High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


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Oy! Again With The Hills

ChandlerBarkleyAs I’ve mentioned before (probably ad nauseum) I have some hefty climbing returning home from a ride. Well, not recently since I’m still nursing strained tendons from taking a hill a little too aggressively. (I’m also still listening…maybe half listening…to my well-meaning husband lecture me on the use of low gears.) With a bike carrier now firmly attached to my car, I’m driving up and down those hills until my leg is in better shape. But when I am healthy and taking the hills, one hill I won’t take is on Barkley Blvd. and it has nothing to do with the ascent, which is impressive and challenging. So much so in fact that when you tell people you ride, one of the first things they ask is if you’ve ever ridden Barkley Hill. Even though it has a bike lane, Barkley hill is just too damned scary. For some reason, from the stoplight at Barkley Village to the crest of the hill, cars fly up and down like they’re driving the Indy 500…if the Indy 500 had hills.

I’ve climbed the hill twice to the awe of many but mostly myself. The first time was with a pannier full of groceries. (I had to bail and walk the last 100 yards.) The second time I made it all the way sans groceries but not without almost suffering from permanent and debilitating psychological trauma from the insane speed of the traffic. It seems to me that this would be a boon to city coffers if police patrolled the area but rumor has it that a high-ranking cop lives in the neighborhood and doesn’t want to piss his neighbors off by having them ticketed for speeding. I honestly don’t know if this is true, but you never see a cop on the lookout for speeders on Barkley Hill as you do on Alabama Hill. It’s so bad on this hill that you can’t even count on the crosswalk light at Chandler. Oh sure, you can press the button and the yellow lights will flash but you damn sure better wait to see if the traffic actually stops if you value your life.

Two cyclists have lost theirBarkley Hill lives on Barkley Hill—both on the descent! One was due to cyclist error when for some unknown reason the cyclist swerved into the curb. He was probably startled by some speed freak of a driver, passing a little too close.  (Actually, that’s pure conjecture on my part in trying to drive the point home.) The other was when a young woman pulled out of a side street and into a cyclist. Yes, there was a stop sign but she claimed the sun was in her eyes and she didn’t see the cyclist. This incident has turned into one of those cautionary tales non-cyclists use to prove the recklessness of cyclists in general, the most common sentiment being that any cyclist on that hill had to have a death wish. I’ve done the descent a couple of times as well and can attest to the freakishly fast speed you can hit. But then again, I’m not huge fan of speed so I find going down as traumatizing as the coming up.

Anyway, for me Barkley Blvd. is a road best avoided. Bad cycling juju and my own aversions aside, it’s just not a fun or pleasant place to ride. There are plenty of other hills I can climb both to torture myself and impress my friends without the treacherous traffic.


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The Road ID App for iPhone: Be Still My Fredly Heart

bike gadgetsI like gadgety things. I really do. Just ask my husband or my cat about my iPad. My husband will tell you it’s attached at my hip. My cat will tell you he wished the damn thing had never been invented. He gets thoroughly disgusted when he’s on my lap and I’m on my iPad and often claws at my hands as I’m using it. He has sharing issues. You can also take one look at my bike and make a very well-educated guess that its owner likes gadgets. So when I read the All Seasons Cyclist’s Post about the Road ID iPhone app, I squealed like a prepubescent girl at a boy band concert. Being the safety conscious Fred that I am, it immediately stirred my desire for feeling safe while out riding—and for cool gadgety stuff.

Road ID is an online company that offers identification tags for runners, bicyclists, walkers, and hikers. Their app was designed to work with the tags (I haven’t gotten around to purchasing those yet) by allowing you to set up your iPhone’s home screen with pertinent ID information and emergency contacts. But the really cool thing the app does is allow you to send an e-mail to family or friends when you head out for a ride, and your contact can follow you live using eCrumb—an electronic bread crumb feature that provides a detailed map of where you are. If you stop moving for five minutes, eCrumb will send an alert to your contact. So, lets say that dickweed’s harassing behavior takes a darker turn and he clips me or runs me down (see dickweed post here) and I am unable to call 911. eCrumb will send my husband an alert and he’ll be able to notify first responders. And of course, my lock screen will give them valuable information as would the tags, which I really need to get to feel complete.

