Nov 18, 2012

Creation Stories

After a long hiatus on this blog, I am back. 

It's been a heck of a year - aging parent's on both sides of the family, moves to accommodate said aging parents, funerals, and trying to settle into a new, stable orbit free of the gravitational pull of my Corporate overlords, etc., etc. It's unclear whether or not equilibrium has been established, but the wobbles seem to be slowing.

What's brought me back is the notion of "creation stories". Not the tedious creationist vs. science debate, but our our personal creation stories.

Of course there are a host of conventional creation stories - whether it's The Six Days that Changed Everything (rest on the 7th), Ymir and the Frost Ogres, or the Big Bang, every culture has a way to explain how we came to be. Lately, those old saws don't interest me as much as our personal creation stories, though.

We all tell personal creation stories whether we realize it or not - these "how we came to be where we are" explanations are the stuff of job interviews and holiday party conversations. I told one of my own here. All of these tales draw on indisputable fact (the day we were born, graduated, got married, had kids, got laid off, etc.) but the threads that tie these facts together are dyed in a bath of personal perception, emotion and rationalizations. The result is not a simple telling of history, but a tale that gives greater explanation and meaning to the whole mess that is our existence - the "why" behind the "what", if you like.

I have been confronted with one such creation story a lot these days - my Mom's explanation of how she came to her current living situation (something I was intimately involved in every step of the way). From my outside perspective, it's pretty straight forward and needed to happen. From her perspective, she moved to assisted living for others, and although she likes certain aspects of it, she makes it clear that this would not have been her choice, but that she is getting used to it. The little detail that her life has changed and the old way was not possible never makes it into the telling.

This used to dry me absolutely ape shit - I was always tempted to want to "correct" certain aspects of the story. The fact of the matter is that I can't correct her story with anymore success than if she were to arm-chair quarterback the trajectory of my life.

While I am not a fan of revisionist history, I am coming to see that although people may have widely different explanations of shared events, that does not mean somebody is wrong. The winds of cause and effect will inevitably blow narratives in as many directions as there are tellers. I think it's better to recognize our personal creation stories for what they are and learn from the teller's version because only that way can we really understand the meaning of major event in other people's lives.

Aug 7, 2012

The Secret to Doing Favors and Moving On

Last week my neighbor-through-the-alley mentioned that she wanted to get her grandson a 20-inch bike to ride around when he came to visit her. She didn't want to spend a lot, but she was willing to spend something. She asked me for some ideas on where to look.

After a short Craig's List search and one phone call, I had lined up a virtually new Novara boys bike listed for $40. We stopped and looked at the bike on the way back from an in-law birthday party; the bike was in almost show-room condition (in fact, the tires still had the whiskers on the side-walls). With no further delay, $40 USD changed hands and the bike came home with us, less than 24 hours after the alley conversation with my neighbor.

The kid now has the bike (and loves it), I got my $40 plus a tip back (with a nice hand-made thank-you card to boot). What's more, the neighbor has told me repeatedly how much she appreciated the help.

Yea for me, I guess.

I mean, it's great to be appreciated and all, but honestly, this was really no big deal. To put this into my cynical perspective, I browse Craig's List regularly, anyway. I know bike brands, so it was very simple to find a decent bike, look at the price, and decide wether or not it was worth chasing. Frankly, all this effusive gratitude kind of left me kind of perplexed.

While I may not be bright, I have finally figured out that confusion is often a hint that there is a lesson to be learned, so I did some ponderin' on this...

Here's the deal:

To my neighbor this was no simple task. She doesn't know bikes and probably is not CL-savvy, so therefore she didn't even know where to begin, except that she didn't want to go to a bike shop and ask questions, which would have helped.

To me this was a lay-up.

People of Earth, this is the best possible situation for doing a favor. The gratitude and benefit will always, always be significantly greater than the effort. Here's why...

Tapping into ANY special skills or knowledge you have, and targeting a beneficiary that could really use the help is powerful; it enables a person to essentially "fall off a log" and have the same positive impact as "moving a mountain" with a lot less pain and suffering.

File that away or discard it as internet trash from a posuer if you prefer.

On an unrelated note, I ditched my MPLS Bike Love account and have seceded from so-called "bike culture" effective this past weekend.

That bold statement doesn't really mean anything. I'll still ride my bike and organize rides. I'll do bike favors and admin Bikebyshooting on Flickr, etc., etc. What's changed is that I no longer have a screen name on that "best of the Twin Cities" website and I won't be yapping about stuff on the forums.

MBL was very helpful when I moved back to MPLS from Los Anchorage and through the difficult times at work, and I am still grateful to Jeremy and the others for making that happen. That said, I've been growing away from that scene for awhile now and it became clear this weekend that the image-consciousness and drama of that scene is a waste of time for me at this point.

