Friday, January 29, 2016

The impact of peer pressure

Every year in this country, dozens of people take up transportation cycling, while thousands get their license to drive.

During driving season, I think about these things as I wait to emerge from the steel shell and return to the the sane and satisfying pace of pedaling.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a fellow bike commuter who has had two serious impacts in the past two years. In the first instance (not HIS first by any means), he failed to control the lane and got right-hooked by an impatient and oblivious woman in an SUV. He has a headlong personality, so he can be hard to convince when his negligence might have contributed. And the right hook indicates the motorist's inability and lack of inclination to look for vulnerable users in the death slot before turning.

The second crash was fully the motorist's fault. The driver of a pickup truck made a methodical left turn in front of the cyclist, who was fully in the lane that time, and sitting up, wearing bright colors and all the rest of the safety mantra.

Motocentric mentality absorbs the majority of road users. I need to use the faster vehicle myself in this rural area, where at times I need to go from one place to the next faster than I can pedal it. In my early 30s I would reel off a 50-mile day of assorted errands, but that left no time for other things, like keeping a marriage intact.

Even now I have three cats by my second marriage. While the cellist is away chasing the orchestra dollar, I have to be there for our family. That limits my urge to roam.

Most people assume they have to drive and want to drive. The fact that they are far more impeded by a slow motorist squarely in the lane in front of them for mile after mile than they are by a cyclist or two that they have to slow briefly to pass safely does not get through to them. The slow idiot in a motor vehicle is at least a fellow motorist. They might flip them off, flash the lights, or -- occasionally -- shoot them, but they're at least driving, albeit driving annoyingly badly.

As an experienced cyclist I feel the peer pressure emanating from motor vehicle as they pass. I've been fortunate to avoid major impacts in the past 29 years, but I assume no immunity. Eternal vigilance is the price of a relatively intact skeleton. Scars are cool and all, but injury and healing are expensive and cost you a lot of down time.

I fear legislators more than I fear fellow road users. New Hampshire has fairly enlightened bike laws, but no law is set in stone. Even if they were, there's a whole industry devoted to arguing over interpretation. Laws oppressing cyclists, forcing things like riding to the far right at all times, or even mandatory dismounting for the convenience of passing drivers deserve to be ignored, but they legitimize aggression by motorists, when aggressive motorists already need no excuse. Lawmakers succumb to the peer pressure of the motorist majority to suppress the rights of the pedaling minority.

Any discussion of the cyclist-motorist interface quickly leads to a full-spectrum discussion of advocacy and infrastructure. Have at it. I have to get to work.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Things appropriate to winter

While we haven't had as much snow as our compatriots 500 miles to the south, one can't be bitter and boycott the little rind we have.

Finally got out to patrol the woods out back yesterday and today.

Now, back to the work week and whatever follows.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taking steps to stay fit

As long as I have a job to go to, I will have to spend at least eight hours a day, at least five days a week, stuck in a building, responding to whatever customer or employer needs arise.

Working in a bike/ski shop, I do get to cut out onto the trails when snow conditions are good enough. This makes up for the loss of bike commuting and lets me try out equipment and techniques to stay current with the products. It also keeps my eyes bright and coat shiny, and my arteries relatively clear for the next bike commuting season.

When winter does not cooperate with either cross-country skiing or continued bike commuting, your dedicated riders will hit the trainer. Picture yourselves, my heroes, churning away, dripping sweat into the towel draped over the top tube, listening to music or watching a video or simply grinding through the tedium with only the whir of the machinery and the rasping of your labored breath.

When I used the Nordic Trak, I discovered that it was easiest for me to endure in a completely dark room, with or without music. Sensory deprivation was better than trying to distract myself with entertainment. Better yet, I've left the Nordic Trak in the crawl space for several winters now, because it's just so hellishly tedious.

Don't try to ride rollers in the dark. I need a fixed frame of reference to keep me from zinging off the side into the nearest piece of furniture. The Force fails me.

