What if I’d been biking earlier?

When I was a teenager, in college, and a young adult fresh out of school, I didn’t know how to drive. Oddly enough, that’s not the thing I wish I’d learned earlier in my life. Between the bus, walking, and friends, I got around pretty well, and I have a life-long comfort with getting around without a car.


I really wish I’d learned how to ride a bike before age 30! (Edit: technically, I learned before 30…about 3 months before!) So many places I could’ve gotten to so much more quickly, for one thing. It’s an interesting hypothetical question to wonder what would’ve happened to my weight if I’d been able to bike to UWPC, at least some of the year, when we lived in East Tacoma. (Altho that would have been a sketchy ‘hood to bike through.) And it would’ve been fun to have a bike handy when we lived in Lakewood. Not that biking to work would have been that big a deal, but it would have been nice to bike from work through Fort Steilacoom Park and out to the grocery store.

I also wonder if a lot of late night walks would have been late night bike rides, and if that would have been a better thing. Yes, I was probably insane in my younger years; I took a lot of really long walks quite late a night, particularly during my time in Tacoma. But it was how kept what I had of my sanity back in the day: thinking by walking, plus the time alone that I often needed. What would those times have been like if I’d had the extra speed, range, and exercise intensity of a bike?

It also seems entirely possible to me that riding a bike earlier in my life would have made it easier for me to finally learn how to drive. These last 5+ years I’ve increased my sense of balance, my ability to judge traffic, and my understanding of gear ratios. 🙂 Not that I’m all that as it is by any means! Still, I can imagine what it would have meant to have gotten all that earlier.

All that said, I try not to indulge in that sort of wishful thinking too often. It happened when it happened, and that turned out to be a good moment in my life to have begun bicycling. The Townie had just come out, I was living somewhere with good places to bike, C was there to encourage me. As I said on the day I got it, “suffice it to say that I am very happy I finally got a bike, and oddly enough, happy I waited until C discovered this one.”

accidental cyclist

I wasn’t intending to bike this morning — ok, last night I got my bike staged, but then I woke up after not enough sleep and with the rain coming down and decided: to hell with it, I’m not going to ride. Took my shower, got dressed & packed up, managed to get to the stop just ahead of the bus.

And it slowed down…and then kept moving. I ran a bit, yelled after it (I apologize to any of the neighbors of that stop for my incredibly loud and probably NSFW shouting), but it just kept going.* Which left me with three options:

  1. Wait a half-hour for the next bus.
  2. Drive the truck.
  3. Bike.

Didn’t want to be late, didn’t feel like driving, and hey: my bike was already staged to get out of the house easily. (This is one problem with our house and the Xtracycles: no good place to park.) So I quick-changed, wrapped up my bag, and took off.

I’m glad I did. I haven’t biked to work for almost a month, what with the freezing, that hell-cold, holidays, etc. It was fairly dark and rainy, but mild, enough so that I switched to my fingerless bike gloves, and the trails were clear. Plus my brain was really in need of that exercise; I feel about 1000% better than I did when I woke up, even though I’m running on not nearly enough sleep.

So, yay for unintentional biking!

* The stop is pretty much in the dark, which is annoying to begin with, but I was wearing a REFLECTIVE ORANGE rain jacket. Srsly, WTF?

best of the year

There’s been a lot of stress and frustration over this last year, but in an effort to be positive & optimistic, here’s a few of the highlights of my 2009, the things that make me smile almost instantly when I think about them:

Creamsicle the cat…he actually came into our lives in the summer of 2008, as a crazy stray tom with matted dreadlocks of orange and white fur. But after keeping him safe through the snowpocalypse, he began to be part of the posse.

In March, we officially adopted him via a trip to the animal shelter — he was so ill-mannered in the cages that he was set to be killed — while he had a wound in his head from fighting, so bad that it had to have a tube put in it. We weren’t sure if it was going to work out, what with the fighting (not with ours, oddly enough), running away, spraying, etc., but wow! Neutering worked wonders. 🙂

His bad behavior gradually ended over the course of a few weeks, and with lots of love and attention he’s become a lovely friendly kitty, crazy about laps and treats. He’s the only cat I’ve ever had who sits on my lap in a way that allows me to keep typing, which I love. He still has a tendency to be “talkative” at night, but often if you just yell “hey” back at him that’s good enough to calm him down.

