Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Patchitubi Bird

Sighted this non-endangered species this morning after pumping up the tires on the MTB commuter. Patched the chafe areas on either side of the valve and there it was.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November light

This has been a bizarrely sunny November. It provides an unusual opportunity to think about the angle of the sun. It hangs in the southern sky, throwing glaring light and long shadows before dipping to the horizon for another long night. This is a great time to groove on the ride we take around it on this little rock whirling in frigid darkness.

The more we live in built environments and artificial light, the easier it is to forget we're flying through space, with nothing between us and the endless void but a thin little layer of atmosphere. There's no seal, no hatch. Just this rock, cruising around a nearby star, with all this life clinging to it.

On a cloudy day, a gray light grudgingly grows for a couple of hours before sliding over to a twilight that subsides into murk. The short days seem to suck the life out of the world. What light there is comes from the gray dome above us. Hey, maybe it's even foggy, bringing the funk right down to ground level with you. This inspires various coping strategies, each with its costs and benefits.

Given the chance to ride, that forms the basis for a good one. Snatch the passing daylight or invest in really good lights, if you have a safe enough riding area. How safe is safe enough is your call. You can indulge other seasonal disorders when you get home. Take time to ride first.

Yesterday's reason to ride was a short errand to pick up a small object about 8 miles away. Today's reason is to relocate a mouse that I trapped after it wouldn't quit nesting in my kitchen stove.

Not wanting to splatter it in the bowels of my cooking stove, and not knowing how many might be in on the game, I got a live-trap with a rated four-mouse capacity. Only one went in last night. No other traps I set last night were sprung.

I tried to imagine what kind of mice would nest in a space I regularly heat to 350-425 degrees.

The ubiquitous endorsement of peanut butter as mouse bait got me thinking about how Troy suffered from a pest control problem with invading pesky Greeks.

I feel like a bit of a bastard throwing a fellow mammal out into the cold, but they won't learn to live quietly without gnawing and shredding and relieving themselves wherever they happen to be. Time to live free or die, ya little bugger. I'll pick a nice spot and leave a little bird seed. Yeah. I'm a hardass. Yep.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saturday night's all right for lighting

The town had turned on the lights along the path on Saturday night when I headed out from work. The wind was still gusting over 20 as the temperature dropped. The deserted path, all brightly lit, looked like a stage set.

It's only lit along a short section. Beyond this corridor I rode in the usual solitary darkness. The wind was mostly behind me, which only mattered in the few stretches where the path is not sheltered by trees.

The wind also carried the smells of two Asian restaurants and some other delicious dinner odors across the path. Since those were concentrated close to town, the rest of the 7-mile grind up to my car seemed extra long.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Hang 'em high

I brought more serious tackle to work to handle the dead weight of the last pair of electric bikes I had to work on. It had been a boom vang at one time, on a boat I no longer have, which had already been reconfigured, leaving this handy unit as surplus.

After I placed some hooks in the beams above my stand I hung the purchase and secured it to the moped.

Playing with the rope was way more fun than any work I did on the bike itself. I left it hanging there for a while just for the fun of it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fat bikes on the cross-country ski trails

'Tis the season for winter event planning, so the fat bike impresarios have started trying to line up venues. They'll be the first little wave of fat tire enthusiasts who will ask cross-country ski trail operators why riders can't roll where the skiers slide.

These requests inspired a post last February about fat bike ethics. Since then, more inquiries and reports from ski centers that have experimented with the mix bring more information.

First of all, fat bikers need to remember that cross-country ski areas owe them nothing. Fat biking started as a way for self-reliant pedalers to take a slow but capable bike across terrain where a conventional mountain bike could not go. They were conceived as earth-crawlers, expedition bikes for riding in areas without trails or on surfaces that required as much flotation and traction as a rider could push. Of course this got them onto snow. But they went there on surfaces that formed up naturally or were packed by fairly imprecise methods for users whose enjoyment did not depend on a very smooth surface.

No tire has yet been fat enough to distribute human and bike weight as well as a pair of skis will do. Skis and snowshoes are still the more versatile tools for getting around on varied snow conditions. Yes, some skis are adapted to firmer or softer conditions, but in the middle lies a general shape and size that really can handle anything. When it comes to snow, no bike can say the same.

Even within the range of marginally to perfectly usable conditions, bike tires will leave bigger marks, and different marks, than skis. Size matters, but difference matters more.

The second factor after trail damage is user rhythm. Along with this comes user speed and things that happen in a crash. People on skis move with different rhythms than people on bikes. The speed range is different when the two users are on the same terrain feature, and the methods used to move over those features will cause interference. How wide a highway would a ski center need to groom so that several skate skiers and several fat bikers could tackle a steep climb at the same time?

Going down, skiers or bike riders may be faster depending on snow conditions and the headlong craziness of the people involved. But imagine being a skier in a downhill turn when the rider on a 30-pound bike with sharp chainrings and spiky pedals wipes out next to you and takes your legs out from under you.

Even on mild, rolling or flat terrain, skiers and riders move so differently that they eat up a lot of trail width under the best of conditions. Say it's a hard, fast day, so fat tires are not gouging deep ruts. That still means that riders will be passing -- or passed by -- skate skiers in their wide V. Cross country trails needed to be widened drastically in the 1990s as ski centers adapted to the influx of skate skiers. That width would probably have to double to accommodate a large influx of fat bikers. Not only does this beg for a cost-benefit analysis for the ski center operators, it massively changes the aesthetics of the experience. Imagine going for a nice country drive on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Classic skiers complained about the loss of an intimate and woodsy feeling when elbow-width trails were blown out to 12 feet wide so that skate skiers -- and the big groomers they require -- could fit on them. Now double it.