But let’s say I’ve just stopped for a cup of coffee on my way home and have forgotten all about eCrumb. After four minutes, the app will sound an alarm reminding me to pause eCrumb thereby avoiding the embarrassing moment the paramedics storm Starbucks looking for a downed cyclist. What the app won’t do is track your miles but it does run side-by-side with apps that do without too much of a drain on your battery.

My husband lECrumboves this app almost as much as I do. Not only does he feel better about me being out and about on my bike, if I make a random stop at the grocery store he sometimes calls me and asks me to bring home something good (a euphemism for Italian sub ingredients) for lunch. He also enjoys watching where my rides take me. He says watching me ride via eCrumb is like watching a video game. Just when he thinks I’m on a set route home, I make a turn and off I go in a completely different direction.

I really can’t recommend the Road ID app highly enough. Chances are you’ll never need it but it can literally be a lifesaver if you do. Oh…did I mention the app is free?


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Riding Out of a Black Cloud

Do you ever have one of those days where you wake up under a Little Black Cloud— grumpy, morose, and apathetic for no discernible reason? For me, those days are so rare that when they do happen I take an almost perverse pleasure in wallowing in my bad mood. So when I got out of bed the other day and realized this ill-tempered fugue was upon me I pointed a figurative middle finger at all the people who have “complained” about my “perennially sunny” disposition over the years and felt a certain smugness in the fact that I can actually have a crappy day now and then. I know you’re wondering why anyone would complain about someone else being upbeat and happy 99.75% of the time, but trust me… misery loves company and detests anything else.

I fumbled through my morning routine: lapping the cat, coffee, breakfast, lapping the cat yet again until I needed to make a decision about what to do with the rest of my day. Little Black Cloud followed me around like a stalker and suggested that since the rest of said day looked dreary and bleak why bother doing anything? My cat was in full accord and suggested a full day of sitting on my lap. I finally settled on riding my bike, hoping that would dispel my foul mood. Fortunately, I had library book to return and, no, it wasn’t a Sylvia Plath novel. Riding down to the library did nothing to dislodge Little Black Cloud, however, so I was stuck with it as I headed home.

There weren’t many people on the trail but those that were immediately on my main nerve—like the guy walking his dog who roughly jerked the leash each time his poor dog stopped to sniff. I mean seriously… if you don’t have the patience to allow your dog some sniff time, don’t walk him on a trail where a million other dogs have recently peed. How mean is that? Then there were the two moms with strollers taking up the entire width of the trail and who regarded my desire to get around them as an affront to their motherhood. It was like they believed that having babies with them exempted them from all common courtesy and allowed them unfettered access to the trail, others be damned. I’m not sure whether they expected me to ride in the little creek that runs along the trail, plod slowly behind them, or pull a machete out of my ass and whack a trail through the blackberry bushes on the other side. All I know that they copped a huge attitude having to make a little space for me—you know, the kind that only self-righteous, entitled moms can carry off with such assurance that they are right. The kind where you actually begin to ask yourself, Am I an asshole for wanting to use this trail?

By the time I made Whatcom Falls, Little Black Cloud was still actively stalking me and sniggering along the way. I grumped my way across the bridge, up to the parking lot, and over to the fish hatchery where I discovered that all the pools were empty, barren of any life, making me feel as if I were the lead actor in an Ingmar Bergman movie. The desolation was thick and heavy in the air so I wallowed in that for a while. Then, as I tried to move on, a group of 6-7 year olds out on a field trip swarmed around me trying to find a pool that actually had fish in it. It took me several curmudgeonly minutes to disentangle myself from them and head on my way. As I passed Derby Pond I finally felt a small chink in Little Back Cloud as I watched a dog that had just come back from a swim shake water all over its owner. But just as I felt my mood begin to lighten, I rode past a little girl on a bike. She looked exactly like I felt, probably because her father was riding behind her nagging her to pick up the pace. I thought whatever remaining joy there might be left to feel in my day was instantly sucked out of the air. Could this ride get any worse? Oh yeah!

