Saturday, November 29, 2008

i'm serial

On Friday I was at the ReadAlaska Book Fair, working a table, plugging my book. One thing I love about this annual event at the Anchorage Museum is that I see lots of people I know. People I know from all different walks of life. Some bike people; some not.

One person who came by the table was David, my mandolin teacher. "What?" you ask. We didn't know you play the mandolin. Well, David keeps making the assumption that I've been playing, practicing my chords and tunes, but today I admitted to him in front of witnesses that I am a serial hobbiest. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you share my affliction. for those not familiar, let me explain:

Back in 2002, I walked across the street from the shop where I still work and ordered a mandolin. Never played one, but I like the sound and I like the size. I have a bit of a music background, so figured I'd pick it up just fine. I played and practiced, every evening learning scales and tunes, then moving on to chords. Started playing a bit with friends. Then in 2004, also known as the Year of the Book, I learned to knit.

Knitting became my writer's block refuge. Not sure what I wanted to say that day? Sit down with the Stitch 'n Bitch book and learn a new technique. Scarf, hats, socks, vest, mittens, NPR. Yarn store, books. Knit for a few hours and wonder where the time went. Instead of paragraphs, I had rows of stitches and was making my way up to an armhole. Felted mittens came into play (the most useful thing I made since they're fabulous for winter cycling).

Away went time to play music; I was making things. But in a few years, I drifted away from my proposed knitting projects. I can't quite pinpoint how this happened. But I have been writing more - if only here on this blog.

Then we come to the museum. Talking with David, then talking with a photographer I know about maybe learning to take better photos, then with a watercolor artist about the beauty of plein air painting, then a felt artist about the process of working with wool and silk to create her shawls and scarves. I thought about all the things I would love to learn, different things I'd like to try in order to gain more understanding and appreciation for different art forms. Did I mention pottery?

I've come to believe that learning new skills keeps the mind sharp. I told David this and I think he got what I was saying. But I guess it's sad that I haven't pulled out the ol' mandolin in quite some time, not to mention the circular knitting needles. If only I was able to manage my time in such a way that I could fit in all the things I enjoy. Returning to something, just like starting in the first place just takes a first step. Right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

ghost bike

A few days ago, Jon and I were driving through Midtown and saw a Ghost Bike. It was white, covered in frost -- a stark sight. I hadn't known it was there, but quickly realized that this was a memorial to a young man whose name I didn't yet know. I found out later it was placed at the intersection after a memorial ride, attended by about a dozen cyclists who then dispersed into the wintery night.

There's no name on the bike. But it was placed there in memory of Jonathan Johnson. According to the local paper, Jonathan was struck by an SUV on October 20th as he rode his bike through the intersection of 40th Avenue and C Street. It was during the early morning commute. He was 19.

I didn't know him, but I did learn that he was the oldest of six kids. Anyone who has lost a sibling suddenly, tragically and so young can relate to the grief that this is causing them. As his brothers and sisters mark life’s milestones, they will hopefully grow into adulthood and lead satisfying lives while Jonathan will be forever remembered as he was. Nineteen.

Today I stopped by the site and stood near the bike as cars zoomed past or stopped at the intersection. Nobody asked me what I was doing, what the bike meant. Maybe they knew. Maybe they weren't curious enough to ask. As I crossed the street back to my car, the walk light came on and two cars made right turns in front of me before I could step off the curb. That's Anchorage. We must be ever vigilant.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

winter biking with the travel guy

So there I was checking the email and hitting the links in my emails when I went to a site with a very short winter biking video. And it's filmed partly at the shop where I work. You never know what's going to happen when you have a day off.

Scott McMurren is the guy you want to know when you're looking for great travel deals in and around & to and from Alaska. He loves this place and his enthusiasm is contagious. Can you tell? Now I think I should get my handlebar-cam set up so I can get some winter footage. I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the good, the bad & the ugly

Two recent stories in the Anchorage Daily News highlight some of the ups and downs of commuting in Anchorage. While we have a great system of recreational trails, many of us commute on more direct routes, such as on roads and streetside paths where we must remain incredibly diligent about safety at every single intersection. Not to say that I'm not careful when I'm in my car, but we're a little less visible and much more exposed when on our bikes.

