Thursday, September 25, 2008

Track marks

Living in Philadelphia and commuting by bicycle has its perks: bike lanes, slow and predictable traffic patterns, one-way streets wide enough to dodge cars on either side, constant construction that brings cars to a stand-still that bicyclists may still navigate, and incorrigibly confused vehicle operators. Yet as with any major city the dangers often manage to outweigh the pros: ample bicycle lane-drivers, doors opening sans logic or warning, ambivalent taxis, unbridled car-on-bike animosity, cellphone-occupied drivers, iPod-occupied jay-walking pedestrians and joggers, incorrigibly confused motor vehicle and bicycle operators, and lesser-known yet perhaps more unique to this area: trolley tracks.

Before the big three dominated the nation, trolleys and trams frolicked the cityscape freely whisking the public from place to place with infinitely greater charm than their modern replacement: the bus. I'm much too lazy to research on precisely why the trolley/tram system tanked in Philadelphia and in most of North America, but I do know that a few lines still operate here, and Montreal and San Francisco have extensive extant trolley operations.

Where does this leave Philadelphia in regards to public mass transit? I don't care. I ride a bicycle everywhere which affords me the luxury of not filling my brain with useless bus schedules and connecting stops. I use those open braincells to memorize more relevant information, like the length and count of spokes I will need for the white DT Swiss 240S hub/white DT RR1.1 rim wheels I'll be building up soon. (Oh-28 295mm and 28 288 mm {dt revolution black!})

What I do care about is the miles of abandoned tracks strewn about which have an effect not unlike a bear trap to bicycle wheels. They catch the width of rubber and wheel which ejects the rider many feet away in a precarious diagonal line. This has happened to most people I know who live here with stories ranging from margarita/rain debacles, being flug into oncoming traffic, and even breaking stems and handlebars from landing so hard. Just today I fell into the "most people" category by falling into a track, and like Yogi bear I got a little Boo-Boo. Ironically I was not riding with any intensity or vigor (I was going slow), and my dawdling was likely the cause.

I wasn't thrown into traffic or parked cars, but my bartape and pants did suffer casualties. And I take all attacks on the aesthetic vaules of my bicycles very seriously. I automatically declare war on any entity that hinders me from looking really, really good on my bike (only my physical person is allowed to do that). Like Sarah Palin I have zero concrete plans or specific ideas of how I'm going to carry out this war, but I do know that It'll be more like a cold war, consisting of me avoiding 11th street from here on out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Race Pesos

Last Sunday I finally made it out from under the rock I've been living under for the past few weeks. Since I didn't catch a glimpse of my shadow, I ventured out to to see Baltimore, MD. And I'm not talking about my primary care physician, but Charm City; home of a really important hospital, that show about the cops and drugs and such, and most pertinent to me- a cyclocross race. I went down with my partner and some other folks who are quite interested in this 'cross racing business, which as I can gather involves pedaling bicycles around a narrow, grassy obstacle course for an hour or so whilst hoards of others try the exact same thing at the exact same time and aren't very nice about it.

Since I have the attention span of a goldfish I vacillated between watching some racing, playing with my dogs in an adjacent field, and riding my own bike through the woods. When my dogs were too tired to entertain me any longer, I loaded them up and proceeded to sit down to watch the final race. I think the category was "Men's #1&#2", but since I don't have a potty-mouth, I prefer to simply refer to it as the "major babes race". (But not out loud).

There weren't too many of them starting out, and apparently this is called having a "small field". Although the grassy field it was held in was indeed pretty big, whatever. They started out at a speed I can only describe as mega-fast, with the field effectively bottle-necking and dispersing throughout the course. I could tell the six or seven leading the pack were serious cyclists; they must have been been bike riding for at least a year or two, maybe even more, in order to get to that level of strength and speed. It was so inspiring to watch the first lap that i had to get up and leave and ride my bike some more though the park.

I came back to the race at mere two laps to go, or as I learned-when it gets surprisingly very exciting. People were screaming, ringing bells, and imbibing alcoholic beverages all to show their unwavering support. The two finishing first had a huge, and hence boring, lead on the next three. The showdown between the next three was exhilarating to watch. I laughed, I cried, I was anxious for their safety and for the safety of their livers. My partner got a stellar fifth place, which I immediately took some of the credit for from my consistent show of support.

