High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


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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.

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So I Ride

Illinois LaneI ride because it’s fun. It’s also healthy, good for the environment, and my gas budget, but if it weren’t fun, none of that would matter. It’s what gets me on my bike almost every day, even when I’m tired, not feeling my best, or just not in the mood. No other form of “exercise” has equaled it. I used to love to run but I was injury-prone and couldn’t do it every day. I certainly couldn’t jog down to the store and come home with a 6-pound chicken for dinner. Walking is okay but definitely falls around midpoint on the fun scale. I enjoy it, especially when I’m walking with a friend, but I’m not exhilarated by it. Walking won’t get me out on a chilly, wet day like riding will either. I do go to the gym to work on strength training regularly. I’ve done so since I was in my mid 30s, which means I started around the Jurassic period. But until I started riding, it had become increasingly (and alarmingly) easy to blow off going when the mood struck. Now I eagerly look forward to the gym simply because I can get there on my bike.

Whatcom Falls Bridge 2013And I absolutely love getting places by bike. Doesn’t matter where. Drug store, groceries, hair appointment, library, even my doctor’s office (although my doctor would probably prefer me not showing up all sweaty and stinking), all easily within riding distance. Some places I don’t ride to because the trails won’t take me there and the traffic is insanely scary which I hate because Bellingham is a relatively small city and I feel there shouldn’t be anywhere where I can’t go without fearing for my life. Yeah I know, there are cyclists who’d say go anyway, but I’m not having fun if I think I might actually die. But those places are few so I really can’t complain…too much anyway.

Because I ride, Bellingham feels more intimate. Side streets and neighborhoods come alive with people, gardens, cats, dogs, and even wildlife like deer and raccoons. The trails are full of people—walkers, runners, other cyclists, bird watchers—who smile and wave at me as I cruise on by. I’m more connected to the rhythms of town as they pulse fast or slow depending on the time of day, the weather, the season. Every day is a new adventure. Every day is fun. So I ride.


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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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Vertigo: Not Your Cute and Cuddly Harbor Seal

I missed a couple of really good days for riding last weekend because I had a touch of vertigo. I started Friday morning out fine. Our friend, Sara Henry, from Vermont was crashing at our place while she attended a book convention called Booktopia at Village Books. Interestingly (or not…your choice), Sara is the one who got me into cycling years ago when we both lived in Nashville and belonged to the same writing group. Now she’s busy writing novels like Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place while I’m blogging about not being able to ride because I’m sick.

Anyway, shortly after breakfast after Sara and I continued to catch up, the vertigo struck. I don’t get vertigo often. I think the last time I had it was well over 5 years ago. But let me just say, it sucks. If you’ve never had it, it’s like being seasick minus the adventure. And I know seasick. I can get queasy just looking at waves. One time when I was out fishing on the Oregon Coast in gently rolling waves, I was characteristically yakking over the side when a huge sea lion surfaced about 10 feet away. Big sea lions are not the cute, cuddly harbor seals I was more familiar with. This guy was positively monster-esque. It snorted. I screamed. Fortunately, I managed not to aspirate my lunch at the same time. Unperturbed the sea lion hung out for a bit then slipped beneath the surface again. I continued to chum for fish and a mighty fine time was had by all.

With a bad case of vertigo, it’s like you’ve been sucked into a vortex where everything is spinning and rolling and closing your eyes does nothing to mitigate it. So there you are wishing you could die because the vortex won’t stop and hoping that when the next wave of wracking nausea overwhelms you and you hurl your Cheerios topped with strawberries that you actually hit the big metal bowl your husband put beside the bed so you won’t have to hire a carpet cleaner the next day. No refreshing sea breezes, no National Geographic moment, just you, the relentless dizziness, and your big metal barf bowl. BORING!

Fortunately, Friday’s vertigo was mild and everything was only a little wobbly kind of like when you have that extra glass of wine you promised yourself you’d forswear. Ira had to drive Sara to Village Books for the convention. I felt okay enough to ride shotgun but only after assuring Ira I was most likely not going to yak and promising him I would roll down the window in time if my assurance was for naught. The vertigo eventually subsided but I spent the rest of the next two days being completely useless, reading other bike blogs, writing this post, and generally feeling like dreck.

