Archive for March, 2010

Signs of spring: telltale confusion

All of my cyclometers read the correct time since daylight savings time jumped ahead to announce warmer times to which they were initially set. We’re finally putting some more miles on the tandem, and riding the commute from Saxapahaw to Chapel Hill. The longer than usual winter ended a couple weeks ago, and within days the signs of spring were everywhere. This one right here in Saxapahaw seems to imply that Easter is now right around the corner –

(“Easter is more than something to dye for.” These Methodists are strong with puns.)

This Saturday’s ride, as temps hit 80F after a week of 40s and 50s was a beautiful strange combination of calm summer weather amid a landscape of winter-bare trees. Just in the past week have any buds started to show, and the white blossoms on the bradford pear trees highlight the landscape like last month’s snow.

The first signs of spring to accompany what we can really call the first “nice” days, i.e. warm and enjoyably bikeable days (as opposed bikeable, yet hardly pleasantly so) two weeks ago, were, alas, garbage. The same weekend that all the fair weather cyclists jumped back in the saddle to join the hardy all-weather riders and crowd the country lanes of Orange and Alamance and Chatham counties, everyone else seemed to be taking out the trash. It seems as though during the deep freeze that settled over the south in the months of January and February, no one took out the trash, just let the bags pile up in their yards. That first Saturday that was nice enough to coax everyone out of doors, folks loaded up their pick-ups to overflowing with all their stored-up trash. The result was bags that had spilled out into and along the country roadways. In my bicycle travels, I counted over a dozen split and strewn garbage bags along my tri-county route.

Other tell-tale signs of spring:
-daffodils so green and yellow they look like plastic legos against the brown landscape,
-cobwebs across the trails,
-ants in the pantry,
-the first tick buried deep in my skin,
-and, turtles are once again perilously crossing the road.

(We watched a car straddle this snapper, then my brave stoker carried it off Bethel South Fork road toward the pond it was racing to get to.)

I’ve decided to make a point of taking photos of the church signs I see in the area. I’ve long been amused by the slogans, puns and chides used to bring souls under the roof. Some of them are really touching and sincere. Some are upbraiding, fire and brimstone. Other are just plain head scratchers, like this one here:
"Laughing is like jogging on the inside welcome"

“Laughing is like jogging on the inside.” As we rode by this, we had quite a discussion on the tandem about what this could mean. It seems like it’s trying to be a positively affirming statement that laughter and lightness of spirit, like exercise, is good for the body. But jogging really is not like laughing, except when you need to pee, in which case both laughing and jogging are quite dangerous; and I suppose if either jogging or laughing are done long and hard enough, you may begin to cry. But really, laughing is fun and spontaneous. Jogging hurts, and requires a serious amount of motivation and planning to get out the door. I’m trying to find a link to a righteous Christian message here, but it escapes me. At least the writer of this phrase has got my attention.

What confusing signs of spring, or church signs are you witnessing?

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Bullet for your thoughts

I found a pretty serious-looking bullet by the gas pumps in Saxapahaw the other day. Serious, in that hand-gun self-protection hollow-point .40 S&W kind of way, rather than the bring home fresh meat to the family sort of way. I can imagine a couple situations. It was during the cold snap last month, so perhaps the gun-toter on their way to the target range, law enforcing, or bank heist was stopping for gas, and the bullet happened to be in a pocket with some change and fell out between fingertips numb from the cold. Or, maybe the 2nd-amendmenter (regardless of their affiliation with a well regulated militia or not) was digging around in the glove compartment for the tire pressure gauge, which happens to be where the handgun, bullets, driver’s manual and aloe-coated flower-print tissues are also kept, when the bullet fell out.

I know handguns are kept in glove compartments because I learned this while on a bike tour across the U.S. I was on the TransAm trail with a group of Brits I’d met along the way, passing through a town in Missouri named after an apple variety that never took hold in the region. We were taking a break at the sole gas station/convenience store/grill and got into conversation with the owner who was also a farmer. He was friendly and loquacious, and shared many great stories. (As this location is on a major mapped cross-country bicycle thoroughfare, perhaps there are a lot of cyclists out there who have met this guy and heard his stories). I’ll save some of his stories for other posts, and stick to my guns here, so to speak. As cars and pickups, mostly pickups, drove by along the road, he motioned toward them and said, “You know, every one of these vehicles passing you on the road is carrying a gun in the glove compartment.” He seemed to take pleasure in telling us this. He said that in these rural counties where law enforcement isn’t too strong, people have to be able to take of care things themselves. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be threatened that all these motorists passing us on the road had the option of pulling a gun on us if we somehow offended them by our presence, or whether I was supposed to take comfort that everyone was equipped to regulate if need be, in a peace by mutually assured destruction sort of way. Whichever, the Brits with whom I was riding were a bit incredulous, since possession of firearms isn’t allowed where they’re from.

