Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Gotta Fly

Crosscut Canal, Camelback Mountain in the distance

I gotta fly. I love it when the feeling grabs hold of me, pulls me off the couch, and out onto the night streets and paths. "It's still a hundred degrees out," she calls after me as I roll out the door, and I reassure her that I know where all the drinking fountains are, even though I know I won't stop. 

The zone must have found me tonight, or me it, because at one point, I kind of noticed that I hadn't been noticing where I was, hadn't noticed that I passed one or two spots that I usually check out, but had just been flying along the canal at night, listening to the quiet sound of my tires on the gravel, and the water flowing along, and me flowing like water.

Tiny symbol of affluence parked in my bike lane

Then I saw this tiny toy Range Rover parked in the bike lane, and while I was struck by what a nice bicycle could probably have been purchased for the child rather than this thing, I was glad of it, too. Where my mind was at the moment I encountered it, the sight pulled my perspecitve in, made me feel small, then tall, then wonga wonga wonga I just laughed and looked back at it, thinking its owner would probably park the real thing the same way, some day.

The bike runs quiet at night on these smooth black top streets. A few people took notice of how quiet I was when I passed by on the flatland commuter fixed gear bike. A few extra bonus miles along the Crosscut canal called my name, so I made the turn and rode that way, too. Wanted to keep going, wanted to heed the call to fly, but I also think one can get greedy with the feeling, and that it should be taken somewhat in moderation, rationed out across the summer nights. I gotta fly, and thank you night, it was golden.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Deep Naming: Riding the Cyclist Identity Path

Road bike, abandoned railroad cut

What's in a name? Or more precisely, where does it come from, and what does it mean? Today I rode a 2005 Lemond road bike, half carbon, half steel, do I identify with what I ride somehow? But how fragile and superficial would that be, since if that were so, all I have to do to alter my identity is to ride one of my other bikes, or, more likely, go and buy another. Poof! New identity? It can't work that way, can it?

Or, perhaps it's where, or how I ride, or how fast? Or slow? But today, on this hot Father's Day Sunday, I rode a while on gravel trails with road tires pumped up to 100 psi, what's my identity then? If I switched to a, I guess, more appropriate mountain bike, with softer fatter tires, would that change me into someone or something else?

Maybe my identity mainly derives from where I live, somehow my essential character is inextricably linked to the character of the place? For example, do I live in a city with fast reliable rail and trolley links, or rather, one that used to have them, until they were erased by auto industry and land barons?

Back in the day, light rail senior

Or maybe, back to the bicycle, it's not how I ride, or what I ride, or where I ride, but what I look at when I get there? What catches my attention? What makes my heart skip a beat with joy? To ride all this way, in the gathering heat, with a clear mind and open heart, then to see this guy between the water and path. Took my breath away. Does that make me who I am somehow? If my whims change and instead of graceful egrets, it becomes electric "fat" bikes that causes my soul to soar, does that alter me, that easy, that fast, on a whim?

Probably the egret will always win over electric "fat" bikes, for me

If identity is so closely tied to time and place, though, and who can deny they are related, then who were the people that lived in this place 700 years ago, the small band who called Loma del Rio home? How did they identify, how did they name and know themselves, and could I from my time and place have felt kinship or connection with them, if we were to somehow meet face to face, me on my carbon and steel road bike riding past their homes, they tending their canals and small plots?

Plaque near the abandoned railroad cut

I tend to think that it can't be our stuff that defines who were are, not really. Our earthly possessions come and go so easily, and are for the most part so commercialized and throwaway, that to link ourselves to such stuff would be to commercialize and trashify our very hearts. Shouldn't we resist? If all we have is a ragged carryon and some tattered trashbags, is that who were are? And how could that be?

No one should be identified by this

I heard someone say this week, "You can tell a lot about a person by how they act in a crisis." Which sounded like an excellent hint. It doesn't directly define who a person is, but points to it, I think. Are you the sort who organizes and sets out free water on the canal for people to drink on a super-hot day, just because that speaks to who you are and how you act toward others?

Thank you, gracious anonymous water deployer. Who are you?

On Father's Day, it's not too much of a stretch for me to say that I am "Father." But I think that, ultimately, all these names we give ourselves, and that others give us, for better and often for worse, are not really who were are. In my more religious moments, it comforts me to think that we are actually named by God alone, beloved, and that probably best expresses my deepest belief, or hope. I hope that because the other names are so easily and callously given, and just as easily and callously discarded, but I want there to be something more, something deeper.