My ride through this emotional hell continued up to Electric Avenue where I came across a dead kitten crumpled in the grass just beyond the shoulder of the road. Little Black Cloud literally laughed out loud as it punched me in the gut. That’s when, in Nietzschean moment, I declared, “There is no god!” I would have thrown my hands up in the air in defeat but swerving into traffic and getting creamed would have given Little Black Cloud way too much pleasure. That dead kitten had put me in a fighting mood. I wasn’t going to let my entire ride be grim because of Little Black Cloud. But it still had one punch left to throw. Just to prove it also had a sense of humor (albeit a dark one) as I rode along Northshore Drive a balloon tied to a mailbox was blowing across the bike lane. Now it was my turn to laugh. I’m pretty sure I even said out loud, “You have got to be kidding me!” Traffic was heavy and I couldn’t safely ride into the road to avoid it, so I had two choices. I could either continue pedaling and become the first cyclist to be garroted by an inflated piece of rubber with “Happy Birthday” written on it, or I could stop and wait for traffic to clear. Little Black Cloud was gleefully cheering for strangulation but I wisely chose to stop, wait, and ride around that ridiculous balloon. That seemed to deflate Little Black Cloud enough that it finally stopped messing with me and I managed to ride the remaining mile home without further incident to my tortured psyche. By the time I pulled up to our garage, I actually felt some of my perkiness return. After all, Little Black Cloud threw everything it had at me that day and I survived the onslaught. If that alone didn’t inject some joy back in my day, nothing would. Now it was my turn to laugh at which point Little Black Cloud, who is a very sore loser, completely dissipated in a puff of frustration. Take that sucker!

Anyway, the abundance of bonhomie I’m known and sometimes resented for made a complete comeback by dinnertime and the only thing following me around the rest of the day was my cat looking for another lap.


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The Hill Less Climbed, Or Not At All

Alabama Hill 1I live at the top of what is known in Bellingham as Alabama Hill. The hill itself is the at the east-most end of Alabama Street—a major thoroughfare in town. It’s a bitch of a hill in anybody’s reckoning. Even cars don’t like it which is kind of amazing because cars are pretty neutral about…well…everything. But that doesn’t seem to stop their owners from seeing how much gas they can burn through by gunning their vehicles up the hill which is why I don’t bike up the hill. Plus there are no bike lanes!

Actually, that’s not true, I wouldn’t bike up that hill if traffic were nonexistent and bike lAlabama Hill 2anes were. The hill goes from 114 feet in elevation to 400 feet in about 3/4 of a mile—a 7% grade for a 285-foot climb. It’s not that I think I’m incapable of climbing it. It’s just that I’m not into any form of masochism. It seems I’m not the only one who feels that way. You hardly ever see a cyclist climbing the hill. Except for the time a few years ago when they had an Iron Man qualifying triathlon here in town and participants had to climb the hill twice which was impressive in the way that anything you can’t see yourself doing is impressive. The only triathlon I could qualify for would be something called the Jello Man and that would have to be without the swimming or the running which would technically make it a unithlon.

Sometimes you’ll see walkers and runners on the sidewalks of Alabama Hill but from the “I-just-made-the-biggest-mistake-of-my-life” look on their faces, it doesn’t seem like they’re having much fun. So, I use the trail system which serpentines it’s way across the elevation instead of a straight shot up or down. It’s also a nice trip through the woods and along Whatcom Creek, which beats the heck out of riding up a steep-ass hill through traffic anytime.