Because at this point, so many people know how sad I am on the bike, or S.A.D. (Serious Amateur who is Dedicated) they ask if I race or tell me that I should race. This is because when people think of serious cyclists, they assume some kind of test is needed to determine current standings with others of their same sex and experience level. This is completely untrue, and as of yet I have no desire to compete in something I merely do for fun and fitness. I mean, I like cooking, I'm not about to enter a chili-cook-off or something, right? Besides, I have the emotional fortitude of a small child, and would be seriously upset by people yelling at me while I was dry heaving and covered in dirt. I don't want to pay money to entertain people, that's why I have a free blogger account. And this blog notwithstanding, I'm really not an exhibitionist, and am totally not sold on nor am I even ready for any type of racing.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Get down with the sickness!

Continuing existence on this planet is gloriously futile. Whether we over-populate and drown in our own feces or are gallantly whisked away to some nether-realm by a mystical overlord, we are all merely fanny-pack clad tourists in a big, dumb interstellar theme park. To prevent this pesky notion penetrating too deeply I often fill my time with delightfully frivolous activities. I have been fortunate in that school, work, and cycling serve rather adequately as shields to the lurking danger of endlessly ruminating on the total uselessness and depravity of life.

However, today the universe has forsaken me. I have been unjustly wrested from my favorable position in the cosmos, just as so many lepers and pariahs before me. Fate revealed its fickle temperament and unleashed its molten head, leaving me practically petrified in volcanic ash not unlike the peasants of Pompeii. Just as summer meets its official end, as the weather becomes so delightfully pleasant and endlessly inviting to epic and glorious bike rides, I get dreadfully sick. And not the definition of sick, but stricken with the most undignified of illnesses. I'm talking about the fabled and deplorable stomach flu.

It started innocently enough, a few aches and a sore throat; nothing excessively torturous. Forgoing social activities I dutifully logged a decent night's sleep, a modest yet sufficient 11 hours. I ate a healthful breakfast of raisin-speckled peanut butter and celery, or "ants on a log" if you had any gleaming of a decent childhood. Sluggish yet determined to resume daily activities, I rounded up the dogs for their morning walk; and that is when all worldly truth, honesty and decency eroded to reveal hideous, treacherous lies. The ants came swarming out of me with speed and intent, the logs rejected gravity with the determination of spawning salmon, splintering my throat and coating my cardigan with vile, acidic peanut butter chyme. The episode was absurd and shocking, a blasphemous way to start any day, let alone the first official day of fall. I hobbled home, projectile-spewing with every few steps, and proceeded to lock myself indoors for the rest of the day. 

Today is barren of any worthwhile distraction (bike riding) to the constant rumination that life is essentially useless. The whirs of refreshing breeze and tapping of dry leaves are tugging mercilessly at my heartstrings. All of this is further proof that we, the inhabitants of earth, are indeed orphans in the mid-90's Eastern bloc of the universe... mindlessly drifting, alone and unwelcome. Can you hear me Major Tom?

In sum, barfing all day instead of riding my bike apparently bums me out. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mo' money, mo' problems.

As some of my more loyal readers may know, I was the luckless recipient of serious crash related injuries earlier this summer. I was new to the city. I had no job and few friends and very little funds even to meet my basic needs of food, shelter, and bicycle upgrades. A thoroughly hapless fall crumpled me into a misshapen ball, like origami folded by a quadriplegic. This happened in a forest where there isn't car access or cellphone service. As I could not move, I could not leave the park. And as I was new to town, I really had no one to call to get me; and with the lack of car access it would not have done much good anyhow. An ambulance came but the thing about ambulances is they simply will not- even with sufficient reason-based arguments and sophisticated persuasion- just take you to your house. So I went to a hospital, got out three days later, spent another few weeks feeling like garbage, and here I am now- A true survivor! Why this recap? I wanted to give some sobering advice: Stop drinking so much.

The real advice is to never, ever, ever get into an accident and be picked up by an ambulance and stay in the hospital for a few days and be penniless, jobless, and insurance less. Unless of course you have a spare 69,0028 dollars burning a hole in your diamond-encrusted, endangered species pelt pocket; in that case be my guest. Also in that case: Fur is murder- and have you read anything about diamond trading and mining, you politically impassive caveman Liberace turd?

The good news is that in Philadelphia if you happen to be unemployed at the time of an emergency hospitalization, your bills get paid by a combination of Charity funds and medicare*. I ended up only being billed 150$; that's like a 4.6% co-pay. I don't think my legitimate insurance can offer that small a percent. It's more of a "No money? No problem!" system. As somebody who plans on being destitute and in and out of employment for the next few years, I find this system particularly reassuring.

Why would somebody like me, with excessive talents, skills, and resources, plan on being grossly underemployed and impoverished for the next few years? Through cunning and inescapable charm I duped an unwitting University to lavish fantastic scholastics upon me for the next five or so years. I won't bore you with the haughty details, but let's just say in a few years my full and proper appellation will be rife with with gravity-lending acronyms. Hopefully I will remain on the business end of the health care system this fall.

