Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Canticle for the Lost and Bold

Pardon me: are you searching for something?

Lost may be defined conversationally:
"Do you know where you are?"
"Do you know where you're going?"
"Do you know how to get back to where you came from?"
"Do you have a plan for where to go next?"
"Do you know your current course and speed?"
"What bearing would you like to stay on?"
"How far are you traveling?"
"What time do you plan to arrive at your intended destination?"
"Did you bring enough supplies and fuel for your journey?"
Bold, as used herein:
Striking out without fear.
Braving the unknown.
Facing the unlikely.
Being in the minority.
Withstanding difficulty, hardship, hunger, lack of water.
Seeking out the new.
Staring up at the sky when commonsense might dictate that you pay attention elsewhere.
A lack of familiar companionship.
Heading directly, and purposefully, into an unknown land, to find out what's there.
Open for whatever may come, and ready for it.
Curious as to what the next  moment holds.

Pelican on the Arizona Canal, my first

Canticle, as in A Canticle for Leibowitz (a favorite book from long ago): a song or poem, of praise or worship.

I think this pelican must be really, really lost. He's a long way from the coast. Unlikely to find familiar food, or a mate, sitting on the bank of the Arizona Canal. I wanted to stick around to see if he attempted to scoop up a white Amur catfish, which are as big as he is. Is he perhaps a juvenile, blown far off course by monsoon storms (a news search turns out that this happens more often that I thought)? In that case, I am particularly hopeful for his mating and feeding prospects, as the Amur may be easily taken by surprise, and the female (or male) egrets and geese that hang around might work. Who knows, peligrets? Geesicans? I was rooting for him (or her).

I watched him a few moments and thought of the times I've been off course, out of my element, sitting beside a strange river or trail, rolling down some unknown road, plotting out the next steps. Lost, perhaps, but still bold. Sometimes, according to the news stories I found, they ship these wayward Arizona monsoon pelicans to San Diego for care and release. Which, if he's hungry and dehydrated would certainly help, although if he works out the whole Amur-feeding and egret-mating deal, might not be something he's in a big hurry for. I doubt it, of course. But I'm pulling for him anyway.

Most of the time, if we went strictly by the probabilities and the un-bold move, nothing interesting would much happen. So, yes, he is a pelican. But he's got a canal full of fish right there in front of him. Maybe, just maybe, he could stay a short while. Make enough of a living to tell the relatives about back home. Frankly, I doubt it. But he finds himself right here, right now. Whatever happens next won't come from the pelican manual of standard operational procedures. Blown off course by a storm. Hundreds of miles to the nearest coast. Hungry. Phoenix in July. What next, my brown feathered buddy? I don't know, and I may never find out, but I'll keep my eyes wide open, looking up and around, searching the canals for signs of what happened next. It will be written.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

To Each His Own Glory

Near Noon, in summer, the real shadows and the fake shadows at Tempe Town Lake Bridge flirt with overlaption

In late July, in Phoenix at Noon, I headed out for a bike ride, because early morning is not my time. I've done fewer hot midday rides this year than in recent past years, so it is true that I am perhaps less acclimated than in past summers, but today I really needed one. In spite of my neighbor, dressed for the pool, suggesting that a sane person would grab a cold beverage and join him lounging next to the cool water. In spite of my family, basically telling me that the sun and heat would convert me into a dried-up, mummified version of myself.

Signs of recent monsoon floods: standing water, washed away sections of path

Twenty-three miles of Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix at midday was my workout glory for the day. The heat did get to me, a bit, anyway. Right around the time I saw the egret standing beside the pond in the park. I slowed down to catch a photo of him, and thought, hmmm, a quick dip would feel soooooooo good. But, actually, the water smelled a little funny after the recent flash floods, so I gave it a pass. I noticed the egret wasn't exactly splashing around in it for joy, either.

The water from the fountain at the ramada near Tempe Town Lake and the Indian Bend Wash was hot, so I filled my bottle just in case, but didn't drink a lot there. On the other hand, the water at the marina fountain was icy cold, so I drank about one bottle there, and filled up again.

Riding in the heat has its advantages. When I turned onto the Crosscut Canal path, the bike surged ahead beneath me, propelled by some crazy dude up and over the hill, then along the canal at a good clip. The bike was quiet. All along the way, no matter how slow or fast I pedaled, the air was filled with the buzzsaw song of cicadas. Maybe I was hallucinating slightly, but I'm pretty sure this is what I heard in their buzzing: you there, riding at midday in the desert in the summertime, to each his own glory.

Jump in, man, I'm right behind ya (you first)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Cicada Does Not Miswant

Diceroprocta semicincta in my neighborhood

He does not yearn for a new house or faster car to make life worth living. Neither does he want to move to Paris for a better life, nor flit from job to job in an effort to gain both incremental improvements in income and satisfaction. No, he more or less just buzzes loudly for a few weeks, seeks a mate, finds one, and is done. A laser-sharp focus, undiminished by nonsense: survive the acute threats, sing the song, find a mate. I touch him to see if he's still with us, still on his singular mission, and he takes flight, buzzing, sounding annoyed, but really just avoiding a perceived acute threat. Providing me with just the fleeting dose of delight and thought provocation which I seek to set off a ride, and a day, on the right foot. He understands time, lives it in fact, and his focus on his goal is irreproachable. On the other hand, as a human, it is almost my mantra, my way of being, my essence, to focus on wrong things of the moment, to misunderstand time, to miswant.