The other problem with indoor exercise is that you have to suit up -- or strip down -- for it and do just that for the designated length of time. You might say this is no different from going out skiing or taking a bike ride, but those are both fun and potentially practical, whereas indoor exercise is simply chopped out of your life in a sweaty, boring chunk. Note: if you pedal a generator to provide some of your domestic electrical power, or otherwise power some useful machinery with your exertions, you get to claim practical applications beyond mere fitness. But if you build that into your domestic energy budget, then you are a slave to that treadmill in any season.

Because I like to sit around drawing pictures, reading, writing and peeking into other people's lives on social media, I have to watch out for creeping sedentariness. A day goes by, and then another, more and more in a string until the the pile of coffee cups and beer bottles, and line after line in the training diary shows that weeks have slipped away.

Fortunately for me, my house has three levels. In a stairway winter, I take a convoluted path like a character in Family Circus going all around the neighborhood to travel ten yards.

When the cellist was here full-time, my work area was in the loft. It still is, but things have tended to collect on the main floor, where the wood stove and the kitchen are. It's really easy to remain down here under a cat.
The main wood stove is in the basement. That's another set of stairs I add to the route. It can be a real thigh burner by the end of the day. Hopefully it will be enough to give me some base line and offset my new baking skills.
That's apple crisp and sweet potato pie. I don't have pictures of the brownies, because they don't last long enough. A cup of fresh, home-roasted coffee and a nice warm brownie? I might never leave the house except to get more ingredients.

Fortunately, poverty leads to austerity. The last grocery run consisted of cat food and vegetables. I can't afford to get the medical conditions that accompany slothful consumption of sweets and fats. The uninsured and under-insured live like animals. And we die like them, too. If I get something as simple and treatable as appendicitis, my choices are bankruptcy or death. Any variable I can control, I will control.

I've also discovered that indoor temperatures in the mid and upper 50s are endurable if you dress like a mountaineer. A bit of vigorous scurrying around helps generate body heat. Temperatures like that discourage one from sweating on a stationary trainer, by the way. As if I needed more excuses.

Closer to spring I'll get on the rollers to reacquaint my butt with the saddle, unless conditions have opened up enough to resume the park and ride for a few weeks before launching the full road route.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

In a vacuum

I suspended the park 'n' ride commute when the cellist came home for her winter break. She only had ten days, and lots to do, so I was not going to take time getting home from work.

The day after she arrived she went right into a midnight mass gig at a Catholic church about an hour away. And they do mean midnight. We ended up getting to sleep around 3 a.m. But the gig was a hoot. She was working with a skillful keyboardist/choir director/vocalist. Watching them crunch arrangements together during a rehearsal right before the show -- I mean the service -- was the best part of the trip.

The cellist and I rode on Christmas Day. It was 60 degrees.

On December 29th it snowed. That ends my park and ride because I have no place to park. And if the path gets rutted up and refrozen it's slow going for anyone, even on 4-inch tires (which I don't have).

The new month in the new year brought the usual town government meetings, too. So, a day at a time, I waddle into the winter, one day after another with no exercise except a little splitting and carrying of firewood.

The lack of skiing turns my job more janitorial. The edict came from on high: vacuum the entire shop. The bag was already pretty hefty. After I finished, it weighed 8 1/2 pounds. That's at least 3 1/2 off the record of 12-plus, set a couple of years ago, but still a respectable effort. Above 7 pounds, the vacuum barely picks up anything anymore. And it's hard to maneuver at that weight.

One interesting customer ordered a Surly Cross Check with some custom modifications. Additional accessories and tweaks will go on for months.

Two inches of rain forecast for tomorrow will bomb the ski trails back to November. Then no one knows...

I decided years ago that the legendary New England winter was not the average. Climate change has increased the number of wimpy ones, but the real epics, with snow drifts to the second floor, were probably always anomalies. Legends are made of extremes. The winter may not always deserve fame, but New England will always find a way to be annoying.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Getting Lit for Christmas

A few houses have lights along my route out of town. One in particular has a fascinating net of lights over the whole facade on the side toward the trail. The lights are subtle, green or blue, rather than bright and dominant.

