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Winter Cycling

January 24, 2011

A little cold out here.

Last winter, I rode straight through. This winter, we’ve had snow every two or three days roughly since the beginning of the year, so I’ve missed a few days. But now we are getting a break, and I am back at it. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

1.) Wind is everything. Where I live, winter is windy. Usually it comes from the north-northwest here. When the wind comes from the northeast, that usually means a storm – a nor’easter – and no riding. So I plan rides accordingly and try to have a tailwind on the ride home. This rarely works.

2.) There are no tailwinds in the winter. Because the winds are stronger in the winter, unless you have a wind directly behind you or behind and slightly to one side, the wind pushes against the spinning spokes, making forward motion more difficult. Even on good days then, average speed suffers. I try not to get too frustrated when I see my average speed, developed over the span of the preceding less windy months, slowly drop to embarrassing lows.

3.) Spinning is difficult in a headwind. Spinning is good practice. But with the relentless pressure of the wind, spinning (at least for me) makes it harder to maintain momentum. So (and I don’t know whether this is good practice) I tend to find that dropping cadence a bit keeps the bike moving forward in a strong wind better than spinning at a higher cadence. I can’t go too low though, or I end up with chronically sore knees and risk injury. I just do it enough to maintain momentum.

4.) Overdressing is easy to do. If you walk out of the house, and you are warm, then you are overdressed. If you walk out of the house and ride down the block and you are warm, you are still overdressed. If you walk out of the house, ride down the block and climb the first hill and you are soaked with sweat, you are still overdressed. On that first hill, you should be just a bit sweaty by the time you reach the top and starting to feel like you are warming up. Most of the layers I wear are relatively thin, and I have started to memorize which layers go with which temperature/windchill. I rarely wear more than three layers, but I often vary the thickness of each.

5.) Booties, gloves and hats are important. If I don’t have the right hat on, my toes freeze. If I don’t have the right booties on, my toes freeze. And if I don’t have the right gloves on, my hands freeze and my toes freeze. Get gloves that have longer “gauntlets” that allow them to be tucked inside the sleeves of a jacket. There are booties made that range from simple outer-socks to fuzzy fleece-lined Gortex arctic wear. I think the best hats are made of merino wool, because they stay warm even when sweaty. And I have a pair of booties that are the arctic kind. My feet get really cold very easily.

6.) Getting dressed takes too long. The most irritating part of the ride is getting dressed. I take care of my bike first. Then I get dressed. The absolutely last thing I do is put on my outer jacket. I live in an apartment, so getting sweaty before I reach the street is pretty easy. Getting out the door as soon as the last layer goes on is the goal. No matter what I do, this takes at least 45-50 minutes. It helps me to have most things sitting by the front door.

7.) New stuff is often good stuff. Several cycling clothing manufacturers recently started making jackets out of very lightweight, slightly stretchy, translucent material (I have one made by Castelli.) There have been things like this before, but this new material makes the jackets packable to almost nothing. The best part, however, is that the jacket is nearly wind-proof while fitting like a cycling condom (no material flapping in the wind.) Great for keeping the chill off while fighting your way home through a change in the weather wearing sweaty clothing.

8.) Get out of the house. The house is warm. The outside is not. Hard to leave the house. But no indoor trainer replicates riding on the road. And for me, the solitude during the ride and the feeling of accomplishment afterwards usually produces enough energy that the next ride is easier to begin. First though, I have to get out of the house.

9.) Wave at people. Usually, I am the only cyclist I see all day during a winter ride. I say usually, because I live in an area where there are lots of very serious cyclists, so it would be wrong to say never. However, I am usually one of very few cyclists out on the roads. That gives me an opportunity to get to know my fellow drivers. So I wave at any car that yields to me, lets me go first through an intersection or gives me a wide berth on a narrow road. They are usually staring at me anyway, so I see it as a PR opportunity. Later in the summer, maybe they won’t try to kill me.

10.) Drink. When I ride in the winter, I forget to drink because I am not hot. I might be sweaty, but I am not having difficulty keeping my core temperature down. So I forget to drink. As a result, I get dehydrated more in the winter than in the rest of the year. So I have to force myself to drink. I also have to figure out how to keep my water from freezing in my water bottle, but mostly I just have to remember to drink.