That wasn’t our first encounter with the gun question however. Earlier along our route, as we passed through the Appalachian region of Kentucky, we happened to camp a night on the lawn of the Knot County historian. He was a gregarious and gracious host, and kept us company through the evening, regaling us with too many stories to recount here, so as before, I’ll stick with the topic at hand. He traded his typical mirthful expression, became very serious for a moment and asked us, “Are y’all carrying a firearm? I mean, ya got a gun with you?” I think this was the first time the Brits had ever been in the position of even considering the possibility of possessing a gun. They laughed. Our host remained serious. He was worried for our safety out on the roads. He didn’t seem to be worried about the threat of intimidating or delinquent motorists. Actually, he was concerned about wild animals. First, he said he was worried about packs of wild dogs, or potentially worse, guard dogs kept unleashed in these rural mountains to protect property since, as in the case above in Missouri, the arm of the law really didn’t extend here. Moreover, our host seemed to be more seriously concerned with copperhead snakes. He said these snakes liked to lie along the cool ditches by the road and would strike at our legs as we pedaled by and startled them. Our defense, he reckoned, was to pack a gun. Our Appalachain guy was swell, a decent host, and good story teller, but we had all we could do to keep from laughing. Before we tucked away to our tents for the night, he warned us not to be alarmed if we heard gun shots in the middle of the night – it would just be him trying to keep the wild dogs away from us while we slept.

While not too concerned about snakes striking from the ditch – that would have to be a million-to-one shot in which case the snake would probably deserve catching a flash of ankle or a thick calve – I do worry about those dogs. Many a time have I let my mind go there after some dog in a driveway has terrorized me, and I daydream over the next couple miles about the satisfaction I might feel if I only had a gun – a pretty atypical thought for me, to say the least. My stoker feels the same as she wrote a while back on this blog. But fantasy aside, how practicable would that be? Even if I could tug some handgun out of its holster or my rear jersey pocket while dodging a dog at my heels, the recoil from firing off a round would certainly cause me to crash – or both of us, if we’re on the tandem. Even if the stoker took the actual role of tail gunner (already she does a lot back there, like unwrap energy bars and take photos), I’m pretty sure her firing a gun would adversely affect my handling. Gun and bikes just don’t mix.

Years earlier, when I announced to my parents that I was going to ride my bike across country from Oregon to Maine, my father and I had “a talk.” We were at a local county fair in western Maine, and ducked out to the parking lot to have a beer in the old family truck. I hadn’t realized until then that my recently unveiled intention to bike across the U.S. was weighing heavily on his mind. I had my concerns for safety, sure. Sharing the road with cars is indeed a serious decision. Even in a car, it’s a responsibility to be taken with gravity – you’re hurtling along in two tons of metal with explosives combusting under the hood, and those painted lines on the road aren’t physically preventing that missile from going off anywhere. But my father was worried about something else – the evil in society. He asked me whether I was planning on carrying a gun with me for protection. Up to then, the thought had never occurred to me. Even after my loving, concerned father said that, it seemed so far outside of my perspective that I struggled to meet the sincerity with which he asked me.

Was is it about our country and guns? Just after I’d found the bullet and was inspired to write about this topic, the public radio show This American Life rebroadcast an older episode they’d entitled just that: “Guns.” Ira Glass, pithy as ever, made the observation that there really are two Americas – the part that gets guns, and the part that simply does not. And the divide is irreconcilable. I’m in that latter category. Because I’m an American, of course I understand that guns – their possession, and the vehement, emotional claim of the righteousness to their possession – are a part of my culture. But personally, I just don’t get it, and I never will. There’s no room in my pannier for a gun, and I think my tail gunner prefers to smile and wave rather than pull a trigger.

Bikeshare in Saxapahaw?

These appeared at the (only) bike rack in Saxapahaw this weekend, in front of the General Store:

The glare from this morning’s warming sun obscures the message. Zooming in:

“iBike, Public Access Biking, no one owns this bike but if we all keep an eye on it and add the occasional repair, no one will lack a ride. Thnx, Dr. Bike.”

I have to meet this Dr. Bike, cuz I like what she’s doing.

Saxapahaw’s a little town, more a crossroads right now, with few services to bike to, except for where these bikes are already parked. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of trips for kids and adults to replace cars with bikes… In fact, I better jump on mine if I’m going to get to work on time in Chapel Hill today. Spring is finally here, let the long bike commute begin.

