High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


The Heat is On

We’re in the midst of a mini heat wave here in this far northwest corner of the United States. I use the term heat wave loosely because really the temps will only be in the low 80s here in Bellingham, which is a walk in a frozen park compared to the heat waves they have in the South and East…or Death Valley. Having lived in the first two places (Does anyone actually live in Death Valley?), I know how ridiculous our version of a heat wave is. But when your average summer temp is around 72, when most houses still don’t have air-conditioning, and those same houses have lots of windows so we catch as much light as possible during our long gray winters, temps in the 80s can be miserable and we are quite vociferous in our bitching about it. But around the time the complaints hit their peak and we once again consider forking out thousands of dollars for air-conditioning, we’re back down to reasonable temperatures, we get some rain, and life is sweet.

I’ve never liked the heat. Whether that’s due to my Scandinavian ancestry or just the fact that I’m a wimp, I’m not sure. So I love living here in the land where polar fleece is the height of fashion and socks with sandals are worn with pride. That means that I spend a lot more time riding in cooler or cold temperatures than I do when it’s actually hot. And I like it that way. I can put on enough clothes to stay warm but I can only shed so many before I have to cover myself in body paint, invite a few of my friends, slather on the Chamois Glide, and declare a naked bike ride. Ewww!

On those days when I know the temperatures are going to soar, I try to get out early when it’s still in the 60s and that means I have to get off my iPad, dislodge the cat, and will myself to not refill my coffee. Like today! Then I spend a lot of time riding the wooded trails where I usually encounter many Bellinghamsters with the same idea. By the time I do about 16 miles, it’s already hot and I really do shed all my clothes, skip the body paint, and hop in the shower. Then I can spend the rest of the day in the shade with my iPad, cats, and coffee…iced.


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Sometimes I Just Need to Gnaw on a Big Piece of Meat

Rain dropsIt rained last Thursday…a lot and all day. So much so that we broke a rainfall record. I know! Saying we broke a rain record here in the Pacific Northwest is like saying Florida just broke its own record for how many geezers live there. It’s either amazing or completely banal; take your pick. So with more than just little disappointment, I left my bike in the garage and took my car to the knit shop to hang out with my knitting group followed by a trip to Trader Joes and the pet store to do some shopping. It’s been a long time since I drove a car to these places and it felt strange. It’s not that I haven’t been in my car at all; there are just some places here in town and out in the county where it makes better sense to drive. But if I have a choice, and it’s not pouring buckets of water (or geezers), I’d rather take my bike.

Walking into the shop, I instantly missed feeling flushed and invigorated from the ride through the woods, the wind in my face, and the smell of the fresh air. The only consolation was that I wore one of my handmade scarves and received some oohs and ahhs from my fellow knitters. No one oohs and ahhhs when I wear my cycling gear. Odd. At Trader Joes I missed not having to search for a parking spot even though the bike rack there is usually full, which is cool, but they really need to add more parking for bikes. I missed the exhilaration of hauling my groceries uphill and home even though I took advantage of the opportunity and bought more than would have fit into my panniers. The 25 pound bag of cat food I picked up at the pet store would have been a bit tricky on my bike too as I would have had to strap it to my back using bungee cords and I’d have probably been followed home by about 50 cats.

Doodle NappingThen I got home, put the groceries away, had lunch and took a 1-1/2 hour nap with my cat. It was a super cozy nap, admittedly, but I woke up feeling like one of those big banana slugs you see on the trails. I had pizza and wine later for dinner, felt like an even bigger slug, then drooled in front of the TV for a couple of hours. (My cat decided to continue said nap for several more hours. Cats are sooo cool!) Sure, I would have most likely done all of that anyway had I taken my bike but at least I might have been able to skip the feeling like a slug part.

In a Newton’s-First-Law-of-Motion way, the more I use my bike for transportation, the more I want to use it, and the more I miss it when I don’t or can’t. Although the following Friday morning when I met with my personal trainer to work on my core muscles (which currently suck) I decided somewhat at the last minute that taking the car might be the better part of valor. Good thing too because after my trainer kicked my ass for an hour, (Her motto is “If you don’t leave whining, I haven’t done my job!”) I could barely drive home without crying let alone ride my bike home for almost 6 miles….uphill. But you get the point.

A part of me would love to be able to give up my car all together just like a part of me would love to become a vegetarian. It’s doable but not practical given the American culture, my lifestyle, the weather, and the fact that sometimes I just need to gnaw on a big piece of meat. So I do what I can as much as I can and not worry about the rest.


