Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Liminal Bicycle

I ride the line
At the end of the year, I observed myself riding the line comfortably, in between the bike lane and the motor vehicle lane, balanced and easy. In this space between years, between day and night, between stretches of blacktop on smooth paint, I found myself gliding along without a care. My mind free of worries, my body empty of woes, my heart doing its job without problem, my lungs respiring easy and smoothly. In between. Spinning and balanced. Gliding along. 

From this space, I looked forward, and saw nothing to stop me from taking any turning I choose, no barriers to imagine what I might do or where I might ride. My tires and bicycle were perfection in motion, silent and smooth. I just spin in that moment, in this liminal space, and know something vital and real that must be held and felt to be known. To be in between is to have the opportunity to feel this, and know it, if only for the duration of a bike ride.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cyclists as a Non-anxious Presence in Traffic

Observance of signs

Exploring some of the underlying themes of this blog

Humans are easy to manipulate. Push on our common buttons, and we react predictably. Marketers and sales people, artists, cartoonists, filmmakers, journalists, politicians, doctors, pastors, police, traffic engineers, and help desk technicians all understand this, and use it to their particular ends constantly, causing us to be bombarded by all manner of stimuli designed and intended to bend our behavior to particular ends which are most often not of our own origination, creation, or will. All aspects of behavior and opinion are fair game.

The science of this has honed these methods to an effective, sophisticated, and often subtle level. I suspect that the combination of pervasiveness, effectiveness, familiarity, and intensity, applied to hungry, angry, tired, lonely, overworked, overstimulated, distracted, smart phone addicted populations, leads both to unawareness of it happening, along with apathy toward it, and acceptance of it.

The negative forms of it, used for negative ends, are the easiest to rail against. Unfortunately, they also seem the easiest to employ and the most effective in practice. Gaslighting and bullying were elevated to a winning strategy in our most recent presidential election. When you see the power of appealing to fear and anxiety, and your polling data show that by doing so you can can cause fear and anxiety to feed on themselves and make your message even more appealing, just about any message can be substituted for facts. That's the world we voters made, and we have to live with its consequences.

On another hand, recognizing the phenomenon of this manipulation, and working to understand it, in both its positive and negative aspects, seems to me like an underlying theme of this blog from the start. A theme which I only just recognized recently. The source of this recognition was a discussion I had at church, in which the pastor described the meaning of a term I don't think I have heard before: being a "non-anxious presence". Just hearing the words fired off a cascade of associations and reasoning in my mind. The religious context for the phrase is something like, amidst the overwhelming worries of the world, when the inevitable events of life strike and fill us with anxiety and fear, someone trained to be a non-anxious presence can be a powerful force for surviving what may feel like an unsurvivable event by being present there next to us in that moment. Someone named Edwin Friedman seems to have been a proponent and elaborator of this concept, via something called Family Therapy.

All interesting, I'm sure, but relevant to this blog, and specific to the italicized tagline of this post, I felt or realized suddenly that much of my thinking, feeling, and blogging has centered around the idea of trying to be a non-anxious presence in traffic, while riding my bicycle. Grabbing some of the bullet points from Friedman and Family Therapy illustrates the point, on a bicycle, in the middle of the maelstrom of vehicles:
  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading
  • the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes
  • the capacity to obtain clarity about one’s principles and vision
  • the willingness to be exposed and be vulnerable
  • the persistence to face inertial resistance
  • the self-regulation of emotions in the face of reactive sabotage
Based on a brief reading of the above-linked articles, I would probably modify the meaning of "being self differentiated" to embrace my understanding of emotional intelligence, mood mirroring, and mimetic desire, but the basics resonate with my experiences of commuting by bicycle, as well as my thoughts or asprirations on doing it right.

Simply, and I've written variations of this so many times it's curious I didn't encounter "non-anxious presence" sooner, I think that displaying calm, rational, non-anxious behavior in traffic on a bicycle can be a very positive influence, both personally and on others.

