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Entries in biking (28)

Saturday
Jun092012

Casa Kansas

Kansas street house just minutes before pulling away for the last time in May 2012

The previous post was a long way of saying I moved house. But it didn't do justice when it comes to saying what I left behind. The old house at 3967 Kansas Street was a place that deserves some words. It is the first place that Kelli and I lived in and actually liked and had no real reason to leave except that it was far from where our bread is buttered up in Escondido. It was the first place we did a ritual walkabout in the last days before leaving, honoring what the house meant to us for the two years and eight months we were there.

Here on the site, I just created a gallery that illustrates much of the really memorable stuff that made Casa Kansas special. Why not go see it. There are considerable notes to accompany the pictures, and you can view larger version in the lightbox mode. Just click.

Hiding in Public

For some years now, I've not reported on where I lived for some concern about my old man and his history of snooping us out and sometimes doing some unwelcome stuff. The last that happened was in the last days of our previous house on Nashville St. I had made the mistake of giving out the address there to someone in mutual contact, and I think that might have made it easy for him to pay us a visit, unbidden. 

But there is a lot of life that happens at one's house and it sucks to keep that from the official record. (I just happen to keep a publicly viewable record.) The fact is though, Casa Kansas was nearly more a community hangout than just "our house." Lots of people knew where it was because it was a hub of community life for us. In fact, I counted 70 people who graced us with their presence at our dinners, parties, or JEM related work including podcast recording sessions. And really, there's a feeling in me that begs to be honored with a public telling of the story of how life was so rich there.

Backstory

I found it in a different way than others of our houses. I was driving the neighborhood as a volunteer delivery driver for Special Delivery in September 2009. My eyes were open for places then because our old place on Nashville was in foreclosure and it seemed an unstable place, and I wasn't satisfied that our landlords could hold it together. One day while delivering to the apartment complex next door, I spotted the sign on this house and by late September had put the money down on it. It is in a richly varied part of town, with some of the most innovative and interesting restaurants, plenty of walkable streets with services and just as far from church as the previous house had been. About the only thing not to like was the commute home from work. I had just agreed to move to a place upon one of the great mesas in San Diego, from a place that was closer to sea level and at about the same elevation as where I worked. In 2009 though, that was a welcome challenge, seeing how that was my pinnacle of biking activity. After paying my deposit at Kansas, I went to the bike shop and got a new cog for my fixed gear bike, a lower gear for making the hill at Washington St. near work. I would do that hill at least five times a week for the coming year and more.

At $1500 rent, even as I signed up I felt queasy. Kelli was just freshly out of her hospital residency, so her stipend was no more. I was earning about $2400 take home then, sometimes less, to the tune of about $2200. I had no idea how we'd do it if she didn't get work in the coming months. It was kind of miraculous how we held it together. Casa Kansas left me feeling quite overextended. But it was a charming 3-bedroom in a charming, walkable neighborhood, and near work and church for me. Bikeable area that was also near Jubilee Economics Ministries office too. But this house was also the latest in a series of ever-rising rent rates that we faced. Rents at my old place on Quapaw were enviably low for me, at $150. The thought was not lost on me at Casa Kansas that our new rate was TEN TIMES that. Of course, Quapaw was an unusual deal even in the Kelli year (it went up to $450 then), but still...the margin it allowed to work or not work, to risk living a bit was nice. It just came at a steep emotional price. In between Quapaw and Kansas, there were more realistic rates that climbed each time we moved, for the most part: $775 at our first apartment; $600 up to $800 at the Calabrese Compound (the shift was when we lost one roommate and split the $1200 into thirds instead of quarters); $1200 for our share at Nashville, and now $1500 for the entire place at Kansas. It was dizzying. And worrying.

Thanksgiving dinner 2010 with the MHUCC young adults bunchThanksgiving 2010 with Young Adults group

Open House, Community Hub

Setting that aside for a bit, we opened our place up to friends from church and other circles. The young adults group at church was the first major bunch of new friends that came by for the Thanksgiving dinner about a month or so after we moved in. A few of them, Margie, Nichol, and Amanda, helped us move in a scramble when the Nashville house situation crumbled a bit faster than we planned. I got a box truck from work, and one buddy from there helped out too for a couple nights. The whole Kansas era was one defined by community life, and Kansas had the most open door so far.

The place had the charm that accompanies houses of its kind. A craftsman style place from 1922, it was pushing 90 years old when we got there. Stylish and useful built in cabinets and drawers, wood floors (mostly), a pretty big kitchen, and other features from days gone by were things that were functional and novel to tell people about. Being so centrally located was handy. Being in walking distance to a dozen quality restaurants was an easy hook to "come over to my place." It was in short distance to Balboa Park where the Critical Mass ride launches once a month (I rode it several times), and where three dog runs were available. The JEM office was just a mile away so it made it easy for Lee Van Ham to ride over and do podcasts and other media work. It wasn't far out of the way so I might have Kelli drop me off at church and then I'd just bum a ride back with someone going that way. We had Sunday dinners with spontaneous lists of folks. Kelli had a bible study series. Birthdays, New Years Day wine parties, and other events all happened there.