My attempts to photograph it have all failed so far, for various reasons: my phone camera is too cheesy for such low light. My trusty Olympus hockey puck (a first-year Stylus 720 SW) decided to quit on me after years of thumping and banging. Last night I tried again with my older Olympus C 3040Z, which has awesome low light performance and is very easy to adjust manually while shooting at night.

The older Olympus is not heavy, but it's an odd shape. It's not shock resistant like the hockey puck was, so it travels in a Lowepro bag that's nicely designed, but a bit of a Nerf football to carry around.

I knew. I knew I should have a tripod. I knew that. I hoped I could fake it with the camera mount on the handlebar or by bracing the camera on the rear rack pack, so I wouldn't have to lug a bulky tripod for just one shooting location.

With the camera on the bike, this trippy image is the best I got. It's neat in its own way, but I still want to capture how weird the lights look without special effects. Don't know yet whether I want it enough to drag a tripod for 15 miles, 7.5 of them uphill.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Freeze and thaw cycling

My winter route follows mostly dirt. In the morning, it is usually frozen. With the mild days we've been having, it has been thawed for the evening run.

The tracks on the rail trail indicate that a lot of people (for this time of year) have been waiting until the mild part of the day to take their rides. Why do people choose to slog through inches of glop just so they can wear a bit less clothing? I could understand if the ride was on pavement, but this is all dirt.

You do get quite a workout, even when the soft layer isn't deep. The stickiness and suction of the wet silt drag you down at least a couple of gears. The bike sucks to a halt unless you keep constant power to the pedals.

Some mornings have followed mild, wet nights. My route is basically a 7.5-mile descent in the morning. Some of it is steep enough to push up to 30 miles per hour on firm track. The freeze-thaw cycle might leave frost a couple of inches down, with the sticky layer on top. A longer thaw softens the ground more completely. Either way, you don't have a fast, firm track. And the grind back up at night is as much work as you might imagine.

What strikes me on a frozen morning is how many people went out when it was soft, and how most of them took suicidally shallow lines through the rail crossings that plague the Cotton Valley Trail. The ruts they leave present a special hazard to the hurrying commuter pushing the pace on the downhill run when they freeze overnight. They'll suck a tire in before you can pull out, leading you into the same flat line that the rider took to make them.

Riding requires observation and analysis. That's part of what makes it fun. It's a bummer that frozen ruts might disrupt the fastest line through a particular trail feature, but that's one aspect of public trails. The challenge is to find the best line through conditions as you encounter them.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fat. Tired. Biking.

Fat. Tired. Biking. That sums up my commute Friday morning.

Thursday, I made a marathon one-day road trip to have Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and my older brother. It was a four-hour drive each way, with a seven-hour visit in the middle.

The meal wasn't huge, but somehow I found myself after pie and coffee, feeling like a full tick. I indulged in a brief coma before reviving to take on more caffeine and head out to see how many other idiots were on the highway. This turned out to be a surprising number in some places. And the drivers in Massachusetts acted like they were fighting over the last drumstick.

I made it home after 10 p.m., wanting only to wind down and get into bed.

Ah yes, the bed. The cats had thrown up on it. If I hadn't had to work the next day I might have crashed in the cat puke and dealt with it in the morning. Instead, jagged with caffeine and driving nerves, I rampaged around, changing the bed, cleaning out the overflowing litter boxes, and trying to get the temperature above the mid 50s in the house. Amazed to find I had an appetite after the meal I had engulfed hours before, I ate a couple of bowls of cereal.

Six a.m., the alarm went off as usual. I lurched around, assembling lunch and eating some sort of breakfast. The forecast called for a mild day, but the morning was in the mid 30s.

The ground had been frozen a couple of days ago. Now the dirt was sticky. The bike would suddenly drag as it rolled into a gooey area. Nothing was deep, just grippy.

The middle aged man on the old mountain bike, plodding to work.

Fat. Tired. Biking.