High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


Will Ride For Pizza

Little Shop of HorrorsIt got up to a scorching 84 degrees the other day but I barely noticed. I had three fillings and my last wisdom tooth removed. I’m hyper vigilant about dental care but thanks to bad genetics and living where they refuse to fluoridate the water, I’m basically screwed. Thank goodness for nitrous oxide, I may be screwed but at least I can get a high out of it every once in awhile. I initially thought I’d ride my bike to the dentist but there’s really no good way to go by bike. I may figure out a route someday but not on a day when I was getting a tooth yanked out of my mouth and had to ride home post-nitrous and numb to my eyeballs. Plus I strained my knee a couple of days before taking a hill a little too aggressively and another day of rest wasn’t a bad idea.

So I came home, whined sufficiently to my husband, popped some Tylenol, grabbed a book, and read for a bit as I waited rather impatiently for some feeling to return to my mouth. I don’t know why they can’t come up with an antidote for Novocain that actually works and doesn’t cost a fortune. They came up with a little blue pill that can put lead in a man’s pencil for next to nothing so you’d think they could give you something after a visit to the dentist so you didn’t have to walk around wondering if you had a line of drool dripping out of the corner of your mouth for the next several hours.

DooThe minute a little feeling returned I ate some ice cream with chocolate sauce to fortify myself before I tricked our little girl kitty with some cooked chicken so I could catch her and put her into the travel cage to take her to the Vet. She’s lost some weight recently and because she’s 12 (that’s 70 in human years in case you needed that bit of cat trivia) we decided we should get her checked out. Here’s where I tell you that I get super stressed and anxious taking my cats to the Vet. The only reason I don’t yowl and meow plaintively on the way there is that I try to set a good example for them. They don’t buy it for a second however and complain vociferously despite my best efforts. Fortunately our Vet is only about a mile away. I thought about taking my bike for about a second. Strapping a cage filled with an unhappy, loud cat is probably doable but just because it is doesn’t mean you should. Kitty is fine. But we were both exhausted from the trauma. It was 5:00 PM before I realized it was hot, but then I was too worn out to care.

Trader JoesThe next day though, was a different day and about 10 degrees cooler, I had full feeling in my mouth, my cat forgave me (a healthy portion of chicken helped), and my knee felt good enough to ride down to Trader Joe’s to pick up stuff to make a pizza later that night. I just wish they’d get their bike parking issue solved. Last time I went the already large bike rack was so full I had to lock my bike up to a bench. After fielding tons of complaints, the property manager has decided to do something about it. But who knows how many studies they’ll have to do before they get it resolved. I could resolve it in two seconds— just put up another bike rack! But that’s me. Worst case scenario: I just ride around the lot until some space opens up, aggravating all Canadians in their SUVs who come down for the cheap prices, vying for their own version of a parking space. Fortunately there was room on the rack and I didn’t have to annoy our neighbors to the North.

If you’ve read this far and are not comatose, you’re probably wondering what’s the point of this post. So am I. Just kidding. As much as I love to commute by bike and do so at every opportunity, there are times when it’s just not possible. It makes sense to pick up pizza fixins by bike, but not so much taking kitty to the Vet or riding with a nitrous hangover. But I eat pizza much more than I ever go to the Vet or dentist so there’s always someplace to ride.



National Bike Challenge 2013

NBC_webbanner_600x200_finalI’m well into the fourth month of the National Bike Challenge with close to 700 miles behind me. While it’s not as many as others have under their belts or tuchuses as the case may be, it’s still a lot of miles! With over 33,000 riders nationwide I rank in the top third, and among the 900-plus in Washington I’m in the top half. As for Bellingham, there are 14 riders registered but only three of us are logging in miles regularly. Here I’m ranking a close last. However, it’s not about competing with others, at least not for me. I only mention where I rank because I have to live up to my rep as being a font of useless information. What’s important is that I’m getting on my bike most days of the week and a enjoying the hell out of each and every mile.

A friend asked me recently if I would have had as many miles if not for the Challenge. My answer was that in the beginning, probably not. But as I kept choosing my bike over my car to rack up both points (you get 20 points each day you ride a mile or more) and miles, it simply became a habit to hop on my bike. I don’t even think about it much anymore. Going to the gym? Take my bike. Going to the store? Bike. Same with my knitting group, bank, and hairdresser. So those almost daily 6-12 mile trips, most of them being commuter miles, have steadily increased. In that sense, the Challenge did what it was designed to do which is to get people on their bikes more.