Backdrop for Life

Even aside from what actually happened onsite, the Kansas years were the backdrop for a great many developments for both of us and the communities we operate in: my male initiation and the trip to New Mexico a year later that was as important; we had time and will to do some regional travel to desert locations like Death Valley, Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, and other regional points; Kelli became a professional chaplain by getting not one but two hospice positions while there; she was ordained too; I was let go from my job but spent considerable time helping Jubilee Economics Ministries with all manner of digital tools; so too with the newly created Women Who Speak In Church, a way to help Kelli and Amanda network with other women in ministry, especially those getting into it; I briefly rehearsed some music with MHUCC players there and also made the most strides in a long time, trying to get back to making music with the help of the nearby store, New Expressions Music and a couple Meetup groups that introduced me to folk music and songwriter groups; Kelli's growing place in UCC at a national level, bringing her disability ministry concerns to a wider audience, and I suppose a lot more still.

Torelli fixed gear bike which has been my main ride since 2009My main ride as of July 2009

The Five Mile Radius

For those years, I found that I could live within about a five mile radius most of the time, and often just three or so. Church was at the far end of that three mile radius, but the Kansas era was largely shaped by the time at MHUCC. At times, it was like I rode grooves into the street along University Avenue. I liked riding to church but didn't really like the route I had to take. While there were a few alternatives, none was really any improvement upon just throwing in my lot with the rest of the madmen on the road and charging along the too-narrow stretch from Kansas to Park, and then into the vast sea of asphalt from Park to 10th, and then back into the smaller streets that get me to Washington, closer to church. When I worked at Specialty Produce, I rode nearly the same route, but without any detours off University or the part of Washington that drops off the mesa and down to Specialty. I sort of got tired from doing that commute since I'd ride the same path to church and work for about three miles, and on a busy week with five days of work and a few things happening at church, I suppose I could rack up nine trips along that road per week.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

The economic tide shifted toward Escondido though, particularly after a year and more of my being unemployed. Kelli got her job there as a per diem in early 2010 but it took until September 2011 before she got Amanda's vacated job as a full time chaplain at the same place. (This is in addition to her working back down in San Diego at another firm, also as per diem chaplain. She keeps busy.) The miles up to Escondido take their toll on the car and take time from both of us. Having seen Amanda move to north county for the same job just as we started off at Kansas, we knew it might just be a matter of time once she got the full time offer. The hospice down in San Diego though did make tentative offers at about the same time but never gave enough detail to really lock in to a position there, so then it became clear our fate was linked to Escondido. But how long would it last, commuting those 30-45 minutes each way? The math says that to do that for 48 weeks a year, it would be about 13,000 miles. That's a lot of gas, and mostly a lot of time on the road that isn't spent living together. And sometimes even after all that, Kelli might need to come home and chart the day's visits. Or she might need to work a few nights per month at the local hospice, or even two Saturdays. That was just too much. Buying the car in April forced us to evaluate where exactly that money would come from. Fortunately the car payment could be offset with a reduction in the gasoline bill from moving house, this time to a place that for the first time was actually less expensive than the one before.

Amanda, just a short while after getting the green light to become ordained. She was camping out at Kansas for the weekend before we moved.

The State of the State Street

Kansas was more than just a house. It had spirit. It was a venue for a lot of growth for both of us. It was a hub of activity that is not insignificant. It's impossible to know the trajectory of influence. Who knows what one of our JEM podcasts will become when the ideas therein are scattered about in the minds of people who saw the economics of life one way and then the JEM way? Who will hear those words and change the world? Same with the prospects yet to be evident from both Kelli and Amanda launching their professional careers with the help of this house. Who knows what they shall do in the realm of disability inclusion or therapy for those abused within church settings? Or for the young women who are yet to enter ministry? So many areas of promise met and mingled at this house for just shy of three years. It was vibrant there in a way that no other residence but for a short while at Quapaw was. I never learned this stuff from my home life, except maybe seeing it from a bit of a distance of age when my grandmother was more socially engaged when I was a boy.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli and I did a walkabout during the one day we had to cooperatively work on cleaning the place out upon moving. I did much of the work myself, but on one evening we toured the rooms and paused to reflect on what the place meant to us. To be glad for all the friends and experiences that made the place special. It was quite moving. All told, I was there cleaning the place for six days and nights so I got a chance to let my mind wander and to be ready for that moment. 

I wonder what other stories that house has to tell, if just a couple years there was so rich for us?

Tuesday
Nov022010

Don't Try This Near Home

my torelli bike, a bit in between road and track frame. my favorite ride.After working a straight 10.5 hour shift and closing out my workweek on Saturday a week ago, I stopped at the bike shop with my Torelli bike (the green one with a more upright geometry, more like a track bike with shorter wheelbase) and asked to have my tires swapped front to back. I had not had any problems or anything; the back was just getting a flat zone on the tread and I wanted to even out the wear on both tires. Totally optional work, this. After shooting the shit with the guys and feeling like the long day was wearing on me, I headed home. Just prior to getting home I unclipped my left foot from the pedal and aimed my toe at the side of the tread to knock off some debris that had been going around for a few blocks. The tires are Kevlar with a rubber layer on them; bulletproof stuff, and in a year and more I have had no flats or punctures. So this was totally optional. Still, I don't like seeing stones and gravel and muck on my tire so I tried to knock it off with my toe.

But on this bike, the pedals are always going—no coasting—and the left one came around, bumped my heel into the side of the tire and simultaneously stopping me as my toe got caught in the space between wheel and downtube on the frame, knocking the wheel and steering way left, way suddenly, and dumped me in a hurry, right to the pavement. My shoulder took the worst of it, and my 225 lbs made for a forceful fall. Hip and right hand took a bit of the weight, but by far the shoulder got it best. Momentarily dazed, I sat up, still clipped in on my right pedal (which could have been a bad scene for my right ankle), looked around for any "audience," found none, then got up and walked the two doors back to my house. I felt pretty dumb. The bike got just a couple scuffs, and I had no scrapes or rips.