When I said I live at the top of Alabama Hill, I actually meant that I live on top of the top of the hill so that by the time I return from wherever it is I’m going to on any given day, my elevation gain is somewhere between 500-700 feet so for me the serpentining trail system totally rocks! There are still some decent to steep climbs along the way and by the time I get home, I’ve had a good, sweaty, workout.


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Driver — Fear Thyself

Car running stop signDriver — Fear Thyself Today, apropos of nothing, I decided to count the number of cars breaking obvious traffic rules. Riding home from the gym that takes me on approximately three miles of road, I counted 20 cars that rolled through stop signs, zoomed through a “pink” light, didn’t signal, or drove above the speed limit. At the same time, I noticed that out of the numerous cyclists on the road, not one did anything wrong. In fact, they didn’t even come close.

The misconception that bicyclists are scofflaws is rampant in our society. Sure some are, but no more so than those who drive a vehicle. I’ll go so far as to say that proportionately, cyclists adhere to traffic laws more than drivers. But I’ve had numerous conversations with non-cyclists over the years who declared that they weren’t against cyclists on the road per se but that it would be a lot easier to tolerate them if so many didn’t break the rules. I’m not going to get into the conversations I’ve had with the idiots who hate cyclists whether they follow the rules or not. The people I’m talking about here are otherwise normal and rational. In fact, many of them think cycling as transportation is kind of cool.

I believe that part of the problem is that except for psychopaths, no driver actually wants to hit a cyclist. Even the Neanderthals who believe that bikes don’t belong on the road really don’t want to be involved in a collision with one, if only to save them the inconvenience. So drivers view cyclists as obstacles to avoid instead of simply considering them as a normal part of traffic and that makes them uncomfortable, even scared, and yes, sometimes hostile. And, when you’ve invested all of those emotions in a group of people it’s easy to slap a label on them. But it’s probably safe to say that most cyclists riding the streets are to varying degrees more alert and more cautious than their driving counterparts. We don’t want to be hit either. A driver might be inconvenienced but we could easily be dead—and we know it!

imageAs a driver you might shake your head at another person running a light or stop sign but you wouldn’t then condemn all drivers (or even most of them) as scofflaws. In fact, you probably just take it for granted and, unless there’s a major collision, don’t give it much thought at all. And isn’t that interesting? When someone operating a ton of metal does something risky or illegal, isn’t that infinitely more dangerous than say someone operating something as flimsy as a bicycle? Just sayin’!

I’m glad I did this little exercise. The next time somebody tells me that cyclists would be easier to tolerate if they followed the rules, I’ll whip this nugget of observation out and see where the conversation goes.

 


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Don’t Justify The “Cyclists are Scofflaws” Mindset

Years ago during a very rare visit from my parents, I let my Dad drive us up to Mt. Baker for a picnic. I did not let him drive us down. Blowing around corners much faster than the speed limit and crossing the double yellow lines while doing so, had me white knuckled, exhausted, and angry by the time we arrived at the top. Well not really the top top, just as far as the road would take us. Anyway, Dad was not happy that I bumped him from the driver’s seat and was rather surly for the rest of the day. He just didn’t understand why I was upset enough to take the keys away. When I told him that by not obeying the speed limit he could have killed us, his response was that speed limit signs were merely “suggestions,” he was in completely control, and knew what he was doing. Of course, the flip side to this is that he was very prone to road rage when other drivers didn’t follow the rules.Stop

Dad has long since departed from this world but unfortunately his ideas about traffic laws are still alive and well — as is his egocentric attitude that it is okay for him to break the rules but not for anyone else. I see it every day when I ride. Sadly some of what I see are bicyclists blatantly ignoring stop signs, stop lights, and other basic rules of the road. Look, I get it. Nothing is more annoying that stopping at a red light on a bike when the sensor doesn’t register that you are there and you have to wait for a car to pull up so it will change. I’ve been sorely tempted to run a red light or two when that happens. I’ve even asked a passing pedestrian to hit the walk button to change a light. It’s frustrating. Just as having to stop at stop signs every other block. But just because traffic rules are annoying and sometimes inconvenient doesn’t mean we get to be immune from them.

