Oct 28, 2009

The Shoulder Season and Grass-Roots Advocacy

As the last week of October edges by it's safe to say we are now in the shoulder season for cycling. As I posted earlier, so far so good on the commuting front. The dark has been no problem at all, and we've had some colder temps, but with lows in the mid-30's I have had no trouble whatsoever.

I am noticing fewer cyclists on the road and more empty space at the racks downtown. I am feeling like it's more important than ever to keep riding in this shoulder season. It's like the old folk tale of the guy who goes out to the barn every day to pick up his newly born calf. When his neighbor asks why the hell he is doing that, he replies "if I do this every day, eventually I'll be able to pick up a bull!".

Maybe it's a poor analogy, but I think if I ride every day, pretty soon I'll be riding in winter. I suspect it would be very difficult to re-start after a week or so off the bike at this point. Probably more so when it's really cold. On the other hand, keeping doing what you are doing is relatively easily (momentum vs. inertia).

I am actually liking the shoulder season more than mid-summer; To keep me comfy, I have a very nice REI wind/rain jacket that I love, and to make it even better, it was a little too snug this spring, but fits now. Plus, I am now wearing a really bad-ass snowboard helmet for a little extra warmth - it looks really Mad Max and hard core (at least by my standards). I've also seen some good sunrises, too.

Unrelated but potentially interesting, I have a friend leading an exploratory discussion of bike advocacy in Minneapolis. Yes, we do have Transit for Livable Communities and MN Bike Alliance, but TLC seems like a gong show at times and MN Bike Alliance has a state-wide focus. The thrust of this potential advocacy group will be Minneapolis.

The first meeting will be Saturday, October 31 at 11:00 AM at the offices of Twin Cities Streets for People at 212 3rd Ave. No., Suite 515. If you are at all interested, this could be an opportunity to help shape the platform of a group focused on bicycling in Minneapolis. As they say, history is made by the ones the showed up. I am planning on being there and hope plenty of others show up as well.

Oct 22, 2009

Not Okay.


Despite holding my breath in the elevator, and what I now admit was approaching obsessive hand-washing for the past several weeks, I seem to have come down with some sort of illness yesterday. I felt great when I got up at 6:00, but by about 11:00 I had a screaming headache, was tired and felt out of sorts. I left work and holed up at the house where I dozed, read and made a vat of bean soup to feed on.

Today brings a sore throat and fatigue. Fatigue really sucks; it's worse than "feeling tired". On the bright side, I have some time to get caught up on my reading. I made the tactical error of starting several books at the same time (I know better, but could not delay gratification). I am currently stalled out on a re-read of Infinite Jest, in the home stretch of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and falling behind on some assigned reading for work (Who's Got Your Back? and Quiet Leadership). To make matters worse, I subscribed to the New Yorker again (on the Kindle this time), so a new one of those chunks in to the e-book every week as well. I hope finish Zen and the Art this week and pass it on, and then I'll probably crank out the office assignments, since Infinite Jest will take a long time to get through and seems better suited to winter evenings anyway.

This evening is the Sandwhich Cats' Mill City Tweed Ride. It's not too late to grab a tweed coat, tie on an ascot and head down to Gold Medal Park if you are so inclined. I have this on my calendar and had hoped to do this just for the novelty of it, but riding around in today's sleet while wearing wet wool (in my weakened condition, no less) would probably kill me, and my co-workers would be really pissed of about that, so I'll stay home and drink hot tea instead.

So, with that, I am going to put on another kettle of water on the stove and find the comforter. Here's a video of a catastrophic wind turbine failure for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

video

Oct 21, 2009

Okay


We have had some crappy weather, but (so far) I have had no problem staying on the bike.

Today started dark and wet... It was pretty much still night at 7:00 when I left for work, and the weather was partly to mostly crappy - rain (but not much wind) was predicted all day.

I opted for my snow boarding helmet (warmer) and my REI rain jacket, plus some REI house-brand Scholer pants and some water-proof boots. I recently put a cheap LED head lamp on my helmet - It was only $5 at Northern Tool, and it shines,so when I make eye-contact with drivers, they get flashed. Plus, it's got a kick-ass Mad Max vibe that I am really enjoying this week.

The gear was a great combination - I was comfy and dry. I have some rain pants that I need to find - if it was any colder, I would want them, but at 45 degrees, I was just fine in this outfit (although I probably looked like some sort of clown from a Mad Max Movie to the casual observer).


Oct 20, 2009

MPLS Bike Nice!


Please join me in welcoming our newest Minneapolis bike blogger to the "blogosphere" (I hate that term). Yes - Hercules T. Rockefeller got off his butt and started a blog recently!

His site is Minneapolis Bike Nice (we'll see if there's a legal dispute about the name). Thanks for the shout out, HTR, and welcome to the club. You'll be getting your Minneapolis Bike Blog member ring, and a copy of the terms and conditions and the non-compete agreement in the near future. Please sign and return a copy to everyone else with a blog and you're good to go.