Kelli had some friends over and I made my way in like usual, hanging my bike on the rack and then retiring to my room for some email. I took a shower, finding some of those gestures to be really painful at points, then told Kelli about the spill and that maybe it was time to get a bit of medical attention at the urgent care.

Dressing again confirmed that all was not feeling well. There were no bruises or scars so I was fearing for something worse. But at the urgent care, the Xrays showed nothing wrong at the bone level. So I guess it is just some muscle bruising that will take a while to work out. The UC doc sent me out with a prescription for Vicodin, which so far has had no discernible effect on pain, but has indeed made me a bit drowsy, but not enough to shut me down for those few days when I took it. I remember it having similar non-effect when I took it for dental surgery. I don't know why I keep getting it. More helpful was the stop at Rite Aid for a double scoop ice cream with Kelli on the way back.

I recalled immediately the experience earlier in the year when I had sprained the same shoulder and had to take a couple days off of work. This at least happened just as I began my weekend, so I had at least two days to gauge my ability to work. I called in on Monday night saying I'd skip Tuesday, then went to the office to ask for another day off on Wednesday. This silly little exercise in minding my tires has proven to cost me nearly $300 with lost work and meds and the office co-pay!

I returned to work for a three-day week and had mixed success. More time away would help, but there are a couple guys who are able to help at points, and on this week, the powers that be were minding overtime closely so the days actually conformed to eight hours or close to that. There was no liking the business of lifting 50 lb boxes of potatoes or celery or cabbage. No enjoyment in lifting bags of onions that don't even maintain a form to grip. The motion associated with pushing things outward across the van compartment with my left (dominant) arm was almost agonizing at times, but was not needed as much as I would typically do.

Sleeping has been on my back or right side, and even trying to get to my left is like going back to the scene of the fall. I have some PT scheduled for next week, and maybe it will get me back into flexibility. But before then are four more days of work which might be easier than last week and would require a decent amount of motion anyway. When I did one PT session in March for this same shoulder, the right side ended up getting more sore from the whole range of new motions introduced bilatlerally and actually upstaged the problem at the left! I found myself more thoroughly sore from PT than from a sprained left shoulder.

This whole experience was the first time I actually fell off my bike while in motion since my return to biking, but I am certain that I'd have to go back years into my younger years to find a bike spill like this, and I don't even recall any that left any lasting pain. I guess I could have waited two more houses to clean my tires off.

Friday
Jun252010

Moving Mountains

During various Critical Mass Rides, or the commute to or from them or in other travels, I've now conquered some notorious hills in town on my bikes. Nearly all of them more notable since all I use now is a pair of fixed gear bikes at different ratios. Obviously San Diego is quite varied in its terrain, and hardly anything is flat for long. I won't count the rolling hills one encounters generally going from here to there. But there are some that are notorious for bike riders. Infamous hills that get my heart beating out of my chest include:

  • Soledad Mountain Road on my old 21 speed, now given away and gone. Since my church was on Soledad, I had a few experiences with the short distance to Beryl St., which itself makes a pretty wicked incline for a small section. But one ride took us up to the cross memorial on the mountain. It wasn't even a pleasant ride. I almost would have preferred one of the single speed bikes. That was the bike and the ride with the straight bars that ended my tolerance for straight bars. Now both remaining bikes have bullhorn style which provide a few hand positions.
  • Moraga Avenue into Clairemont. Used the bike that was converted to my lower geared fixie later on. I prefer to use:
  • Avati Drive. Alternative to Moraga that isn't so trafficked. Ascends in various shifts of grade. Used each bike at various times.
  • Regents Road into Clairemont. Not much use to me but once did it on the geared bike when I lived in the neighborhood.
  • Ariane Avenue. The northern most point on Morena Boulevard going into Clairemont. Actually, Ariane goes straight up for a ways, but I took a secret bunch of side streets that peel off that road so that I could go to my old house there. Used the lower geared bike before the fixie conversion.
  • Illion Street, one of the most steep hills in San Diego, at a 24% grade for about a block, and then tapering off. A friend of mine lives at the top of the hill. Sometimes it was easier to ride up Milton Street. Only ridden this on the lower geared of the fixies and even that was with some wild switchbacks.
  • Milton Street, somewhat gentler than Illion, but a bit longer. An acceptable way into Clairemont from Morena Boulevard. Ascends in stages. Ridden with the lower geared fixie.

Various roads into Mission Hills, University Heights, Banker's Hill, and up onto the mesa of the classic neighborhoods:

  • Washington Street. The kindest of the hills going to that area, except for the wicked fast traffic. Generous bike lane.
  • Pringle Street. Steep mofo but with evenly spaced cross streets to do breather laps in if need be. Real narrow though and traffic is kind of reckless. Used each bike at one time or another.
  • California Street. Fairly steep and perfectly straight, but the concrete is old and broken and patched a lot so it's a rough ride.
  • Bandini Street. Near Old Town. Wicked steep section nearly identical to Illion Street. This one took some massive switching back and forth on the higher geared fixie. I have no idea why I used that bike to ride that street. I couldn't even stay clipped into my pedals.
  • Juan Street out of Old Town. Same thing with the concrete, only worse. Ascends in a few stages. Used all three bikes at one time or another.
  • Bachman Street out of Mission Valley. Sort of long and mildly steep but it's not even a general thoroughfare so the traffic is not zooming. Feeds the UCSD medical center parking area. Ridden each bike at one time or another.
  • Laurel Street. One of the most notorious of them all. I just got back from conquering that one on the Torelli, the rougher geared of my fixies. That was exhilarating. I tried that one once, coming from about half way up, starting just below the wicked steep part, and lost it and had to walk. It is the only of these hills that I have resorted to walking! But then once the last half of that wicked block was traversed on foot, then I was back in the saddle. Tonight I just did it block by block, taking breather laps at the cross streets, and hammered the steep section in one shot. Lung buster.
  • The grandpappy of them all for notoriety, Texas Street. Rode this in one shot, no breather breaks or walking or even putting my foot down. Bottom to top in one shot. Was quite proud. Used the low gear fixie.
  • Zoo Place out of the canyon in the shadow of Balboa Hospital near the park. Actually, I did part of the road itself but then we broke off and rode our road bikes up the dirt walkway to the desert garden at Park.
Saturday
Feb272010