Chasing The Smoke Monster

Smoke MonsterOver the winter, I binge-watched “Lost” on Netflix. I didn’t watch it when the series came out because…well I’m not really sure but I thought it was more of a reality show like “Survivor,” which I’ve never seen and never will. I like my reality real and I like my TV to be not real. But I get the concept: People on an island who, through a series of designed challenges, have to outlast and outwit everyone else. So even though skeptical about “Lost,” I decided to put my “Survivor” snobbery aside and give it a chance. That and I had pretty much gone through just about everything on Netflix I was interested in. I have no idea what smoking crack is like but I’m pretty sure it’s like watching “Lost.” OMG! You just have to have more and you have to have it now.

To sum up the six seasons briefly, there’s a commercial plane crash, an uncharted, mysterious desert island, polar bears, a kid named Walt, a handsome but psychically tortured doctor, named Jack, a fat guy with a heart of gold, bad boy Sawyer who’s best line is “Son. Of. A. Bitch”, plucky Kate, John Locke, the professor and Mary Ann. Led by Jack, some of the survivors of the crash are trying to get off the island by various means, including a raft, submarine, and nuclear bomb. Some, like Locke, want to stay creating lots of dramatic tension. Then there are the local inhabitants of the island who are trying to thwart them at every turn when they’re not trying to kill them. Now we come to the smoke monster, a sort of guard dog of the island and if you haven’t seen the series (and haven’t guessed) is made of smoke when he’s not taking on the appearance of dead people. Speaking of dogs, there’s also a yellow lab who just sort of runs around, licking Jack’s face in key and poignant scenes. Anyway, the smoke monster makes this loud, eerie sort of bellow when he’s riled up causing everyone to run like hell and hide in some coconut trees lest they get caught and get bashed to death against a tree. It’s all very “Lord of the Flies” meets “Gilligan’s Island” by way of “Survivor” if “Survivor” weren’t a fake reality show and took place in Jurassic Park.

The cool thing about the smoke monster is that it sounds just like the trash trucks here in Bellingham. The cool thing about the trash trucks here in Bellingham is that the company is totally into bicycling, the owner, Paul Razore, being an avid cyclist himself. So on trash day when out riding my bike and I hear that familiar bellow I half expect to see the smoke monster roiling out of the woods and I’m totally transported to a distant island for a few, sweet moments. I know. My imagination runneth over. But that’s what’s so cool about riding, it clears my mind, frees up my imagination, and anything can happen.


Citi Bike: A BeGRIMMed Tale

Citibike.JPGOnce upon a time (a few weeks ago), in a land far, far away (New York City), a bike-sharing program called Citi Bike Bike was launched, providing the people of the land with an inexpensive, healthy way to travel through the busy streets. And while many people thought it was good (over 20,000 people bought annual memberships in the first week of the launch) the trolls and ogres of the land did not. They began to screech and howl.

Troll.JPGThere was one particular evil troll, Dorothy Rabinowitz, sitting on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal (owned by the King Ogre himself, Rupert Murdoch) who howled loudly and rather incoherently as trolls are wont to do. It quickly became obvious to the people that the evil troll didn’t like cyclists or sharing by claiming that bicycles and an all-powerful bicycle lobby (where that lobby was when the Washington State senate made its transportation proposal is anyone’s guess) were “begriming” the land. She even went on to screech that bicycles were more of a threat to the land than taxis. So incensed was she, that her wrath conjured up a new word that every auto-correct in the land wanted to change to “befriend.” To this very day, no one but the trolls and ogres is sure what “begrimes” really means.

But despite the howling, the nascent NYC Citi Bike program hasn’t heralded the end of the world. Programs like it have been established in many other lands, including Portland, OR; Washington, DC; Denver, CO; and San Francisco, CA. And yet life continues to go on.

The moral of this story is… well there really isn’t one… except that when the trolls and ogres begin to screech and howl, it’s best to just laugh and keep on pedaling.

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State Senate Says No Money for Transportation Safety

After the collapse of the I-5 Bridge in Burlington and the chaos it created don’t you think that improvements to our transportation infrastructure would be on top list of legislative priorities? Not! In a stunning display of lets-not-spend-revenue-on-important-stuff, the Washington State Senate just released its proposal for new transportation revenue that increases the gas tax by 10.5 cents to raise $8.4 billion and spends nothing ($0.00) on infrastructure, transit, bicycling, and pedestrians.