To someone who is not a skier, it all seems so simple. There's a trail. You're grooming it anyway. Why can't we have our fun, too? Maybe it's just a one-day event. Even so, the costs and complications are far greater than you might imagine. And, by inviting fat bikers onto the system even for one day, the trail operator creates an impression that it would be okay.

Fat bikers who still cleave to the ethic of self reliance cut and pack their own trails or use durable venues that are already more of a free-for-all, like logging roads, snow machine trails and frozen lakes. Maybe they find a sympathetic ski center with the time, personnel and budget to accommodate them on a temporary basis. But the skiers and riders themselves will have to work out all their issues on the trails. If riders pay, they will demand their due. If they don't pay, skiers will rightly be resentful. So you see, it isn't simple at all.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The walking dead? Or raccoons?

Riding through the woods this time of year, it's easy to understand how this part of the fall got to be associated with ghosts and the restless dead. The sun rises late and sets early, but the trees still have most of their leaves until late in October. The darkness in the forest is more absolute than at the middle of winter.

As darkness deepens, the landscape dies more and more. Skeletal tree crowns rise above obscuring foliage on lower branches and smaller saplings. The leaves come off from the top down, giving the smaller plants some bonus photosynthesis time. Everything doesn't just blaze up and fall off in a day or two. Meanwhile, animals are still foraging. You will hear all sorts of footfalls in the dry leaves below the trunks and branches beginning to show like the bones of a decomposing body.

Imagine going through this time of year with no artificial light except a burning branch or a flickering candle. It's weird enough with a powerful LED headlight. Whatever your light source, it is only a patch in front of you. If you are walking, your own footsteps make other sounds harder to hear. Riding, you have the crunch of leaves beneath your tires and wind noise over your ears. Other sounds filter through. Or did you imagine them?

Last year, a bit later than this, I had stopped to attend to something, and heard a pack of coyotes start howling back and forth. They weren't really close, but they were close enough to suggest that they could come sniffing around pretty easily if I hung around too long.

I'm in more danger from skunks than zombies. I have also almost run into deer crossing the path. The modern mind can dismiss the myths and legends of phantoms and monsters. But the creepy feeling doesn't give up easily. You can substitute serial killers, rabid animals or hungry predators, any of which could take advantage of the privacy of the autumn night. Popular entertainment and gruesome news provide plenty of inspiration.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ruth doesn't want to quit

Ruth is 92 years old. Her husband and two of her sons are dead. She lives in a cottage her family built in the 1930s -- if not earlier -- on the shore of Lake Wentworth. She stacks her own firewood and shovels her own roof. All the way through her 70s, if you saw her from behind, walking down the sidewalk in her tennis dress, you'd take a minute to admire the view.

Great laugh seeing young strangers in town speed up a bit to pass her and see her face. She does not pretend to be young, beyond an excusable use of hair coloring. Wrinkles to the contrary, she has somehow managed to make that work.

At 92 she shows the miles now. She's fought off Lyme disease, cancer, and been treated for rabies after an animal bite. I joke that other people say, "oh no, I got an illness!" Illness says, "Oh no! I got Ruth!"

She's not one of those annoying sunshine-pumpers who are just so dang positive about everything that you need a nice salty shot of tequila after being around them. She just doesn't want to quit. She gets out and about. And, until some more medical challenges got in the way, she rode her bike nearly every day.

When she tried to resume riding, she discovered she could no longer lift her leg high enough to get over the dropped bar of her 1995 Univega step-through hybrid. She had had her bike rack modified several times as she had more and more difficulty lifting the bike onto it to drive to safe venues for an older rider, but now she couldn't get on the bike, even though she could still get the bike on the car.

She started getting depressed. She grumbled about her physical infirmities. We were used to hearing about her various mishaps, but now she talked of little else.

We hunted around for quite a while to find a new, deep step-through model that weighed no more than her old bike. Then we did, so she was ready to go again.

But she wasn't. The position on casual bikes these days is way more upright than on her old bike. We had to figure out one problem after another. Each time we though we had it nailed, she came back again looking sad.

With every setback she seemed more discouraged. She talked about how old she is and how many friends she's outlived and all the things that are wrong with her, not in a raspy, carping way, but in a weary litany of hopelessness.

We changed the stem to get the bars lower and closer to her. We cut the seat post so she could get the seat lower until she got used to things. Then the seat itself had such a wide and sudden flare that it shoved her forward of the pedals. I switched her old seat over to the new bike. And we had to modify her car rack some more to fit the new frame.

I forget the last rabbit I pulled out of the hat, but she came back from that test ride with a tentative smile. Twice more she went out to test further adjustments, each time returning with a bigger smile and more of the old Ruthie vigor.

The bicycle is a machine for rejuvenation. The change in her as she realized she could ride again was astonishing, even as it confirmed my belief. Old Bill, cancer stricken and knowing he was dying, had said, "whatever else happens that day, you get on the machine." No one knows how long Ruth will last. All we know is that the time has been made brighter by getting back on her bike.