High of 110F Monday afternoon, 107F by ride time. A steady breeze blowing me home also kicks up dust, and hazes the distant mountains, rendering them indistinct, impressionist, le smogism. The wind at my back blows me through the heat and dust. The palm fingers bend and waver in the breeze singing a distant, dry, sizzling patter. Small leaves rub and whisper against one another, but palm fronds make as if to cut each other to shreds when the air whips them around. When the wind changes it sandblasts my skin. Even the canal ducks hunker down. I fly past them and they quack a warning I don't heed: slow down, slow down, the tailwind is pushing you faster than you think. But it's also blowing me home, I quack back, and ride on. Get up. Go ride.
This is unexpected art on a gate on a driveway to a Very Big House that I saw while riding around to take pictures of some expected art. The landscape in the painting is of the red rocks (often capitalized: Red Rocks) of Sedona, Arizona's center for new age crystal vortex mind expansion, which also happens to offer some sweet hiking and mountain biking. The scientist-looking dude on the right is throwing a six-shooter and probably making the accompanying sound while occupying the "peak" or "pinnacle" of the ascent sequence, while the woman on the left simultaneously bends to straighten the picture and assumes the position of the initial, four-legged member of the sequence. Crooked pictures bug me even if intentional. Can't help it. Want to straighten it out. I guess that puts me down on the left end of the sequence. Would a four-legged creature be able to drive a 2x2 bicycle with front and rear cranks? If so, I would be OK at that end. Might let me enjoy powering up the hills around Sedona more. I think I would prefer that to being the six-shooter guy. Why? I suspect he was the one who hung the picture crooked. Get up. Go ride.
Four million people live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, with a few horses, too. I stopped by this large lot where I've seen horses before, and there he was. He saw me, too, and was just about headed over to the fence to see if I had a handout for him. I didn't. I took off because I didn't want to disappoint him with my lack of horse treats. I did grab a picture of their sign selling rabbits, below. I edited the phone number out, but the rest of the sign is what they were advertising. I mentioned it to my daughter. She wanted to borrow $10. I asked her, "Pets or meat?" She's a vegetarian and was quite unhappy with that question. My wife mentioned that it was a movie I was referencing. I told them that the egregious use of apostrophe on the signage indicated the possibility of the meat option. Get up. Go ride.
Some signs will have a totally different effect on a person riding a bicycle than on a motorist. Others generally have exactly the same effects, or should. In the "same effects" category, I'm thinking of stop signs, yields, do not enter, and so on. In the "totally different effects" category I am thinking of those which permit one but prohibit the other, or otherwise send a message that means something different to each. The signs below make me smile, and might be likely to have the opposite effect on a grimly determined motorist gritting his or her teeth against the evening rush. So here, presented for you consideration, is a mini-gallery of signs which added to my yearly smileage total. I'm racking it up this year. Looking for a personal record for smileage. Get up. Go ride.
I started off thinking I was going to write about riding where I'm comfortable. Sometimes, lately, I ride in this position, where I took the photo, about 1/3 into the right lane on this six lane, 45 mph street. It took a while for me to get comfortable with the idea of doing that. This street is shown on the local bike map as a bike route, though, so eventually I decided it needs to be ridden as such. The alternative is to go into sidewalk mode, like this guy just in front of me did. Up ahead, where that yellow/black striped sign is, the roadway narrows a bit as it rises over the canal, and I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with the cars rushing up behind me right at that choke point. No exactly because I feel choked myself, but more because the lane right here in photo-position is wide enough, barely, for a car with a driver who isn't sure what the heck to do with a bicycle in front of him to squeeze by without remarkable badness. (Trucks, however, no, and there are lots of trucks here). But, when you cross the canal, it really is too narrow to squeeze by. So, in vehicle mode on a bicycle, you need to assert yourself in the lane before the narrowing, and be comfortable with doing that, to let other vehicles know you aren't going to be squoze out against the high curb and ejected over the side of the bridge into the canal.