If you want me, i'll be here or on the road.

Jun 26, 2012

Rolling Again

Troll Fence
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
True to my word, I am back on the bike, giving riding in circles the old college-try.

Today took me to St. Paul, that fair sister city where the down town is quaint and everyone is home reading the Pioneer Press by 8:00pm. In spite of what anyone may say about St. Paul, I really like that town. They have excellent coffee coolers, don't knock down the old buildings as fast and generally understand what makes a city work (at least as far as I can tell from my saddle).

Conscientious readers will note that the Surly Nice Rack has now been removed from the front end of the LHT. The weight of the rack was too much for the little use it got. Although it looked really bad ass, that rack is now hanging in the garage until needed.

The Ortlieb handlebar bag is much more sensible addition for the style of riding I am doing these days. "Tools, rain gear and other things I "might maybe possibly need but hopefully not" go in the bag at the rear bag, but must-haves like the cell phone, sun glasses and other junk ride up front in the Ortlieb these days. A much more practical set-up for your truly.

Tomorrow promises to be a scorcher, so the plan of operation calls for an early ride to the west with a stop or two to pick up a few photo tags. That way I can check the ride off the to-do list and be home in time to enjoy the oppressive heat and humidity from home rather than the saddle.

In other news, despite our participation in some PedalMN installations, my new gig didn't get much mention in the press on the roll-out (no pun intended). Many thanks to Cycle Twin Cities for the post today to note our involvement in that project.

Stay cool tomorrow and as always, stay frosty.

Jun 24, 2012

Brompton Responds

I got a very polite "thanks but no thanks" from Brompton re: my open letter concerning the attire expected at Brompton races.
Hi Joe,
Thank you for your feedback. The 'English Attire' at our races is a bit of a tradition now and overall very popular. While we do not encourage people to dress up in fancy dress (that is their choice I assure you), we like the idea of everybody racing in a jacket and tie. 
We will take you feedback into consideration for future years and hope to see you at one of our races in future.
Kind regards
Truthfully, I kind of expected either 1.) no response at all, or 2.) this exact response. I certainly didn't expect them to say "gosh, you're right". Occasionally I just seem to find it cathartic to shout into the wind or bark at the moon, depending on the weather and time of day. Of course, it's their event and they can do as they please. I just don't see wearing a coat and tie on a windy, 90 degree day to race a bike.

To each there own and on our merry way we go.

Speaking of going on our merry way, I've not been doing much of that lately. I need to find my camera, hit a few trails and do some two-wheeled explorations. Not having a destination to ride to each day has put a hitch in my riding and I need to figure that out. I've never been to ride in circles - more of a point-a-to-point-b guy, I guess. Nevertheless, I'll be rectifying that situation with the more clement weather we are expecting in the coming week.

In other news, disappointingly, I've had to turn on "comment moderation" because of a spam storm that's been raging over the past few days and doesn't seem to be letting up. Too bad; I don't get a lot of comments, but I don't want to delay any comments that do come in, either.

Jun 6, 2012

Get Together: June 14 at Sea Salt

The bike bloggers of MPLS will be gathering at Sea Salt on Thursday, June 14 around about happy hour to share stories, get reacquainted and talk about those that don't show up.

If you blog for BikeMN, MPLS Bike Alliance, Cycle TC or some other fringe independent blog (like me at the moment) you are warmly invited to join us. Just look for bikey-looking people and we'll make you feel welcome. The pass word is "beers for bloggers".

Thanks Wheeldancer for the nudge on this.

An Open Letter to Brompton

Dear Brompton -

Your bikes are engineering genius!  I love them. They work so well for commuters and regular people who want to ride a bike but don't have room to store a bike.

Why, why, why do you encourage "English attire" in your Brompton championship events? Wouldn't it make more sense to have people show up in their every-day clothes and race it out?  Honestly, the whole costume-cycling thing leaves me cold and I am not participating in the MPLS Brompton event because of the dress code.

Seriously - consider encouraging people to ride in whatever they want to. That's what most Brompton people do. It would be just as much fun, I promise.

Hugs and kisses,

- Joe


I am back from yet another trip to the Ancestral Homeland to conduct some business on behalf of my Mom with carpet purveyors, handymen, attorneys and other such advisors and craftsmen. That all went well enough but I am glad to be home again.

I now have the drive to (and from) the Ancestral Homeland down to a science. I know exactly how long it will take, where to stop for the best coffee, where not to eat, etc. In fact, I predicted my arrival time in MPLS within 3 minutes of the actual arrival time today. Also, the new wheels are giving me almost 31 miles per gallon and the CD changer can power through 6 Cd's which makes books-on-CD a breeze. These are all big improvements over the Mighty Tundra (RIP, old friend).