With just over a month to go, I’m already feeling kind of sad that this year’s Challenge is winding down. It’s been inspiring and a lot of fun. I wish there was something similar for the winter months because it isn’t as easy to be motivated to ride when the weather is wet and cold. But as I write this, it’s raining and cool and I’m getting ready to ride down to the gym. I haven’t even considered taking the car.


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.


Pelotonia from the Couch

knorWhile my daughter-in-law rode 50 miles in Pelotonia in Ohio on Saturday, August 10, I was sitting around in my sloppy gray sweatpants nursing a tweaked knee riding nowhere fast. Okay so I often sit around in my sloppy gray sweatpants, but hey… they’re comfy. The tweaked knee, not so much. I’m not even sure if the problem is my knee because my hamstring is tight and sore as well. Occasionally my upper calf feels funky too so let’s just say my right leg is in a bit of a mess at the moment.

How did I do it, you ask?  Well…I believe it was a combination of things. First, I took a seriously steep hill a little too aggressively a couple of weeks ago. Felt it in both my right hamstring and knee. Nothing sharp or severe and after two days rest, everything felt fine. In fact, I was feeling pretty strong on my bike and tried the higher gear same cadence schtick for about a week. Then there’s the fact that I’m in my young 50s, which is another way of saying I’m getting old and geeze.  Anyway, I woke up one morning and both my knee and hamstring felt tight and stiff again. Tried to work it out for a couple of days, but while it didn’t get worse, it wasn’t getting any better. So I began using ice, heat, and rest…lots of rest. It’s helping, slowly. Fifty may be the new thirty but not when it comes to injury recovery.

My husband is still asking what possessed me to do the higher gear thing, wondering about why I bothered to get a bike with 27 gears if I wasn’t going to use them. I hate to admit it but he’s right. Seems kind of of silly now. But whatever… I did it. I’m paying for it. Lesson learned. Injuries suck.

I haven’t been on my bike in days. I think riding flat would actually would be good but I’m waiting for a bike carrieGirlier to arrive today so I can get my bike down off this hill. (Actually, I could get down the hill; I just wouldn’t be able to come home!) I hate the idea of having to drive my car so I can ride but I only have drive a mile down to where I can park so it’s not too bad. Better than not riding at all that’s for sure! In the meantime, I’ve been taking short walks, working my core at the gym, and doing some mild stretching.

I was feeling a bit envious (and a bit sorry for myself) last Saturday as I thought of my daughter-in-law out on her ride. But when I saw the picture of her at the finish line all smiles and looking fantastic, the only thing I felt was proud. She rode 25 miles in Pelotonia last year saying she wanted to do 50 the next time and she did! This year she said could have easily done 75. I have no doubts that she will!


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.


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.



I’ll Take My Penguins To Go

stay-cool-and-ride-your-bikeOne of the major hurdles to getting more people commuting by bike is their fear of riding in traffic. Just the other day, I had a conversation with a young woman who was working the express lane at my grocery store. I rode down to pick up something for dinner, wearing my awesome and current favorite Fred shirt, the one with big, goofy penguins. She commented on my shirt (she loved it) and she asked me if I rode a lot. When I exuberantly told her I rode almost every day, she wistfully said she would love to ride her bike more but was terrified of traffic and getting hit. I understood her fear but took the opportunity to be a good bicycling ambassador and explained that with trails, bike lanes, and Bellingham being a fairly bike friendly city, getting around by bike in many areas of town was pretty safe. The key, I told her, was to be seen, be aware, and follow the rules of the road.

We are a society that has been conditioned to think that we are safest traveling in our cars. The truth is, more people die or are injured traveling by car or truck than by just about any other form of transportation including airplanes — and bicycles. And that’s per capita. We get in our cars and head out jabbering on our cell phones, texting, eating our lunch, putting on mascara, or zoning out to the radio without giving it a second thought. However, we’re much more concerned with getting on a bicycle (or in an airplane). Sure, accidents involving bicycles and planes are more dramatic and newsworthy, but people die everyday in their cars and we hardly bat an eye.


Fred Shirt

Fred Shirt

I didn’t get into all of this with the checker as the guy behind me was already getting his tighty-whities in a wad because our conversation continued for about two seconds after she handed me my receipt. I also think he had an aversion to both penguins and bikes and I didn’t want him to spot me out on the road and take me out in a fit of grocery store checkout lane rage.  But I hope I was sufficiently supportive and encouraging of her desire to ride more because from my perspective, the awesomeness of being on a bike far outweighs the risk.