That's all I have on this for now. More to come, I hope, as I learn more, and gain understanding from other riders out there, about how smiling, waving, and keeping calm and open no matter what, might help.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Shine Light and Speak Hope

"Camel's Red Leaves" by John Randall Nelson

This week, a friend of mine of the opposite political persuasion from me strongly suggested that we should "leave politics out of it" when discussing many topics which don't seem to be essentially political. For example, I guess we could agree that love, poetry, relationships, our dreams and aspirations, our inner family workings, and many other subjects, might be obvious examples. He was talking about more contentious issues, though, that he feels are just overly and needlessly politicized. I thought it over for a second, and said, "ABSOLUTELY. Let's promise each other to leave politics out of it, from here on out."

You see, I hoped that he would recognize immediately that I was agreeing because "let's leave politics out of it" surely can't mean "let's leave your politics out of it so that I can inject my own political agendas." Who would agree to that? Rather, what I was saying to him was more along the lines of a positive agreement that I know he doesn't want to be subjected to my politics any more than I want to be subjected to his, so let's agree to exclude those agendas from discussions where they are unwelcome, unnecessary, and distracting in order to focus more objectively and constructively on the actual, factual issues at hand.

Bicycular elements often feature in Nelson's pieces

What, then, do we mean by "political" exactly? It would seem best to define our terms, particularly that one, since I have experienced it being misused so often,  particularly in a work setting. "That's political" or "it's just office politics" and similar utterances are often devoid of any particular connection with actual politics, and more often than not usually just refer to something uncomfortable, misunderstood, wanting to be avoided, or unknown.

"Political," to paraphrase the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, refers to the organization of a State or part of a State; public life and affairs as involving authority and government ... belonging to or taking the side of an individual, organization, etc.; supporting particular ideas principles, or commitments in politics; acting according to interests of status and authority in an organization rather than matters of principle.

Put that way, due to the recent election and its results, a huge portion of our media exposure currently, both news and social, falls into this category. So, consequently, conversations propelled by recent media exposure seem inevitably to gravitate to the political. And my friend was right, bringing this focus to many topics is just distracting and often misleading.

Agreeing with him, I said back, "Good, let's make a pact to not talk politics, and to exclude political agendas or undercurrents from as many other subjects as possible. Instead, let's just shine light and speak hope."

Words on art

Straightforward, expository language that centers around facts which could in principle be proven or disproven is often a clear test of leaving politics out of it. On the plaque above, there are a few phrases which are potentially political in that they connect with topics which meet the definition above. In addition, the context of the plaque itself offers the possibility of politics entering into the discussion: public art, bicycles, bicycle paths, transportation, discussions about these either immediately or soon thereafter fall into the definition above. 

However, one can also imagine standing before this striking red steel tree with the portal to Camelback Mountain and the little bicycle touches, and making a focused attempt to shine light and speak hope. To leave politics out of it.

I absolutely LOVE the idea of looking at the phrase "..and where they meet almost a billion years of history is missing, lost to erosion," discussing it, and keeping politics far away. Get a mainstream geologist on out here. Talk about stratiography and geological dating, and really dig into this. Ask the geologist to walk you through the science of it, slowly, luxuriously reveling in the unrolling of data, hypothesis, and reasoning. It may be impossible for the human mind to reckon with a billion years of fullness, but there, right there between the red rock and the granite, that's a billion years of emptiness, of missing time, just gone. Here's why. What do you think? Wonderful.

View at sunset looking west from the vicinity of the red steel tree

I truly believe that trying keep politics out of it is going to drive my friend bonkers. I doubt he'll be able to sustain it. Even better, I'm imagining him exploding in a paroxysm of politics while I keep shining light and speaking hope. "Dude, take it easy," I'll suggest to him. "Let's go for a bike ride, look at some sunsets, take in some public art, think about billions of years and ancient civilizations that rose and fell right around here. And leave politics out of it."

Apolitical tree shining light and speaking hope

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Waterfront Grabs

Spin-a-ma-thing: #ScottsdaleSpins on "Los Trompos"

Be dazzled! You can make a wish in a well next to this.

Tree changes colors, dazzles

Newer signage, for a local route that showcases this part of Scottsdale

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Respite for the Sad and Strong

Need for the ride

Inside was cold acedia. Heat not on yet, indoors remarkably chilly after a cold morning, but warming up after dawn, which I saw because of broken and abbreviated sleep. Put on the coffee earlier than I wanted to on a Saturday morning, but I was up, and looked forward to it. Aches, though, pains--what the heck did I do to my Achilles tendon, anyway? No one knows, but I know it was stiff and sore. The spinal troll was also grouchy. You are unwelcome, spinal troll, go and hit your rock hammer some other place than my lower vertebrae, please.