This from the Bicycle Alliance of Washington:

This bad proposal fails to meet the most basic needs to help Washingtonians to get safely to wherever they need to go. Public polling shows time and time again that Washington voters support fixing our broken roads and bridges and funding transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure more than new highways. But this new proposal would spend $3.6 billion on new mega-highway expansions and $0 on transit, bicycling, and pedestrians. This is outrageous.

Great! Let’s build a more roads, encourage as many trucks and cars to be on the road as possible, while keeping our fingers crossed that the bridges actually hold. As an avid cyclist, sometime pedestrian, and admitted gephyrophobe, I want the state to spend at least something on making it safer to ride, walk, and cross bridges. The fact that nobody was killed when the I-5 bridge came a-tumblin’-down is somewhat of a miracle and we probably won’t be so lucky the next time.

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What a way to celebrate my birthday…

Wow. I never though of a night ride. Sounds like fun.

Cycling with heels

Not for the first time that night, I found myself questioning my sanity. It was the early hours of the morning following my birthday; unlike most normal people, I wasn’t dancing in a dodgy nightclub somewhere, or sleeping off an evening’s drinking. No, I was on my bike, in the depths of south London, taking part in the Nightrider – a 100km sponsored cycle ride around the streets of London, starting just before midnight and finishing sometime around breakfast time.

When I’d signed up to do the ride, back in January, it had seemed like a really good idea. Challenge myself! Raise money for the MS Society! Do something different for my birthday! But as the date got closer, doubts crept in. It wasn’t so much the distance that bothered me – I’d cycled almost as far before, although admittedly not recently – so much as the fact that…

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It’s Good To Be A Cyclist

The Truth Behind The I5 Bridge Collapse

Any day is a good to be a cyclist, some days are better than others. On May 23, 2013, a section of the I-5 bridge in Burlington collapsed into the Skagit River after being struck by a commercial truck. Evidently bridges are struck all the time by commercial vehicles and are built, to one degree or another, to withstand taking some hits. How many hits they can actually take is anyone’s guess. Obviously the I-5 bridge reached its limit in May, and sent three people and their cars crashing into the 40-degree water. Fortunately and surprisingly, everyone survived and will have great stories to tell their children and grandchildren who will then grow up to be hopeless gephyrophobes (pronounced JEFF-ri-o-FO-bes), which with means, if you couldn’t figure it out, having a fear of bridges or people named Jeff.

I’m a bit of a gephyrophobe, myself. I’m pretty sure it’s because my mom used to regale me at a tender age with the story of my great uncle who threw himself off the Aurora Bridge in Seattle during the depression. (There’s a reason they called it “the depression.”) Every time we’d cross that bridge, I’d fixate on that story and be utterly horrified. Then there was Galloping Gertie, aka the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Built in 1938, this suspension bridge would move vertically in the wind. Scientifically it’s called aeroelastic flutter, which exactly describes what my stomach feels like when I cross a bridge. It collapsed in 1940 in 40 mph winds. Being a child of the Pacific Northwest, I cut my teeth on footage of Gertie’s flutters and her eventual collapse. I still can’t watch that footage without freaking out.

Galloping Gertie

The I-5 bridge connects everything north of it, including Bellingham, to the rest of the world. There is a nearby bridge that will get you across the river but now with the main bridge out, you can expect to be tied up for hours trying to get across it. There is also another route motorists can use, but that takes like forever so you can imagine the utter havoc this is playing in the lives of those who live in area or who are trying to just travel through it. Fortunately, I don’t ever need to be anywhere south of here so other than for prurient interest, the collapse hasn’t affected me. Unless you count last Thursday when we were waiting for my friend Sara to arrive from Sea-Tac airport, expecting her for dinner. She showed up just in time for us to keep from eating the cats but just barely.

Anyway, bridges just don’t collapse that often so when one does no one is really prepared for it except gephyrophobes, who are completely baffled when bridges don’t collapse. So, it takes some scrambling and time to iron out the kinks with alternate routes until the bridge can be repaired. Believe me, there’s been a lot of general seething and gnashing of teeth. My favorite example is when a local news station interviewed bus riders the day after the collapse. One woman just could not believe that she had to wait longer than 15 minutes for her bus. I guess she was expecting helicopters or magic to get her bus through the morass of traffic and confusion. I think she should have taken the waaah-mbulance.

But as awful and inconvenient as the whole thing is, there’s still a bright spot. Well, if you ride a bicycle. Cyclists seem to be getting around the collapse better and faster than most vehicles. As one rider in the National Bike Challenge put it the morning after the collapse, “It’s a good day to be a cyclist.” And I imagine it was.