January 19, 2011

A bit of water for thinking.

Colbert bugs me. He bothered me during the Bush administration, and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. But I think the thing that bothers me is that his parody sits so close to the edge of literalism, that his humor works too well as an inside joke for people who actually believe the stuff he says but dare not express it, even though what he says is a parody of what those people think but dare not say.

This double-fold of layers isn’t the same as having an audience that isn’t smart enough or sophisticated enough to know that what they are watching is a parody, even a parody of themselves. Its more complicated. The audience definitely is smart enough. They know what Colbert says is parody, but they don’t find what he says funny because of the parody. They find Colbert funny in a literal sense, because he does say all the things they think but cannot say AND he gets away with saying it. What’s even better, he gets away saying it to liberal intellectuals who also laugh at it, because he has constructed his parody from a liberal perspective – that is, his parody reflects the absurdity liberals see in the right. Meanwhile, he is winking at the right. Liberals love parody, especially parody of racists, dogmatics, and rightists, racists love racism and the right loves parodies of the left’s view of the right. With Colbert, you can “get” both levels and still enjoy the one that is nearest and dearest to your heart. Secretly. Darkly.

He is obviously very smart to be able to accomplish this. Because of this double-fold in his humor, he implicates both sides in every issue he skewers. If you agree with him in a literal sense, you are a racist, fascist, whatever. And if you take umbrage with his parody, then you are at best without a sense of humor and at worst guilty of censorial intentions. A Stalinist perhaps. Better for both parties to laugh at his jokes than implicate themselves as something darker. Colbert sits right in the middle, which is an achievement in terms of skill, but I am not sure it is an achievement truly. It feels to me like more of a nihilistic occupation of an amoral no-man’s-land. I am not sure what it does or where it goes. A relief valve? Court jester? Maybe. Maybe.

Red Light District

January 19, 2011

A few parts from a Camgagnolo Record hubset.

Part of the problem with the recent enforcement of laws governing cyclists in Central Park (if you haven’t read elsewhere, the NYPD has included Central Park in its current program to cite cyclists who disobey traffic regulations, including those riding during car-free hours) is that in the past the laws have been only intermittently enforced. Actually, I have never seen them enforced. I’ve ridden in Central Park and blown through every red light in that park over and over again, even with cops in the immediate area, and never been ticketed. Even if I do stop for a red light, the runners who use the same section of the road I do never stop for a red light, no are they being ticketed during the current “crack down.” I am not arguing that going through a red light isn’t against the law. I am saying that past police activities have created a tacit “enforcement-free” zone that nearly anyone who rides in the park knows exists. That is, until suddenly it doesn’t.

However, the problem isn’t this sudden or increased enforcement. Rather I think the problem comes from the larger question of what the park’s role in the city actually is. Is it a static space set aside for recreation or is it merely a thoroughfare where some people happen to linger? I would argue that it is a space for recreation to the exclusion of through travel, and that cars should be permitted on roads in the park that do not bring them in direct contact with pedestrians, runners, cyclists, and pedicabs only – the several east-west transects that run through the middle of the park. The only exceptions should be for park vehicles and those assisting the handicapped who require access to the various venues within the park – restaurants or performances. The park should otherwise be closed to car and truck traffic all day, every day, all year. No taxis. No hired cars.

The reason this should happen is not because I want to ride my bike in Central Park without having to look over my shoulder to see if a guy in an SUV is about to take me out on his way to anger management class. No, this change should happen because having cars in the park intermittently creates confusion that decreases safety, just as the intermittent enforcement creates confusion about what is allowed and what is not. I have seen many tourists wander out into traffic during the summer months. They don’t know when cars are allowed and when they are not. Neither do many residents. None of these people goes into Central Park expecting a phalanx of automobiles whipping around the blind S-curve near the the carousel at 55mph as the cars try to get the green light all the way to 79th St. Astonishingly, I have only seen three people get hit. Fortunately, none of them seemed seriously hurt. I am not a fear monger, but I think this is only a bit of luck.