Eventually: the mountain bike was sorted, the water pack filled, the gear arranged, the ride embarked on. With the starting spin, the muscles loosen and warm, the skin glows in the sunlight, the lungs breathe easier. This engine is strong even if the computer is glitchy. 

The start of the trail is rocky and uphill, however, and I pause to consider that coordination is required, balance needed, timing and some technique, so the computer will have to man the hell up and coordinate the engine and transmission effectively enough to avoid body damage. The computer does OK, with only minor glitches, mainly of a seasawing steering type variety, a few balance delays, a few line misjudgments, but nothing serious, nothing prosecutable.

Peaceful wash

At some point, balance was reinstated, the easy breathing and smooth spinning stretched out and unknotted the computer's kinked up cordage and helped it to run smooth again. I pulled off to the side, hopped over a little berm and felt a kind of floating ease as the bike settled back to the soft gravel floor. Whispy clouds caressing dark rocks on a warm afternoon and a steady breeze. A quiet spot on my mountain bike, respite for the sad and strong.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I Am Rocky Pumptrack

Scene of rocky visions

Can cycling alone in natural (as opposed to human-dominated) places lead the mind to new and provocative places? Of course. Like listening to a kind of music you don't typically grok (try Carina Round), or spending time with new people, natural settings on their own, on your own, might move your mind to other places.

Trail 100 around Dreamy Draw on a record hot October Saturday afternoon is an empty place in the middle of a crowded city. In an hour, I saw maybe three other people. 

Listen. First, you listen for other people. Voices, boot steps, tires crunching on rock, but there's no one. Then you listen for familiar city sounds, traffic, sires, machinery, leaf blowers, car stereos, commercials, jet planes, helicopters, urban cacophony. It's there, but muffled and distant, held beyond arm's length, a mile or more far, and much less intrusive. Down in the washes, and behind certain mountains, it quiets entirely. 

So you make a wild leap: maybe, I could hear the sound of the cosmos, the voice of God, the whisper of Holy Spirit, or, at Halloween time, the whispers of ghosts, the creak of ghouls, the cries of the undead. 

How long can you go without pedaling, pumping through washes and whooshing berms?

Suddenly the term "sacred place" makes some sense. But, even listening at length, sitting still, closing eyes, murmuring come holy spirit come, this day only these sounds: wind, gravel and rocks beneath tires, call of cactus wren, buzz of insect. Only those.

Shade, swoopy trail, run of stream, desert sounds, identity locale

Initial disappointment, followed by soft realization: these sounds, of wind caressing my ears, of tires crunching through gravel, of shady palo verde fronds touching my helmet as I turn back and forth through their cool wash bowers, are sacred voices. This moment felt like that, anyway. Maybe to listen hard enough is to force hearing, but it is also true that forced not-listening guarantees not-hearing. 

Saturday I owned something that is not ownable: a desert trail all to myself, a sense of the sacred, a rocky pumptrack to call my own for an hour or two. I am Rocky Pumptrack, and I am listening. What do these sounds: wind, gravel and rocks beneath tires, call of cactus wren, buzz of insect, amount to? To hear them you have to listen. To know them you have to hear them. For that, I ride.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mind Body Soul Mountain Bike Monday

Traffic jam on Trail 100 on Monday morning

Taking a day off to refresh mind/body/soul, and what better place than Trail 100 on a mountain bike. Although the weather was perfect, not surprisingly, there was almost no one else out there on a Monday morning. A few hikers, a few stray cyclists like me, but very, very quiet overall. 

I stopped a few times to listen to the wind, and look at the mountains. Spent some time watching a lizard darting around. Went slow, then fast, then slow again, with no one around to judge. Superb.

Got to the parking lot at the east end, and was greeted by the welcome site of no one parked there. Excellent.

Monday morning parking situation at the Tatum lot on Trail 100

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Just Be Glad: When Wheels Break

It's not supposed to be like this, but wait for the whole story. Expelled Slime sealant evident, but tire not flat.