How about our jobs? Should we identify deeply with those? I've come to look at others who do, and myself when I do too much, and think, poor bastard, stop that. Today a job is nothing more than an economic transaction, for better and for worse. If your job happens to be your calling then that's different, and I don't refer to you here. I refer to most of us, who work in places where we might find out tomorrow morning that our number is up, that we are dismissed, laid off, sent packing, with a few weeks of severance and a COBRA health insurance fare-thee-well love note. If you've put your heart into that job, spent nights and weekends pouring yourself in it, then that happens (hey it's not personal, it's just business), then, you poor bastard, who are you now?

We are rough around the edges, and looking inwards, find at the core....what? I hope that if I did somehow run into those Hohokam people from 700 years ago, that we actually could learn and know each others deep names. Not what I ride, or how they dig their canals, or where they live, or where I'm from, or what odd sounds I make when I speak, but our deep names. I hook onto that thought, stand next to my bicycle in an abandoned railroad cut, and try to think ancient thoughts about a people who may have known who they really were better than we ever will.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Cyclist What Do You Need? 110°F Commute Edition

Water: the birds know what's up

Cyclist, what do you need when it's late afternoon, 110°F out, blazing sunshine, and a bike commute lies ahead? I imagined all the drivers passing me inside their air conditioned steel boxes asking me.

Not a ride, don't ask. Water comes to mind. Curiously, I don't carry water on my commute. It's less than 30 minutes long. I find that guzzling ice water before leaving has the dual benefit of some internal cooling from the ice, and more than enough water for the commute. But I make sure to know of some backup sources along the way, just in case: flat tire, blown knee, crash, mechanical, Other, you never know. So, in answer to the first question, I would say, ice water and knowledge of water.

Why the photo of the bird next to the painted grapefruit tree in the irrigated front yard?

No matter how hot I may feel, it always cools me down to see and hear the birds splashing in the irrigation. It may be triple digit heat, but they know what's up, and are having fun at it. The grackles, in particular, seem to be in mating season, because suddenly the males are all puffed up and vocal, and the females slightly more interested than normal (but at a safe distance, to judge the display). 

Cyclist, what else do you need?

Not a lot else. A bicycle in good working order. A workable route with the least traffic possible. A bag and a rack for carrying stuff, as there's no gentle way to say that a backpack in this heat sucks. A steadfast motivation fueled by reminders of the greatness of cycling for mind and body. Encouragement, or at least understanding, from those around exposed to my quixotic quest. A calm and focused mind prepared to react effectively when something negative or challenging occurs.

Makes sense. So, why the photo of the inner tube discarded in the gutter? 

I put that as an example of something which challenges the calm and focused mind prepared to react effectively. Because, my reaction was, what idiot cyclist did this? Which is not calm, or focused, or altruistic, or forgiving, or any of the other things that I wish to be. I gave myself the time to take a few photos of the tube to overcome and manage my negative reaction. RAIN it in: recognize, accept, investigate, non-identify, works for me.

I recognized my reaction for what it was. I accepted it and that I'm probably normal in having emotional responses to human folly. I investigated it along with my response to it: too wordy and personal to include here, but reflecting on morality, personal relationships with the environment and creation, on casual defacement of public space, on the inevitability of assholes too lazy to pack out a leaky tube, along with the absolute necessities to not refer to them as "assholes", to overcome frustration or anger at their assholery, to live in the fact that I and my reactions are not always perfect or pretty, then to forgive and forget it all in love and gentleness (he of the gutter tube and me of the mean reaction). And non-identify: this happened, this gutter tube and my reaction to it, I honor it and understand it, and it is not me.

After the photo and the RAIN, I paused a bit longer to think:  should I pick up the tube myself? Looking up the street, I saw the rare street sweeper approaching, which caused me to wonder about its effectiveness at hoovering up discarded bicycle tubes. It did; it was highly effective.

A bottle of water might have been welcome during the tube, RAIN, and photo session. I looked across the street at the birds splashing in the irrigation and 110°F, and thought: now who's right? What would the neighbors and drivers say if I dumped my bike on the sidewalk right there and joined the splashing birds? I know what they would say: that crazy cyclist finally did something sane. Like I understand the birds, they would, for a moment, understand me.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Fall and Rise of a Cyclist's Heart

Six years since "Horseshoe Falls" first appeared on this blog. On-demand fog, and regrowing trees.