I am certain that eliminating cars from Central Park will not happen. This city loves cars masochistically and will fight to be abused by them. So what I would suggest is this: During non-car hours from 10AM until 3PM and before/after 7AM/7PM weekdays and all weekend, reprogram the lights in the park to switch from red-yellow-green to flashing yellow for pedestrians and runners & cyclists. Then eliminate access to the park for cars from 6th Ave. to 79th St. to get rid of that potential confusion. Flashing yellow communicates caution in all directions. In the absence of vehicular danger, red-yellow-green invites confusion, because each party must decide whether or not the other will obey its instructions. Leave decisions about right-of-way up to the pedestrians, the cyclists & the runners by using a flashing yellow light to alert each to the necessity for vigilance. Perhaps this is counter-intuitive, but I think with a flashing yellow light at intersections, right-of-way will be granted correctly with more consistency and predictability than with red-yellow-green.

Ideally of course, cars should be banished from the park. Think of the money that would save the city in maintenance of signs, lights and road surfaces, not to mention the lowered need for enforcement of traffic regulations in the park. But that being virtually impossible, changing the light system over to what may at first seem a more ambiguous system will actually create a more cooperative atmosphere in the park between those people who use the park for a stroll and those who use it for exercise.

My Reading Schedule: April/May 2010

March 26, 2010

buds, originally uploaded by Jorn Ake.

I hit the road starting April 7th for a spin through Colorado and the Pacific Northwest to do some reading in support of my two books, Boys Whistling like Canaries (EWU Press) and The Circle Line (The Backwaters Press). If you are in the area of any of these readings, I hope I get to see you. I am listing the dates and times below, though I will have to update the specific location (which building on campus etc.) for a couple of the readings later. Stay tuned, in other words. Times below may also be updated later, but mark off the day in your calendars now!

Friday April 9th – Book signing at the AWP Conference in Denver for EWU Press at the Willow Springs table in the Book Fair at 4:00PM.

Tuesday April 13th – Reading at the University of Colorado in Boulder at 7:00PM, location to be announced. Thin air poetry!

April 15-17 – GetLit! Festival in Spokane, WA. Several events, including a poetry salon reading at 9PM on April 16th at the Hotel Lusso.

Mon. April 19th – Reading at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, WA at 7:00PM. Lots of people please! Bring friends and strangers!

Friday April 23rd – Reading at Village Books in Bellingham, WA at 7:00PM. If you missed Elliott Bay or if you live in Vancouver, come to this one!

Weds. April 28th – Reading at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR at 7:00PM, location to be announced. Come see me relive my youth!

Thurs. May 6th – Reading at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, CA organized by Poetry Flash at 7:30PM. SF’ers please come! Bring Code Pink with you!

And finally, back on the East Coast:

Friday May 14th – Sommer Browning’s Multifarious Array Reading Series with Jen Chang, Ed Skoog & Jason Bredle at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC at 7PM. New Yorkers I know, both believers and non-, come see for yourself!

I would like to thank Jamie Wood at EWU Press for doing a super job coordinating all this. She is terrific, and I was no help whatsoever. She is also moving to Portland, OR soon and needs a teaching job. So if you have secret knowledge, hint hint….

And thanks to Sommer Browning for being the only person in NYC who returned any sort of modern communication attempt I made while searching for reading locales.

Speaking of which, the best quote so far comes from a bookstore a block or two from my house after I asked if I could leave a copy of my book for review in hopes that they would actually stock it in their store: “Well, you won’t get it back. Of that I can promise you. I can’t promise much else.”

Ah poetry and grave digging. Thankless tasks both.

Hope to see as many of you as possible! For a couple locations, I will be hanging around aimlessly for a couple days, so let’s have lunch. Or coffee. Keep me out of trouble.


November 24, 2009

L1033625.DNG, originally uploaded by Susan NYC.

This photo was taken by my friend, Susan. As you can see, I am a skinny guy. I am also a 45 year old guy. This year I have been trying to ride my bicycle for fitness, averaging between 50-100 miles a week. Not a huge amount of distance but enough to keep me limber. Or stiff. Or both. Some weeks I have to travel, so I miss a ride, but I try to keep with it, knowing that the more miles I accumulate, the stronger I should be.

The reason I am riding is that my doctor said I had to lower the ratio of bad to good cholesterol. I also noticed I had developed the slight belly you see here. I am a stick – how could I have a belly?