"In an upstairs bedroom of Mrs. Florence Johnson's former home, I came across a dusty but beautiful blue padded box labeled 'Old Programs -- New Century Club.' Most of the programs from 1923 to 1964 were there. Each listed the officers, the club flower (sweat pea), the club colors (pink and white), and the club motto ('Just Be Glad')."
--from "Becoming Native to this Place," by Wes Jackson

I bought these wheels six and a half years ago, on sale, put them on my commuter bike, and rode them until the rear one broke. Six and a half years represents about 20,000 miles of commuting @3000 per year, so that's not bad at all. Excellent, in fact. When the wheel finally gave up the ghost, it did so gracefully. Although one spoke connection location was completely broken, and at least two more were close, I still rode home on it. It failed just when I pulled into work that morning, I think, because the wheel started making a funny noise with each revolution right about then. That it lasted so long, and still got me home when it was used up, is what I ask for in bike parts: last 20,000 commuting miles, and let me know gracefully when replacement time comes. Thank you, cheap commuting wheels: I'm glad like a member of the New Century Club may have been, in the ordinary things of everyday life which do their jobs well, without complaint or excess trouble.

Another one ready to go

Used up. Duty completed.
These rims have two layers, the spoke bed and the inner tube bed, so that explains why the top photo didn't mean a straight tire blowout when the spoke broke through. I'm sure they've been cracking for a while, since I noticed the back end feeling slightly wobbly on certain turns. Like the tire was a little low, or the rear rack a little loose. Both of which have been true, too, at times, so failing rear rim was not my first thought.

I explained in the first "Twenty Dollar Rule" post why sturdy, cheap parts that still ride fairly well are important to me on my commuter bike: since it could get stolen and/or vandalized any day, I don't want to invest much in it. If I had a more secure place to park, I would probably be riding Schwalbes on a Rivendell with a hub generator and lights, but my urban parking situations mean more risk and more abuse than I would be willing to put a bike like that through. So I try out different, less expensive, sometimes ugly components to see which ones work but don't attract unwanted attention at the rack.

These wheels with the stickers peeled off do the trick for me. Your mileage may vary. I think my riding style, the desert weather where I live, and my specific road conditions are unique and may not mean these would work as well for anyone else. But, since you may be wondering, yes: I replaced this one with another Vuelta Zerolite. Next time I see them on sale, I probably buy another set, too. So, 20,000 or so miles from now, I'll be ready.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Into Each Tire Some Cactii Must Poke

Cholla ball in my tire. Use a stick to remove. Did not flip up into my knee this time.

In enjoyment of Labor Day morning off, a wee dram of mountain biking was had. In the process, I got briefly up close and personal with some Teddy Bear cholla cactus, Cylindropuntia bigelovii, which is wonderful, beautiful, Sonoran Desert signature stuff, so long as you don't touch it, or run over its plentiful balls. The puncture protection layer in my tire seemed to work just fine, though, so no problem with a little kiss from a teddy bear cholla. I used a stick to remove the ball and associated spines, as I mentioned in the caption. No matter how easy it looks, you can't touch these things--they stick on you, and in you, and work their way in, and you can't get rid of them. Very affectionate, like. And they look so white and fluffy!

Here Teddy Bear, please hold my bike that you already put spikes into (bad idea 2). Balls=clone plant starters.

Into each tire some cactii must poke. With proper preparation, sealant, and puncture protection layers, though, it's no big deal. Remove ball with a stick, keep on riding. Since the dropped balls can root and grow on their own, these dense stands are often clones of an original teddy bear that moved into the neighborhood. The Cholla family stares as I pedal past them, shimmering in the morning sun. As far as I have been able to determine, the balls do not actually launch or jump at you, just cling tenaciously and painfully if you happen to brush by them, or otherwise contact them. Although it is a bit terrifying to think of that family of clones sitting there, quietly waiting for the unsuspecting mountain biker to pass them, launching a volley of pokey-sticky clone balls in the general direction of the motion, sound, shadow, or vibration. C'mon teddy bears, don't do it!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Riding the Live End

Only in a car. On a mountain bike, life begins here.

Sticker to add to this sign: UNLESS YOU ARE ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE (or horse. Or on foot). Or more or less anything else OTHER THAN A CAR. Bring your dog, he/she will love it. It will bring a smile to your / your dog's / your horse's / your friend's / your friend horse's / your friend's horse / face. Come to think of it, park your car right here, sell it, use the money to buy a mountain bike / horse / dog / friend / and keep on going. This is the DEAD END FOR YOUR CAR, but not for you. CAR DEAD END, that works.

