Saturday, November 30, 2013

Scatter Me Here Beside the Verde

Wetlands next to the Verde River, Deadhorse State Park, Cottonwood AZ

This is a place before places. If I should disappear to dust, scatter me here. If I should condense to a point of bright light, then shine me here in the darkness. If you should find me wandering in the desert, direct me here. If I'm thirsty, remind me of this water. If I seek animals or birds, tell me of the beaver, otters, herons and snakes down next to the river. In summer if I'm overheated then lay me down in this shade. If in winter I am shivering then prop me against a bare cottonwood in the sun. If I'm lonely then send me to this solitude. If I'm social then send me to this solitude. If you see me tapping on my smart phone then throw it instantly into this mud. If I need a place to park my bicycle, wheel me here. To listen, to dream, to drift, to sing. Where wind can shelter sunlight. Snows on Mingus. If I'm hitching down a long road without a destination, drop me here. I'll unwrap the beaver fences from the bases of some trees to give them something to gnaw on and you'll have to forgive me for that. The smack of tail on still water at dusk rises and startles both the blue heron and me who turn our heads in unison toward it. The brown and golden reeds brush my palms like Maximus. If it appears the ground breathes at the sound of the running water it does. Scatter me here, I run on air.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Crank Up the Quiet Volume, Fill Up the Void

Rainy bench and thought-trigger

The rain of the early part of the week filled up many normally empty voids: gutters and gulleys, ditches and drains, culverts and basins. With it: fog, humidity, wind, a long cool soaking of everything. Doors swell up. Cool feels cooler to me.

Reflect and fill up

The basin before me sits empty almost always. Of water, anyway, though sometimes birds visit it, or people walking dogs, or maintenance men who will sit in the shade a while with you on on blazing hot summer day talking of old TV programs and what we've become. But its singular or primary purpose is to do what it's doing in the photo above: to catch and gather water, store or buffer it, hold it as it runs from streets and diversion routes, then further direct it down pipes, and away.

Mountain and tree, fog and water, basin and range: volume and void

Here I can pause, in this spot on my bicycle. I need to fill up. With Thanksgiving food and with thanks, yes, and not with stuff or bargain purchases or urgent sale frenzy, no, but with this quiet volume. The mountain wreathed in fog is a quiet volume of connection with the filled basin in front of me. In rain, rocks (and sometimes water, and debris) flow down it, tiny rivulets trickling between cactus, speeding and joining as they run into streams, into torrents, that can overwhelm us with their roar.

A mountain not used to fog, but which wears it well

This quiet volume fills me up. It's not noise, or fashion, or bright bargain billboards lit with flashing lights I seek, but a quiet place connected to mountains, trees, and water, showing flow, that whispers about what lasts, actually, and that fills me up in my own local place.

It's time to crank up that quiet volume, and ride with it. I think it could involve cycling out to those places of volume and void, and jumping into them with enthusiasm, and with an open mind, to learn from them--they are without limits in what they might teach, I think. So try, stay strong in it, and do not be distracted by fleeting noise when something so much more is attainable.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Alive At Night I'm Riding

Glowing lot

I glance in my newly-mounted helmet mirror to verify the sound of a Phoenix City bus coming up behind me at the stoplight. It's a new sensation for me, this mirror thing, seeing back without turning my head around to look, actually the first night I've tried it. I see the flashing turn signal of the bus driver intending to turn right. I'm OK if he goes by me since I'm very near the curb waiting for the light to turn green, but for the second time this night, a driver behind me decides not to squeeze past me the cyclist, and I appreciate that.

Perhaps it's my slightly upright position due to the slightly swept back bars I'm trying out. Maybe it's my flashing rear light commanding attention. Maybe my bike-specific black jacket with the white reflective piping makes me look like a guy from the movie Tron in his headlights. I glance in the mirror again and he's still not coming around me. Guess we're all just waiting for the green.

Bip with saddle bag mounted in the not-really bag loops

A thousand scattered thoughts are quieted and gathered up as I ride through the night. Darkness requires attention, the new mirror draws focus in a new dimension: back, behind, to the oncoming lights which appear with surprising clarity in the small rectangle dangling before my left eye. It's best when I can judge if it's going to be safe to merge left or not without craning my neck around like an owl. Just for that, the mirror earns a longer trial period. The mirror like everything else on two wheels feels like a skill to acquire with practice until it becomes second nature. Tonight though, it's novel, it's not natural, it works yet does not flow with the rest of the ride like other actions: shifting, braking, steering, signalling, spinning, turning, braking, listening to the night, watching crossing and entering vehicles, these are all going on with me and around me without thinking.