It sounds a lot worse, or rather thinks a lot worse when you think about it, then it actually is in practice: I've done it a couple of dozen times now, and have never been crowded or even honked at. On the other side of the bridge the bike route takes a sharp right, so any delay or impatience motorists may feel is quite momentary. But I also understand a cyclist looking up the road and choosing to take the sidewalk here. It's a matter of what you are comfortable with.
It struck me that it's also a matter of what motorists are comfortable with, which probably has a lot to do with what they are used to seeing "normally" when driving. In my extremely informal and unscientific sample, there are only a handful of cyclists per hour that stay on the street through here. They do exist, but possibly not enough that it's a common sight that motorists see enough to be comfortable with. While I have had no problems so far, and my confidence with doing it is increasing, I still have an unshakable niggling concern that, in the middle of the bridge, on my bicycle, in the street, I may turn out to be an unexpected object in an unexpected location at a really unexpected moment for someone driving a two ton hunk of steel on wheels going 45 mph. Someone who isn't really comfortable with encountering cyclists on a busy, fast street, simply because they see us so rarely. That may be the case, but there's only one way to change that comfort level, and that's by being consistent in my cycling through this particular area.
In addition to having to duck the hyper-poisonous oleanders like the guy above, there are enough pedestrians walking on this sidewalk in the morning to press the issue--it is quite impossible on a bicycle to cross the narrow sidewalk on the bridge when pedestrians are also crossing. A cyclist belongs in the street in that situation, no doubt. I realized after I took the photo above that no motorist going 45 mph on a busy street on his or her commute is going to be comfortable with a cyclist taking a photo of another cyclist riding on the sidewalk. A momentary lapse of empathy, OK? Won't do it again, I promise. I'm comfortable with that. Get up. Go ride.
Young Cactii, Wrapped, Strapped, Staked and Potted (let's get ready to laaaaandscape!!)
Canal Path Smoother-Outer
Seen along the Arizona Canal, north of Camelback Road. Those trees are a little too regularly spaced, aren't they? Maybe it will look a little less like site elements that just happen to be alive when they plop some of the cactii around. I would take some small balloons filled with paint, toss them one by one from the top of the building in the general direction of the canal, and wherever they happened to land, plant a cactus. I'd move the path smoother-outer to a different spot first so it didn't get all splattered with cactus marker paint. Not the same spot where the potted cactus currently sit, of course. Then you'd just be left with some flattened cactus pieces, and some pseudorandom splotches of paint on the ground between some trees planted by an obsessive landscaper with a very precise ruler. Also, personally, now that I know all about Hammerite, I think I'd get several gallons of yellow and fix up those condos. They have rust something fierce. Get up. Go ride.
Rantwick saw an interesting grafitto on his ride which inspired him to produce a reflective post, complete with videos, on trying out nihilism on two wheels. I would go beyond the pragmatic effectiveness of love over nihilism when cycling, and suggest that a sustaining a nihilistic outlook while riding a bike would prove very difficult, at least if you live somewhere other than one of the cold, dark, northern European cities that gave birth to, and nurtured like a sickly yet beloved child, the nihilistic philosophical outlook.
I do think, though, that right after overcoming nihilism (there's also a 12-step program, step 1: first admit that you have a you), it would be quite natural to lapse into bicycle solipsism, the philosophical idea that one's own bicycle, and the thoughts one has while riding it, are the only things certain to exist. I and my two-wheeled machine are the center and essence of reality; all else is fleeting, shadowy, inessential, illusory, and unreal.
The path beyond bicycle solipsism may be represented by the tandem. You're riding along, the world flashing by, and you realize, right behind you, is an other. The other is spinning along with you, seeing most of the same things you see, and the feet of the other are magically staying in sync with yours as they go round and round. Yet, the other is within the bubble of reality which surrounds engulfs and sustains you and your machine. The other, stuck there behind your backpack and sitting on a banana seat of her own also connected to your machine, and also supplying part of the locomotive force which is propelling your machine, must also be real. Your bicycle solipsism fails, collapses into a heap of rusty lemmas, and you move on to bigger and better things. Together. Get up. Go ride.