I kept on mountain biking this morning. No rain last night, or for the last few days, so the trail was more settled and clearer than it has been. So, more people were out, too, even though it's still pretty hot in Phoenix. Ah, September in central Arizona, when summer will just not end, while Autumn makes the futile effort to show her face. Hang on, Autumn, let's do coffee sometime in October, unless you want to meet up in Flagstaff, where it's quite pleasant now.

Lots of chill people on the trail. A few glarers, but I wear lots of glare screen, and just happy back at them full force. (by the way, glarers, maybe that's some baggage  you want to leave at the trail head).

I added a few lightweight but potentially useful/vital items to my hydration pack: a whistle, some waterproof matches, a space blanket, small roll of gorilla tape, knife, a compass, hank of paracord. I've already been carrying a snack, because you never know when a snack will come in handy. Plus a pump, a repair kit, cell phone w/Trailforks app, tire levers, wallet. I think that's it, so far. Be prepared, etc. Too much? Not enough? It's all for sharing, except the wallet, in case any fellow trail users (even glarers) need some.

The hills are getting a little easier. Progression! Most of it is mental, I'm certain. That sums up many feelings and perceptions, I suppose, that would otherwise hold us back, unless we just push through them, ride beyond the DEAD END signs, and keep on going, up and down the trails, staying relaxed and positive. While I would say that I observed myself staying more relaxed and loose today, I did notice myself grimacing either just before or during some just slightly rough or bouncy sections, and I thought, why? 

What good is it to grimace, and doesn't that facial expression just mirror or even induce a counterproductive state of not flowing through? For example, approaching the bottom of a hill, looking upwards, then grimacing: what effect is that going to produce which is supportive of going up the hill smoothly? Not a useful one, I feel, so grimacing was frown upon this ride. Smiles, or relaxed looks, only. Leave the grimace next to the car parked (FOR SALE) under the DEAD END sign, far behind.

I was kind of mesmerized by the vertical lines and the swirly straw erosion controllers.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rush This: All of Trail 100

Trail 100 Dreamy Draw, North section. Best perspective of Phoenix.

Saturday I stepped up my Dreamy Draw Trail 100 practice riding, and rode the whole thing, west to east. From my house, depending on route and how many side trips I take, that's 25 to 30 miles of riding. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph / Nobbie Nic combo of tires that came on the bike do pretty well on the streets before and after.

First thing I noticed at the trail head was that (I think) the metal thieves struck again, and took the sign that I took a picture of several years back. I didn't take photos of these plaques thinking that I better do it before someone steals them for scrap, but that's how things work out sometimes.

Gone, just a rock there now (unless I missed it)

I needed some inspirational theme music for this ride, so as I ate a quick breakfast, I watched some of Rush's 2013 concert in Dallas: Subdivisions, YYZ, Tom Sawyer. They play and sing really well in that video, and part of the inspiration was something like, they are much older than me, they rock, I can ride rocks, YYZ, man.

A cairn of surpassing size and whiteness

Riding after rains, again, lots of loose rocks and scrappy sketchy hills. Hockey puck rocks flipping up all over the place. I know I've been posting a lot of Trail 100 lately, but it's familiar ground for me to try to wake up my mountain biking muscles and technique. It's definitely improved over the last few weeks as I learn the ways and means of this particular machine. I still have a long ways to go, but I promise some trails other than 100 will appear here soon.

Some highlights from today (other than riding Trail 100 end to end)

  • The giant white cairn in the picture above, which kind of helped orient me
  • Several horses. Welcome, equestrians!
  • Several very nice hikers and mountain bikers. Good morning to you all.
  • Tubeless tires with proper sealant suck up goathead thorns and keep on going. They are amazing. I'm just going to leave the thorns in for now, there are so many of them already after just a few rides.
  • Finding the middle ground for fiddling with the shock settings, firm for going up bigger hills, and streets, middle or open for rolling rocks or going downhill.
  • Speed and momentum are good, take the high line, ride it out, relax

Keep riding. Be open. Got to fly now.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don't Rush This

How about some trail 1A on a hot Saturday morning? Yes, more please.

