Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thought for the day

As a cyclist I never say I'm feeling run down. It's not that I'm superstitious. I just couldn't stand the irony.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hangin' out in the glacier

Today started at 17 degrees below zero (F). Winter made a New Year's resolution to be cold and snowy, so January has been marked by some of the conditions that have made New England legendary.

Not that we have not had some of the other conditions that have made New England legendary as well. I've logged several rides toward my 2011 total. We had a wet snowstorm that ended with more outright rain than was forecast. Since then, however, the snowfalls have been dry. The arctic air has come to visit.

Some sort of snow event is lining up for Wednesday. Most sources won't declare anything, but the cellist heard a rumor of 16-18 inches when she was at her Maine gig this morning. That could be a left-field prediction from a daring forecaster or just your typical panic in the streets before something more mundane. Maybe someone caught a glimpse of 6 to 8 out of the corner of their eye when running past the TV this morning.

This winter's pattern does closely resemble the winter of 1992-'93. That one shifted to snowy in early January. The climax was the Blizzard of '93 in March. It has been called the Storm of the Century. A Google search on it turns up many accounts of its effects from the deep south to Canada. We got more than 24 inches here in the 'ham. Other places got much more. And we got another big storm after that. As a marginally employed back-country skier, I was all over that stuff. Not so much anymore.

One or two die-hards around here are trying to ride. One of them has good studded tires and some sense, but another one who came to me last week is learning about extreme cold and salty roads the hard way. I keep saying "fixed gear, fixed gear" to these people, but they'd rather torment themselves by trying to keep a lot of moving parts moving in highly adverse conditions.

I might get to do some skiing. It's very difficult to get a decent workout on a work day. If I don't get a regular schedule going, it's pointlessly destructive to try to go hard on two days back-to-back, only to go back to normal sloth for the next five. Bike commuting season makes it all so much easier. But that brings its own logistical limitations. I won't be dashing off to play fiddle on Thursday evenings in a town 15 miles out of my way if I have to get there by bike in the time available.

Cut off from the activities that make winter worthwhile I think about liquidating all my assets and going on a world tour of tropical beaches until the money runs out.

Whatever we get for snow, I know I'll be up on my roof next Monday, shoveling to keep ahead of whatever the winter brings next. That's kind of like mountaineering, especially because I set up a belay. I don't want to end up like countless gimpy roof heroes who sneer at safety lines. If I'm going to get busted up I want it to be for something more glorious than that.

Eventually the crevasse I'm in will reach the face of the glacier in March or April. I'll tumble out, blinking in the spring sunshine, brush off the slush and go looking for my bike. If the weather shifts toward hard frozen snow in the woods and clear, dry roads any time between now and then I'll head out on the fixed gear. Right now it's just good weather for hot chocolate and imagination.

Monday, January 10, 2011


The cellist and I went out for a really nice evening on New Year's Eve. Some friends of ours were performing music at one of the First Night venues in Wolfe City. Some other friends of ours were serving vegetarian chili and other tasty foods to benefit a local organization promoting such things as hanging your laundry on a clothes line and riding a bike for transportation.

Yes, First Night was delightful.

Second Night it all went to hell. We hoped to entice some neighbors over for dinner before they returned to their real lives, teaching at a prep school in Massachusetts. The cellist/chef had made a dish with prosciutto and Parmesan. We were serving a better-than-average wine we'd received for Christmas to go with it. As luck would have it, the neighbors couldn't make it. That turned out to be a good thing, because it turned out the cellist was only renting dinner.

Norovirus stalks the land of Wolfe. The cellist never made it to dessert. Thus began a long night for us both. How could I hope to escape? It must only be a matter of time. She'd made our food, including a salad. The cooked stuff might be okay, but the raw vegetables?

Alas, that delightful dish she made for Saturday night will now live forever in our lexicon as Death Meal.

Symptoms manifest within four to 48 hours of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We did check symptoms of other things like kidney failure and gall bladder obstruction, but if the choice was between something extremely expensive and possibly fatal, or something really miserable, highly contagious but self-limiting, I knew which way I had to vote.

Sunday morning, still part of the Christmas Week work marathon for those of us in the winter tourism business, I awoke still unharmed. I drank only enough coffee to start basic brain functioning and ate a few crumbs of breakfast. I was not about to give the virus the satisfaction of taking from me anything delicious and filling. This is WAR. The virus is an invader. I will strip the landscape sooner than give it any succor.

