Wednesday, April 29, 2009

please scroll down...

Hey, I've been putting off publishing a few posts. The dates that appear are when I actually wrote them. I'll try to be more prompt but can't guarantee it. (See two posts below.) Thanks for understanding.

To update, I'm going to ride the Bike for Women course again tonight with my friends and since seeing my doctor yesterday, I've regained my balance. Say "yes!" to pharmaceuticals.

I've patched the flat (yes, Manny, patched) on my commuter. Oh, I guess I didn't mention that when I grabbed my commuter on Sunday morning it had a flat from my commute home on Friday. Snapped a fender on the road bike and cut 10 minutes off my ride into work. Isn't that nuts?

Alright folks. It's been a beautiful day in Anchorage. I've spent much of it finishing my comments on the Far North Bicentennial Park Trails Improvement Plan and delivering books to my distributor (a sure sign of spring). I saw a couple bees on the buds on one of my trees this afternoon. The leaves are about to open. The aerobars are attached to my road bike. It's spring.

Monday, April 27, 2009


A couple years ago, just before we went on a mountain biking road trip in the Lower-48, I started getting dizzy. I'd be in the shop talking to someone and lose my sense of which way was up. I'd steady myself on a counter or a bike or a fixture but the feeling of being unsteady on my feet had me worried. Probably caused by a sinus infection, my doctor figured, knowing that fall is the time of year when I historically got them. So, off I went on vacation with a bunch of drugs.

I remained unsure of my balance for several months. Wouldn't even get on a ladder. The strange thing is, I never felt off-balance when I was on my bicycle. When the vertigo returned a few days ago, I didn't want to drive to work. I just didn't feel that safe, but on my bike I had no sensation that the earth was tipping above and below me in different directions. I felt perfectly normal. And this, according to my doctor is a perfectly normal phenomenon that happens to people with vertigo.

Everyday things like walking around or looking up toward a high shelf can cause me to reach out for something solid. But when we're doing our sport, our "thing," it goes away. But I think the sensation is clouding my days a little, making it a bit tough to concentrate, like something's moving around in my head. Then this morning, the clock-radio turned on and there it was: a story about little rocks in a sack that help us keep our balance.

I'd tried some of these maneuvers before, but the link to this particular movement looked pretty simple, so I tried it. Jon watched the video and timed me as I turned my head to different positions, then sat up. But the thing is, it made it worse! It's like I took the antidote while recovering and now it's come back as strong.

So I'm walking a little slower through the house, being careful of my every move, hoping that soon my balance will be fully restored. It's like vertigo is a metaphor to my life right now... there's something to ponder!

I'm signed up to race this Sunday in the Bike for Women. Not a long race, just a nine-miler with 500 women. I'm glad I still have my balance on the bike, but I'm resetting my expectations for how fast I can be. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 20, 2009

it's about the pants

my little racer, on the Ship Creek trail summer '08

I was talking with my stylist this morning (yeah, I know: make sure my hair looks good when I take off my helmet) telling her I planned on a bike ride later in the day. That's when she said she doesn't like biking. So I asked her why she didn't like it. Any guesses? Yep, without giving any details, she said it hurts her bottom. We all know what she's talking about, right?

And just like so many customers I've helped at the shop, I let her in on some little secrets: some saddles are shaped better for women and those pants we wear, they're padded. It was her "aha moment" and she even pondered aloud trying biking this year because it might just not cause her to suffer.

This time of year people are reminded that there is a bit of a break-in period for their posteriors when they first return to the bike after a long winter. But none of that pain should be the kind of pain that makes your... you know... your "stuff" hurt. If it does, you've got to change something. Shorts and saddles are no place to scrimp. If it doesn't fit, get ride of it!

Though I've been on bikes much of the winter, it's always an adjustment to be on the road bike again. A few miles into my 20-mile ride, I made a small adjustment to my saddle. No point in thinking I'll remember to fix it later; better to make the change when I notice it so I'll know it's dialed in for the season.