The Xtracycle, about which I have written several times: my awesome, awesome new bike this summer, the load-hauling machine.  Rides to the river, massive grocery trips, and plenty of commuting.

Working with Drupal — I converted my employer’s site this year, and so spent a lot of time playing with it, learning, and getting to know the delightful Drupal community. Even went to two (free!) events in Seattle this year, both of which were immensely helpful, even if the second one was cut short by C’s brush with the flu. I’m getting that feeling of mastery that’s so joyful (and a little addictive) — I feel like I could do wondrous things with Drupal.

And finally NaNoWriMo, which gave me back confidence in my creativity. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve made a couple of unsuccessful attempts. I’ve also been stalled out on my writing for several years, stuck unable to finish the novel I’ve been puttering at since…um… 1994? NaNoWriMo gave me a chance to jump into something entirely new, and to commit to finishing it. I even tried some entirely new (to me) techniques, and discovered to my surprise that a little bit of planning ahead worked really, really well. (Snowflake method FTW!) Plus I found the fabulous Scrivener. I finished above the goal and before the deadline.

If you’re wondering, I’ve decided to continue with it, after some wonderful feedback from Paula, and after rereading it myself. I still like this story and its characters. I’ve already done some early editing, mostly continuity stuff. (There’s only one character whose name didn’t stay consistent, and he’s a pretty minor one at that!) I’m planning on getting through a complete second draft early in the new year. What happens after that I’ve no idea.

Which is how I feel about 2010 in general: I’ve no idea what happens now, really.

bike crash, con’t.

So as I replied to someone on Twitter, last week’s fall is the gift that keeps on giving. Had a bit of whiplash on Wednesday and Thursday, then as it got better, my side started to ache. That got worse, until Sunday I finally broke down & called the consulting nurse, who told me to go to Urgent Care. Where I waited for a long time, had an xray, then waited some more, in between got my blood pressure taken, and finally (2+ hrs later) saw a doctor, who told me that I had a bruised rib. Good to know, and in the meantime I read most of a pretty decent novel, but I could have done without the insane wait.

Before my call to the nurse I took the Xtracycle, sans all of its attachments and accessories, to the bike shop. (I called to ask about the model of shifter on my bike, and the very nice guy on the phone reminded me that I get free tune-ups.) Yesterday he called to say that the tune-up was fine, but that the front shifter, the one that was being wonky? Yes, it was busted. Alas.

Went to get a new helmet on Friday; according to the guy there (other bike shop), the crash replacement program from Giro just gets a 10% coupon/credit, probably not much more than the cost of mailing. And of course the shop stopped carrying the model I. just. bought. a month ago, so I bought something with a design I don’t like as much, but it was on sale.

Today I commuted on ye olde Townie for the first time in almost two years…it’s a lovely little bike, but while the barcalounger position is lovely on flat bits, it’s somewhat wearying in the uphills. Plus I had forgotten that I’d put one of the stock saddles (from the Smoke? the Xtracycle?) on it, which was…let’s just say less than comfortable after a few miles. I’m going to keep riding it, because I want to keep riding, but I can’t wait until I get the Xtracycle back. Oh, and boy am I missing the X’s cargo space! How did I live without it before?

So, all in all, I’m a bit cranky about the aftermath, but still incredibly glad to be alive. Every time I even think about the cracks in my helmet, I start to visualize those same cracks in my skull, and oh boy, does that scare me to pieces.

And it was going so well, too…

On the one hand, NaNoWriMo is going pretty damn well. I was stalled out for a while there, through most of last week, and it was a good thing that I got off to a quick start. But the last couple of days I got caught up again, and I’m now both over 40,ooo words and about a day ahead. Today I even figured out how to pull it all together for the ending!

On the other hand, I had a gnarly fall tonight, coming home from work on my way to the grocery store. I was turning up into a driveway and my front tire hit the edge wrong, so that my front wheel slid sideways and I just fell over. Landed HARD on my left side, scraped my elbow, banged up my knee (not the one I messed up 5 years ago, but the other one) and smacked the side of my head. I got up, made sure nothing was broken, and walked the rest of the way to the store…a very nice woman in a dept of licensing shirt had pulled over and asked if I was okay, should she call anyone, etc. but I just did my shopping and biked (slooowly) home.

