Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rights and Reason

I missed October and November. Lots happened, but I never took the time to put it into words. Now, as I write this, I recall what happened.

After forgetting October, I vowed to not be such a slacker. My resolve would have lasted had I not been a too close witness to a bike meets car event.

Taking one of the trans-campus routes, the pedestrian and bike underpass of 13th Street, I joining the mixture of students and staff rush hour traffic. With a campus wide 20 mph speed limit, it’s a relatively safe place to ride despite traffic volume. A young lady passed me approaching a four-way intersection. She was on a Specialized Hardrock and obviously hurrying to her destination. The traffic light changed to green as she passed the rear quarter panel of the car that had been second in line waiting for the light. Exactly when the car’s right turn signal illuminated, I can’t be certain, but the girl did not see it. As the first car entered the intersection the second car began its right turn. She was well into the driver’s line of sight before he commenced turning but he did not see her, striking the rear wheel of the Hardrock. I saw it in the proverbial slow motion and opened my mouth to call a warning, knowing, even as the thought processed, that any warning would be too late. As she and the bike disappeared from view beyond the offending car I dropped my bike against the curb and hurried to aid her.

Oddly, the first thing I noticed and was tempted to pursue was her water bottle, let loose by the fall and now the only movement in the busy intersection now held motionless by the tiny drama. Good sense prevailed and I gently lifted the bike so she could extricate her leg from between frame and water bottle cage. Someone else helped her to her feet and led her to the curb and the overwhelming silence disappeared as observers accepted that she had survived. They could return to their personal thoughts and issues again.

Knowing how I would react if I’d been hit, I gave the bike a quick look, seeing nothing more than a derailed chain. Turning, I asked if she was OK. She responded, “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?” She hadn’t and I told her so. In fact, I grasped her upper arms and looked into her eyes. They were slightly unfocused and adding to her bewildered appearance. Slowly and softly I repeated, “You did nothing wrong,” perhaps three times then encouraging her to sit down. She did, then drank from her retrieved water bottle. “Your bike is OK,” I told her when she glanced its way. And it was OK. So was she, beyond some nasty abrasions on her leg and arm.

The young woman had done nothing wrong. The driver had made the big mistake. His inattentiveness was the only obvious fault. Yet, the rider had failed to protect herself. She was distracted by her mission or was too bold in her riding. She paid a small price. She was fortunate.

If we are going to ride among the steel herds we must be hyper-attentive. It is imperative that we know everything about our surroundings so we can avoid and escape when the time inevitably arrives. Right-turning vehicles do not always signal. Drivers often multi-task the wrong things while driving. We cannot control that. Asserting our right-to-the-road or displaying our foolishness makes little sense when we do it around two-ton vehicles piloted by inadequate or inattentive people. Discretion and caution are essential to safety and survival. We must accept that even small mistakes can have large consequences.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Biking Bits

How does cycling and soap relate? They don’t except maybe at the end of a long ride. Or if you ride Hawthorne Trail. Many months ago I met Monica, probably at the Saturday morning Haile Farmers’ Market. As with all soap makers I asked whether she made Bay Rum scented soap. “No,” she said, “but I’ll look into it.” She did and weeks later emailed me saying she had Bay Rum soap. I knew from our earlier encounter where she lived and asked if I could drop in some Saturday morning and buy some. Now, I am a happy frequent user of Monica’s Cococastile Soap.

Monica maintains a sales presence on Etsy where most of her wares are sold. Not overly fancy. Not a detergent. Not artificial anything. Just honest, reasonably priced soap. My concession to special personal care has always been handmade soap. I like how it feels. How it lathers. How when you purchase it from its maker you always have interesting conversations. I cut Monica’s bars in half because they feel better in my hand that way. Hardly a criticism.

One obviously nice thing about Monica’s soap is that on a Saturday morning I can turn south off the Trail just west of the creek (Prairie Creek) running between Paynes Prairie and Newnans Lake (about Mile 4.5), pass under Hawthorne Road (FL 20) and knock on her door. She or one of the family’ll come to the door and sell you as much handmade soap as you want. A shower with some of Monica’s soap after a ride may become a ritual and stopping at Monica’s another part of the adventure and all for about $5.50.

Messenger Mirror does relate to cycling. I like knowing what is behind me and prefer mirrors over neck exercises. Why not a frame or handlebar mirror? Panniers and trekking handlebars. Until recently I used a Take-a-Look. It worked well. A comment about Messenger appear on one of the Touring websites. Resembled the mirror I used twenty years ago and lost during a close meeting with an automobile and its cost made trying it an easy decision. The cost?  $5.99 plus $0.88 postage. The following things are true about Messenger Mirror:

1.      It vibrates. 2. It works.

Whatever problem vibrating may produce, the mirror works well enough in other ways so vibration doesn’t bother me. It is easily and almost universally adjustable and does exactly what I want a mirror to do; alert me of things behind. The Messenger Mirror does it with a small ½ inch diameter mirror that does not interfere with my line of sight. Take-a-Look’s large, rectangular mirror created a blind spot that was exactly in the way.