As cyclists, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect drivers to respect our right to share the road if we don’t respect and abide by the rules. If we believe its okay to blow through a stop sign because “we know what we’re doing” then you have to know that some other asshole behind a wheel believes the same thing. (Sorry Dad, but you were an ass behind the wheel.) The ultimate result of this kind of thinking is that someone gets killed — and it’s usually the cyclist. I was stopped at a busy crossroad when a roadie ran the stop sign. He turned to look to at me for a second, laughed and shook his head, like I was the idiot. He squeaked through traffic, leaving me wondering if he had a death wish.

Driver Cyclist HosingOne of the things I hear most often from non-cycling drivers is the complaint of cyclists blowing through stoplights and stop signs, not signaling, and hogging the road. It makes them angry and when there is a tragic accident involving a cyclist, it’s automatically assumed that the cyclist is at fault. Never mind that there are many cyclists out there that do obey the rules, people only remember the ones who don’t.

I can almost hear my Dad telling me what a pompous, preachy, idiot I’m being right now and maybe I am – at least a little. I’m just saying that cyclists get a bad enough rap as it is just for being out there, we don’t need to justify the idea that cyclists are all scofflaws and deserve whatever happens to them on the road.


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Butt Boils, Smoke Monsters, and Standing My Ground

Pacific AvenueOne of the many things I love about being on my bike is the imaginative free-for-all that takes place in my brain. (Read my post about the Smoke Monster. See below.) But sometimes I have to give it a rest deal with a real threat. Instead of the Smoke Monster from “Lost” haunting me along the trails, it’s some dickweed with a long, stringy pony tail in an old, beat up, dark, mini-pick-up filled with what looks like the paraphernalia of a handy man. Evidently, he haunts Pacific Avenue because twice now this summer this jerk of all trades has for no apparent reason — other than he must really hate bicyclists — harassed me while I’ve been riding.

Pacific Avenue between Iowa and Alabama is a two-lane road that is wide enough to accommodate parked cars, cyclists, and moving cars. I ride far enough to the right to be as out of the way of motor traffic as I can but far enough away from the parked cars to avoid the risk of being “doored.” In other words, it’s right where a bike lane would be — if there were a bike lane. Visibility on this section of the street is excellent, allowing drivers to easily see a rider, particularly one wearing a bright orange vest. And they can safely pass without any trouble.

But this dumb ass in the pick-up, which by the way is probably worth less than my bike, apparently leads such a pathetic life that the sight of a cyclist on the same road fills him with a blinding rage. He sees no other way to assuDickweedage his anger than to follow behind a cyclist (me) honking his horn and then zooming past perilously close with his middle finger extended.

The Smoke Monster at least had an excuse to be crazy. Try being trapped on a weird-ass island for hundreds of years as its protector. You’re dead and all you want is to take over another body so you can just get off the friggin’ island. Anyway, I don’t know if dickweed expects me to ram myself into a parked car to get out of his way or if he thinks I’ll wither at his abuse and ride on the sidewalk. But my guess is that he’s just a bully and a miserable human being. Maybe some Fred ran off with his wife.

Dirty HarryI don’t take it personally. I’m sure he behaves as badly with other cyclists as he does with me. Although a part of me would like to whip out a .357 magnum and go all Dirty Harry on his ass, that’s just my imagination escaping its cage. Besides, I don’t think the Stand Your Ground rule would apply, shame though that is. Fortunately, he is an aberration in this town — a boil on the butt of a bike-friendly community where drivers who are considerate and accommodating outnumber guys like this by…a lot. So I just have to content myself with a little silent name-calling (I’m sure to respond verbally to him would just further aggravate his road rage) and continue to ride where I want.