I saw this along the canal, and thought, "There's an old hunk of steel which was designed and built for a specific function, served its purpose, and then was abandoned without fanfare or emotion to brave the elements on its own, by its unsentimental former owners who probably felt no particular connection with it, except a workmanlike attention to keep it pumping as it successfully moved water from point A to point B for them to water their crops for many years." Some denizens of traditionalist bicycling monocultures hold that there's little or no difference between that old hunk of functional steel, and this one.
I recently read somewhere, I forget where because I have blotted it out of my memory and shall not speak of it again, that this graceful steel steed ought to be seen as equivalent to a vacuum cleaner. To me, that sneer resembles that of ennui-saturated wretches who find themselves visiting a stunning, unique place, and yet still express boredom, typically loudly, in a public setting, while smoking and sipping an expensive beverage. As in, "Oh, please, St. Kitts is so 1993. It hasn't been any fun here in years. The last time it was, you could still smoke on airplanes, at least if you flew the right ones." I'll move on down the beach if that's the level of discourse in the section I first spread my towel on. Probably to a section with people sunning quietly listening to the sea, the wind, and the seabirds, enjoying the beach as a beach.
Short of something like the last drops of oil getting pumped out of the last huge deposits in Athabasca, riding a bicycle will not become as common, utilitarian, or for that matter, boring, as a vacuum cleaner in my lifetime, in my city and even half of the country. The changes required to cause that to occur would be radical beyond possibility. I do not anticipate them occurring. Cycling will remain an uncommon, slightly unusual or offbeat activity.
I find it fun, good exercise, sometimes surprising or interesting, and always rewarding, to ride the bikes in my stable. This time of year, here, people who don't like the thought of riding in the heat will probably drive. Most people, the overwhelming majority, in fact, will prefer their air conditioned sealed metal boxes on wheels for going from point A to point B. I get that, but I also get that there are always excuses. I know because I almost pulled the "too hot, too tired" excuse this weekend. And there are signs that we're finding our own way forward, different from the recommended, "dump your cars, they're too too boring, and ride a heavy black bike as true traditionalist cycling monocultures do," like the start of a project along Pima Road that will result in adding two five foot bike lanes, I think creating a bike expressway from the Arizona Canal all the way to Pinnacle Peak.
A Beautiful Hunk of Bike Lane Building Steel (they don't build bike lanes with bakfiets)
To kick off this project, road boffins recently started tearing up Pima Road near the AZ Canal, and now the section near there is completely shut down. I rode Bip down the empty pavement. I thought about the millions of people who have driven cars down that stretch, even a much younger me, back when Pima felt a lot more like a road to remote areas than it does now. I don't think it would have felt the same if I was pushing a vacuum cleaner. Although there are sweepers out there, maybe I should ask. Get up. Go ride.
Yesterday was hot and dry (104F and 4% humidity, according to my weather monitor), and for various work-related reasons I didn't get a chance to think about going for a ride until afternoon. By then, lounging on the couch and resting my tired body and soul with some World Cup action, or whatever TV marathon happened to be available, sounded pretty appealing. But the still small bicycle-addicted voice inside my head wouldn't let me get away with that. So it bubbled up this thought, "If you go for a worthy ride, you shall receive an ice cold date shake upon your return, and wouldn't that taste good?" So I rode out on Bip, letting the shimmering heat waves rising from the concrete island I live on be my guide.
Last things first, though, when I returned after about three hours out there, I grabbed the blender, pitted a handful of Khadrawy dates from Dateland as pictured above, and threw them in with some chocolate protein drink and several scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. The last ingredient I came up with on the home stretch, as in, as I was really starting to feel the heat, I needed a little extra ooomph to carry me the last couple of miles, so the still small voice attempted to redeem himself and save the larger project by upping the ante with the cookie dough. The Khadrawy dates, by the way, are smaller, not as sweet, and a little dryer, I think, than the ever-popular Medjools. Verdict on the combination as a post-ride recovery drink / worthy bribe for a reluctant rider? I loved it, but I would also observe that chocolate protein drink plus cookie dough ice cream plus Khadrawy date shake is not for everyone. I can't say I've ever tasted anything like it, and I know some people like to stick with the familiar. I like to mix it up a little bit, though, and this really hit the spot after a hot ride, for me.