Oct 18, 2009

Wood

I laid in wood for the winter today. It was a trip down to the garden center rather than a trip to the forest, but it still felt like getting ready for winter nonetheless.

The 1/2 cord I bought this year is quite a bit larger than the 1/3 cord I bought last year (sorry for all the fractions), so that's good - math still works at least. Last year 1/3 cord kept us, but I am feeling that it's going to be a longer winter, and there's some peace of mind that comes from having wood. I think my little fire wood rack is groaning under the weight of the load, however.

Despite the larger load, the work was easier because the weather was fine and the spouse helped me out for the last part of the load, which was much appreciated.

Connecticut

We are back from a long weekend in Connecticut. We lived in CT for about 2.5 years while I worked on a project out there. We left Connecticut for Anchorage in 2003, and then returned to MPLS in 2006. My time in Connecticut was difficult, but it was transformational in several ways. We had not been back to Connecticut since our departure in 2003, so I was curious to see what (if anything) had changed.

It's clear that the recession has hit the Nutmeg State pretty hard. I saw closed stores, many more homes for sale, and other stores that had greatly declined since we lived there. Our B&B host had an interesting comment - she told us that the recession had hurt, but they realize now that things had begun to turn for the worse several years before the recession officially began.

Connecticut is a bit of a conundrum; yes, the Gold Coast, Blue-blood, limousine liberal stereotype of parts of Connecticut has some real truth to it, but parts of the state are very working class, or quite rural, and in a lot of ways just as... um... backward as dear old Wisconsin.

Similarly, I have mixed feelings about the state; to this day, I am simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed, by Connecticut. The limousine liberal, Ivy League, political correctness (which can approach the totalitarian intolerance of the Taliban) repulses me, to say the very least. However, the eastern hardwood forest, the history and the Atlantic seaboard birding is very intriguing and I enjoyed those aspects of Connecticut a lot.

The hiking in CT is some of the very best we have ever experienced. The Blue Trail system is a true jewel of the state. We had the Mattabesett trail in our backyard when we lived there, and we have never hiked so much, or enjoyed hiking so much, as when we lived in Guilford. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association looks after the trails and publishes a very good guide to these trails. They are well worth supporting. Another interesting book on the landscape of the Northeast is Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I learned a lot from this book and had the good fortune to read it early in my time in CT, so I was able to make sense of most of what I found in the woods.

We also visited Haddam and Higganum, two small, very old towns on the Connecticut River due east from where we used to live. I always thought this part of Connecticut was particularly creepy. It's dark and gloomy, and evokes images of Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman. Keeping with this theme, we stopped at the Burial Grounds for Thirty Mile Plantation in Haddam. I love the old cemeteries of Connecticut, and this is a particularly good one. I read, and still have, a copy of an interesting book on Puritan cemeteries and burial tradition called Graven Images. It's a very interesting read that's as much sociology as history.

And finally, the birds...

I hooked up with Jerry Connoly (owner of the Audubon Shop in Madison) for his Saturday morning bird watching field trip yesterday. A mere $4 admission got me a front row seat with one of the better birders in the Northeast, and we hit a birding hotspot near Madison that is always productive, it seems. Plus, the salt marshes at Hammonasset State Park are always beautiful, and Fall is particularly nice. Our best bird of the day was the Hudsonian godwit, but the Palm Warblers, Pectoral sandpiper, Cooper's hawks, and probable Red-throated loons were good as well.

So, I have proved to myself that if I could bum around Connecticut watching the birds, prowling the cemeteries and taking in the rural landscapes, I would be very happy indeed. Still, it's good to be home and back at my desk. More photos from the Connecticut adventure are available on the Flickr site for your viewing pleasure.

Oct 10, 2009

Fridley Recycling Day


I girded my loins for a venture into the suburbs (believe it) and drove to Fridley this morning to help out Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles with a recycling day effort.

It didn't help that we had the first snow of the season last night and it was probably in the high-20's when I left at 7:30 this morning, but it warmed up pretty fast and turned into a pretty nice day.

Something like 100 bikes were dropped off today, and of those, about 50 were salvageable. These were loaded onto trailers to be hauled back to the MMRB shop on Prior Ave. in St. Paul. The remaining bikes became on-the-spot-tear-down projects. Tear-down amounts to removing anything that is not metal from the bikes, hauling the carcass over to the scrap metal dumpsters and putting the plastic/rubber into the garbage.

It was hard work; I was outside about 7 hours today doing this. My hands ache and my face feels wind-burned, but it was fun and we did good deeds, which counts for something.

I was most impressed with the number of people that were hauling in electronics and scrap metal to get rid of - when I arrived at about 8:00 this morning, the line of cars waiting to get in stretched what would be equivalent to about 4 city blocks, and this was an hour before the gates opened. The amount of waste is simply staggering.

More photos here.

Oct 9, 2009

Friday


w1ti8m
Originally uploaded by Bike Jerks
It's Friday and I am now on Easy St. for two days.

Thanks Bike Jerks for the photo!

Oct 6, 2009

Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles Information


I am getting too many hits recently on an old post for MMRB, so here is a compilation of MMRB information to make thing easier for all of us.