I shouldn’t be surprised. I wake up to a different body every day. Some mornings I feel great. Other mornings I feel sluggish, almost to the point of being drugged. However, there is no guarantee that either of these extremes or the range of sensation in between will result in a good or bad ride that day. I can feel like a lump of sludge and blow away other cyclists on the climbs. Or I can feel great and barely be able to move the pedals quickly enough to stay upright.

I’ve ridden in the sun, the rain, the cold, the hot, and even in a hailstorm the day all the trees got knocked down in Central Park. None of that seems to be a problem. While my biggest challenge is sometimes just getting my shoes on and getting my ass out of the house, my will-power for riding consistently is actually pretty good.

It is a mystery to me why some days my legs feel like all the riding I’ve done this year has been cumulative while other days all the riding I’ve done feels subtractive.

I am sure there is a metabolic reason. And I am betting someone has something for me to drink that will help me perform better and more consistently every day. But I already drink chocolate milk right after riding, followed by an electrolyte drink and a meal of some kind of protein. That’s about as complicated as I want to get.

Besides, even if I wasn’t cycling regularly, I’d still have good days and bad days. Not sure there is anything wrong with that. So whatever the case, I’d rather wear myself out on the bike than hanging around the house.

To Seek a Newer World

November 20, 2009

sleepy, originally uploaded by Jorn Ake.

From my grandfather’s notes for his sermon of 07/30/72.

Robert Kennedy was a great young man. In his postscript to the book he called To Seek a Newer World, written shortly before he was murdered, Robert Kennedy was saying:

“The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress. It is a revolutionary world we live in; and this generation, at home and around the world, has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.”

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

To adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers, takes great courage and self-confidence. But we know that only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

The sermon discusses the impossibility of achieving humanitarian ideals – or as my grandfather calls them, his “impossible dreams”.

Is it an impossible dream, that we shall forget our Koreas and our Vietnams? That we shall one day come to think of other men as brothers and not as Reds? That one day all men shall think of all other men as friends and not as enemies?

Is it an impossible dream, that one day you and I shall welcome another family, with a different color to his skin, as our next door neighbor, instead of setting fire to his home? Or that we shall welcome them as fellow members of our churches?

Is it an impossible dream, that some day another man or woman or child will not be hungry while I am well fed?

My expectation of this sermon was that my grandfather would offer hope and suggest that the honorable nature of these ideals somehow inoculated them from impossibility. That by their very nature as of the Holy Spirit and in keeping with the teachings of the Bible, these “dreams” would transcend impossibility. Other sermons I have read from his work have offered similar comfort.

Instead, this sermon says what might not be the opposite but is definitely a slight rhetorical shift brought on, I would expect, by the disheartening years between the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and the massacre at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, a little over a month before this sermon was first delivered.

My grandfather suggests that indeed these dreams are impossible. That inevitably they are unattainable outside of the Absolute. However, this impossibility does not mean that one should not seek their fullfillment. Their humanity makes their unattainability meaningless, because of the possibilities created by the pursuit of these ideals for those who are held by injustice and oppression. The impossibility is beside the point. The attempt is what is important, because the attempt is the propellant of change.

As my grandfather wrote further:

Robert Kennedy dreamed impossible dreams. And in the memorial service held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his brother said of him, “He was a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

He tried, even though his dreams seemed impossible.

That has been our trouble, in trying to reach out we have been satisfied with reaching what we can.

But in a day which calls for reaching the impossible dream, we must strive to reach what we cannot.”

My Grandfather Before Me

November 12, 2009

towers, originally uploaded by Jorn Ake.

Lest We Forget

Saturday will be Armistice Day, a day on which we commemorate the pseudo-peace which in 1918 ended one phase of the fighting in a war which has now lasted for more than thirty-six years. Since then we have added other days, though we have not seen fit to name them as national holidays, V-E Day, V-J Day, and we look toward a V-K Day. And if some of our more pessimistic leaders are correct, we must look ahead to one which will celebrate a victory over China, and then Russia. Or perhaps one which they shall call a V-USA Day.

The war has broken out again in all of its fury. We watch the morning papers, and we listen to the latest radio news, always wondering if the conflagration has spread a little further. Certainly not for better, but definitely for worse, we are living today in a military atmosphere wherein the fog thickens day by day.