Years ago, when I was learning to drive a car, my brother Mike told me this: always expect the other person to do the wrong thing. Good advice whether you're driving a car, riding a bike or even on foot -- don't expect people to see you or wait for you. It's been years since I listened to that advice, but its simplicity is something everyone on the roads and trails should remember.

The least pleasant part of the commute: the nasty fumes
from poorly-maintained vehicles and diesel trucks.
Why do drivers want to floor it to go by me?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

and the senator from alaska is...

Today, Alaska is closer to a resolution. After months of campaigning, early voting, election day and two weeks of wondering since that day, we found out who won the US Senate race. Maybe. Because with close races, there's bound to be a recount, though I do have faith in our voting system.

The contenders, in case you've been sequestered for the last year were: an incumbent, convicted felon, octogenarian (I have nothing against people in their 80s. My parents are in their 80s. But neither of them should be starting a six-year term in the Senate) who wishes he could spend more time with the grandkids; and the current two-term Anchorage mayor. Tonight, the local paper declared Mayor Mark Begich the winner.

Besides hoping for a new senator, I've been hoping I can hold my head high when I next visit the Lower-48. I mean, it was hard enough explaining Governor Palin to my sensible Midwest siblings. How would I have begun to explain Alaska politics had Stevens won? Just look at the numbers: he got 147,004 votes, while 150,728 went to Begich. Not a huge margin, but a win nonetheless. There are a few more out-of-state mail-in votes to be counted, but I think it's over.

It's a sad end to a long career and I even hope that Stevens skips the appeal and just asks W for a pardon. Isn't that what the last days of a presidency are for? Now the lesson for us all: don't accept gifts you don't want and be diligent with your paperwork.

Now, on to biking topics!

Monday, November 17, 2008

good to be out


Sunday I had a lovely commute to and from work. Snow was falling in the morning and I didn't have to rush to get there on time. It felt good to ride the route with snow under my wheels. On the way home, Jon and I took our favorite little commuting route through the woods - Lynx Trail, Moose Track, Salmon Run. We stopped to look at the ice on the creek. Not too cold. It was nice to be on a route I know so well riding by the light of my headlamp.

Truth be told, up until Saturday yours truly hadn't been outdoors on the bike in a week. The temps were rising but instead of riding to work, I have been in the midst of making changes. If there's one thing a biking vacation tells me, it's what kind of shape I'm in. This year, not so good. Not enough long rides to make long rides in the sun easier. It didn't help that I acquired what I called "desert crud" just a week into the trip. Darn cough morphed into bronchitis, the other reason I thought I'd stay indoors.

Instead of subjecting my sad lungs to the cold, I climbed on board the trainer. I know, I know! But sometimes it's the only way. The happy part is that the new trainer we have is less boring than the old one. It rocks! Literally, it rocks. It's a Kinetic Rock & Roll and it sways from side to side when I ride. I think it makes it more comfortable because it's more like riding on the road, but without the fear of crashing on rollers.

The other change is that I'm trying to make time to go to Pilates. It's been ages but I went to last Monday's class and my abs still hurt when I arrived at the Wednesday class! I'm not big on suffering, but feeling that muscle soreness told me one thing: they were working.

One thing that keeps me from going to Pilates classes is that it doesn't work with my bike commute. So my goal is to find a balance of enough commuting, enough Pilates and enough riding on the trainer. Plus knowing when to say "enough!," and push away my dinner plate. Now that's hard.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

the buzz

After over four years of work and talk, fundraising and planning, then even more work, Singletrack Advocates (STA) has a new network of trails that are open and ready to ride. And after last Friday, the trails have some possible names. I say possible names, because the names for which a group of STA volunteers voted must go through a lengthy process before being approved.

First there's a committee, appointed by the Mayor. The committee decides on the names, which go to the Parks & Recreation board. After approval, they go to the Anchorage assembly where they will, hopefully, be approved. Then the signs are printed and installed. Pretty soon the names appear on maps. Quite a process.

