Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doctors Visit and RSVP

Yesterday I went to Portland to visit a doctor. As usual, I multi-moded: I rode to the train station, let the light rail haul me over the Tualatin Mountains into downtown, and then rode the last four blocks to the offices. After the visit I reversed the route, ran some errands in my neighborhood, then finished the day telecommuting from my house.

Since it was a pretty lousy day for August (temperature in the low 60's with occasional heavy showers), I wore more special clothing than I have lately. When the weather's perfect I've been getting away street clothes. However, yesterday called for a little less cotton and a bit more technical wear. That plus the obvious accoutrements (helmet, geek glasses, gloves, and the nearby bike on the train) made it clear that I was One of Them.

The interesting thing about this was that in the space of the hour and a half round trip and visit, I was accosted by three different people who wanted detailed technical advice on bike commuting. Not "Gee, I wish I could figure out a way to bike like you do." No, it was real questions, like "How do you pick your glasses?" "How do you ride in the rain?" "What do you do about getting your shoes wet?" "How do you keep from getting flats?"

On to other things. While I was sitting at the doctor's office, I heard a receptionist speaking to an older patient. She had the high-pitched slightly patronizing voice that I hear health care workers talking to patients who may be slightly...slow. "Mr XXXX, did you remember to take your heart medicine?" I looked up and saw a man, heavy set, mid 60's, stooped over and shuffling, wearing terry shorts and a T shirt, with a wet spot on the seat of his shorts.

My heart just fell. Here was a man who is beyond trying to retain dignity in public, who's just trying to stay alive. I was overwhelmed with a great sense of sadness at the thought of what it is for people to grow old and to slowly lose a grip on their quality of life as their body slowly fails them.


On to a lighter subject. I just finished a two day ride, the 2008 RSVP ("Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party). This ride is quickly becoming one of my favorite multi-day events. I think it's because the ride is structured in such a way that there really aren't any deadlines except for getting your bags on the truck in the morning. Since you ride through plenty of towns, you "live off the land" for your food. There are organized rest stops each day, but--again--it wouldn't be the end of the world if you even missed those since services are prevalent.

Anyway, since there's no pressure, I find myself not stressing about eating, sightseeing, taking pictures, and just overall plain enjoying the ride. I'm not the only one who's figured this out. This year they opened registration a month early but only for Cascade Bicycle Club members, and the ride sold out in two weeks. Yup, I belong to a Seattle bicycle club now.

Lynne (who is not my wife, my dear Clarkie likes for me to point out) and I rode it on Clifford the Tandem (as in Big and Red). As captain, I didn't get a lot of pictures, but Lynne got plenty in the back.

Thursday night we got to visit David and Claire again. They didn't do the ride this year. I think they were caught completely off guard by how quickly the ride filled up. I made it perfectly clear to them that I expect to see more of them next year! On the plus side I got to finally meet their younger daughter Emma, who's been shunted off to summer camp in years past. I was surprised to see that Crispin the Guinea Pig no longer lives there, but I was pleased to make friends with Luna.

The ride starts at the old Sand Point naval station north of UW and pretty much immediately sets north on the Burke-Gilman trail. (One of these days I want to ride the five miles between UW and Sand Point. STP starts at UW and heads south; if I ride that stretch I can say I've ridden the entire length between Portland and Vancouver BC.)

The Burke-Gilman is slowly getting more and more decrepit. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad they have a bike trail along there; it's just that they slapped asphalt down without any sort of road bed. Thus tree roots and other encroachments are slowly trashing the road surface. Combine that with slightly claustrophobic foliage and scores of riders who do not understand how to ride in groups, and I had one very stressed stoker. We took our time.

A note about the Cascade Bicycle Club riders. I understand that when you're the largest bicycle club in the country that you have to expect a greater incidence of accidents. However, I was dismayed to see hundreds of cyclists wearing ear buds while riding. This is against Washington law (and should be illegal everywhere, IMNSHO). Again, I am amazed at how many people think that just because they know how to brake, steer, pedal (and drive a motor vehicle), that they know how to safely operate a bicycle. It's kind of like young males who think that their Y chromosome gives them an instinctive understanding on how to ride a motorcycle. It just ain't so.