We are still free to speak. At the risk of being misunderstood, I wish that we might think together this morning of some of the dangers that we are facing, for the beginnings of some of these are already upon us in this military atmosphere.

First, we have already abandoned ourselves to a reliance upon force as the only way out of our dilemma. As one of the professors in our undergraduate college put it the other day, we have adopted a monist philosophy, accepting force as a necessity. And in accepting force, with preparations for producing more deadly weapons with efficiency, we are already giving up some of the more cherished attributes of our democratic system, being willing to give up fundamental rights in order to do things more quickly.

A second tendency is to give up the privilege of government by civilian officials. Already military men have taken over positions in the government which formerly were restricted to non-military. Our ambassadors to key posts abroad have been selected from among generals. And all of these assignments are made regardless of the fact that these men may not have had any training nor aptitude for the positions which they now hold.

Still more tragic is the fact that because of this crisis philosophy, we are ignoring basic problems which we ought to face as a nation. Gone is our national concern for the alleviation of slum evils, as housing programs go by the boards. Money which ought to be used for medical research goes into finding newer and deadlier means of atomic, hydrogen, chemical, and bacterial warfare. Federal aid in the building of better education facilities will be set aside to make more money available for airplanes and tanks.

Demands for the reduction of inequalities within our nation will be forgotten. We do not have time to talk about F.E.P.C. and other phases of a Civil Rights program.

In our desire to build up military strength, and to carry a big stick, we forget the better ways of diplomacy and the seeking of peaceful solutions for our world problems.

And with it all, we look upon our own nation as the Saviour of the World, and in so doing we completely identify might with right.

But the most tragic result of all is that life loses meaning in such a military atmosphere. Death is so constantly in the minds of our populace that strange reactions take place. Already rumors are beginning to circulate that in case of emergency large numbers of residents in coastal areas will be arbitrarily uprooted from their homes in a general transfer of available manpower and machines to the central section of the United States.

The hysteria reaches its height when select groups build atom-bomb-proof shelters, and even prepare to isolate themselves for their own protection in remote areas.

The fever strikes small cities and villages far inland, until at this time many such are setting up air-raid warning systems and selecting spotters to locate enemy airplanes.

The fear-atom becomes more deadly when it strikes schools and colleges with the futile search for security in an oath of allegiance which is pledged under duress by some, in meaningless patter by others, and in sheer hypocrisy by those whose activities are supposedly curtailed by such declarations of loyalty.

Most tragic is the loss of meaning for life to those young men who are the real victims of war fever. It was in the second phase of the present war, up to 1945, that this became evident. High School teachers, college professors, and religious counselors were overwhelmed frequently by the seeming diffidence and lack of interest on the part of young men with whom they were working. With out much doubt the uncertainties of compulsory military training through the draft, and the possibility of death or the maiming of bodies led many of them to adopt some measure of an “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die” attitude. Again the same unpredictable future has our young men bewildered, with a corresponding response in their unpredictability. At the best they are saying, “We must get as much out of life as we possibly can, while we are whole of body, and still alive.” Therefore sex mores, cultural and religious patterns cease to hold influence.

Life loses its meaning. And when it reaches the extreme of killing or being killed, then many an individual may cease being a man, and turn into an automaton whose purpose it is to kill as many of the designated enemy as he can before he himself is no longer able to kill. And there is not much meaning left to life when one exists in the stench of dead and decaying human bodies in the midst of battle-caused rubble.

We need to cry, “Halt” to this desperation philosophy of force to which we have fallen victim. We as leaders of the Christian church must work untiringly in a ministry of reconciliation within our local communities, and to arouse our people out of the lethargy which they now are in, as they think that there is no other way.

It will not be through blind preaching about love, for such is meaningless. They will love their assigned enemies to death. But it will be through a demonstration of Christian agape, with all of its accompanying good will among men, which will lead out people to see higher and better ways of solving the problems of a sick world.

Above all we must not only help our people to find their way today, but also to prepare them for the days when we will find ourselves in a more temperate zone of attitude. Some leaders are predicting a great crash which will end all of our military striving and bungling. Who then will be prepared to guide a nation filled with people from whose lives all meaning has been crushed? It is up to us as religious leaders to keep a light burning through these hours of materialistic night, that the world will have light in such a day.

Dr. Harold Fildey, Chapel Meditation, 11/09/50