Off the bike there's so much to do. The list is long and the time is short. On the bike there's only to ride, though, and in the night my attention seems to center even more by the singleness of purpose involved in pedaling through the dark.

Sackville saddle bag mounted in the sorta-loops on the Specialized Sonoma Gel

The saddle I picked up at the GABA swap, a Specialized Sonoma gel, in case someone in the house wanted to try a different and potentially more comfy saddle, landed on Bip as part of the contact point redux when I noticed these holes in the back that would definitely do for bag loops. They are, I think, theoretical bouncy shock-absorber things which appear to serve best as a receptacle for leather straps attached to cotton duck bags. The saddle is not too squishy, nice and firm actually, and feels significantly better than Bip's stock Trek saddle which has probably made a good showing by lasting and being used this long.

The Sackville has a rear tail light mount which points the light perfectly rearward, and for that I love it deeply. Many are the bags which I've tried which send red flashes every direction but straight back. At night, you see, it's all about the focus and the flow, and if I can ride in peace knowing that the machine is working well and silently, the bag is holding it's own, I'm learning about the mirror, and the lights are both helping me to see and to be seen, then my attention and my scattered thoughts can pull into the one-point singularity of purpose of my own motion. Alive at night I'm riding.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Optimizing Bicycle Contact Points With Vector Analysis

A stack of leather washers tensioned with three spokes between two handlebar binding rings

Hands, feet, butt. These are the contact points for a typical human on a typical bicycle. So how these are supported, as well as the angles between them, have a lot to do with many things, including comfort. I seek comfort. So, when I go to events like bike swaps, I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting grips to try. Also, I've been wanting to ditch the straight bars on Bip the Burple swap bargain bike from a few years back, and replace them with bars with some rise and sweep to them, to try to improve my hand comfort. While I was at it, I got a new saddle to try out, too, but more on that later. Let's focus on the hands here.

These are Brooks Plump Leather grips, made from stacks of leather washers cut from scraps from fabricating saddles. I embrocated these with some Obenauf LP, tensioned them to what seemed like a reasonable adjustment although I admittedly lack previous experience in tensioning stacks of leather scrap washers with spokes to use as handgrips, and mounted them on the new-to-me bars.

The bars are getting rotated into different positions until I find just the right one. This ain't it.

Finally, I found some grips which feel right for my larger hands. I also like Oury grips, but felt like it was time to try something different. The grips seem like a great swap find. The bars so far feel like quite an improvement over the straight pipe that they replaced. More on the saddle later, including an investigation into whether I may have stumbled upon the cheapest saddle with bag loops included (sort of). Oh and pedals, there must be pedals.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Light Up Monolith, Light Up

The monoliths from my earlier post about Red Bull Illume are lit up at night

Large screens bearing sports-related images are lit up at night along the Scottsdale Waterfront now. My review: I like them. I'd like to say they are life-changing, or ennobling of the human spirit, or something similar, but having experienced something actually life-changing this week, unexpectedly, I am hesitant to call big screen TVs setup along the canal the same thing.

I happened to buy some leg compression sleeves at the GABA bike swap. They were cheap, I have been thinking about getting some on the outside chance they might help with my night time leg cramps, so I picked them up. Low, behold, my night leg cramps have been totally cleared up by wearing the compression leg sleeves a few hours before bed. Sleep is so much better when you don't get roused at 3am by a rigid, painful calf or foot cramp. Not totally sure what it means, medically speaking. My leg veins are apparently not efficient enough at clearing out the waste products from cycling 12 to 40 miles a day. The compression sleeves apparently help them out with that task. 

I should probably speak with a medical professional further about this, I realize. I'll get to that eventually, in case something else is going on, but at the present moment, I'm just more or less ecstatic to make it through the night without a wicked foot cramp. Super-happy, in fact. So while the big old photos along the canal are nice, they aren't as nice as that, not life-changing. But, on the other hand, maybe I just need to spend a little more time with the photos to see deeper. Sometimes, working longer hours, I feel like a get a brain cramp. Maybe photos like this can serve as decompression sleeves for the mind.

The big screens are watched day and night by security guys

I'm not sure if the images change over time or not. They stayed the same while I watched, any way.