Bip at the Arizona Falls, Just About When the Front Wheel Bearing Lost Its Will to Live
One of the interesting features I ride by sometimes along the canal is the Arizona Falls, a small hydroelectric plant built at a small drop in elevation. Bip's old front wheel bearing started making noises around this point in the ride, which I ended up fixing on Sunday by cleaning out the hub and packing it with new bearings and fresh grease. I don't know that the hub was ever adjusted since it left the factory, and it felt pretty tight and crunchy. Now it's smooth as silk, though.
Arizona Falls. You can walk down to the rail by the waterfall.
A Dusty, Hot, Peaceful Path
I took this last picture thinking that I could use it to talk about what it felt like to take a good, hot, peaceful ride. At times, it seemed like I could feel the dry wind extracting the water right out of me. I employed the cowboy air conditioner again, a bandanna soaked in water and wrapped around my neck. That makes the high rate of evaporation in the low humidity work to your advantage to cool the neck a bit. I saw the moon hanging there over the canal in the upper right, but it did not make me feel cooler.
A lot of those plants on the left are invasive species, by the way. I wanted to stop and take some identifying shots. But right at this point I was out of water, and the next water stop is just around the corner up ahead, so I sprinted past the salt ceders or whatever they are to get to it. I drank about 16 oz straight down, then filled up and rode on. My heat adaptations of being able to tank up on water when I find it seem to be improving. When I drank it, at that moment, the cool water went down like a freshly blended chocolate protein cookie dough Khadrawy date shake. Which was good, because it was still about 20 more miles from this point to the actual shake. It was strong motivation to keep riding. But I don't think I'll make that part of my practice. Consider it a non-standard deviation on the path to enlightenment. I don't think that path would be lined with date pits and empty cartons of cookie dough ice cream. Probably more like greasy old ball bearings and the cast-off impediments of stubborn cyclists who keep on riding from one place to wet their bandannas to the next.
Which reminds me. It's so peaceful out there in the summertime, because there's so few other people around. I rode for miles at a time without seeing another person, and when I did have a rare encounter, a lot of them looked like they were in the zone, too, pursuing peace, or solitude, or perhaps a date shake at the end of a long ride. I don't know. Maybe it's the endorphins making me feel all centered and quiet inside. I know it's a fragile quiet, though, because all it takes to challenge it is some crunchy, over-tight front hub bearings. Took care of that, anyway. What's next? Only one way to find out. Get up. Go ride.
Flashing Red Lights and Cars Askew In My Bike Lane: Instant Visceral Reaction
If someone maintains a calm rationality from the moment another person offends them until after the offender has moved on, and continues to maintain that calm in the aftermath, I would say that person has control over their anger in a very powerful way. If, on the other hand, a person decides to try to control their anger after being offended, but relinquishes that control when the other person flies off the handle, I would say that person does not have control over their anger.
If someone gives you the finger and you give them one back, you're both on the same level, and it doesn't really matter if one of you is driving a gold-plated Humvee with spinner rims and the other is on a vintage Italian road bike. He did it first, he's bigger than me, he started it, he's...whatever, those are all excuses for why you let your anger rule the exchange.
I expect people I meet to be human: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, lonely, hungry, dehydrated, occasionally whacko nutballs. To expect any different is to live in a dream world. I expect a few drivers to be dehydrated pissed-off nutballs. Oh look, there's today's whacko nutball. He looks a little altered, in fact. Meth? Beer? Beer and meth? That's interesting, he's just noticed me, is flashing his bright lights, is crossing the center line, honking, and heading straight toward me. Just another day in the human race on planet Earth.
I also expect that people affect each other just by the experience of bumping into each other. Part of the unique fabric of each of those experiences is what we're riding or driving when it happens, what we're wearing, what we say, what we do, how we act, how we feel later, what we remember about the meeting. I believe strongly that in order to diminish the probability of our various potential destructive ends (war, famine, crime, pollution...) and increase the probability of our various potentially constructive mutual projects bearing fruit (cities, art, the Internet, writing, technology, music, architecture, actual fruit trees), we need to control our anger to enable the possibility that the fabric of our experiences of encountering one another may be educational, enjoyable, edifying, rich, sometimes beautiful, or interesting.