Critical Mass!

critical mass storms fashion valley on bikes on black friday!Critical Mass storms Fashion Valley Mall on Buy Nothing DayLast night I went on the Critical Mass ride, the fourth such ride I've taken part in. Each has been a lot of fun, with the opening part, leaving Balboa Park and maneuvering through Hillcrest or Downtown being an adventure, never knowing for sure where things are going. Last night's ride was an adventure and while some of it was a review of some of the things we've done already in the three previous rides, the one new adventure for me was that finally I was swept up into riding Texas St. out of Mission Valley and into University Heights. Yup, rode up Texas St.! Texas St. was near the end of the 25 mile path the Mass took around town. But I've been working up to it for a while now, riding hills extensively in my various commutes. I fancy it a job well done because with just my fixed gear Globe bike, I was passing all the geared-bike riders who chickened out after exploiting their granny gears for a while and then resorting to walking up the hill, and a few other fixed gear riders who had to do the same because they brought their 52x14 geared race bikes. Oh, they look impressive going DOWN hills that way but a versatile gear it is not. (I'm sort of glad I didn't take the Torelli bike with its steeper gear (46x18), else I would have walked too. Usually that bike is my go-to bike for this type of ride.) I just chugged along at my low 38x16 ratio and then took Texas in one shot! I ROCK!!! It was quite a heavy breather though.

Also, a few weeks ago, I was doing a trackstand at a stop light on the way to work (before 6 am, in the dark, fortunately) and with my shoes still clipped into the still-newish SPD clipless pedals on the Globe bike, I finally fell to the ground from a standstill! D'oh! Fortunately it was not a crowded intersection at that hour and I didn't make too much of a scene. I was told this would happen. I just took five months since I got that type of pedal. I have since relaxed the spring tension as far as it would go so I can get in and out easily! With Critical Mass rides there are enough times when there is a good need to not be clipped in, or to evasively unclip, hence not wanting to ride this bike to such events, lest some stupid topple incident happens in the midst of it all. And I saw several of those last night!

critical mass in the driveway/entry to fashion valley, with a cop. shot from the upper level.CM in Fashion Valley Mall with copsBelow are a few shots of some totally delightfully scandalous moments during the four Critical Mass rides I have taken part in in recent months. These aren't even as outrageous as they come. (The most notorious ride was last summer when the Mass was headed by a few who decided to ride the Coronado Bridge. These are a bit tame by comparison but a lot of fun.)

Halloween Critical Mass at Mission Beach, just before everyone lifts up their bikes with revolutionary fervor. Halloween 2008 is when I heard about the Mass but it wasn't until 2009 that I finally took part. Kelli and our friend Nancy were originally the voices to say 'no, don't ever do that' because they experienced it the wrong way first: in their cars without even knowing what it was, and I think it scared them shitless. Okay, it's 1500 bikes that go for a ride all at once in more or less the same direction for about 30 miles around town. The whole thing fills the streets, and some people do really idiotic things, but many hold firm to the mass and it all chugs along (maybe taking up a mile of roadway at once, I just don't know how long it stretches on for) as if one big vehicle with no driver but for the most fervent riders who get up front and pull it where they want to go.

critical mass bombs the target store in mission valleyCM cuts THROUGH the Target storeFebruary Critical Mass bombs through the Target store in Mission Valley! Yes, we rode through the Target store. The customers were less welcoming than in the rest of the mall. Hmmm. I hope we do Wal Mart someday.

Last November Critical Mass rampaged past the security goons at Mission Valley Mall on the high holy days of the consumer economy: Black Friday! I couldn't resist this shot of a lone goon (on a bike no less) being utterly helpless in the face of all this, just outside their little security office outpost. He'd have more fun if he joined in. Heck, the SDPD rides in the mass too, but more so they can get a feel for the flow of things and radio for patrol car support if needed as the Mass does its winding path through town, often down one way streets and through malls and hotel or airport driveways and such.

The cops have typically functioned as escorts of the Mass but once in a while, the Mass takes them over too! I've been in two Mass rides that have hit Fashion Valley and Mission Valley straight through the heart. Culturejamming and biking are fun when mixed together! I think you have to be there to believe it. Pictures don't do this stuff justice because it all becomes a circus with people yelling and hooting and honking their horns or whatever noisemakers they have. Most of the Mass is still on the upper level with me, not on the ground yet. Others are storming down via the parking garage driveways. I was thinking it might be like the Goths storming Rome.

Fun.

Friday
Jan012010

Mileage for December/Final!