On tertiary and quaternary roads the Messenger is less than ideal because of its vibration in concert with the rough road. Elsewhere it is excellent. Light, efficient and cost effective. Lots more plus than minus. Much more go than stop..

After a couple hundred miles I am satisfied with my Messenger. It tolerates the abuse of being tucked in my handebar bag, dropped, bent and otherwise mishandled. A moment’s manipulation brings it back to functioning. Bruce, Messenger Mirror’s creator has done a fine job.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Water you doing?

There are three things that seasoned tourists recommend taking more; clothing, food and water. Of the three I am most aware that it is hard to have too much water, especially in central Florida in the summer.

When I joined the Holie Pokies (cause that's what it's all about) for my first group ride I rode more than fifty miles for the first time. I carried three 24 ounce water bottles in cages and a fourth bottle in a pannier. I needed all I had. Thirty years ago when I was still capable or running, I learned the value of hydration in advance of hot weather training, so I always drink a lot of water and other fluids. Riding the 22 or so miles with the group was easy as their average speed seldom exceeded thirteen miles per hour. Riding the fifteen miles back home from their meeting place was not so easy.

Since then I have upped my mileage so I can cover fifty miles without undue stress. Four water bottle cages allow me to carry three 24 ounce bottles and one 16 ounce bottle. I drink all of it and often a fourth 24 ounce stashed in one of the panniers. As I increase my base mileage I will carry more than one extra bottle at the rate of 24 ounces per 10 to 20 miles, at least.

There is a second less obvious element to water. When I rode the final fifteen miles home after doing the Hokie Pokie, I found the final bottle of sun-warmed water was a link to a practical reality. I believed I could make the final 15 miles, but it was only when I lifted the bottle and took another mouthful of water that I knew I could. I was really tired!

Maybe it's too much like some kind of cosmic consciousness to revere my water bottles, but, damn I am glad to have lots of them. I like to pause in my cadence, savor the warm stuff and take a moment to relax. That something basic and simple can contribute positively to my bicycle adventure reaffirms the value of doing something basic and simple to improve me and my world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How it grows

I knew when I decided to buy the Safari that there were things to be adjusted, replaced, added and changed. Reviewers disliked the seat. The handlebars were too low. Handlebar tape was inadequate. But there was no criticism of the basic bike, except for the lingering argument; aluminum or steel? For me there is one question. Does everyone become so immersed in thinking about their bike and riding somewhere?

I recall how I enjoyed looking at my '67 MGB. Forty years later, I look at my bike with the same appreciation and joy. The biggest difference between the two, other than the obvious, is that Novara makes more dependable bikes than British Leyland did cars. Of course, just as with the MG, I also get wet when it rains.

If you have followed the links to REI for an image of the Safari, you might compare it to the way my everyday transportation looks now.

Soon, I will add a Tubus Tara Low Rider front rack and suitable front panniers, probably Ortlieb Front Rollers. My research suggests I will need the space to remain as self-sufficient as possible when I tour. I anticipate using a tent 5 of every 7 nights, at least. REI offered a deal on a Big Agnes Lynx 3 and because of my size I opted for it, knowing there would be times when I would be tent-bound. Following some suggestions, I looked for an alternative to the standard foot print and stumbled upon Gossamer Gear, a source for minimalist camping equipment. Their Polycyro ground cloth seems good as a footprint alternative and waterproof wrap while traveling.

It seems likely that I will encounter numerous others when venturing north. As odd as I seem to some, I am no more than fellow traveller to the touring community. I have a Bikes and More as my link with equipment and the local Cycling Society for cognitive consciousness. It's been a long time since I have felt I was doing something useful to myself and the world. Every turn of the crank is a statement in favor of making the world little greener.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anticipation is a significant part of the pleasure

Two of the five sets of maps created by Adventure Cycling, arrived today. St. Augustine to Statesboro, GA, (287.5 miles)and Statesboro to Wilmington, NC (349.5 miles). Always enthralled by maps, looking at these task-specific documents serves only to stimulate my desire to be off!

The Safari is now equipped with SKS P45 fenders, Ortlieb BackRoller Plus panniers and a Topeak Road G pump. I've chosen to become intimately familiar with the gear that will keep me moving northward and I wonder how I must appear to casual observers. Cyclists I encounter riding the local Hawthorne Trail routinely acknowledge my tourist equipped bike. I regularly fill the panniers with more weight than I am likely to carry when I go grocery shopping and the bike handles well. Front panniers are probably a necessary addition since I intend to be as self-sufficient as possible. Having that additional mass on the front wheels is a little daunting. How does a bike handle then?

