creek

Heavens Peak

After hours of climbing, we suddenly reached the summit at Logan Pass, 6,646 feet elevation.

We wandered the visitor center, but I doubt we could have lingered long enough to feel justified given the climb. Descending, we coasted at speeds of 20-30mph for nearly three miles before we had to pedal up another incline.

We stopped at Rising Sun Campground, near St Mary Lake, delighted to find a another $5/person-night hiker/biker campsite, pay showers and a restaurant. Naturally I had to have another bacon-cheeseburger, although it proved to be the last one of the trip.

Day six we broke fast at the restaurant, and then rolled out of the park and into the grasslands at high speeds, until we rounded the corner of St Mary Lake and the tailwind became a headwind.

The flat ground turned to high-amplitude rollers, and then we started climbing again in earnest.

One last turn and 38 miles into the day we were suddenly in the town of East Glacier Park. We checked in to Brownies Hostel, made short work of some of their signature huckleberry pastries, and then set about eating lunch. Followed by a nap. Followed by dinner. Somehow there never seem to be enough calories to stay full when bicycle touring, and all the climbing we had done over the last week now had to be reckoned with.

Brownies Hostel, East Glacier Park, MT

 

Glacier National Park is truly beautiful. My only regret was not spending more time, hiking the trails and seeing more of it; but Jim had to get back to work. Since the trip I’ve been looking for work to finance another cross-country tour some years in the future, but all of the contracting jobs have been both unprofitably far from home and short enough not to be worth relocating, while the so-called “permanent” jobs seem to be scared of someone without the conventional noose of massive debt obligating them to suffer gladly any and all indignities said job doth surely contain. So, in order not to trouble their little heads with such unconventionality, this may be the last post on this blog. Any future blogging, should it occur, would most likely have to be anonymous, but a rose by any other name… I still have stories to tell about Glacier, and heaps more pictures, so I may write an e-book about them if there is sufficient interest. If you have source code for software you need maintained please contact me, I have been writing and maintaining software since 1999. I specialize in embedded control and network programming, not just desktop computer applications. I’m teaching myself Android app development, too.

Till next time, keep the rubber side down.

-s

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Where DID the Time Go–An Anti-Sabbatical, A Bike Move, and More

Somehow the end of January became the end of May, almost over night. I decided to hang out in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis & St Paul, Minnesota, for a while and replenish my savings by working a temporary job; an “anti-sabbatical” so to speak.

Not knowing how to pick up short term work in my field of software engineering, I started by updating my resume and then spamming every former boss for whom I still had contact info (AKA networking). A lunch meeting with one led to a call from a recruiter at a contact firm, a phone interview with a potential client, and a job offer all  within the span of a week. The end of February saw me cashing my first pay-check in four months, and a steady stream of  phone calls from other recruiters. (Per Murphy’s Law, it seems they only call when you don’t need them.)

My first feint at contracting didn’t last long, however; mostly because the lead software engineer I was supposed to assist preferred to waste my time with daily explanations of trivialities like how text editors were different from word processors, how electro-mechanical relays worked, and how configuration management software was too valuable for mere contractors; frequently telling me “if you’re a good little contractor we might hire you on full-time as a REAL employee.” Turns out my tolerance for that kind of nonsense was only ten weeks, despite a handsome hourly rate of pay.

In the mean time, my friend Christina and I decided to move across the river to a more bicycle and transit friendly place in Minneapolis. Using a local cycling forum and Facebook we rallied enough friends, bicycle trailers, bacon and bagels to move all of our things.

We then set off for Portland, Oregon, via Amtrak, intent on visiting friends and bicycle touring the surrounding area. Christina hurt her knee badly enough going up a mountain road that the bicycle touring had to be curtailed, so we generally walked around Portland’s downtown the remainder of the trip.

An eye-blink later and May became August, and I’m headed for Glacier National Park tonight. I’ll be out of cell-phone service till I return in about ten days; hopefully with heaps of pictures.

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