Sara was a great sport about it all and I really enjoyed spending time with her. I’ll get back on my bike again as soon as I can drag my carcass off the couch.


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Chicken On Board

There’s not a lot that gives me more of a kick than putting a whole chicken in my panniers, hauling it home, and cooking it on our rotisserie grill. It makes me feel like a total bad ass. Not in the super hot, Mossad-trained-female-assassin-turned-NCIS-agent sort of way but hey, when you look like this…

it’s as close to this…

as I’m gonna get. Especially when picking up said chicken happens after I’ve spent a couple of hours with my knitting group. The other day I was telling my knitting buds that my next stop was at the store for a chicken pick-up. They all thought this was totally cool and hysterical at the same time. One of them suggested that I get a yellow “Chicken on Board” sign to put on my bike. In the Bad Assery department, it would, admittedly, not be as bad ass as having a sign that said “Magnum .357 on Board” but then, if I did have one on board I’d have to dig it out of my panniers first which would make the whole point of having one moot anyway.

Oh man! Once I’ve cooked that chicken up, it tastes totally awesome. Seriously, you haul a 5-6 pound chicken up hill a few miles, along with whatever else you couldn’t resist buying, and see if it’s not the best damn chicken you ever tasted!

Anyway, if you happen to be one of the few moronic drivers in Bellingham who don’t like sharing the road with cyclists, fair warning. DO NOT mess with me when I’m carrying my chicken. I will stab you with my knitting needles.


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Bare Booties on Bikes? Thanks Butt I’ll Pass

Tomorrow, Friday, June 7th is Bellingham’s Annual Naked Bike Ride part of a world-wide movement that began almost a decade ago that is part activism to promote bicycle-friendly environments, and part protest against fossil fuels with a Mardi Gras-esque atmosphere. Naked, scantily clad, and body-painted riders pedal through town, bringing attention (lots of it I’m sure) to their cause.

Naked Bike Rides
I’m all for anything that promotes cycling and I’m sure this is one terrific attention grabber. But naked? On a bike? To me that’s like grilling naked. Man, you’re just asking for a butt-load of hurt. Literally. I’ll skip the ride. But hey, I’ll be with them in spirit. Maybe I’ll take my clothes off and do a quick run through the house.
The ride starts at 4PM near Astor and I streets, one block from West Holly Street, winds through downtown and “may end up in Fairhaven.” I guess if the Chamois Glide begins to wear off the ride will end sooner.

Time for me to put my padded-shorts, place hind-end on bike, and head on out. I’m also wearing my heavier duty sports bra for good measure.


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No Place Like Home

Santa Rosa Bike Rack

Ira and I dodged a bullet last week by being in Santa Rosa, CA, visiting our son and granddaughter thereby missing Bellingham’s heat wave that saw temperatures edging close to 90. We were doubly lucky because Santa Rosa’s temperatures were hovering in the mid to upper 70’s. It would shave been wonderful biking weather but alas my bike was home.
I thought about biking a lot while I was down there. It was hard not to—there were a lot of cyclists on the roads taking advantage of the flat landscape and numerous bike lanes. To all outward appearances, it seemed to be a very bike-friendly city complete with cute bike racks gracing the downtown area. I would have been envious except for one thing—the traffic! Seriously, between the amount of it, the general lack of courtesy, and in some cases the blatant hostility, it was a bit of a shock. Even walking in a “marked crosswalk” with a toddler in tow doesn’t guarantee that traffic will stop for you. It was quite a different reality from what I’m used to here in Bellingham. The thought of riding a bike even in an established bike lane in that environment was enough to give me a huge case of the willies. Our son, Dan, only lives three miles from work and could easily bike to work, but he won’t. He’s no wimp; he used to do triathlons. But Santa Rosa has an unusually high number of bike fatalities each year and while a good percentage of those happen in more rural areas, not all of them do.  
So while I did think about cycling a lot down there, I contented myself by playing with my granddaughter and spending time with Dan, all while enjoying some really lovely weather. I may wish there were more cycling amenities here at home but frankly, I’ll take    the slower, friendlier pace anytime.