But for Anchorage-area cyclists and other trail users, I give you Trail Names. Because the only way for these trails to know their names is for us to use them. If you've been on the trails lately, you've seen signs for Intermediate, Advanced and Connector routes. They are:
The Hive (the outer-most loop which is marked with blue reflectors and signs that say "Intermediate);
Stinger (the inner, "Advanced" loop, marked with either red or white reflectors);
Janice's Loop (runs southwest of The Hive to a connector trail);
Drone Lane (connector trail which connects Janice's Loop to the trailhead which is just south of the Hilltop nordic ski jumps.

Are you lost yet? Ok. Then go to this website and register as a member so you can view the map that's posted there. It'll all make sense when you see the map.

Now get on out there. And may I suggest that if you are a snowshoer, could you go out and pack down that fresh snow?

Friday, November 7, 2008

go ahead and ask

The excitement and decisiveness of Barack Obama's win on Tuesday was tempered locally by the continuing strangeness of Alaskan politics. I know, this blog is supposed to be about biking, so, yes, I did bike to the polls on Tuesday, then into work. Where I spent the early part of the afternoon alternating between working and hitting the "refresh" at NPR's election map before we hooked up a t.v. and started watching the coverage as it unfolded, flipping from NBC to PBS to Comedy Central. Later, we joined friends to watch more numbers come in.

So much has been said in the last couple days, what can I add but my voice with others around the nation to celebrate this victory. I'm happy about what it says about our country, that we can transcend a history of painful racial divisions to elect a man for the ideas he brings and (to use the words of Dr. King) for "the content of his character." I add my tears of joy to those of people from all backgrounds because now I feel we are united more than ever before. It is truly beautiful.

But, while watching the national returns lifted our hopes, the local results brought on a sense of frustration and disappointment. For those of you in the Lower-48 and the rest of the world, this whole Senate race isn't over yet. There are tens of thousands of early votes to count. There's still a chance that Mark Begich will unseat Stevens. And if he doesn't, I imagine you can chalk up a win for the Republicans after Stevens resigns and the special election puts our now world-famous governor into a Beltway position in the US Senate. (That's my unhappy prediction, shared by many others here.) Count every vote, I say, until we know who wins this race!

Monday, November 3, 2008

evolution of a vote

Early this past February, as I made my way to the Super Tuesday Alaska Democratic Caucus, I wasn't sure who I would support in this election. I parked my car almost a mile from Begich Middle School and began walking past the cars that lined the road, all on their way to caucus. It was the longest traffic jam I've ever seen in Anchorage. Inside the school, things were even more chaotic.

In the small gymnasium it was find your precinct, take a card, wait a long time, then disperse to your designated classroom. For my precinct, almost half of us couldn't fit in the room! While I was excited about the process and the enthusiastic turnout, I left the school without casting a vote and feeling dismayed that I had missed the speeches that should have swayed my vote.

Later that month, as I headed off to a trip overseas, I took Barack Obama's book Dreams from my Father. I didn't have much time to read it until the end of the trip when I stayed with my parents for a week in Wisconsin. I kept remembering the optimism of a shopkeeper in Rome telling me that, based on astrology and my earth sign, this was a good year for me and this was also a good year for Obama. (I haven't really evaluated my year, but his has been going pretty well.)

As candidates left the race, I would remove their bookmarks from my browser and pretty soon with my increased familiarity with Obama's background and positions, I was ready to jump in with my support. Watching and reading his speeches helped solidify my views. I trust him.

Finally, with the election tomorrow, I'm ready to head to my polling place (I like to vote on Election Day). Then after work we'll get together with friends in what we hope will be a great celebration for Obama and for some of our statewide candidates - please, please, please. We may even head to Election Central to take in the atmosphere if things look like they're going our way.

But, I still wonder about people who haven't made up their minds; who say they don't know enough about the candidates and their positions. My goodness, if they have access to a library, bookstore or a computer; if they're willing to read some of the analysis from a multitude of sources, they should be able to figure this out. Let's hope they make the best choice on Tuesday. Of course that's code for: I hope they vote for Obama!