Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring is just around the corner...of a SNOWBANK

When Punxsutawney Phil projected an early spring on February 2, it looked no more than obvious to anyone around here. We'd had no snow to speak of. The temperatures had been above average. It felt like late March out there. But this is New England. We get treated to meteorological jokes like a heavy snowstorm on April Fool's Day. More than once, in fact.

Some people love to rag on the weatherman. "Who else can be wrong 80 percent of the time and still get a paycheck?" When the forecaster is an animal, suggestions of groundhog stew join the list of scornful dismissals.

I don't comment on the job performance of an entire category of people because I know how many people think any idiot can fix a bike.

Phil finds himself in the balance like a politician, between the warm glow of approbation you get from telling people what they want to hear and their angry feeling of betrayal when things don't turn out that way. Sure, it's only the weather, but people who have been enduring winter's restrictions for a couple of months even in a mild one can get pretty irritable.

The snow was timely for my livelihood. Vacation crowds from Massachusetts are a fraction of their former size, but no one would be here at all if we hadn't gotten some cover on the cross-country ski trails. Anything that remains after this week will make the locals happy, but the real income will be over.

The roads and the rail trail that had been clear enough to make me start digging around to find my bike commuting equipment now discourage the thought. Snowbanks cut into the edges of the travel way on the roads. The trail's snowy surface has been packed to concrete by whole armored divisions of snowmobiles. The dirt roads turn to deep mud when the temperature goes above freezing. I could do the park and ride with a fat bike with studded tires, but I don't have one and can't afford to get one.

The best exercise is something you can do with minimal inconvenience. Bike commuting is the perfect example. So is walking to work. The less you have to deviate from your routine,  the more likely you will fit the healthy exertion into it.

Pace yourself

Even riding the trainer or rollers requires some setup and a change of clothes. I took rollers to work a few days, but they take up a surprising amount of space when customers come in. Riding in my regular work clothes and shoes I could hop on and off in seconds, but I didn't want to get really sweaty. Especially when ski conditions return, bike-related activities have to step aside for the clientele's more pressing interest in snow sports. So I pace. By the time I get to ride I will have worn a rut in the sales floor around my course. Seriously, I can walk for a total of more than an hour in the course of a slow day. Sometimes I'll throw in a few laps on the stairs. I can even walk the tight course in the workshop, cutting a figure 8 around the rack of rental skis and the workbench.

Interestingly, when commerce gets busy I can't pace. We don't tag out to ski anymore. I keep moving, serving customers, but the exertion level drops quite a bit. Success is actually bad for me.

One night about a week ago I woke up at 2 a.m. with the kind of yammering bullshit in my brain that people get -- some more often than others. I can usually shut that crap up, but this was one of the times I couldn't. I tiptoed out to the other end of the house and paced for an hour. The floor was cold. The rugs were warm. Cold, warm, cold, warm, under my feet for an hour.

Bike jobs have started to line up. Two wheel builds, a couple of Surly consultations and a client for my home shop are on the long range calendar. There's a job left over from last September, too. Every day is one step closer.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


While watching this video of Mark O'Connor, Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer playing "College Hornpipe" I was tempted once again to put away the fiddle/violin and never touch it again. Who do I think I am? Some kind of Darol Anger wannabe? Then I remembered: of course I'm not. I'm just a guy trying late in life to learn something I wish every day I'd started trying to learn much sooner.

People use the term "wannabe" to deride the efforts of someone trying to perform something that someone much more prominent does much better. For instance, during the height of Lance Armstrong's career, a delivery truck driver referred to someone he thought was hogging the road in a flashy jersey and tight shorts as "a Lance wannabe." I heard that particular term from a number of other scornful motorists. Pick the name of someone famous in the field in question. Accuse the poor schlump doing the best they can in the same discipline of aspiring to be seen in the same spotlight. Instant dismissal.

The downside of recorded media is that any one of us gets to compare our efforts to the performances of the top people in any area that interests us. We can rate our own performances, although the first wave of auditions for American Idol shows that far too many people don't do it very well. For all that we can learn from watching and listening to the experts, many of us will never reach their level. You have to be fine with that.

To get better at something, find what expert guidance you can and then refuse to quit. Keep doing it. Someone who does not ride thinks a ten-mile ride sounds long and a 50-mile ride sounds like the realm of super athletes. Yet after a few months of consistent riding even longer distances will seem quite plausible. Sure, it's not as fast as in a car (most of the time) but cycling also trains your mind to a different sense of time. A non-rider won't believe how an hour on the bike can feel quicker than 30 minutes on the same route in a car.

The spoken or imagined judgment of onlookers can be more discouraging than the size of the mountain one has to climb to achieve basic competence, let alone impressive performances in subjects that may only seem difficult from outside.

"Who cares what people think?" you might say. True, you do have to shut out thoughts and opinions that hold you back. But people will feel freer to brush you aside if they've written you off as a poser. To a cyclist that can be dangerous. To a student musician not so much.

No one asks, but if they did ask me what I want to be I would just say, "better."