Discovered that I’d torn my capilene shirt (strangely, the jacket is fine) and cracked my helmet. Cracked my helmet. I think about what it felt like when my head hit the ground… ::deep breath:: When I had that fall before, I don’t think the helmet would’ve made much difference one way or the other, most of the force was on my leg. This time…yeah, it probably kept me from cracking my SKULL.

I want to get back to my novel, but I still feel pretty shaken up, even after a hot bath, neosporin & bandages, ice pack on the leg, probably too many mint milanos, and some silly kids’ cartoons. And I am going to have a hell of a bruise tomorrow on my thigh just above the knee, I just hope I can walk on it. Bleh. Is it crazy that I’m just mad I won’t be able to ride tomorrow?

Beside having to replace the helmet — which I bought less than a month ago! — I want to take some time to give my bike a once-over, make sure everything’s in good condition. Well, both of my front headlights are messed up, to begin with. They work, but they look trashed. At least I’ve got an extra-long weekend to fuss over everything.

Maybe it’s a night to go to bed early and get some extra rest. After all, I’m ahead of schedule on my novel, so I can always get back to it tomorrow.

summer of the Xtracycle

It’s been a bit over 3 months now with the Xtracycle, and I still love it. It’s a bit like owning a pickup or a van: you can always bring more “stuff” and just toss it in the back. That made all the rides out to the river quite luxurious, because we could bring blankets, snacks, cold beverages, towels, etc., etc.

I’ve taken to quick grocery trips to the Safeway near work on my way home; I can load up with not just a few things for dinner, but whatever other staples we might be running low on. (Like a 10 lb bag of flour, a gallon of milk, a big brick of cheese: there’s always room for one more thing!) This past weekend I finally did what I initially claimed as my Xtracycle goal: getting a big bag of cat food home, 16 lbs, bungee’d onto the deck.

Actually, that load, which also included a big brick of cans of sparkling water, probably topped out what I can safely carry. Not that it was too heavy, although I was a little slow, but that having so much weight on the back makes for wobbly steering. If I had a front rack or a really big basket, I might’ve been able to carry even a bit more and had more balanced steering.

Tangentially: the last connector in the east-west trail is almost done — paved, but not yet landscaped — and I love it. Having that straight smooth path almost directly to Fred Meyer…dreamy.

The bike doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I do get questions about it fairly regularly. Sunday was pretty typical: I was at the farmer’s market, came out with my food, and an elderly couple was standing by the Xtracycle giving it quizzical looks. When I started loading (always kickstand side first, BTW) and unlocking, they asked what it was for, how it worked, did I like riding it. My standard answer: it’s a kit bolted onto a normal bike, but I bought it pre-assembled (at Joy Ride in Lacey!); I can carry lots of stuff, great for grocery shopping; I’ve seen pictures of them with kid seats; no, it’s not that heavy and it rides really stable.

Which is true: I love the way it rides. After a year & a half of the Smoke-29, it feels low, which is a good thing, and the long tail just makes me feel solid, like riding a barge. Or something. As for “maneuverability,” I’ve never been great with turning — in our house, we call it Zoolander Syndrome — but it’s not much different from my previous bikes. C, on the other hand, can turn on a dime with his, which maybe says as much about his mad skillz as the Xtracycle.

I still need to get it really ready for the rainy season, which seems to have started in earnest this week. From my research, it sounds like the Snapdeck should probably get an extra coat of varnish, and I’d like to try the backpack cover trick. Ideally we’d get nice waterproof bags to put in the freeloaders, but at the moment I’m rolling kinda ghetto with my commute bags (a pair of fantastic water-resistant bright yellow grocery-type bags) inside of kitchen trash bags.

About the bags: those el-cheapo fabric bags found at the grocery store don’t work all that well; the square shape makes them awkward to fit into the Xtracycle bags. Instead, anything with a long skinny profile does quite nicely. I adore this bag in particular, because it’s about the right shape — and insulated as well. Originally it was for day trips, taking beverages & grapes, but I also like it for grocery shopping; don’t have to worry so much about things melting or spoiling!

We have a Wideloader/Longloader combo, but somewhat to my surprise it hasn’t been especially useful yet. I put the wideloader on before that big grocery trip, but there wasn’t anything that needed the extra support. Plus we had an annoying mishap with the original set — design flaw plus fiddling led to them being stuck together entirely the wrong way — so I’m kinda meh about those particular accessories.