They are arrayed in a line across the bridges, and stacked like cards along the path, appealing to my OCD

Some of the photos are rocking action shots, while others are quieter, requiring some contemplation to appreciate. There are some benches set up nearby, for pausing, for reflecting, for considering. These light up when darkness falls. I'm not sure how late they stay on, but I'm thinking about stopping by here later on in the evening, when it's more likely that fewer people will be around, to sit and give the images a longer viewing. Perhaps while wearing my compression leg sleeves, in order to sleep clear until morning, having cleared waste products from both legs and mind.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tucson GABA Bike Swap Fall 2013 Photos: Arise Picacho Dawn

Pre-dawn light on Picacho Peak on the drive to the swap, stunningly early in the morning

If your main impression of Tucson is from going to several GABA bike swaps like mine is (view the whole glorious string of secondhand gear here), you would come away believing that the city is fit, friendly, and steeped in bicycle culture beyond other cities that I am more familiar with. It's an interesting way to distort my understanding of a city.

Once more excellent coffee from the Peddler on the Path Mobile Cafe

The bike of the Gray Wolf, a highly modified 25th Anniversary Eddy Merckx AXM. Watch the video.

There's just the one shifter, since he moves the front chain by hand

I love it when GABA does their MEGA clearances and sells jerseys and stuff for $20. Get there early, though.

The nicest people at the swap in the Robdogs truck made this "Homewrecker" with jalapenos, chili, and cheese for me

I notice they still make the tricycles from steel and not carbon fiber. Just sayin.

These were not technically up for swappage, but they caught my eye just off the street

Parking Day, too. You know, I was so tired by this point that I couldn't even make a decent tandem joke

The weather was rocking and so was the crowd

I got a bunch of good stuff. Including 25 reflective bike stickers.

I know that Tucson on Bike Swap day is not the whole of the place. In some ways, it's a temporary fiction constructed for the benefit of bicycle aficionados in search of bargains and dreams, put up for the day like an imaginary park in a parking space, then taken down that night, to be replaced by the normal workaday streets teaming with cars and trucks.

But when so many of us turn out for the swap, it not only reinforces my distorted view, but also pushes the warm attractive essence of the fiction few steps, or pedal turns, closer to reality. I'm not saying the real parts of it which do exist--all that bike stuff, the people who know and greet each other, the regulars you see every time, the actual bike knowledge and bike culture which are apparent and deep--are not substantial or significant; quite the opposite. They are intensely real. But concentrated, focused, amplified like this along a few streets on bright, warm morning after I've driven down there from Phoenix, it's overwhelming. You can't help but get carried away with it and think of Tucson as a place where lone gray wolves ride off fast into the desert while the streets are filled with people who love or are attached to bikes for many different reasons. You just have to arrive before the sun comes up to watch it unfold fully, and also to get the best bargains.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

That's a Very Nice Rendering, Dave

The black monoliths appeared suddenly, and except for a single radio burst at Jupiter, have been silent

An array of dark, wired monoliths appeared suddenly and without warning on the path along the Scottsdale Waterfront.

Closer examination shows they have something to do with the nighttime display of compelling images. They are part of Redbull Illume, which I assume means that it's a simulation of how the inside of my eyes look, and how my mind feels, at 3am if I consume energy drinks.


I can drink a couple pots of coffee in the morning and still sleep well that night, but for whatever reason, energy drinks tend to leave me sleepless and wired in the middle of the night. I put that down to a personal insufficiency in metabolizing their key ingredients in a timely manner. So I tend to stay with coffee as my energy drink of choice.

I imagine that riding a bicycle past these at night will be REALLY QUITE MIND BLOWING.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Canal Convergence Bike Ride: This Sonorous Desert

Cyclist, Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker (ride leader), Alberto Rios (Arizona Poet-Laureate)

Slow flows the water beneath the generator house at Arizona Falls this noon. Before us stood the inaugural poet-laureate of Arizona*, Alberto Rios, reciting and discussing phrases from "Words Over Water" which are sandblasted into the pavement around us; behind us stood the Salt River Project representative explaining the history, engineering, hydrology, and operation of the electrical generating station we are standing on, over the canal at the Falls.