Despite enjoying a little speed on my outing, I'm still at heart a mountain biker and a cycle tourer. The fact that I signed up for a short road race does not mean I'm a racer. It just means that I decided to set a goal for a change. So, here's my goal. Back in 2005, my time was 30.21 (35th place!). I'd like to do as well as I did that year, but I know it'll be hard. There are only two more weeks to go. I'd better do a few commutes on the road bike to get more comfortable with the handling again. Then just ride, ride, ride.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

bird encounters in threes

Spring is the return of birds
birds in motion
migrating birds
year-round birds

Wednesday's birds
a circling pair
hawks, high above
the Campbell Creek

drawing figure eights
chasing away ravens
seeking smaller birds
and rodents to plunder

and so graceful above us
we stopped and turned
our heads up to the sky
warmed by the daylight

Friday, the teal of a mallard
caught my eye
on the side of the road it rested,
his mate nearby

they are back
and my day is happier
their journey almost done
to their summer home

Sunday, pedaling along
a park road
on a quiet, sunny

A movement
a flash of brilliant
blue set off by the sun
ah, sweet sunshine

There, in the dried brush
of last fall
on the side of the road
two jays perched

I pedaled by
thrilled at the vision
of the blue
the sharp, black crown

each spring this chance
arises, we slow down
look, listen. we can
watch the world awaken

(picture of Stellar's jay)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

commuter, commuter

One way for me to motivate myself in the springtime is to sign up for an event. On May 3rd, I'll do a short race called the Bike for Women. When I say "short," I do mean short, at around nine miles. About the length of my commute. But the race gives me a reason to build my miles and actually push myself. So, on Monday, I'd planned to do my second ride of the season on the road bike. That was before we got about a quarter inch of snow overnight.

Plan B was to ride to an early evening meeting. But, which bike? That's when I pulled the single-speed from the wall, aired the tires and installed the pedals. Wiped a little gunk off the chain and called it ready to ride.

Though I'd taken the road bike out last week, I still had in mind the weight, sound and resistance of my winter commuter with its SnowCat (44mm) rims and studded 2.3 tires. Do I need to tell you that riding that baby is a little tiresome when 90 percent of my commute is free from ice? But the full-fendered ss was just the ticket. Tires not too narrow when riding through all the sand and gravel on the path, the bike was almost silent, except for a little rattle of the fenders when I went over bumps.

Next day I rode it to work, keeping up with Jon on his 29er studded bike. The only place I couldn't ride was on the short stretch of the Tour of Anchorage route where the hard-packed snow trail from a week ago is giving way to slush. Jon had to push for part of it as well. Pretty soon we won't be able to commute through the park; it'll be too muddy. But I didn't mind walking my little friend down the trail.
here's my little buddy

Yet, I still haven't figured out why I enjoy riding this bike so much. It's the simplest in the fleet, and there's nothing new-tech on it. I wonder: Is it because I don't have to shift, but just decide whether to sit or stand to pedal up a hill? Is it because it has the perfect gear for me. Is it because it makes me feel strong and in balance? Is it because I can sit more upright on it as I ride through neighborhoods?

Whatever the reason, it's nice to have a bike on which I enjoy commuting, while also being so unassuming that it doesn't draw much attention when it's locked in a bike rack.

Now, as the snow continues to recede, I will put more miles on the road bike so I can be comfortable with the handling for the race. My goal is to be as fast as or faster than my time from 2005. (Will have to find out what it was!) Next week, I'll be sure to get out on it for a long ride, I just hope the single-speed understands.

Friday, April 10, 2009

turn, turn, turn

Spring is a long, awkward season in Anchorage. The streets and paths vary from crunchy ice to slushy, from running rivulets to ponds, or even dry and dusty. And that's just within a mile of my house. Turning it into a nine-mile commute just means I'm grinding through more bumpy, crusty ice in the morning. In the evenings, it's slush and running water with a cover of ice that's as fragile as the crust on creme brulee. What flies up from the trail is not nearly as tasty. (Note to self, re-install the front fender that fell off last week while riding the very bumpy trail.)

This week I tried it all. Commuting with the studded-tire bike, described above. Then on Wednesday, after hearing that the road conditions were shaping up on the west side, I installed pedals and a saddle on my road bike and hauled it across town in the car to check for myself. Despite a little water on the road in places and some sand and gravel on the sides, it felt great to get out on the light, skinny-tired bike - it probably weighs 10 pounds less than the commuter!