  • January 1, 2009: 209,855
  • February 7: 210,000
  • March 1: 210,120
  • April 1: 210,203
  • May 1: 210,309
  • June 1: 210,367
  • July 1: 210,532
  • August 1: 210,675
  • September 1: 210,873
  • October 1: 210,919
  • November 1: 211,038
  • December 1: 211,246
  • January 1, 2010: 211,401

Here is the first post of 2010, and the moment all the fine readers of TAPKAE dot com have been waiting for with bated breath. Finally, we get to see how many personal miles I was able to reduce my driving to for one year while adopting biking as my main mode of transportation, augmented by carpooling (planned and opportunistic), walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. It was a year ago when I started this thing, and back in July I called it as a 1,700 mile year. I'm quite pleased to announce that the final tally is 1,546 miles. By comparison, mileage for 2008 was over twice that much at 3,688. Year 2007 was more than that, so each year for a while now I have seen the record fall.

I don't expect I shall be able to repeat this in 2010. I have one planned trip to Arizona that, if I drive it, will pretty much make this kind of thing impossible. Still, I am committed to keeping off the road in my truck as much as I can. Still, I feel that this progressive reduction has been a good display of what I knew needed to happen back in 2004-2005 when peak oil was my concern. I've not bothered to keep up to date on peak oil issues in any depth, but I know enough to know that this effort is required still more than ever. Furthermore, I have been an advocate of biking enough lately, and maybe have done a part to provoke others into increasing their biking and decreasing their car use.

All this has made me rather resourceful. Combining trips is still a leading way to keep the mileage low. I opt to do errands when I can cruise with Kelli on her planned runs. (We're looking at bikes for her.) There are some days when I utilize a few options to get around. I bused to work one day, which was pleasant but took vastly longer than biking, which itself is about as fast as driving anyway. I often draft people from church or work into the occasional ride home or to the bike shop if maybe I had a flat or planned service and took it in before work. Some quick errands can be done while on the clock since most of my work is in highly urban areas. (But you didn't read that here. Actually a couple have been okayed by the powers that be.)

The point I like to emphasize is that even though most of my life is lived within a far smaller radius than ever, my quality of life is no worse, and I have to say that I think it is far better than ever, particularly if we're just comparing modes of transportation. A lot of pushback comes from people who are convinced their lives will be parochial and boring if they can't exercise their automotive "freedom." I beg to differ. My experience has been that I feel more freedom while biking or carpooling. Most of my day at work I am behind the wheel and in traffic with that suffocating feeling of being trapped. The last thing I want to do is spend another minute in at the wheel. By contrast, other modes offer freedom, and even real, fresh air. Some of them draw upon my own power and are for solo travel, but some upon another person's car, but even those trips offer a bit of community time that add a quality you don't get while sequestered in your own two ton mobile sardine can. I find that there is an interesting dimension to biking in particular in that two things happen at once. In one way the trip can be slower than with a car if car travel was not regulated by so many lights and signs and the presence of long lines of other cars. But cars are slaves to all that and—just watch—a bike can move from light to light faster with less interruption and so the biker's trip is more unbroken. What that feels like is that time passes faster on a bike because it flows more consistently than the stop and go of car travel, often a few feet at a time. Yet, despite the feeling that things move faster, it is at a pace where you can enjoy the surroundings and maybe even greet people. One of the guys from the bike shop commutes in the opposite direction from me, and from across the boulevard we greet each other as we pass each other at about the same spot most mornings. There are some other chance meetings like that too that sweeten the deal as I pass other bikers I may know from the social rides, or even some people from church or work. The quality of life does seem to be greater when you can travel and sort of feel not totally disconnected from your surroundings.

Church and related groups, work, grocery runs, ATM, bike shops, going to friends', riding for the sake of riding, eating out—the options seem greater now. All kinds of things that used to be fun to do when I was a kid or teen are available to me again in some form. I felt it was like being in exile from a lot of things while thinking that driving was the only viable option; that it took a ton or two of metal to move me around. Most of the time, you see, that just isn't the case. I've delighted myself in not only getting on the bike back in 2008, but moving to (freewheel) single speed riding and its inherent "limits" to one gear, to fixed gear riding, which paradoxically feels less limited despite one gear in constant rotation. My city isn't flat and I wasn't fit to begin with, but somehow this has all worked out. There are plenty of you fence-sitters out there. Park that car and bike it some!

Friday
Dec252009

Christmas Eve

A lot of people go to church on Christmas and perhaps on no other day but Easter. Maybe they are busy all the time, or maybe they don't care. Some go to just those two services probably not even sure why they do so. I've done it myself—being the "Christmas Christian"—bypassing Easter because for a long time I felt no affinity for that event either. (Never mind it is the central event in the Christian experience. Duh!) But these things change, and now I do things differently.

My present church, Mission Hills UCC, has more of a focus on keeping to the church liturgical seasons through the church year from the start of Advent, through the period of Christmas, onward to Lent and Easter, and the rest of the year dubbed Ordinary Time. Realizing that there is some flow and a narrative that I have been missing and just never knew about, I've committed to going regularly enough that I've cycled all the way through a liturgical year and more. To finally get some understanding why holidays are placed like they are, and what they mean in context has been quite enlightening. To understand how they count time through a spiritual journey has made that journey more appealing. There is something about understanding one's life ordeals and victories in a larger narrative context that is humbling and gratitude inducing.

The last full year and more I have biked to church almost exclusively. The distance isn't great but on the whole it isn't quite something you do when you feel lazy. But my goal is not to go to church out of some laziness or habit. Biking has made those trips into a bit of effort, at least enough to create in me a feeling of real presence when I do get there. And, I don't just get in on Sundays; other activities keep me participating in one group or activity most weeks, and a few times a week at that. So the logic is the same for those occasions as on Sunday services: to participate intentionally.