There were numerous route adjustments this year. The first big change I noticed was before Woodinville, where it seemed that we remained on the bike trail for much longer, presumably to bypass some construction on the normal route. I liked this change; the roads at this point are still far too urban for any real enjoyment.

After our obligatory Second Breakfast at the Buzz Inn in Snohomish, we started on the Centennial Trail with the infamous Bollards of Death. I've had enough apologizing, thank you very much, so we avoided any excitement here. Lynne and I felt as though we stayed on this bike path longer than last year as well. Again, this is a lot less stressful and a bit prettier than the semi-urban roads that the old route took us.

In Arlington we stopped for lunch at the Blue Bird Cafe. (Did I mention we eat like hobbits on this ride? First Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevenses...) I asked the store owner as we were paying if she got any warning about the swarm of locusts descending on her establishment. "Oh, I call and find out when it is now." Smart woman!

By the time we left Arlington, I definitely felt like we were running towards the rear of the pack. There was yet another route change on the climb ohere. Again, it seemed to take a lesser traveled route. It may have been slightly more climbing, but I think it was a bit more scenic. Around this time it was starting to get warm. We started seeing bicyclists lying in any available shade at the side of the road, kind of like roadkill. Lynne and I kept riding: "dropped on our heads too often as a child" she explained to one prone cyclist as we passed. It kept getting hotter and hotter. We just kept drinking water and riding.

A bit past Mount Vernon we entered the Skagit Valley. As usual, this part of the route included massive headwinds. Usually I just hunker down and bear it (though I really can't complain, being on a tandem.) This time though, I was truly grateful. Why? Can you say "onshore flow"? There, I knew you could. The air temperature was truly about twenty degrees cooler than it was on the climb out of Arlington!

I'm not sure if it was because of the cooler air temperatures or the fact that we weren't trying to kill ourselves, but the Chuckanut Drive climb seemed much easier than in years past. We made the obligatory stops at the overlooks and took the tourist pictures, made the Pink Lemonade Stop (Micaiah is a high school sophomore now, can you believe it?), and dropped down into Bellingham.

Lynne got us lost getting to the dorms and put us on this vile little street called Liberty Street that heads straight up Sehome Hill. I should have realized something was wrong when I saw the horizontal ridges on this street to provide traction.

We walked down to Boundary Bay to have dinner. I'm a little annoyed at them now and will probably pick a different place for dinner next year. When they said there was a 45 minute wait, we told the hostess we would wait in the beer garden. She took our name and my physical description, and we went down and had a pint. An hour and a half later Lynne went to check, and the new hostess said, "Oh, we skipped over your name because we don't go to the beer garden to fetch guests." Right. There are other places to eat, thank you very much.

As usual, the second day's ride is more about the destination than the scenery. Don't get me wrong; there are some great views, especially in the morning, including Wiser Lake and Mount Baker.

It's still fun to show up at an international border crossing on a bicycle.

Also, the ferry crossing was a bit faster than usual. The ferry man has figured out how to manage our crowd a bit better, I think.

We managed to get onto the "Pitt River Dike Trail Option" this year. It's a bit easy to miss, but Lynne was insistent that we give it a go. On the plus side, it avoids the truly atrocious traffic on 224th and Dewdney Trunk Road leading up to the Pitt River Bridge. It's also much more scenic.

On the down side, we're talking pea gravel with occasional divots in the road surface. Captain is vewwy vewwy busy. There isn't much coasting due to rolling resistance and the need to maintain stability mountain-bike style. The 700x28 tires on the tandem were quite sufficient to the task, by the way. Stoker is busy taking pictures.

By the time we reached Port Moody it was starting to get hot. Lynne was regaling me with fantasies of sprinklers and ice cream. I could really relate (well, not the ice cream; I'm lactose intolerant), but I was ready to stretch and rehydrate. I probably downed a quart of liquid while we were there. As we launched from the rest stop, I felt a sickening snap as I shifted gears. A quick analysis showed that my front shifter broke! We were left without our large chain ring for the last twenty miles. If you're going to lose a gear, that's probably the one to lose.

Climbing the Barnett Highway felt really hot, though I always get a kick out of the huge piles of sulfur down at the port. At the last part of the highway when I could see the top, I called for us to stand ("Arf!" stoker says.) Passing the prone cyclists in the shade we got cheers ("Look at them go!") Again, Lynne: "We were dropped on our heads as small children."