Otherwise, I’m thrilled to pieces. I get excited about riding, and I’m irrationally proud of being able to haul so much stuff. Now let’s see how long into the fall & winter I can keep going. (For those keeping track at home, I commuted regularly up into early December, quit at the arrival of the Snowpocalypse, and only rode sporadically from then until April. Prior winters have been similar; February is the nadir of everything.)

Here’s some pics:

Riding to the river

This week we’re getting record-breaking heat. Not just breaking the day’s record, or even the month’s record, but THIS IS THE HOTTEST WEATHER EVER. (In western WA anyway.) 100 is not a number I really ever want to see on a thermometer. (That’s 37 for y’all in the metric bits of the world.) At the same time, the overnight lows aren’t really all that low either…records are being set for highest lows as well.

The one really great thing about our house is that it has amazing sun exposure. In record-breaking heat, this is also the really horrific thing about it.

Which is to say that yesterday after work, instead of biking north towards home, I biked south and met C at the river. Said river being the Deschutes, which briefly runs alongside the trail about 5 miles south of the office. I discovered this spot either last summer or 2 summers ago, I can’t remember which, on a long random ride out to the middle of nowhere. The trail crosses a road (I don’t know which one!) near there, so it is a bit of a gathering place, altho more obscure than the very popular Pioneer Park, farther down the same river.

I rode reeeeeaaaallllyyyyy slowly; once I got away from development, the surroundings definitely cooled, but it was still quite hot.

The river, on the other hand, was delightfully cool. Most of the waterways around here are damn cold most of the time. Yay glaciers? The spot of the trail was mostly very shallow, a foot or so, and just nice to paddle about in. C had a little spot set up for us on the bank with towels and snacks and beverages. Then I found a deep spot and just bobbed around in the water until I was nice and cool.

While I was there, I had some odd social encounters: a former co-worker, first of all, who didn’t quite recognize me (weight loss, haircut, and HUGE sunglasses); then as we were talking about growing up in So Cal, I met someone from Duarte who knew a bunch of people that I knew in junior high & high school, including someone I hadn’t even really thought about in probably a decade. (K: you remember Margaret B?) It was nice, if weird. Nah, scratch that: it was all nice. One of those moments where remembering was pleasant in itself, and being in my current life felt pretty damn good as well. Sun & trees on the river is always a good thing.

However…when I first got in the water, I took off my bluetooth headset and tossed it towards our stuff, and that was a mistake. The girl with the worst aim in the world strikes again: some lucky squirrel (or whatever) has now got himself a nice little bit of technology. I’m trying to remain philosophical about it. After all, the headset wasn’t that expensive, and I know exactly what model it was. So I suppose sometime soon I’ll get a replacement. Or I’ll buy a cheap little phone that actually works as a phone, as compared to my mega-brick with the mostly-dead screen.

On the surreal side, we stopped at Carl’s Jr on the ride home. It is, weirdly, convenient to the trail, and we both have become fond of their taco salads, I suppose because they have the deep-fried shells. (mmmmm, deep-fried tortilla….) Only it took FOREVER. I got my shake, C got his “extra” sandwich, then eventually the manager came & apologized, and (I think) said they were out of beans. So he gave us a refund. Only while we were finishing up, he appeared with fresh taco salads! Huzzah for free dinner.

The ride home was lovely, right as the sun was setting, although as we came back into civilization, the heat cranked back up. There are a few spots on the trail where you can just coast for what seems like half a mile or more, and then the wind just cools you off while you cruise along in companionable silence. (Or silly chitchat. Whichever.) And the one thing I will say about hot weather around here: at least there’s lots of trees to hide under.

Alas, the house was still blazing, even after sunset. It took a cold washcloth on the back of my neck to get to sleep, even after another glass of water and a tepid shower. Today is more of the same, and tomorrow after that. Planning on another ride to the river tonight. (I haven’t put the cyclometer on the xtracycle yet. At this rate, I’ll’ve clocked easily 100 miles by the end of the week.) Accuweather is saying we might be back under 90 by the weekend, thank goodness.