Oh, Diceroprocta, perhaps I can learn from you some working tips to improve in these areas. I do have my stories, though, and since I cannot tell if the cicada's songs tell stories or are merely mating plaints, I shall assume that I am the superior story-teller, and offer to spin a few yarns for him, in exchange for some tips on focus, and on a direct and meaningful comprehension of time.

I shall not miswant. Try that on for size, big guy. The cicada doesn't, so why do I? This post written right after finishing Thinking, Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, while listening to the song of this very cicada which, as I finish this, appears to be no longer with us so soon, for his song is quiet now. I wonder if he achieved his goal. I wonder what he thought in his last moment. I don't know the former, but I have a guess at the latter: buzzzz buzzzz buzzzz.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Scaffold the Sun

Thoughts can be affected by other thoughts. I wish to be happy. I think about how to think happy. I have a reasonable chance to figure out how to create happy thought patterns with other thoughts working it out. On the other hand, I may wish to find a pot of gold hovering in mid-air beneath the end of this crane, but I doubt that any amount of my thoughts could possibly cause that to be so. Thinking can possibly do one but not the other. That distinction is crystal clear, sharp as a crane silhouetted against the sun. Probably clear to most. It's everything in between that gets fuzzy and interesting, though. Particularly things that really matter, like person to person. Who knows about that? The limits of what might be accomplished, I mean. I sure don't. Is it rash to think, to wish: more than we know?

This caught my eye. Then my mind. Then, tiny chance, possibly, for a moment, yours. QED. 

fuzzy and interesting

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Mornings I Ache For

No apparent reason, all over, until I ride, warm up, and move a while, then it's OK.
You. Many versions. A little me on a stingray. A cordial group, starting off at 5:30am, riding to coffee, chatting along the way. Cross-country crew, from one coast to the other. Friday night crew, from one cordial meeting place to another. Mountain biking buddy, hammering up hills on a hot day, flying down them setting sparks off rocks with our pedals. Missed meetup museum girl. Easy mornings. Beach days. Library nights. Book store days. A passion for stamp collecting. A different job. Time to read a great book in one sitting. Clarity. Smoothness. Balance. Ease. Peace.

Truth. Strength and confidence and time to ride far and fast. A better world for my children. Better communications and better understanding between everybody. What is was like before cell phones. Accidental poetry that makes my heart sing and eyes water. Intense insight. Powerful thoughts handed to me gently by a stranger. Angels. Unexpected happy people. A chance to help someone. A chance to make a meaningful difference in someone's life. Great places to ride a bicycle with others doing the same.

Simplicity. Solitude. Quiet. Wordless understanding. Small beautiful things. Slow rides with no destination. Bike n+1 853 or Ox Platinum from the swap meet, not expecting to find it. More time with my kids before they fly the nest. Concert moments. Dune moments. A bleak windswept snowscape. A wilderness beach. A movie that takes my breath away like the one in Cambridge did a long time ago. Night rides. Mud. The ability to overcome bias. Sharp, focused vision. Dreams that run several nights, and all fit together. Dreaming, period. Late mornings. Accomplishing shared struggles. A long run on a morning where I can see my breath. Heroes. Laughter. 

You, just one version. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Drama Does Not Translate Well

Sun in front, dark clouds behind

On the ride home tonight the sky, clouds, sun, wind, thunder and threatening rain were dramatic, but nearly impossible to catch all at once with the camera. The pylons at the Soleri Bridge were lit by bright sunlight from behind me, and set against the dark storm clouds, but the photo barely captures it. Perhaps it is only with the usual backdrop, blazing blue skies, seared into brain, that the clouds look so distinctive. The drama does not translate, though.

I also noticed some of those multicolored triangle flags whipping in the wind strung along some construction cones along the trail, and wondered if they were inspired by Tibetan prayer flags. Which, as I reread that sentence, probably translates even less well. Lucky I didn't even try to take a photo of those, or spend the time to check the color sequences to see if they matched or not. Wouldn't that be something, though, if they did.

Bright and dark

Caught my eye

Good for sun, not for wind

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hands that Held and Made Them

I have these old stem shifters

I have these forty year old stem shifters which I stripped off the Interex Rebel ten speed as part of the Flatland Commuter project. The parts of that old bike fall into several distinct categories: A) non-working, B) working but not going to be used ever by me, C) working and generally please me while using them, D) not quite sure. Category A included such things as the old cracked brake pads and tires. Category C includes the frame, fork, handlebars, brake calipers, and crankset. Category D includes the saddle, which is a stout Japanese-made steel affair, the Shimano Titlist derailleurs, the stout steel Japanse-made pedals that are more like bear traps, and the kickstand. Firmly in category B are these stem shifters.