In that regard, even my commute is an extension of my sense of discipleship and what I must do to harmonize the in-church and out-of-church life. It is one of the more obvious examples, and one that seems to be attractive to others. Right now I think I am the one guy who is seen most often on a bike. There are others with more experience in racing or touring or club riding, but for the time, I am the guy who commutes most regularly.

To throw myself a challenge and to justify some additional holiday caloric intake (ahem!), I decided to push myself a bit on my favorite church holiday—Christmas Eve. My church has two services at 5 pm and 10 pm. Another church I once participated in has one at 7 pm but it is in La Mesa, about 12 miles from my church! I originally envisioned riding a few miles to my church for the early service, burning out of there to the other one for their 7 pm service, then heading back to the late one at my church. I ended up losing a bit of time to some unforeseen but needed volunteer work, drafted into delivering meals with Kelli and the dog (whom we thought we'd take to the park only because we were told we'd have the day off from delivering), so I didn't get to the first service. Little matter because I still got to the later two services, and clocked about 24 miles doing it!

You might be wondering where Kelli was in all this. It goes like this. She had a 6 pm service at her church in PB (that's three churches now—this one used to be my congregation before I left in 2007), where she reads the scripture lesson each year. She has a friend from school who got a church in another denomination, with her congregation being two blocks from my church (four churches, follow?). So she went there for a 9 pm service. We reconvened for our shared Christmas service at MHUCC. After the riding through various San Diego microclimate regions with temperatures ranging between cold and colder (particularly in shorts, see?), I accepted a ride with Kelli to get dinner with a couple friends of hers—the newly placed pastor at the Methodist church and Amanda, member of my church but friend of Kelli's by way of chaplaincy work. We ate some greasy spoon chow at Rudford's diner until late.

We had one more thing on the agenda. One of the young men in the young adults group I help facilitate works third shift as a security guard at a big complex near my place. He participates in some of our gatherings, but his schedule being what it is, working from 10 pm till 6 am, I thought maybe he'd be stuck working Christmas Eve. And he was. So for a few minutes we sought him out and chatted for maybe 15 more minutes as he did his rounds. (We joked about being the angels coming to the shepherd guarding his flock by night on Christmas Eve.) By then we were pretty worn out. It was after 1 am.

Tradition, nice as it is sometimes, deserves to be jolted from time to time. I have not participated in the commercial Christmas activities that most people get themselves into. This year I only gave one gift—one of my bikes—so I have to do other stuff in the name of Christmas. Last night, as I biked across town, there were plenty of homeless folks out there, some manning the street corners in hope for some money. Unfortunately, traveling light as I was, there wasn't much to do for them. Other years we've headed to the East Village of Downtown where the many homeless—the dregs of society as some would have it—congregate each night, and all the more in the winter since San Diego is about as nice a place to be homeless this time of year. We've taken some goods down to give away. This year we got to see our friend at work so he wouldn't feel the holiday came and went without notice. I don't know exactly what any of this really accomplishes, but I feel wretched for not giving it a go. Even witnessing the all-too-unseen world is good for a person. Being on a bike removes the ability to keep the window rolled up. At times, I found myself shouting out a greeting as I passed by.

All in all, it was quite a Christmas to remember. One that had a bit of the expected stuff, but not done in the asleep-at-the-wheel way, and one that had a bit of good work thrown in.

Friday
Dec252009

Use The Force, Luke

luke likes the bike i gave him. looking a lot more fit than when he started.Luke Williams on the nearly totally rebuilt bike I gave himBikes have played a more active role in this Christmas than they have since maybe 20 years ago or more. In another posting, you can read about my crazy zipping back and forth from one church to the other on Christmas Eve, all in the name of making my churchgoing a decidedly intentional thing. But that aint all...

This year I bought two bikes. Both are single speeds, and now both are fixed gear only. I've made my peace with riding all over this town with just one gear so that rendered my older and much-rebuilt 21 speed bike nearly unused. That was the one that has at various times had its back wheel stolen and replaced, replaced again to put something better on once the replacement was found to be a disaster, and then more recently, to replace a stolen saddle and seat post and a rusted chain. That second wave of stolen parts was as a result of my attempt to be generous to someone at work who I guess hadn't a clue about keeping a bike secure. She at least paid me back so I got some replacement stuff on there, and all was good.

But remember that that bike was the one that not only replaced the stolen parts, but was also my project bike when I decided to start commuting last year. Most everything has been replaced on it: all the drivetrain including the rear wheel, derailers, chain, crankset, cassette, shifters; the stem and handlebars; seat posts (a total of four now—original with a faulty suspension spring, basic replacement, replacement with integrated saddle mount, and then the replacement for that one) saddles (four of those also—original, first replacement found to be too spongy, the stolen Selle, and a replacement); tires and tubes; rack. (I think that was all.) Basically the bike was made new by all that stuff being put together a year ago. I figure I must have spent $600 on rebuilding what was originally a $300 bike.

And which became sort of an unneeded item, and frankly, one which didn't fit well in the house. I rode it for one big ride up Soledad Mountain and found it was, despite the gears, heavier and harder to ride than my other bikes which have one gear each. For some general use it rode like a dream, but after such extensive single speed use, it was an odd one out. I weighed trying to sell it on Craigslist for some insulting price that would hardly recognize the extensive reconstruction, even if it resulted in a very nice running bike that runs quite smooth and solid now.