{*Special thanks to the taxpayers of Philadelphia}

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Friday night after sufficient primping, priming and preparing I painstakingly packed my black knapsack for a weekend in western Massachusetts. For the next two days the ever urbane Camp Cupboard was to be a rather redoubtable Randonée Chalet.

On Saturday morning at the wholly indecent hour of 5:00AM, I found myself amidst a gaggle of hairy-legged, sandal-footed, wool-clad cyclists. Over the free coffee-and-muffin breakfast, I eyed longingly their wide gear ratios, fat tires and camel-backs. My carbon/aluminum road bike with 25mm tires and double gearing started to look space-aged but highly inappropriate, like an astronaut showing up for a deep-sea dive. Six AM and sunlight came upon us, leaving the ridiculous option of starting the ride. Too groggy for any sort of ebullient entree, clusters of riders left rather anticlimactically over the span of a half hour. Fortunately for me, I had successfully conned a friend of mine to ride along. Unfortunately we found ourselves several miles in the wrong direction; our excitement from the upcoming physical activity seemed to blunt our cognitive abilities and hence the tiny neon green flags which signaled turns went largely undetected.

And turns there were. Our cue sheets were four pages long; nary a strip of path longer than a mile would be traversed without a change in direction. Cyclists are pack creatures trained to follow the group ahead and ask few questions. This tactic dissolves when the terrain is so demanding as to continually separate seemingly evenly matched riders. My riding partner wore a bright red jersey which made keeping his person in sight easier, as I often lagged clumsily behind. (Or walked).

The roads were not what I would describe as "dirt", but more like "rocky", "dry and uneven loose gravel", or even "steep, torturous and unyielding; much like I'd imagine Lucifer's pitchfork in your soul for all of eternity to be". At the first of three checkpoints, my computer read 47 miles, an extra 10 more than everyone else. It should impress you however that even with the ten extra miles we caught up with many riders. It it also to be noted that by this time in the ride my white kit remained brilliantly clean and endowed upon me a pure, heavenly glow which was noticeably intimidating to everyone else. But even with a cheerful partner and no embarrassing stains to appear, we became concerned about the time limit and planned to nip out a 10 mile section as we saw a tiny connecting road on the map. Considering I've always been a trailblazer and very very bad at following directions, this was a natural option which left not a tinge of guilt.

The second section, or mid-section as I will call it from here on out to give it a sexy anatomical sounding name, consisted of perhaps the most brutal of all: zero flats, only multiple asinine climbs with wretchedly unridable descents in miserable succession. Areas so loose and jagged that going 17mph felt more like falling devoid of control or finesse. It is one thing to be disappointed by ascents, going uphill is substantially harder than riding on flats. But to have to hold back while going downhill is like giving birth to a broken robot, it's not natural and totally disappointing. I had no regrets that we took a scalpel to the mid-section.

The last section we gained a second wind, mostly because the roads were more road-like and less pitch-fork-prong like. We caught some beautiful riverside descents, and met some adorable and admittedly well-dressed farm animals. I had a short yet meaningful discourse with the white alpaca about the benefits of white gear; he bid me adieu and wished us on our way. At this point I should add that some serious deliriousness may have set in; I may or may not have tied my white bandanna (of course I had a white bandanna) around my head and tried my best Axl Rose voice while singing Guns n' Roses songs for a few miles. Eighty miles out and we were ready for the last bit. Until our combined deliriousnesses lost sight of a misprint on the map and we turned down a gloriously fast two mile road descent; I was afraid to go faster than 35-40mph yet could have easily. While at the bottom the right road to turn off on was nowhere to be seen- we surmised that to get back it would mean climbing what we had rode down with such gaiety. Before I could fully fathom adding more climbs onto this ride my friend, now reassuringly exasperated proclaimed, "That's it-ride's over!". And after a small whimper of dashed alacrity came a wave of sincere relief. It was nearly 4PM, we were cranky and peckish, and our ride thus far was pretty damn phenomenal.

We rolled in, back to the start which was also the finish, around 4:15. We met up with our much more physically adept group; who I should add finished the 112 miles before we finished our measly 85. We traded war stores, showed each other our battle wounds and wiped down our mighty yet muddy steeds. My legs throbbed, the misplaced rage I had collected throughout the day subsided, and all I could think about was how much stronger I will be when I come back next year...

Happy riding.

{Special thanks to A. Suko&K, Dan L. and the Rapha non-team, and all of you from Cambridge Bicycles}