Honking with doughnuts: ride to eat

When the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s Benchmarking Report was released last month, I wrote about a group of cyclists – those folks who have no option but to ride bikes where they need to go – that seemed to me to be underrepresented in the usual (a least my usual) bicycling media. The Report made me think of another underrepresented group:

Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2010 Benchmarking Report, p. 41

That’s right – cyclists caught in the act of indulging in treats like doughnuts.

It’s no secret that cyclists can eat. And eat and eat and eat. And drink. And drink and drink and drink. The ability to eat just about anything I want is probably my top reason for riding as much as I do. Regarding doughnuts, as a displaced yankee down here in the south, one of the main things I miss from the north is cake doughnuts. I’m not talking about the gooey sweetened circles of fat produced by Krispy Kreme and the like. I’m thinking of the barely sweet dense, yet soft and moist doughnuts made in the kitchens of the old diners in places like Casco and Rangeley, Maine. Molasses, apple cider, plain, and chocolate “sinkers” so perfect for dunking in your morning cup of coffee it launched that ubiquitous brand (which I believe has gone downhill since I worked there when I was in high school).

That’s why I’m teaching myself to make doughnuts in my own kitchen. To turn a phrase from Greg Brown back on itself – when you can’t get it out there, you better look for it at home.

Now with a few experiments under my belt, wrestling with the frying process, and over-fried, under-cooked or rubbery attempts foisted off on polite friends and co-workers, I’m almost happy with the results. Today I greeted my friends who gathered at my house for a 40-mile ride with some pre-ride gingerbread cake doughnuts. I’d tell you the recipe but it’s a trade secret. Here’s an idea of the process and the results:

Start with the right flavors: real molasses and fresh ginger

As with bikes, it helps to have the right tools.

Doughnut holes fresh from the fryer.

The perfect group ride.

(Apologies for the poor-quality photos. I’m waiting for the new camera to return from Mexico with my tandem partner/fiancee.)

These definitely kept me riding for the duration, and the couple of remaining holes went perfectly with a warm cup of coffee to warm me up after the ride.

Last week I test-piloted a batch of banana-nut cake doughnuts and handed them out to the Haiti-benefit riders on their way through Saxapahaw. (I figured bananas and bike bikes go hand-in-hand, or rather, cleat-in-pedal.) Judging by the fact that they were gone in a matter of minutes, I know I’m not the only one who lives by the credo “Ride to Eat.”

Where have all the honkers gone?

If I had any regular readers at all, they may have wondered where these tandem bloggers had gone off to. The short answer is we’ve been no where, and no where near writing a blog post. The loss of internet at our house for the past month has contributed to our silence, but we’ve got that sorted out now. My last posts concerned the freak occurrence of a snow storm here in the peidmont that offered three solid days of sledding, and a fellow bicycle-commuter who rides without choice regardless of weather, temperature or light. What’s changed since then? Not a whole lot yet. Just this week, we had another dusting of snow, morning temps are still below freezing, and Cristobal still looks like he’s hating it as he pedals to work along the highway.

But spring is finally arriving. The daffodils are pushing up through the thawing mud, days are longer, and these honkers have gotten the tandem out over the last couple weekends. Despite last weekend’s harsh wind that gave wind burn as red and raw as any the Windy City dishes out, we joined a group of cyclists on a benefit ride from Carrboro to Saxapahaw, raising money for Haiti relief. The promise of 50-degree temps (that never quite got there) and the chance to do some good got a lot of folks out, and we even greeted another couple on a Co-Motion out on the country lanes.

Sadly, this tandem couple is parted for the week while my fiancee lives it up south of the border for spring break, but it means I have more time on my hands to blog, grease chains and dial in my brakes. There’ll be no honking in traffic this week, but lots of getting ready for it.

A post by the writer the Tandem Geek blog, who is the host of the Tandem Link web site, also wonders where have all the honkers, that is tandem riders, have gone. (If you’re a tandem team reading my blog and aren’t aware of his site, you should probably go over there instead!) In the post, he looks at the decline of tandem riding club membership over the past decade. I’m not much of a club rider one way or the other, so I don’t have an opinion about whether it signifies a decline in tandeming or just in club participation. However, the more my partner and I grow into the sport, I’m starting to get excited about joining up with some of the regional tandem. Tandem Geek also has a 2-part winter survey of tandemists and their gear.

So, the honkers haven’t gone away completely – though I’m solo for a week. We’re just winding up. The miles are starting to accumulate, the long commute from Saxapahaw to Chapel Hill will become regular again, our internet is back, and we finally picked a new camera so this blog may become a bit more visually interesting once the camera, along with my partner, gets back from Mexico.