I had one person in mind that I was going to give it to, sensing that maybe he'd like it, but that idea died quickly. So I let it out to the girl from work, hoping she might buy it after such a period of getting to grow into it. After getting it back after the month was up, I hardly mentioned bikes to her again because I had that queasy feeling while buying more parts to a bike I thought I was done spending money on. By that time though I had another idea.

Luke, the pastoral intern at church, is doing roughly the same thing as Kelli once did while in that role a few years ago. He's taken part in the young adults group, and he expressed some interest in bikes once he saw me commuting around. I told him I'd let him use my bike if he wanted, once I got it back from Miss A. who apparently left it at the beach or something. It took a couple of weeks to really do the handover but when I brought it to church, Luke obligingly went to the bike shop with me and we got a lock and cable for him, some lights, and another church member, Marla, ever the bike-evangelist, got him a helmet. So there he was, all geared up for kicking around, biking in to church sometimes, or whatever. He was nice enough to send a card a few days later, thanking me for the gesture. I started to get this idea that maybe I found my lucky winner.

my card to accompany the bike upon gifting it to him. the most ridiculous image of Darth Vader's head upon a body of a man doing a pedaling motion with his hands. and a christmas tree.Hey, it was something I threw together in an hour or two. I couldn't resist the model of a man who always wore his helmet!

Christmas makes a good excuse to give a bike to someone. I have given bikes away to people before, but usually not the ones that I've essentially paid for a second and third time! But one of the lessons of the last few years has been to be generous from one's abundance, and right now, bikes are a bit overabundant here! I've had in mind to sell the thing. I could use the money, maybe to get Kelli a better bike so she might get into it. But I rather enjoy the idea of just giving it away, and practicing unattachment. So, I told just a few people about it then set about making a poster-card.

I printed the thing at a CVS and wrote a letter explaining the thing and thanking him for his service at the church. I tucked it into a normal envelope and gave it to him at the Christmas Eve service. Still haven't heard what followed, but I know his family is in town for the holiday. That ought to have been a surprise! It was the only present I gave anyone this year.

Monday
Nov162009

The What's Up

I've been a bit quiet as of late. Some of that is because I've decided to pick up a guitar again after a year or so, sit myself down for a while these past few weeks and learn some songs. It is a discipline I have never really engaged in, learning other people's songs on guitar or keyboards. So, lyric sheets and chord sheets in hand, I chip away at at least mapping the song out, learning the vocal part, and hamfistedly working on the guitar part. In some cases, I am working on songs that have no existing chord sheets available online so I've had to resort to actually trying my hand at doing such things myself. I am looking forward again to a period of musical expression, but this time I anticipate I won't try too hard to channel that energy toward recording or writing my own stuff. I have never really approached things like I am doing right now, so this is new and exciting. I have a few songs targeted—songs by Kevin Gilbert, Nik Kershaw, Jethro Tull and others.

I've also been active in church a lot lately, immersing myself in some balance of being ministered to and doing a bit of ministry for others. I am also seated on the board of Christian Education and in that regard, function in the church as an officer with a bit of responsibility, though I don't know that a few months of that has been all that big a deal for me yet. Though I did have a say in inviting Lee Van Ham to the church to do a forum in three parts, and that was a great thing to sign my name to. Most of my effort has been in helping to create a community among the young adults there. I found myself being handed the reins to a barely-scheduled roster of folks back in June and over the summer and since, I've helped shepherd it into a regular gathering occasion and a couple potluck meal occasions and some occasional lunches after church. Beyond the intentional dates there are also budding relationships among the folks who participate, some increased participation in some church activities, and a couple new members. I am quite proud of what has been happening. I also participate in a spiritual development group that has been together for a year or more now. Most of the members are mature women hardly any younger than parental age for me, but we've all come in and been straightforward in our struggles and faith lives, and have had a thriving little community in there too. Some are widows. One pair are life partners. Some are radical activists and others conservative. One is a convert from Judaism. Then there is me, the lone straight young male. We all come and be honest. My church has been a splendid place that has become my family in the total absence of other family (save for Kelli and her family in Florida). I get a whole new set of friends who in various ways plug the holes left by parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. I have to think that my church is church done right.

Then of course there is biking, which is detailed well enough in my other entries on truck mileage. Read the archives. Suffice to say, I am quite proud of leaving my truck parked most of the time, and finding I can bike just about anywhere I commonly need to go, and I can do it on a single gear bike. It has been a good time of transcending my erstwhile limitations. I've also been quite the bike advocate at work and church.

And, at work, I can look at the roster of drivers and claim that half of them have been my ridealong trainees. In fact, for the few days each of them is in my truck, they are the few that I get a chance to get to know some. Many of them are younger than me, and I find myself sometimes saying things that, ahem, sound mentor-like. Actually, it has been quite good to have that chance to do that and then have the opportunity to speak from that experience when I convene the young adult crew at church.

Kelli has finished her schooling (last December) and graduated (in May) and also finished off her chaplaincy education (in August). The past few months has been the first time off since before school started in 2005. She's taken the opportunity to get some fitness activity to help get her past years of a passive approach to healing from her car accident in 2002. She found a doctor who disregarded years of other opinions and encouraged her to get exercise, citing that there was no medical reason not to and every good reason to get with the program. So she's found yoga and water aerobics and has been doing those regularly. Anyhow, she is feeling far better and is in a better frame of mind for the next big thing. She is inching toward ordination, but first has to go before the Association of local churches to get a green light so she can finally circulate her profile (resume, if you will) far and wide, seeking a formal call from a congregation which would then constitute a call to ordained ministry. So, the heavy lifting is done. A couple months more till this Association council, and then she is off and running. I'm quite proud of her.