Fun with cargo bike

A couple of weeks back — July 3 to be precise — I finally got hooked up with an Xtracycle. Those who read my review of the Ute (meh) will remember that I was thinking about getting one of these cargo bikes. Back in February, they had a sale on a combo set of items, including the base kit, and so I got it with the intention of connecting to my beloved Townie.

Sarcastic cliches come to mind: “not so much” or “how’s that working for you?” Because it was a PITA. The size & shape of the Townie made the whole endeavor a little precarious, and set off a debate between me, C, and the bike shop guys about how to handle it. I know other people have done it, but I wanted something elegant. So there was much procrastinating. As usual.

Then C stopped at Joy Ride on the way home from an errand — he was looking for a rack for his bike — and spotted a complete Xtracycle + bike…on sale! He worked out swapping our (intact) kit for that part of the bike’s cost, and that very afternoon I was cruising on my new bike!

So I’ve had it for two weeks now. The verdict? Generally speaking, I LOVE it.

Handles delightfully well, smooth & stable. I also like being back closer to the ground after a year and a half on the Smoke-29.

Holds a crazy amount of stuff, which makes it easy to say, “oh yeah, and I also need a gallon of milk.” I will have pictures of the grill, and later all the stuff for Table for Olympia.

Matches my water bottle. 🙂

The downsides…

Two complaints about the bike part: godawful seat and not-quite-right handlebars. I’ve already switched out the saddle, after 4 days of uncomfortable (!) commuting. The handlebars are just too low for the way I like to ride, plus they make my upper back/shoulders unhappy. I’m probably going to get a stem with a steeper angle, but it’s not as urgent.

Definitely NOT designed for rain. I’ve gone through one downpour, much harder rain than we usually get around here, and things definitely got a little damp to say the least. I’ve already done a bunch of research online about Xtracycles & rain, and I think I know what I need to do in the next couple of months.

Kinda gaudy. (Huge Norco logo on the bike, huge Xtracycle logo on the bags.)

But generally: YAAAAAY Xtracycle!

Oh, and I’m selling the Kona Smoke-29. It’s a great bike, but since I can commute with the Xtracycle, and I’m keeping the Townie, I really don’t need it.

Update: Flickr slideshow…

Ute disappointment

A little over a week ago, we bought a pair of Kona Ute cargo bikes; yesterday, we returned them. Some who may know of my original enthusiasm — and how long we’ve waited* — may wonder why.

  • The brakes on C’s bike just didn’t work all that well. Also, his bike was missing the bell. The rear derailleur on mine was a little sketchy/jumpy, although I think that could’ve been adjusted.
  • They only came with one bag each, which was a serious WTF when we picked them up. The webpage says “panniers,” which I assumed meant two, and it’s impossible to tell from the photo that they only come with one. Plus it doesn’t many any sense to only have one bag if you’re going to be loading it down. So that would’ve been an extra $80-100 each.
  • The bags themselves were disappointing. Floppy, awkward cinching. The material screamed “waterproof,” but the zippers weren’t seam-sealed, and there was a huge gap at the front & back of the bag that surely would’ve collected a lovely puddle.
  • It’s impossible to use any other bags. The deck and loops were obviously designed specifically for the bike and its bag, and holding up both my buckets and my commute panniers, I could see there wasn’t any way to use anything else.
  • The info that came with them, and the info on the website, doesn’t say how much weight they can carry. Which seems like a small thing, but when the plan was to use them in place of a car, it matters.
  • And we didn’t really have anyplace to put them. They spent most of the week in the living room, being used as sideboards and coat racks. Not a long-term solution.

So yesterday they went back. The Bike Stand was very accomodating, the staff were great and the return was really easy.

I’m disappointed. Not just because I wanted to have that cargo-carrying bike, but because the actual ride, the position on the bike: that was fantastic. Maybe the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced, as much as the Townie and maybe even more so.

Perhaps Kona will get the cargo aspects right in a future model, or maybe we’ll just convert the Townie to an Xtracycle. (For half the price, and with a lively community!) For now, I’ll keep riding my Smoke for commuting, and we’ll share the Townie for small grocery runs.

* I test rode a 2008 Ute in July or August, and almost bought it right there. We pre-ordered the ’09s, and orginally they were supposed to show up in September.

cycling logs

Wednesday: to work & back

Thursday: to work, downtown to my hair appt., and partway back

Friday (today): to work & back, to grocery store & back