Since these stem shifters still work, but I know I'm never going to use them, I have to ask myself, what the heck am I doing holding onto them? I hold onto parts which have value to me as potential replacements, fun projects, or future use, none of which apply to the category B items (or A for that matter, although I still have the salmon colored useless brake pads labelled "Weinmann Brev." attached to the currently non-used rear brake calipers, for old time's sake). 

I could swap them. That will probably be their ultimate fate. Perhaps someone will want them, even if I express my serious, grave concerns about stem shifters. Some ten speed resurrectionist may desperately need them. Heck, sold along with the quite acceptable Titlist derailleurs, they may even make someone happy. 

On the other hand, I can't seem to bring myself to just throw them away. They've made it this far, still working. I may change my mind some day, and move them to the C or D category. And when I pick up and hold them, clean them up a little, turn them over in the light, contemplate their finer aesthetic points as well as their clunky mechanical faults and advantages, I think about their fabrication 40 years ago, and wonder about the hands that held and made them. What mind and person was that? What did they think about? What was their life like? What did they feel? Questions for a long ride in the sunshine, on a hot summer day. On a fixie.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Our Civilization, c.2013

The integrated network expands

The continued expansion of the integrated network of dog poop pick-up mitt stations around the Phoenix metropolitan area continues according to the Master Plan. A society with the capacity to imagine, engineer, plan, and implement a consistent, widespread, and clearly signed system like this is capable of anything, no? Perhaps other types of consistent, widespread, clearly signed, integrated, usable, and consistent systems of things?

Values statement: politeness, proper behavior, sanitation, respect for laws

A concern with what is polite, proper, (and sanitary), but also the law, would serve the greater good in other modes of our public interaction in public spaces beyond where and how our dogs take a crap, and how that crap is picked up, yes? For example, off the top of my head, in our chosen mode of travel? And in our favorite modes of athletic recreation? When we go shopping? When we go out to eat with our families, or move around downtown for First Fridays? When we commute to work? How about how and when we just chose to stare at the clouds and enjoy the day? Stay sanitary out there.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lighten My Heart, O Two Wheeled Muse

That sign is pretty clear

Lighten my heart, O two wheeled muse!
Open my mind
Release me from my enmities.

Lend me strength, at reasonable interest rates, to resist the sociopaths among us.
Grant me courage and patience to stay on course, and to avoid anger traps.
Lead me down quiet roads, along shady paths, 
with like-minded people, in harmony and not conflict,
together in one spinning purpose of human--powered forward motion.

Tolerance, patience, wisdom, quiet:
keep helping me find these, my bicycle,
and teach me to quick turn gracefully from their opposites.

Perhaps we can just ride a while, and listen to the wind.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Tried Thinking of Penguins

113°F and the power of thinking cold thoughts

I tried thinking of penguins. Ice: cubes, bergs, slush, glaciers, icicles, tea, shave. Snow, hail, polar bears. Krill. Polar regions. Mountaintops. Soaked to the skin from a rushing glacial melt stream trying to get a fire started. Wonder Bread bags stuffed inside rubber boots. Snowball fights. Snow forts. Skating. Cross-country skiing. Sleet. Freezing rain. Wind chill. All these.

Frozen drinks straight from the blender. Brain freeze. Ice cream. Popsicles. Gelato.

Lakes of liquid methane on Enceladus. Life beneath the ice in Antarctica. Superconductors. Accelerator magnets in liquid helium. Liquid nitrogen. Dry ice. Running on Pluto. Ice lantern festival: brrr.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Riding with Johnny and the Brifters

Go Johnny Go: shift cable exit left

Upper nineties and low humidity is just about perfect for me. All sign of aches and pains cook away, and provided enough water, I can find that well-tuned balance of cadence, gear, and position that feels like I could ride a long, long time. But a key component of that feeling is confidence in the equipment. Nothing supports that sort of confidence like easy, swift, sure, accurate shifts.

In the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly, they discuss the pros and cons of different types of shifters, from bar end, to down tube, to brifters. I'm in general agreement with what is written there. Eventually I may switch to Dura-ace down tube shifters on this bike, because as far as I know, nothing else is as swift, sure, and accurate, and they also are very simple, which I also appreciate. They might be fussy with a ten-speed cog and/or a triple chain ring, though, so I may have to look into those possible issues further.

But one minor distinction I want to make is that the brifters on my bicycle are the slightly older Ultegra type where the shift cable exits from the side, allowing a gradual, single ninety degree bend down to the cable boss. With this arrangement, I find that the shifts are almost without delay, and very crisp. This differs somewhat from what they state in BQ, perhaps because they were referring to newer Shimano brifters with the "aero" stealth shifter cables hidden beneath the bar tape, which do look sleeker than mine, but cause the shift cable to bend around and get impeded much more than mine do, resulting in perceived delay and increased friction.

Since I ride most of the time with my hands loosely on the hoods, I also find the brifters super convenient. A few times I pretend-shifted my non-existent down tube shifters from various starting hand positions. All were pretty comfortable, but none were as easy as a quick flick of the appropriate finger or thumb that I use to shift or trim with the brifters. For easy summer riding, they seem tough to beat. Except for the fixie. For flatland summer cruising, nothing beats that.

Possible future location of Dura-ace down tube shifters