Let's face it: mountain biking is inevitably going to involve some mountains. About half of those would require pedaling up the mountain, I would estimate, with rest of the time being spent going down them, or on the flats between. There are some lame ways to avoid the worst of the ups, sometimes, like shuttling or chair lifts, but sometimes I just have a literal mind, and feel that if I am mountain biking, I should ride up the mountain. Similar to my "ride to the ride" preference: if it's about biking, then bike there if feasible. Actually, bike there even if it's not about biking.

While my riding engine has positively adapted to riding the flatlands for some distance on a bicycle, it still gases out rather quickly when called to power a ride uphill. This is a combination of factors, which I'm working on, but improvements in this area are a slow (but steady) process. Carry speed on the downhill parts into the uphill sections. When there's a curve at the bottom, take the high side and slingshot and/or pump around it into the uphill. Pace. Relaxation. Breathing. Let the bike do as much of the work as it can, getting over and around stuff. Lock out the bouncy parts. I turned both the front fork and the rear shock to their firmest setting this morning to ascend, and it did make a positive difference. Don't stress about going uphill, this is fun. Don't rush it. Watch a lot of GMBN videos on how to do better.

Part of it is the heat, though. I'm still not really adjusted to mountain biking in it. I'm draining my hydration bladder on these 15 mile morning rides. Speaking of the hydration pack, I noticed that some of the newer packs have spine protection built in. This seems like a decent idea to me, so I bought a spine pad for a motorcycle jacket, cut it a little bit to fit, and stuffed it into the hydration pocket of my pack. It's tight in there with the nearly full bladder, but it works. I hope I never need it, but it adds a bit of support to the pack, and a bit of peace of mind. Every little bit helps.

When I paused to take the photo above, I also reminded myself not to rush it. To ride it, but in my own time, while enjoying this time and place. It went well. I walked a little. The trails go up the mountain, and so do I.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Remember to Breathe When Cycling, Ondine

Just when I had vowed off of cloud pictures forever...

Ondine's Curse is a rare condition where the autonomic function of breathing fails, and breathing becomes purely conscious. Sleeping, or otherwise just getting tired or forgetting to breathe, for those with this condition, also known as Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, causes obvious and serious complications. The tie-in with the Little Mermaid is interesting, but distracting to my topic. 

I don't have the curse, but in taking up a meditation technique known as breath counting, I have gained more focus on the autonomic function of breathing than I've ever had before. Yesterday, when a distracted man in a shiny Mercedes clearly failed to notice me in the intersection and started forward right at me until I yelled at him, my breath caught (paused) and my heart raced. This is a natural stress fight-or-flight reaction, or part of it, but was in that situation counterproductive to my goal of yelling my head off at him to gain his attention so that his son propped in prime viewing position in the car seat in the back didn't have to watch his distracted dad slaughter a cyclist with his two ton killing machine.

Also, while mountain biking, I've noticed that my breath also catches just when I need it not to, as I am looking ahead to a sketchy or steep section of trail. Smooth, even breathing, accompanied by smooth, even riding, is what I need just then, not a catch of breath and a dump of fear. But that's what often happens. 

I don't think I need Ondine to remind me to keep breathing. Rather, I think I need a counterforce to remind me to relax and breathe easy. Like clouds. Keep that pulse, and pulse ox, dead steady. This made me wonder: do others think about breathing while cycling?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ear Plugs as Foam Tips for Earbuds Hack

First attempt to make some replacement foam tips for earbuds (or "in-ear headphones")

I searched around and tried different, affordable earbuds that I liked, and finally bought the SoundMAGIC E80 Reference Series. As  the reviews of them state, these have a different kind of sound, treble-heavy, which doesn't sit well with everyone, but seems to work well for my ears which have had high frequencies attenuated by age and loud music. 

But the stock plastic tips are totally useless--uncomfortable and stiff feeling, and poor sounding. These come with a sample of premium foam tips which totally transform the sound and the feeling. Unfortunately, these masterpieces of throwaway consumables cost about five bucks a pair, and very soon rip/tear/disintegrate, as shown in the photo above.

Reluctant to replace, living in denial that something that costs five bucks could fall apart so easily and quickly, I've worn these until the foam actually fell off. Then what? 