During the day I drank water and nibbled bland crumbly things. In the afternoon, the cellist actually went to the emergency room because she had run out of actual food and beverage items to expel from her body and was now producing things better left unseen. Some of it was probably school snacks from when she was in kindergarten. Strangely, when I said I would come home to drive her to the hospital, she insisted she would do it herself. She was feeling much better between the virus's last improvised explosive devices as it torched the countryside on its way to the border.

"If I wait for you it will take me twice as long to get there," she said. It was true. I would be driving out from town only to drive all the way back to town once I had her on board.

Even though Norovirus is for the most part just a fantastically unpleasant nuisance, it is fantastically unpleasant enough to make every moment one does NOT have it precious, especially when one expects it any minute.

Day one passed. I remained healthy. Day two followed it. I continued my reduced caffeine and extremely sparse eating. Needless to say, I had no alcohol, either.

I know I drink too much coffee. During bike season I can get away with a certain amount of excess. The 75% hydration value you get from a caffeinated beverage is at least some help. My faster metabolism during self-propelled season helps me use up the stimulant effects as well. In decades past I could withstand the overload of off-season coffee saturation if I skied enough. Now, though, I notice that less is more. So even though I made it through the week without getting the plague, I'm sticking with the calorie reduction and the plain water. I dropped a couple of pesky pounds, too.

As for the Norovirus, we continue to practice "due diligence," as a friend of mine in the natural food store downstairs put it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Taxing Ride

It's true. You don't forget how to ride a bike.

Taking advantage of dry roads this morning, I rode the fixed gear to the town offices to pay the property tax bill. It seemed like a huge waste to drive a whole car over there when I was only carrying some pieces of paper.

On winter rides I typically do not wear cleated shoes. Using toe clips and straps I have the intermediate option of wearing some sort of walkable footwear while retaining some power because I have the strap. A step-in pedal with a flat side only gives you the flat side, unless you want to drag a toeclip around. It would get all dug up from scraping the road, and could even get snagged in a corner or while hopping a curb.

Without a cleat I have less to worry about if I need to get off into the snow on the roadside or walk a half-mile, as I did once when I flatted just that far from home on a January day. Home being tantalizingly close, I opted not to crouch in a snowbank to fix the flat, but that meant walking gingerly the whole way in my cleats. That was when I officially decided to go cleatless on winter rides.

If it's a snowless year, cleats are fine. The woods are brown. Mud and water are only as much problem as they are in the late fall.

We're really attached to our bikes. We dedicated riders like to have that full-power feeling. Whether you use step-in pedals or clips and straps, footwear choice often makes you act like one of those birds that can do amazing things in flight, but waddles and flaps awkwardly on the ground.

Many practical riders -- probably the majority, world-wide -- don't bother to attach their feet to the pedals. Their average speed when cycling is lower, but their versatility is greater than that of a rider with cycling-specific shoes.

In 1980 I saw a sturdy young German guy touring up the California coast wearing combat boots, riding a three-speed and carrying his gear in a canvas backpack. It was the Age of the Toe Clip, so riders at the campsites showed up most often in either the cleated shoes of the day or regular sneakers. I carried both. I only saw the German guy arriving and departing, so I don't know what sort of speed he averaged, but as long as he was satisfied that's all that matters.

Over the past decade or so I have heard from a lot of riders. Wolfe City has a substantial retired population. A lot of your older types get into riding late in life to satisfy the doctor's directive to get some exercise. Most of them hate to ride among traffic, so they avoid using the roads. The ones who do ride on the road are quite likely to get off it whenever vehicles start passing them. Some will stand there and wait. Others will ride in the dirt until they feel safe going back onto the pavement. For various good reasons, these riders are not going to try to herd traffic. They accept a slower pace and interrupted progress for the sake of personal safety. At least it's the perception of personal safety. Traffic herding certainly is not for everyone. I hate that it has to be this way, but in most of this country it's how things are. If you can't throw elbows with the big boys or get out there like Gandhi and appeal to their morality, you have to adapt to life on the fringe.

How did I get to this from shoes? If your ride could easily become a walk or include a significant percentage of walking, your whole mount changes. Even saddle height changes if you'd rather be able to drop the landing gear in a hurry than have the most efficient pedal stroke. If, for whatever reason, you don't view the paved travel way as your natural habitat you develop a style based on what you see in front of you. You adapt to where you feel you belong.