Oh, and I guess I would be remiss to say that all this is going on even while we had to find new housing on account of our screwball landlords letting the property fall into foreclosure! It seems they have essentially not paid the mortgage on the house we have been faithfully paying on until after we got the notice to sell posted on our door in August. We tried to be in touch with them but they were silent or difficult and the sale date kept getting moved back. It might be okay, you say, but it got to be a pain in the ass living in suspense. So finally we pulled up in a hurry in October and moved with the help of some of the young adults people and one dude from work. I was able to get a box truck from work that we used on two nights. And a good thing. That was some intense shit. Our new house is spacious inside and has three bedrooms, but we got the price we got because it is without a back yard or garage. Buber is good about staying inside, so we don't need to worry about a yard. We miss having a garage where stuff can just be tossed into corners. The closest we have to that here is an attic crawl space that is sizable and keeps the empties.

A word to the wise. Never get AT&T service unless you'll suffocate without it. Long story. Needless to say, I came running back to T Mobile like a repentant womanizer.

Saturday
Oct312009

Mileage Through October

  • January 1: 209,855
  • February 7: 210,000
  • March 1: 210,120
  • April 1: 210,203
  • May 1: 210,309
  • June 1: 210,367
  • July 1: 210,532
  • August 1: 210,675
  • September 1: 210,873
  • October 1: 210,919
  • November 1: 211,038

In list form, here are the tallies I have recorded for the month starts this year. We're getting close to the end of the year now and I'm well within the 1,700 mile year I predicted a while ago. Right now I see the October mileage is only 119 miles—just short of 1,200 miles for the year—and I have no particular plans to do anything radically different. But, maybe a couple five day holiday breaks from work might lead me to splurge a bit since Kelli and I have been talking about some getaway options.

In the past couple of weeks I have taken two big rides for some social fun. Each was about 32 miles or so and involved biking around parts of my hometown where I have never biked before. I've been riding my fixed gear bike almost exclusively now, and am getting my other singlespeed converted into a fixed gear so I can have two gears! It is quite empowering to know that I can pedal most of this town in one gear, and not a granny gear at that. Going on these rides helps me try to keep pace with others even when it hurts. The first of the rides was probably with 15-20 people, some of which I knew from the bike shop circle. But, after one year of knowing about it and several months of missed opportunities to catch up with it, I finally did one of the Critical Mass rides.

I had heard about CM from a friend of ours who got stuck in traffic during last year's October ride (on Halloween no less!). She came down hard on the experience and talked about the fear she felt from being swarmed. Kelli got stuck in a Mass ride while in her car, so she didn't like the idea either. I had never seen such a thing so it was my goal to go on bike and spin around town with something like 1,200 riders or so. Yes, you read right—over a thousand bikes. It was quite something. Chaotic at times, like doing laps around the blocks in the center of the Gaslamp on an already-crowded party/holiday weekend, or like riding through the airport terminals to the surprise of many, or like crowing out the Prado area of Balboa Park, from fountain to Fifth Avenue full of bikes. There was police force out to help cork the oncoming traffic as we rode; before I knew they were looking after us bikers I thought they were gonna have some biker ass. Sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. They only got on the case to get some errant bikers into the proper flow of traffic. Some riders aren't content with having a full side of the road to travel on; they want more so they spill out into the opposite direction's flow. Pretty stupid. I favor a more conservative position, pretty close to where I ride anyway, just out of door's reach from parked cars.

Hah. One year of biking and I'm on my fixie and doing Critical Mass rides. What got into me? It has been one year now. My commuting effort got started just about the time of my birthday last year. I only planned to make my old bike work better, and to commute half the time. Now, I get into my truck and it feels foreign. It is the vehicle I drive least right now.

Monday
Oct192009

Fix-ated

two fixed gear bikes on a vertical pole rackMy fixed gear bikes including the converted San Fran up topOkay, I got fixie fever or something. But now, after riding one for a few months, I find that my geared bike goes unused almost completely (it is on loan to a work connection, in part to get her the riding bug, but also to make room at home), and my Specialized single speed (freewheel) goes less used. I've been really digging the fixed gear bike since I got comfortable on it. I got the gearing changed a bit to make it a bit more versatile, bringing it down so I can pull hills a tad easier while not losing the power to move at a good speed. I went for a 33 mile ride on it recently and held my own pretty well with some other urban minded cyclists (no spandex, just dudes out for a time killer social ride). That was the single longest ride I ever made, and we cut all across town with our "destination" at a taco shop in PB!

The following weekend I took the Specialized in and asked about getting a fixed gear hub for it. I find that the freewheel and its energy-losing design is more and more of a deal breaker. I don't reach for that bike so readily now. I now understand the people who talked about skipping that stage and just getting onto a fixie if I was to get any single gear bike. So, it is in the shop as I speak. It would be a tad unconventional, what with its 26x1.5" wheels, disk brakes, and odd frame design that is pretty unlike most of the fixie bikes you'll see that are based on track and vintage road designs. The guys at the shop didn't scoff at the idea, but it was unconventional to go fixie with that much brake hardware on it. At least it will be sure to stop! If I leave it at the present gear ratio, it will be interesting to see how much of that desirable flywheel effect I get at the same ratio. I suspect I might actually be able to make it a bit steeper while actually remaining lower than the Torelli (the road bike).

Well, however you slice it, I think I shall be "geared up" to ride with the guys (and girls) on the coming "Murder Ride" on Friday the 13th, so called because it will be a course that seeks out the nasty hills, or maybe Soledad. Fun!