Make some! Supplies: foam earplugs, scissors, leather punch

Internet to the rescue! I found several suggestions to cut and punch foam earplugs as replacements. First, flatten them lengthwise, and cut to appropriate length. Using the originals as a reference, my first cut was approximately across the midsection. Allow them to expand, then flatten again the other way, to form a disk, and punch a hole through the disk. I used a leather punch on the 11/64" setting.

Results of first try? Excellent on first listen. Using earplugs has the benefit of adding noise reduction. The sound is rich and deep. I would say the ear plug tips are in the same league as the five dollar tips that wear out fast.

Observations: the expensive ones have a tube inside them, and a hole slightly larger than the leather punch will make. I was worried about both of those when I compared my version to them, but any difference is not immediately obvious. I may try to make the hole larger than 11/64" next time, just to experiment. Also, as one of the Internet sources suggested, it may help to make the new tips short, just long enough to isolate the earbud stem from hitting the ear canal. As it is with the ones I made, they are longer than that. Next set will be shorter, to see how that works. It may turn out to be a balance between noise isolation, sound quality, and comfort. Also, I can't say that the rounded end has any other purpose than to look functional, like that's what it should look like. In practice, the square ends seem to go in just as easy, and sound the same to me. Finally, my ear canals are probably narrower than average, and these earplug tips fit them snugly and comfortably. I'm very pleased with the results.

This is not really a bike-related post. I don't suggest you ride with these as they are quite isolating. But this seemed like a simple and great hack, so I just wanted to share it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

At One With Cactus

Stop and Consider the Cactus

Some days, I just want no problems on the ride. Zero incidents. A minimum of mishaps. A total lack of bruises, scraps, cuts, blood, or mayhem. Today was a day like that. I hesitate to call it a rehab ride, because instantly I start singing that I don't want to go to rehab no no no, but it would not be totally inappropriate to think of the goal as just pedaling down the trail without eating the trail facewards.

This goal dictates certain procedures and a way of approaching the ride with caution, and slightly slower speed, than a plain old fun ride. In that spirit, I opted to try out my new kneepads, to get a feel for them. Would they restrict? Would they pinch? Would they overheat? Would they bind?

New joint shields

Kneepads are nice. That's my initial impression. About three months ago, I experienced a bizarre crash on my road bike when I hit some unexpected gravel and just went straight down to the pavement, onto my right knee. The kneecap is an amazing piece of bone shield, I will give it that, and it protected the soft bits while taking quite a beating itself. Then, a couple weeks ago, on my "let's see about getting back into mountain biking ride" up at Desert Vista, my front tire caught a cholla ball and flipped it up straight into my right knee. It felt like a bee sting, and was the gift that kept on giving when I reached down without looking to flick the bee away. Dang. Thanks, cholla ball. 

Both those made me think about kneepads, and after today's try out ride, I think I will keep using them. Maybe not on the road bike, ironically, but definitely on gravelly rocky sketchy mountain bike rides. My knees were happy today. I think it also relates to the feeling on today's ride that I felt pretty good overall for my age and life experience, where most of the parts seemed to work mostly well, and so maybe helping to keep the knees in general working order in case of trail mishap or mayhem seems to make sense. That hard shield gave me a little more confidence.

Slightly different entry route

In other related news, when looking at the map on the new-to-me Trailforks app, I noticed an entrance to Dreamy Draw called "Myrtle Tunnel" that connected with the "Rush Hour" trail that parallels the 51 freeway. I kicked off the trail portion of the ride that way, remembering the tunnel-like experience of riding through the vegetation on the happy side of the freeway noise wall from rides in the dim misty past. This entrance enabled more time on the trail, less on the streets, always welcome.

Pause bench

This spot always seems to draw me to pause and open my senses to the desert around. It comes just before the rocky downhill to Tatum, and often feels like the right place to stop a bit, take stock, breathe, listen, watch, smell. Watch a lizard skitter by. Listen for quail. Inhale the perfume of the desert. Quick check of the bike. Remember to drink water. Wave at the equestrians. Consider the cactus. Alien, spikey things, could I ever be at one with one?

Only pause a few quiet moments, though. The morning heat increases relentlessly, and the fun run down to Tatum calls. Get on, think it through, maintain the focus on zero mayhem. OK, perhaps just a little mayhem, heading downhill, to wake up those muscle memories, to revive those neural paths. After all, rehab has a start date and an end date. There's a time to go slow, and a time to let her rip. Cautiously. With knee pads.