It's been over six years since this installation in Scottsdale called "Horseshoe Falls" first appeared on this blog. These pillars of horseshoes cemented on top of each other are kind of one of my favorite types of things: not much to look at from a distance, nothing from the window of a car speeding along Indian School Road, but actually quite worth some moments up close and slower, from a bike or a pedestrian passing by, in different weather and at different times of day. Eventuallyone notices the button with a sign now faded, which makes fog when you press it.

PUSH BUTTON FOR HORSESHOE FOUNTAIN. Still the greatest. Unfaded version.

Over the years of riding by, and stopping by, I've seen changes here. On August 24, 2010, a freak wind blew through Scottsdale and Phoenix, knocking down fences and trees, including many of the trees which once shaded Horseshoe Falls.  I passed by a few days later, and was shocked to see the shade gone, the sun beating down on the rusty metal pillars. My heart sank: I have a thing for trees, particularly native ones, particularly native ones that offer shade, perfume, bee food, and if needed/wanted, people food. I once ground up mesquite bean pods and made bread and cookies, and they were deliciously different.

Eventually, though, some of the shade trees at Horseshoe Falls were replanted, and are now reaching a size where they will offer shade again (see photo 1 above). 

I'm not saying that wind blowing down trees is the worst thing, or that trees replanted and showing signs of vitality and growth six years later is the best thing, but rather that these small things are set against the backdrop of normal life, which flows on with its own powerful joys and inevitable sorrows which, I think, have the ability to amplify, and be amplified by, the minor but distinct sadness of blown down trees, or by the trivial but poignant button you can press to make fog roll over your bicycle and stacks of rusty horseshoes.

In that amplified moment I can be there. Whatever is happening in my life can be both appreciated and put into some kind of perspective in that pause. I like to stay just a moment to listen to the sound of fog hissing out while taking a few mindful breaths. The cyclist's heart falls, and rises, while both the delightful and the disturbing along the route alter with the passage of time, in their own ways, to their own schedules. At a medium or slow pace on my bike, though, riding along trying to be fully in touch with what's around me, I detect these artifacts of time passing, try to understand, appreciate, and when possible, live into them. Sometimes, to harvest their beans and make cookies from them.

Pedestrian / Cyclist bridge reflected in Tempe Center for the Arts

The new dam has been installed at Tempe Town Lake, and the water refilled. Old news, but another change in the landscape I've been riding through for years. 

New dam. Not made of rubber like old one, less likely to POP! when it his 117 today.

I set out on my Saturday Tri-city Tour (TCT) earlier than normal, OK much earlier than normal, since I usually just wait until late afternoon when my natural bicycling biorhythm just seems more ready to ride. But with today's impending heat, I thought I would give an early-ish ride a chance. It was good to get out before the asphalt starts bubbling, I admit. I'm not ready to chase the sunrise yet, but perhaps early is better in the summer. 

With the advent of summer, I've renewed effort to try out and improve various simple and cheap ways to replace electrolytes. Even on today's relatively not-that-hot ride, I still drank three bottles of water. I'm working on a much more detailed price-based analysis for the blog, but I can predict already where it's going: you don't really need to spend several hard-earned dollars on flavored sugar and salt products to rehydrate effectively. All you really need, physiologically speaking, is a dash of salt and possibly a dash of "no-salt", depending on your personal sweat characteristics. For me, if I don't replace those two along with plentiful water, I expect bad muscle cramps later. Your mileage may vary, of course. But this is another way the cyclist's heart rises and falls: after a hot summer ride, I can feel that my heart has been taxed, tried, pushed a bit. Enough water, and salt, and sugars, makes it right again.

Of course, on the bike, the heart mostly rises. There's enough stuff out there to cause it to fall, and sometimes even to break, but there's always on the ride the positive balance which prevails. I was feeling on this day's almost-hot ride that the heat helps my muscles and bones feel comfortable and smooth. Maybe that's why I like spinning away the hot days so much. At the end of the TCT today, I didn't want it to end. I was ready to ride more. A pinch of salt, and a strategically located water fountain to refill the bottles, keeps the ride going. Hola, summer. Let's do this. The other advantage of doing a ride first thing in the morning: there's always the option of another ride later in the afternoon, should the heart desire.