Monday, August 29, 2005

All the Help You Can Eat: bike resources here and abroad

Lindi and I biked over to breakfast at Bridges, a tiny restaurant with excellent food that we frequent only during the summer because if we can’t sit outside we find it too loud and claustrophobic inside. (We avoid restaurants where we have to shout to hear each other.) On the way home we stopped by DR’s house to ask where she got those cool sneakers Lindi wants that DR wore on our bike trip on Springwater Corridor a few weeks ago.

In case we thought we were dropping in for just a couple of minutes, DR hauled out the deck chairs and planted us on the front lawn. No, Deborah, we did not come to see you, we came to see your shoes. She darted back inside saying she’d send them out to play, but instead returned with an armload of materials from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which she’d just joined. We’d already met them at a booth at the Farmers Market where they plied us with pamphlets on all aspects of biking, and half a dozen bike maps. DR hauled out a number of their maps and outlined rides we should go on while the hot weather still lingers. In a couple of hours she’d be heading out to Blue Lake on her bike to meet friends for a barbeque and urged us to join her, since the other friends had elected to meet there by car. Alas, we had other plans – a trip to Hood River in the Columbia Gorge – news that elicited yet another map and an excited demonstration of how we could get there by bike on a new beautiful secluded path along the Old Columbia River Highway. Enticing as that sounded, we elected to stick with our plan to go by car (yes, car – so sorry), since such an expedition by bike would require several hours more than we’d allotted to this trip. But we’ll add it to our growing list of pleasure bike trips for the near future.

Did we think we’d head back home? Not so fast. DR wouldn’t hear of it till she’d dragged us to her computer and introduced us to – a website she’s been mired in for weeks. Pick any spot in Europe and this organization will provide schlepping services for you as you glide over hill and dale unencumbered by cargo. A rolling bike shop will retrieve you should you experience a mechanical breakdown of the smallest degree. Choose your strength level and they’ll map out a route for you and if you like, ride with you. If not, they’ll simply roll out the red carpet at your designated stopping point where you’ll eat and sleep. They’ll even provide you the bike if you’d rather not ship your own. Too good to be true – to be looked into later.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Bike, the Sandwich, and the Wardrobe

Here in Oregon you can be pelted with five weathers on the same day. Right now, it’s the sun that’s pelting. But even so, it’s cool in the early morning -- lately, cool enough to wear a light jacket -- another thing to pile onto my load when I head home at the end of the day. Along with all the other stuff I have to schlep everywhere. Like sandals – I can’t exactly show up to teach wearing gym shoes. Or a sweaty T shirt, or shorts. Or a sweaty anything for that matter. After all, I'm not the President. Some of us have to dress for work.

President Bush will show up at a meeting with foreign dignitaries wearing a little short sleeved blouse. Watch the papers. All the other people in a photograph will be decked out in fine tailored suits or ceremonial garb, as one would expect from heads of state. But not our president. Our president thinks that dressing casually will make people feel like he's just a regular guy. That seems to be a popular idea in the States. Presidents have been donning overalls and touring the farmlands for decades. Get down with the people, they're thinking. Americans want a president they can throw back a beer with on the tailgate of a pickup truck. Bush, never having been out of the US before his presidency, thinks this will make him popular in other countries, too. But in the rest of the world, people don't particularly want a head of state to be a regular guy. If someone's going to run a country, they want him (or her, as in the seemingly more progressive rest-of-the-world) to be pretty darn special -- which might start with being able to pick out an above-average suit. And as for the other part of this little cultural misunderstanding, somebody forgets to tell the president that he's not meeting with "the people," he's meeting with heads of state. So how about putting on a tie, just this once, c'mon, Georgie, you can take it off soon's the meetin's over. But no, he's the President of the United States, and he's going to do exactly how he pleases. Show these serious uptight people what a nice laid back guy he is. Instead, as the whole world knows (except some people in our country), he comes off as a condescending boor.

But not me. I teach English as a Second Language. Obviously, all my students are from other cultures. They don't expect a teacher to dress like a slob, and if I did they might have difficulty taking me seriously. This is a challenge for a bike commuter because I have to drag along the clothes to fit my work as well as my ride.

I have to think it all through before leaving in the morning. Might I need a skimpy tank top for my ride back home in case of unbearable heat later today? Or is it going to pour down buckets in spite of a cloudless morning sky? Shall I bring a rain parka? Rain pants? Little rain covers for my shoes? A rain dome for my helmet? A scuba diving suit? Flippers? Goggles? The weather possibilities are infinite in this state.

As fall and winter roll in, things will only get worse. Might I need a sweater today once I get to work and shed my damp outer-wear? What about a headband to save my poor little ears from the bitter wind breezing past my head? I might go elsewhere on foot during the day – what about a woolly cap? I can’t exactly wear my headband-helmet-rain-dome contraption over to the meeting at the bla bla office, now can I? What about a nice pressed blazer – how professional do I need to look for what’s scheduled today? (Will I need my iron?) Is it a teaching day? Do I want to walk into my classroom flowing rivers of sweat or rain all over the paperwork?

And what about lunch? I rarely eat out. It uses up too much money, but even more important, one never really knows what’s in commercially prepared food so I avoid eating it often. If I ate a plain sandwich, the whole production of making and packing lunch would be simpler – it could tuck sideways into a pocket somewhere. But I’m not much of a bread person. No, I like to nibble from small amounts of several items from leftover last night’s dinner, for example -- which occupy considerable space and may leak if turned over. As of now, I cart them in a padded lunch bag that’s not quite suitable because it’s an awkward shape and doesn’t close well.