When you enable a positive meeting like that by controlling your anger in an emotionally challenging situation, you have the potential to change lives for the better: yours, the other person's, and people who happen to be watching. And if you don't, you don't, by the way. All of your good work, all of your brilliant ideas, all of your humanitarian intent and egalitarian ways vanish in a puff of angry gray smoke when you blow your top in response to another blown top. And you've reinforced the top-blowing instinct for the next go-around.
If your standard reaction is to flip people off, you should not be shocked when you see middle fingers all around you. If your standard reaction is to reply to anger with anger, then you can expect to inhabit an angry world. Attention, those who reply to anger with more anger: your indignation at the angry world around you is disingenuous.
It requires true strength to manage the power of your anger. I am not always up to the task, I admit. I expect myself to be human, too. But I also hold myself to this standard: if I am sincere about doing my own small part to make things better and not make them worse, I will do everything I can to learn to control my anger, because I know that I have the potential to change lives for the better when I manage to do so.
With that in mind, I suggest to you again: when you are wronged, for example when you are cycling and the driver of a car commits a typical human error, reply to that wrong with a wave, a smile, or a kind word, maintain that posture throughout the encounter and in its aftermath. You will not have made a bad situation worse, you may have actually made it better, and you may have even changed lives for the better by controlling your anger.
"I encountered a stupid driver, so I replied as a stupid cyclist" doesn't cut it for me anymore. In my skewed little conception of reality, it's better to control your anger and ride on happily. Perhaps one or two others will ride away from you happier than they were. Perhaps. Get up. Go ride.
This morning my neighbor flagged me down as he was driving to work. He rolled down his window, and I stopped next to his car. Hey what's up I asked him. Those your dogs? He wanted to know. I wasn't sure which dogs he was talking about. None were evident at that time, and he wasn't pointing in any particular direction. I didn't feel responsible for ALL dogs, at that moment anyway, so I inquired, Which dogs are we talking about? And he retorted, the ones cavorting about his front yard at 5 am on Sunday morning. Oh those dogs, I wanted to say, except we both knew there was no chance I also was cavorting anywhere near his front yard at that time on that day of the week, so I probed deeper: what sort of dogs are we talking about? He described them, giving me enough data to narrow them down to one particular co-neighbor who sometimes leaves a door open here, a running vehicle there, and told him so: probably they just escaped to freedom for the umpteenth time. That seemed to satisfy him, canine-identity-wise. "Well," he concluded, "At least they aren't toddlers," and drove off.
Laughed my ass off. Because, not being able to help myself, I pictured a band of rogue toddlers invading his front lawn at 5am on a Sunday morning, bulgy pull-ups, pacifiers, and all. Roughly about a dozen of them. Out exploring, toddling along in the grass, up to no good, about to get into something they really shouldn't, no supervision, parents having NO IDEA where they are, all belonging (somehow) to the same parents, by the way. Oh look a patch of needle-sharp cactus. What's that, a gas-powered lawn implement? Oh look, someone left a car running and the doors unlocked. Pretty! Follow me, let's climb up there....
This phrase buffers a multitude of frustrations: yes some drivers are oblivious, yes that SUV just buzzed my elbow at 45 mph, sheeze Louise there's a lot of traffic this morning and none of them seem to see me, but, At least they're not toddlers. Try it tomorrow. It's Friday. Yes your fellow human beings are up to some pretty senseless behavior some of them time. But.... Get up. Go ride.