No, I am not a shill and have no affiliation with this shop; I just like their mission and have fun hanging out with them...

Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles (MMRB) is a not-for-profit bike shop in the Midway (as we know, easily the hippest part of St. Paul). Basically, they collect discarded bikes, fix them up to safe condition and give them to needy folks. They do sell some things in the shop to cover expenses, but mostly this is a ministry - the bikes are placed with families and individuals that need them and can't afford them). It's a good place to look for used parts, cheap frames, and wheels (not racing wheels - think polo wheels). They had a really nice Campy Nuovo Record component set the last time I was in there as well as a sweet mag trainer (winter IS coming).

I have volunteered there a few times, and will be doing so again this weekend. The owners are great - Mike and Benita take this ministry seriously and they work hard and take care of their volunteers. Both have full-time jobs and do this in their spare time, so the hours of the shop are a little sketchy. This month, they are open Sundays from 12:00 - 4:00, Tuesday's from 7:00 - 9:00, and Thursday's from 7:00 - 9:00.

I'll post some pics from Saturday's adventure, but if you are looking for a winter beater, fixed gear frame, need some parts to make a "vintage" bike work, or want to do something good, look up MMRB.

Check back later for pics and tales of the Fridley recycle event.

Going Rogue

Rain, Rain

Today was a test of my gear and my resolve. Despite steady, cold rain, I got on my bike and rode to work this morning.

It went well. I wish I could tell you a story about how challenging this was (There I was, staring into the teeth of the storm....) but the whole thing was sort of a lay-up.

I have a bike with fenders and a rack, and some waterproof bags, so keeping my office clothes and my ass dry was not too much of a challenge. I also have lights, so visibility is fine as well.

For on-the-bike attire, I opted for a rain jacket and my usual canvas-like knicker/rock-climbing pants that I have been wearing all year. The rain jacket is quite nice; it's from REI and I bought it last year at some end-of-season sale. I couldn't find my full-finger gloves, so I went with some fingerless gloves instead. Much to my surprise, despite the 45 degree temps, I was just fine with those.

The opportunity for improvement is on the lower half of my body; the Kuhl knickers have been excellent for general riding/commuting in good weather, but they get wet, obviously. In warm weather I don't really care about getting wet, but some rain pants would be a good addition for cold rain. Also, I don't know what to do about my feet - I wore some broken-down running shoes today and got wet feet. It was not cold enough to be a problem, but if it were any colder I might feel otherwise. I suppose neoprene booties or something is probably the correct answer, but the fact of the matter is that as short as my commute is (5.5 miles one way), I can probably get away with sub-par gear and save a little money.

It was raining on the way home, too, but my stuff dried out pretty well during the day, and once your home, who cares? I was glad to get a chance to test my gear (and not suffer in the testing), and I was glad that I still wanted to ride despite the weather. It was very satisfying to be the only bike locked up at the IDS Center ramp today, too.

Oct 2, 2009

The Slings and Arrows of Introversion


P9170379
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
It has been one hell of a week.

Six days ago I left for Portland and the 9th International Symposium on Environmental Concerns in Rights-of-Way Management (ROW9). This event rolls around about every four years and is the only professional conference specifically addressing environmental issues affecting linear facilities (pipelines, power lines, etc.). Consequently, we have been active in the leadership of this conference for years and send as many as six of our staff to present papers at the symposium.

Last December, I was recruited to step in as the "acting" Chair of the ROW9 steering committee. Soon after that, "Acting Chair" became "Chair" because who would want that job? I agreed because I value the symposium, have tremendous respect for some of the people on the steering committee, and appreciate the value of this event to the industry (and, at the rate things were going, this may well have been the last one, so someone had to do something).

I have never done anything like this in my life, and it was a scary learning experience, but the upshot is that it was by all accounts a rousing success - we had about 350 paid attendees (which amazes the hell out of me since the economy has been so bad) and we were able to bring in a number of well-done research and case study papers this year.

As intimidating as some people find it to speak in public, or to stick their neck out at a major professional event, I found having to be "on" all of the time to be more of a challenge. Opening the event is easy -- but being energetic and interested at the end-of-the-day mixer, and then going out to dinner with a client after that, and putting in two more full days is Another Thing Altogether...

I proved to myself once again that I am no extrovert; I can bluff it for awhile, but eventually I have to retreat to my cave and gather back my energy.

I am really happy it all went well and our staff's papers were well received, and now with the momentum from ROW9, I am certain we'll have a ROW10 that is bigger and better, but for at least the next couple of days, I plan to pull back into my shell and keep to myself for awhile.

The Mighty Tundra or... Androcles?


Screwed
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
After keeping an eye on the left front tire of the Mighty Tundra for a few weeks, I determined that I did, in fact, have a slow leak. The Spouse drove it in to a local purveyor of automobile repair services this morning and when I came home today after work, she had this sheet metal screw laying on my keyboard for me. It looks like it might be a license plate screw.

At any rate, what with this thorn being pulled from the paw of the Mighty Tundra, I am reminded of Androcles and the Lion at the moment.