Thirty years ago I'd anticipate making Gonzo runs from Atlanta to PA. Where would I stop? How few stops would be enough? Would I have mechanical problems? Now, not only am I anticipating going northbound, but returning south via the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. Deja vu sans internal combustion?

With more than 1000 miles on the Safari I know I it will do whatever I ask of it. I hope to answer the question "What's someone your age doing planning a thousand mile bicycle trip?" "Uh. two thousand. I have to come back."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Taken This Long . . .

How long has it taken to finally add words to an empty Blog? Too long.

I intended to memorialize my efforts to become a bicycle tourist, then life interfered. Funny how that happens more (or so it seems) as I get older. Validates the Blog's title, I guess. Recovering from my too recent detached retina (more about that later) I can see well enough to us my PC, so now is the time to start.

Contributing to making a start was my ride with one of the slower Cycling Club groups. Twenty-two miles of pleasant back roads was my first ride with people I did not know. As with many interest groups, I know little about the others except what comes from their choice of equipment and the way in which they perform. In general; nice bike and decent people, all.

The ride was easy and met the group's standards. Their name is Hokey Pokeys and the overall pace lived up (or down) to the name. What wasn't so easy was getting home from the starting/ending point. Having given up automobiles as regular transportation, I had to cycle to there and back. Had to? Yeah, it is all a part of the challenge of doing something from which it is difficult to walk away unless I finish it.

I cycled 53 miles, total. The final ten were difficult, but not burdensome. The whole episode was exactly what it should have been' tough but something I can do. Not that I will be doing 50 plus miles regularly . . . OK, maybe I will. You see, this all leads up to the goal of touring by bicycle with the first long distance effort planned for the East Coast; Oldest City to Oldest Brewery, by way of the Outer Banks. A month of 12 miles an hour. Some nights in motels, some in a tent and some where ever I happen to be.

Often, I thought about hiking the App Trail, but the time and effort investment was more than I could ever make. No, I am simply not interested in sticking my arthritic toes into hiking shoes and abusing myself that way. Driving was a driving force in my life for, well, most of my life. Reaction times and vision issues (more about that later) made that less likely. After all, who wants to drive slowly anywhere? Or, maybe it became a lack of interest? The right car?

This is a bike tolerant community. University towns are like that I suppose. Students on bike. Professors on bikes. There are bike lanes and bike routes and the majority of drivers are at worst tolerant of bicycles. Intermittently, over the past several years I commuted by bicycle, an eleven mile trip one-way. Two summers ago I began doing it full-time. The Escort blew a head gasket and seemed not worth trying to repair. So, ride four miles to put my bike on the front of a mass-transit bus (all are equipped with a two-place bike rack), then cycle the eleven miles home. "What do you do when it rains?" "Get wet." "What do you do when it's cold?" "Get cold."

"What's someone your age doing riding a bike everywhere?" That was the underlying question. And the only answer, ultimately, is, "Because I really like to ride." And I do. For all this time I rode my '86 Schwinn High Sierra, Mountain Bike, which I'd turned into a nice commuter; bar ends, road tires, rack, panniers, lights. I could easily do the eleven miles in less than an hour. The Head Mechanic, Dave, at Bikes and More, my favored shop, doubted the Schwinn would make the trip, or maybe more accurately, that I would make it riding the Schwinn. Of course, I WANTED a different bike, but . . .

Six hundred miles and a month later, I can now talk about my new ride. The High Sierra has return to its off-road preference and I manage the much different mood created by a Novara Safari. I used to say that my High Sierra was a pick-up compared to more modern commuters and touring bikes. SpUtes (sport utility vehicles) and and sports cars is what most people rode. I was envious, but only moderately because I KNEW what I wanted. Only one other bike had sirred my interest, but at $1600 the Salsa Fargo was more money that I wanted to spend, when half that much bought what I had determined was perfect? Perfect once I raised the handle bars and changed seats.

Will I actually cycle the East Coast? Probably. Will it be in the Spring 2012? Possibly. There are a lot of things to acquire first; tent, cooking equipment, additional tools, maybe even sponsorship.With the bike and a refurbished Wind Netbook in-hand I can focus on the life style and living items I will need. Yeah, it'll happen. Fifty-three miles proved I can do it.

Vision issues. Had cataract surgery in November and December 2010. Went from 20/40 and 20/30 right and left eye to 20/20 and 20/15. Needed magnifiers for reading, but who doesn't after 40? One of the possible problems with cataract surgery is that detached retinas are not uncommon following the surgery. I scored. Slowly I began to see something creeping upward across my vision, then 70% was gone, just like that! "You need to have this done now!" said the retina specialist to which the VA people sent me. Soon after, he was sticking pokey things behind my eye repairing the retina's tear. After two and a half weeks the right eye is back to 20/40. There is fogginess that will dissipate over time. Optical debris, the doctor called it, that'll be "gobbled up like Pacman" according to the doctor.

What's someone your age doing planing to ride the East Coast? Refusing to give-in to the passage of time, is all.