For four hours during the day, from 7 to 9 am, and 4 to 6 pm, there's no parking here and it's a bike lane. The other 5/6 of the day, 20 hours, it's permitted to park here. OK, since Saturdays, Sundays and holidays are also excepted, I think this works out to (assuming 5 holidays not on a weekend) 128/1095 or about .117 of a bike lane. This sharer of the road is parked illegally because it was between 7 and 9 am on a non-holiday week day when I took this picture, but this post isn't really about him. If I posted a Rainman-style "serious injury" item every time I ran into to something like this on my commute, this blog would be saturated with "Item #71: date 16-June-2010 time 07:15 am gray Audi parked in bike lane during posted non-parking hours. Stopped to discuss situation with owner. He grabbed and twisted my neck. Ow ow ow." I don't really blame Mr. Audi here (see below), I just merge gradually out and around this one single car, and it's not like there's parking wardens patrolling up and down the bike lane seeking out violators and issuing stunningly large citations to same to deter him/her from repeating this. Since I am reading Arizona Bicycling Street Smarts by John S. Allen now, this is an interesting opportunity to evaluate and apply what I'm learning. What I am mainly interested in here is the Arizona law behind this situation, ARS 28-815(c), which I quote in all its carrot-and-stick glory: "A path or lane that is designated as a bicycle path or lane by state or local authorities is for the exclusive use of bicycles even though other uses are permitted pursuant to subsection D or are otherwise permitted by state or local authorities."
Here's a chocolate chip cookie. It's for your exclusive eating, except for the .883 of it that state and local authorities have permitted for other uses, and the part you get has been chewed on by a dog. Enjoy!
I'm not here to complain about this .117 of a bike lane. I love and embrace every inch of bicycle infrastructure as if it were my own only child conceived, carried, and birthed with/by Claudia Schiffer. No, I come here curious and full of questions about the public policy and road design decisions behind this arrangement. "Bikes get a lane during rush hour time. Other than that, they can darned well weave through those parked cars." Was that part of the conversation? "...or are otherwise permitted by state or local authorities" would seem to leave the door pretty far open (extended well into the path of any oncoming bicycles brash enough to be riding along) for state and local authorities to permit anything they want in this space, to the extent that it ends up having a stripe and some helmeted bicyclist symbols painted on it, but doesn't really function as a bicycle lane at all. Because, when you get down to it, you can park your car here randomly, and only have .117 of a chance of breaking the law. If we assume a parking enforcement rate of .01, you have odds of .01 * .117 = .00117 or let's just call it one in a thousand of getting a ticket for it. But this isn't about vanishingly small odds of getting a ticket, either. It's about driving habits. My real question is: how are bicyclists and car drivers (and parkers) going to learn successful habits about how bike lanes work if they only work in some places, .117 of the time? Not very well, for cyclists and drivers in general, off-hours, on weekends and holidays. In fact, the only road-sharers they are intended to help is commuters, right? In other words, me. To me, they look like full, warm chocolate chip cookies served up by Claudia. But kids in the neighborhood on summer vacation? No cookie for you! People who work the night shift? No cookie for you! Retirees who ride their trikes to the grocery for the weekly gin? No cookie for you! As a commuter, I appreciate it. Mmmm, Claudia cookie. Yummy! The rest of you? The dog ate it. Sorry. Get up. Go ride.
This looks painful. I mean, if bikes could feel pain, this would probably hurt. More importantly, it just looks wrong. Something about seeing the bars and fork turned around like that makes me feel like the bike is broken or something. Which it isn't of course, just make the cables just long enough, and you can park your bike so that it looks like one of the experimental subjects of this great study. As I took the photo of this nice old aluminum-framed bike, though, I was wondering if that was the point: is parking your bike screwed up like this a method for making it less attractive to thieves? In that case, whatever works is OK by me. I don't know though. It just feels wrong. Get up. Go ride.
This post is an appreciation for the maintenance vehicles used for building and maintaining the canal paths, multi-use paths, bike lanes, and dedicated infrastructure we use and love. I recognize your critical contribution to making my ride possible. A nationwide network of dedicated bicycle paths would be a giant undertaking requiring many such machines. I imagine a factory in Peoria, Illinois working overtime to produce all the machines that would be needed to build and maintain such a network. Go Cat go! My daily commute is much more enjoyable because of you. Keep up the good work! Get up. Go ride.
Needed for Bike Tunnel Construction and Maintenance
Why am I sitting on the couch watching a replay of the 2009 STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Hot Saw finals from Columbus, Ga, on ESPN, eating cold pizza and spicy shrimp rolls on a Sunday afternoon when the weather is incredible (87F on June 13??), instead of cranking some high-mileage epic bicycle ride? Back pain, an old story with me, is the main reason. So, first off, congratulations are due to Jason Wynyard for pulling out the overall victory even though he DQ'd the hot saw.