Lord. I’m a rolling laundromat with a deli in the back. I must look like one of those people who tramp around with all their possessions on a grocery cart. That’s not a look I’m after. But mainly, it's just plain inconvenient.

And let’s not even start with the teaching materials and other paperwork, which can’t be allowed to blow away or get wet. One three-ring binder is the least I can make do with, and that takes planning. It all takes planning -- and organizing and arranging and re-organizing. If I don’t get this down to a speedy science, I’m never going to make it through the winter.

I haven’t solved these problems. Have you? I need some kind of a spacious but aerodynamic and waterproof trunk that fastens to my bike so no one can steal it, that I can lock stuff into so I don’t have to cart every little thing in and out of every place I enter. I’ll begin shopping for such an item, and let you know what I find.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't Mess With My Breakfast

We skipped Sunday night's weekly trip to the grocery store and went to a party instead. And did we go by bike? I'd eat my own head before I'd be caught driving a car to a house ten minutes away. The friends live on a slight hill and we walked our bikes the last two blocks so as not to arrive in a pool of sweat. The ride home in the warm summer night, all downhill, was well worth it. In fact, just the sensation of my silk shirt flapping against my skin all the way there and back -- that alone was worth it. I'd never done that before, ride a bike with a silk shirt on -- you must try it!
In the morning, I wake to discover not a stitch of protein in the house -- just produce, as far as the eye can see. Some people can't get going without their coffee, I can't launch without some protein. Or I should say, I can launch but not for long. Any form of carbs unaccompanied by protein first thing in the morning sends me crashing down an hour later.
In desperation I rummage through the cupboards and find this "Super High Protein" drink mix I bought a couple of years ago when I was going through my Batgirl phase. Mixing it up with some berries, crushed nuts and seeds rescues its taste, but an hour later my stomach's whining that there's nothing in there. By ten o'clock, after ripping across the river to my hideout and trying to work for a while, I'm compelled to pillage the hippie store around the corner and resort to some barbequed tempeh.
My advice to anybody trying to make this bike thing work: EAT A REAL BREAKFAST. In order to convince your stomach you ate something, number 1 it has to be something you can chew; and number 2 you have to sit down and eat it in a civilized manner. No stuffing it down your throat as you're running out the door. The stomach doesn't count that as eating, and it will nag you till you do it right.
Example of a successful breakfast, i.e. one that holds me till one o'clock without having to think about food: Two boiled eggs; A slice of toast (only the very best bread) with fresh ground peanut butter and 100% pure jam on it. To drink: a cup of tea. And I go through a pot or two over the course of the morning. Current favorite tea: Kukicha.
And before you do all that, don't forget to drink a full mug of water as soon as you get out of bed.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hollywood Farmer’s Market by Bike

Saturday we slept in, and by the time we got to the market at around nine, the number of places to lock our bikes to had shrunk to one stop sign. As we walked through the market entrance, a yellow-aproned volunteer gestured helpfully toward a fleet of slightly rusty little red wagons. We declined, sensing danger: the space in one red wagon is greater than the space on two bicycles.

The market was hopping as usual -- full of color, and the sounds of music, English, Spanish, and Russian. Kids having fun with the balloon man, the face painter, whatever. It’s a party. Different every week.

And to the child-encumbered -- I know what you're thinking: Do I have children? None that I know of. So what good am I to someone needing to know about biking with kids? Not much.
I can't know everything. But do post tips of your own if you have any. And I promise to tell you anything I find out. For one thing, there's those drag-behind carts. Surely you've seen them. Though they look very sturdy, I for one would hesitate to trail a child behind me on all but the most deserted streets. Besides the car danger, I’d worry about the kid inhaling car exhaust. But you tell me. Together, we will find a way.

Back at the market: It’s easy to over buy because everything looks so good, but we control ourselves. Twenty three dollars later we have more than enough produce for two for a week, plus coffee and a couple of rolls. Cost of gas: zero. Cost of oil: zero. Cost of parking: zero. Wear & tear on the car: zero.

Piling everything onto our bikes is always a trick. We're equipped with one basket each. A simple decision to carry our jackets instead of wear them further complicates the logistics – not to mention an impulsive stop at the library on the way home. Do you leave stuff on your bike and hope no one steals it, or do you schlep everything inside with you for a five minute errand? We locked the bikes, left it all out there, and ran in. I rapidly checked out Nicholson Baker’s book, A Box of Matches, which I’ve been wanting to read ever since Lindi read parts of it to me some time last year. (Lindi’s my partner, but I’ve changed her name to protect her from unwanted fame.) After more arranging, to make space for the book, we were on our way.

OK, so maybe it’s not easier than throwing stuff into a car. But it’s definitely funner. Sometimes I pretend my bike is a little burro and I'm about to trudge home on little dirt paths in a remote tropical area undiscovered by cars. I wonder if this'll work in November.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What I'm doing

This is my story of eschewing the evil auto and becoming a bike person. I loathe cars. Loathe. And yet I own one. The experiment isn't over and I'm not convinced I can give it up completely. This month I've been motivated by: 1. the expiration of the tags on my license plates; 2. the glorious summer weather.
The car has not moved from its oilspot in front of our house. We'll see what happens as fall crawls in and sneaks up to winter.