The poet suggests that the Sonoran Desert is sonorous when it rains, while the SRP representative says that the steel grate platform on which we're standing sometimes verily roars and mists when the waters run beneath it more energetically and higher (I've seen that), but present levels and flows result in a much more subdued, quieter soundscape. Punctuated by the grinding, the growling, the buzzing, the hum of the machinery of power generation.

Words over water: raindrops on hard dirt make the ghosts rise

Rios observed that rain just beginning to fall in this particular desert impacts the bean pods on the mesquite trees and makes a sound like maracas. These are words which you can hear without knowing the attached experience personally, but I do know it, and connect it with the perfume of creosote, the feel of trail dust washing off my skin, a rush of cool air just before a storm, the sudden darkening, the crack and peel of thunder, dust-wind, the first trickles of a deluge in a dry wash, the anticipatory hushed pause of every living thing just before the water goes ssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

He connected that observation with a thought which hooked me, that the etymology for the name of our desert, the Sonoran, is connected with the word "sonorous," at least in part due to the music of the cascade of beauty and relief which falls with rain and flow of water in the world's wettest desert (so the commonplace goes, although Antarctica gets more precipitation but in solid form).

I could not substantiate that etymology: according to Wikipedia, anyway, Sonoran comes from Senora, the northwestern Mexican state Estado Libre y Soberano de Sonora, which comes from (possibly) some speakers inability to pronounce the "ñ' in "Nuestra Señora", or alternatively, according to Father Cristóbal de Cañas in 1730, the name comes from the word for a natural water well, sonot. Or, as with many words coming to us from the dim, dark, misty past, who knows?

But look at this photo, and let these run over your tongue: Sonoran, sonorous, sonorant, sonoriferous, soniferous, sonot.

A tree grows in the flow beneath the generator house at Arizona Falls

An irresistible visual composition of circle, square, and water
The poet spoke words over water, while we got a rare view inside the generator house

Pedaling machines parked at Arizona Falls

We also visited the Shemer Art Center/Museum, where we wrote down strips of poems and briefly viewed the exhibit there.

Marlene Tays Wellard, "Lead Me, Guide Me" at the Shemer

One way that plants obtain water, by the Shemer

A watershed moment during the ride came for me, though, while we paused next to one of the concrete benches along the recently improved section of the Arizona Canal, and listened to Laurie Lundquist discussing the words and images inscribed on them, and the thoughts behind them.

These benches (although not this particular one)

The bench we stopped by portrayed the workers digging the Arizona Canal with shovels, using mules for hauling. I could hear the calls of the mule drivers, crack of whip, smell the dust they raised, see the sweat pouring off them and evaporating instantly in the desert sun. Then the discussion turned technical: the bench we were viewing was darker than the one in my photo above, explained Laurie Lundquist, because the anti-graffiti coating that had been applied darkened over time and with exposure, lowering the contrast between the image and background.

The number and variety of choices available in the marketplace for anti-graffiti coatings amazed and dismayed me, speaking as it does to the prevalence of defacement of art and other public surfaces out there. The technologies available include polyurethanes, nano-particles, fluoridated hydrocarbons, and siloxanes, pretreatments and post-treatments, sealers, surface characteristic alterations, and sacrificial surfaces. The last one lets you wash away graffiti with a power washer, then reapply another sacrificial layer in preparation for the next defacement. The fluorine-based treatments work like anti-stick coatings on pans, since fluorine is such an aggressive and greedy grabber of electrons, leaving nothing behind for paint (or food grease) to stick on. 

With the canal-builders and mule-drivers fresh in my mind, it was natural for me to make the following connection:

Workers who came here to build canals, channels for water directed from upstream sources, chasing dreams of a better life.

Artists who came here to build public art, channels for beauty and ideas directed from upstream sources, chasing dreams of a more human city.

From dirt, with shovels and mules.
From cement, and sand blasting, with sacrificial surfaces to wash away desperate scrawls.

I heard a power washer running in my mind. Loud as a generator at Arizona Falls, with an intake hose hanging into the canal, spraying a cleansing blast to wash away sacrificial surfaces, and with them the crass scrawls of anger and ignorance, leaving behind history, poetry, art, and thought. Words on water.

We rode back to Soleri Bridge, where we typed up wishes, folded them into boat-shapes, and left them in a canoe.

Free magnets!

*the actual fact that there is a poet-laureate of Arizona, and also that he appeared to read and discuss his poetry with bicyclists while standing on top of a generating plant in the middle of the Arizona Canal, seems altogether miraculous to me.