They've significantly improved the Frances/Union bicycle boulevard this year. Whereas before there have been interminable stop signs, they've been replaced this year with traffic roundabouts. Not only is this easier and safer for the cyclist, it made the Really Important Stop much more obvious (it's a very busy cross street that needs one's full attention.).

On the Adanac bike boulevard (Adanac is Canada backwards, get it?), we started to get a huge school of pilot fish as people realized someone was traveling with two hands free and calling out ride sheet cues. Lynne gets really popular at this point of the ride every year!

After settling in our hotel rooms, we had a quiet dinner at a local Japanese restaurant. The waitress looked slightly helpless as I asked for two pieces of octopus. Tako, I amended. She gave me a big grin. Hey, I only know six Japanese words, but sometimes I can get it right!

As usual, Sunday was spent making it back to Stumptown. It didn't take us long to get past immigration. The immigration officer didn't even look at our passports. Similarly, we didn't have a long wait back at Sand Point for our bicycles. I guess they didn't have to saw the bicycles apart and look for drugs this year like they did last year, where the bicycles didn't arrive for hours after us.

Like I said, my stoker got most of the pictures; browse them here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

You've Been Tagged...

OK, I guess I've been turn...

Q. If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?

A: Stronger than the Incredible Hulk, lighter than a gnat's fart, carves corners like butter, steadier on the flats than a Harley chopper, cheap enough I can park it in front of WinCo, smoother than a baby's butt, stiffer than a ummm...what kind of bike would give me all of that?

Seriously, since I ride my bike over 300 days a year, I can't just settle on some sort of toy. I need one that I can use for commuting and grocery shopping: one that can withstand the mud, the rain, the grit, the just plain abuse a bike takes when you ride it year-round.

Q. Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you’re not working toward getting it, why not?
A. Oh, a dream bike. You know, my LeMond Carbon-Ti is a pretty sweet ride. See my previous answer, though. The tooth-rattling stiffness makes it an awesome speed machine, but an English century's worth of chip seal leaves me craving my 35 year old steel commuter.

Q. If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
A: How about this year's Race Across Oregon? With 535 miles, there's enough that I might not get bored. Note also that at 535 miles in length, I could ride all day long :-)

Q. What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike ride to to do for the rest of her/his life?
A. Someone who likes writing questionnaires.

Q. Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?
A. 99% of my riding is road riding. Yes, I have a mountain bike. Some day after I win the lottery I'll be able to give it the attention it deserves. Good mountain bike riding requires significant skills that I haven't yet developed. I enjoy extremely non-technical mountain bike riding (Banks-Vernonia Linear Park, Forest Park, etc.) I also appreciate mountain bike riding in the winter when you just can't stay outside as long. However, I'm really more of a put-the-miles-behind-you zone-out-to-the-next-town kind of rider, not a ohmygodimgonnadie kind of adrenalin freak that seems to be the kind of person who's attracted to mountain biking.

Q. Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent?
A. I've never had the opportunity, but I'm completely receptive to the notion. Many people report that as their spine becomes less flexible with age that they've been very happy on a recumbent. Personally, I'll stick with my "wedgie" for another ten or twenty years.

Q. Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?
A. No. Every time I consider it, I remember I have an urgent date to floss my cat's teeth. Seriously, I have a real problem with swimming. My neurotic nurturing female-type parent forced me into serious swimming lessons at the Y when I was a kid; she was deathly afraid I was going to drown. Finally, my freshman year in college that made me jump three stories from the rafters into the swimming pool, fully clothed. Did I mention I'm afraid of heights? The result is that it's totally killed any enjoyment I have of being in the water. I fall in the water, I swim to the side and get out; no problem, no enjoyment. Perhaps I'll try a duathlon one day.

Q. Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?
A. Well, duh: ice cream, of course. I'm lactose intolerant!

Q. What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not? Also, answer it. What size of shoes do you wear?
A. "How many bikes do you own, and how many bikes do you really need?"
A2: Five: commuter, racing, fixie, mountain, tandem. And who says that need enters into it at all?

Q. You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?
A. Leave. Quickly.