The back problems, to summarize/justify: low back pain from low-grade spondylolisthesis, arthritis, inflammation, history of bulging lumbar discs, with microdiscectomy back surgery a couple of years ago. Bicycle riding and physical activity in general, particularly walking, helps more than anything else, so I am going for a short "enjoy the weather" ride to activate those lower back muscles and pump some fluid through those discs. Disc dessication is one of the issues, so I am hydrating like crazy to try to get some fluid in there. I had to have the surgery because of unremitting, excruciating 8-9 pain and some loss of function that was progressing from the ruptured disc impinging on my nerve. I hated the idea of surgery, but in this particular case, I needed it. No more disc problems, but I am still bothered sometimes (like today) by the other things. Bothered to the point that it's sometimes a challenge to not become an insufferable grouch to those around me. I tell my kids that there's a grouchy old troll who lives in my spine. He sleeps for months, then wakes up once in a while, wraps ropes around my spine, tightens them, and starts whacking on my spinal cord with his pick-axe. I think it helps them understand a little better what's going on with me. It also reminds me not to become the grouchy troll myself. When the troll wakes up, I expend extra energy trying to achieve or maintain equanimity, to seek balance and emotional control even when the pain ratchets up. For me, riding the bike helps with that. It's a centering technique when the troll tries to pull me off my game.
So a nice, easy ride along the canal should help, as long as I don't overdo it. As I rode along, I realized I haven't put many pictures up of the Biltmore resort, even though many canal rides take me past it. This hotel has a long history, from being inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright in design, to hosting the McCain/Palin concession speech on November 8, 2008. Here's a shot of the front, below.
Arizona Biltmore, Piestewa Peak in the Background
In the hot saw competition, they use these high-powered chainsaws to cut three perfect disks off a fat pine log as fast as possible. They only have so much log to work with, and the disks must be full, with no flaws caused by incomplete cuts. Wynyard DQ'd in the hot saw because they said one of his disks was imperfect, that it had a chunk cut out of it. I know how he feels. He had enough points from the other events to win anyway.
I Don't Know How This Works In Practice
I took it easy on the ride, enjoyed the weather and the beauty around me. The clouds were throwing shadows across Camelback Mountain, which kind of took my breath away when I paused to watch them, I'm not ashamed to admit.
Clouds Playing with Shadows on the Mountain
I need things to take my mind off the troll in my spine, no doubt about it. An easy ride along the canal on a perfect day is just what I needed. The activity did help some, I think, but more than that, set me up to move forward with renewed equanimity. Screw you, spinal troll. Go back to sleep. I've got miles to ride, smiling miles, hours where the challenges that come along are just another part of the ride. Good night, un-sweet troll, good night. Until we meet again, I have a little mantra I employ: Get up. Go ride.
You ride out and find a path. The front wheel of your bike points down the path so you pedal. The path winds around and along the canal, so you do, too. The sun shines on your skin and warms it, the wind is hot and dry and you love it, and the only sounds you hear are wind, wheels, gears, birds, and water flowing next to you. Before, you had some thoughts, concerns, preoccupations, possibly obsessions or worries, but they fade as you push the effort level higher. Tunnel under the next cross-street as you hit your pace: it's empty, dark, cooler, you accelerate down into it, tear through it, slingshot up and out the other side without changing gears on the uphill. No one is out there on the path, not even you, just a blur that for some miles seems to have forgotten himself, drawing power from the excessive desert heat. Flow, zone, rush, how far, how long, how fast should you keep it going? You coast a stretch and notice that you've gone beyond the normal turnaround, look down and find out that they have paved the path with some miraculously smooth, jet black surface since the last time you were on it, so you ride on. Up ahead you notice a sign marking a turnoff you've never seen before. The sign includes a map, and shows that this new path heads south, twenty miles in a different direction that you thought you would go, starting beyond the point where you might normally turn around. The water bottle is nearly empty. You look back behind you, contemplating the return ride home, since it's probably time to start back. You take one more look at the new path. It's paved with the same super-smooth black stuff. It's a new path so there's probably drinking water within a few miles. The front wheel of your bike points down that path, so you pedal. That's the plan. You ride out. Get up. Go ride.