Around the airport, float planes were tied down on the shore of Lake Hood. Others were still out on the lake, though they'll have to be removed before the ice melts. Soon. After riding on the smooth roads, effortlessly accelerating away from the intersections, the thought of getting back on the commuter just is not appealing at all. I'm done with it. I want to be on something light and fast. Something that is silent, instead of filled with the buzzing vibration of each carbide stud as it hits the pavement. Then today, I had a chance to do a snow ride.

Yesterday, Jon had the day off and hit the snow trails in Bicentennial Park & the Campbell Tract on his Pugsley. Hardpacked and perfect, he told me. So after breakfast, we headed out on the snow bikes. A little soft at first. Dirt was starting to show through the white snow. Ash is still on top of the snow, making it melt faster. Tour of Anchorage. Blue Dot. Getting softer in the open areas where it gets more sun. Lower tire pressure helped. Baseball Boogie had some ice on it. Last time I rode it, everything was hardpacked - in prime condition. Then we made our way to the Trail of Many Names (Area 51, Regen., Speedway) where, had I followed my instincts, I never would have ventured.
see what I'm mean?

The section that skirts the meadow was so rotted that every tree root and stump was exposed. Mud and slush, I walked a bit, looking around the meadow at plants that have started emerging from the snow. A moose chewed on the bark of a downed tree. Back in the trees, it was mostly rideable, until we came to a few more open areas.

anybody for a slushie?

A ride like today's, while fun, signals an end for the winter riding season. Unless we get a late snow followed by some cold weather, this was it for the Pugsley. Now it's time for a month and a half of pavement riding until we can ride on the dirt trails in June. Ah, June. It seems so far away.

listing through a midlife crisis

Whether we write them down or not, we all keep some kind of list of what we want to do with our lives. Last week, my friend Andromeda posted her list of books to read in the next 5 years to fill in the gaps, so to speak. Classics, more recent fiction, future award winners. I like the idea of the future books because the quintessential book for this decade may still be just an outline on a yet-unknown author's laptop.

Now, I'm not typically a list maker. Even when I do make a list, it's sometimes just so I can cross off things I've already done. Laundry: check! But lists have a place in our lives as a way to sort our thoughts. The very fact that I'm not good at lists probably means I need them more than anyone. Without them, my days off work slip by until I'm another year older and haven't done, well, that thing that's on my long-term list.

This year will be another milestone year. I'm in the midst of the decade for midlife crises, the perfect time to start lists, right? So, I'll try to make this brief. My list is for places I want to visit. Because one thing I'd like to do is to fill my passport so that I'll need a new one. Now that Canada is a passport-required country, I'll start there:
1) Western Canada - I'd like to visit my friends Mary & Peter in Whitehorse.
2) Eastern Canada - I'd also like to visit Nova Scotia & Newfoundland.
3) Japan - In high school I became good friends with a girl from Japan. We've lost and found and lost each other over the years. Once I find her again, I'm going.
4) Ireland - ah, the mother country to some of the ancestors. On my list since I was a kid.
5) England - because it's right on the way, I'm part English and just because.
6) Morocco - because I want to see and feel northern Africa for myself.
7) Germany & Poland - I feel drawn to visit and I'll explain when I get back.
8) Italy - It's only this far down on the list because I was there a year ago. I want to go back with Jon to bicycle around. Or backpack. And sit at a cafe table in a piazza watching a water fountain.
9) France - by bicycle. Eating, drinking and pedaling.
10) Russia - starting with St Petersburg, and beyond, on the condition that our Russian-speaking friend can join us and translate!

Part 2 - I know I mentioned biking in the first section, but here's my Where I want to bike tour list (for some I won't even need a passport):
1) Continental Divide trail. I want to ride the entire length in one season.
2) Northern U.S. - I'd like to ride across the country, the northern route (with some variations).
3) China, Nepal, Tibet, India. By bike or backpack, I want to visit these countries.
4) Australia - I like the idea of going to a southern hemisphere country during our winter (as we did with New Zealand a few years back) for a bike tour.
5) ...

This is just a start of my list. But when I began it the other day, it surprised me how much better I felt about this upcoming summer bike season and the goals I've set for myself. I no longer feel that I won't have time to visit these places before the body starts its decline into old age (quiet, you people who haven't hit four-oh yet!) In fact it all seems very organized. Now, if I could only decide what book to read next.