The Doors by Donald Lipsky / Sound Passage by Jim Green
While shopping at the grocery store last night, I felt myself drawn inexplicably to the closeout DVD rack, where for $6.99 you can buy DVDs that no one else wants. Old Westerns, some bad Sci-Fi, flicks that don't even aspire to B-grade, the castoff remnants of unfunny comedies. As I cast my derisive, highly critical glance across the tattered flotsam of popular culture, my glaze settled appreciatively on a surprise: Run Lola Run was tucked among the rest. What? Clearly, in addition to believing that my fellow grocery shoppers had so little taste that they would shell out their hard-earned $6.99 to acquire yet more crap made by former Saturday Night Live denizens, the person or persons who stock the shelf had no clue what a fine film they were relegating to the crap rack. Oh well, my gain. Into the basket with you, my crimson-haired track star!
I possessed a borrowed copy of Lola for almost a year, I think. I might have held onto it a little longer than the lender had in mind. This is not not a review of the movie. The movie doesn't require a review. If you've never seen it, and you agree that former SNL denizens should (the vast majority anyway) be seeking careers other than serving as extras in bad movies made by other SNL denizens, just go watch it. Twenty-three year old Franka Potente is poetry in motion. She makes one tiny choice at the beginning of a twenty minute-long sequence three times, with three different results. It's an ever-forking maze of consequences navigated at high speed on foot by a fit young woman with brilliant red hair. She runs down a very similar path, sees the same people, faces the same challenges, but small choices and delays, we're talking just seconds, microscopic misses, brief conjunctions or lack thereof, lead domino-style to new discoveries, (mis)fortune, life in one form, death in another, extremely unpredictable and in some ways disorienting: if you believe you're in control, think again.
Which caused me, one domino to another, to deviate from my normal, not-very-direct commute route, to make a stop at the sculpture that stands on the corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads. The Doors by Donald Lipsky is what you see from the outside, then when you step inside you also hear the sound stylings of Sound Passage by Jim Green. As you can see in the photo above, it's a slightly tilted assemblage of some really big doors. The inner surface of the doors is mirrored, and top is open a bit, so it is like being inside of a kaleidoscope. You can get a much better idea by watching this short clip I took.
Look and Listen (Switched it to blogger video. YT borked currently.)
My commute is not the most direct route from A to B, and I don't ride it fast, measure the elapsed time or distance precisely, or meter my cadence. There are more direct routes, and I could ride it much faster, on one of my speedier bicycles, in more suitable attire. I'm not commuting on my bicycle to get there fast, but rather, in search of a better experience. I've come to value my time on the bicycle for thinking, dreaming, observing, listening, being. Slow and indirect is my choice. I'm sure I don't know the consequences of that choice. But so far, looking back, I like them.
Through an oculus darkly
Is that an inner door?
It all hinges on..well, we don't actually know, do we? Not ahead of time, anyway. Afterward we can look back and apply our faulty reasoning, our gambler's fallacies, our eager pattern matching, and wishful thinking, but in one moment we don't know what our fate will be in the next, and that's a fact. Stare into that naked singularity for a second, and you may glimpse the abyss. I think when you're younger and your neurons are all exploding with the heady glory of new knowledge, Sartre might seem like a reliable host to serve the philosophical hors d'oeuvres at that party. Then years go by, you gain some experience, some perspective, and you start to feel like the other side of the instant roulette wheel of fate is the ever-turning steamroller of sameness flattening what was supposed to have been your life into the blank black pavement of oblivion. Between those two extremes, we have feelings, we make plans, we form relationships, we live. No big answers to wrap this up, then, but I do have suggestions: take a winding route, consider not going directly from A to B as fast as you can, open the doors and look into the kaleidoscope, put yourself in the other guy's shoes, be gentle because you never know what's next, but a different now that you shape yourself can be interesting. Get up. Go ride.