One of the advantages (and disadvantage)s of driving the same route repeatedly is the that you get really familiar with all the landmarks. The St. Croix River crossing, the big bend in the freeway at Eau Claire, Wisconsin Dells, the Blew Inn, etc. are by now well-worn prayer beads on a string that mark my journeys back and forth. The possibility of a surprise discovery is lost, but the route becomes familiar and knowable.

By far the spookiest landmark on this pilgrimage is a small road-side grave sandwiched between Highway 16 and  railroad tracks between Portage, WI and Wisconsin Dells. I have driven by here many, many times. There is no sign or marker of any sort, other than the fence and two trees, so I am left to speculate on what's going on here. On this particular drive, I have a lot of time to speculate...

My imagination, informed by many, many 60 mile-per-hour visits, leads me to suppose that an old farming couple is buried there. I imagine that the patriarch died first, followed about 10 years later by his spouse. Why tuck them between the highway and the railroad? The family buried them on their original homestead site, which has long since been displaced by eminent domain and razed to make way for highways, railroads and progress. As a toe-hold against the march of time, he family planted a tree over each grave in remembrance, and fenced the site to keep brush mowers away from this sacred site.

Despite the overgrown vegetation, the fence is always freshly painted and well-maintained. This spectacle never fails to haunt me for the rest of the drive.

May 25, 2012

Current Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and as we turn the corner from Spring into summer, I am turning a corner of sorts as well.

After leaving the working world on July 1, 2011 for destinations unknown, I have new business cards on order as I write this...

I am happy to report that I am now "the sales guy" at Bike Fixtation right here in Minnenoplace. It's seemingly the perfect gig. It's the bicycle industry, the position is solutions-oriented, I work with smart creative people, I work from home, and I have flexible hours. We do business all over the place, including countries where English is not the first language. What's not to like?

I was drawn to this position because I like the business concept. We design, build and distribute public bicycle workstands, high security hand pumps and air compressors, and vending machines specific to bicycle emergency needs (inner tubes, patch kits, tire levers, etc.). The business and the position is creative and entrepreneurial, and each inquiry I handle is unique. The products are cost-effective, secure and durable, empowering, "green" and very high quality, so it's easy to sell. The time is right for this concept, too.

After nearly a year, I still have no desire whatsoever to go back to consulting on What I Used To Do. Despite the pay, professional recognition, prestige and the scope of the projects. I am just so burned out on that scene that I can't even contemplate wanting to get back in the business (and yes, I still have a little over a year on my non-compete/non-solicit agreement, Mr. Nameless-Attorney-That-Monitors-My-Activities).

In the meantime, I am going to ride the waves that are coming in and be the best customer service guy in the bike biz. And I plan to have A LOT of fun doing it.

For sure.

May 14, 2012

Project Homeless Connect 2012

I spent the better part of the day today outside the convention center, helping to repair bikes for homeless people. Project Homeless Connect aggregates medical and social service providers a few times per year to  make it easier for people needing these services to get them.

A significant number of homeless and transitional people rely on bicycles for transportation, and they often ride marginally safe bikes, so appending a bike-repair effort on to Homeless Connect is a good idea. I got involved with this last year because a friend organized the bike repair effort and found herself swamped with demand for these services.

This year we were able to apply a lot of lessons learned and it went much better. Upgrades to our set-up this year  included getting about 9 mechanics (including 3 from The Hub Bike Co-Op), more parts and supplies (brake pads, cables, housing, inner tubes, tires, etc.), awnings to provide shade, lunch and a much better in-take process. Kudos to Nickel for figuring this all out and making it happen.

Some of the repairs I did today were truly horrifying. Brake pads worn all the way down to the metal bracket, bikes with no working brakes what-so-ever, tires that should have been taken out of service years ago...

In two instances, I just could not make bikes safe to ride and talked to owners about getting a better ride at Bikes for Change or MMRB, but for the most-part, we got these things much safer and ready to ride. I don't have an official count, but I bet we repaired at least 50 bikes today. This is a really under-served area and more volunteer bike repairs would be a good thing in any city.

The Homeless Connect organizers seemed to really appreciate that we were there, too, which is always nice.

May 4, 2012

Farewell, Advocacy

After lots of effort, considerable thought and reflection, admittedly some frustration, and futther deliberation, I am throwing in the towel on bike advocacy. At least in any kind of leadership capacity - I might still get in on a protest ride or badger some store for better parking, but otherwise I am hanging it up.

Calling it quits.

Cashing it in.

I've been actively engaged in a number of efforts, including

  • Comments and criticism of the Marq2 Project; 
  • Early formative meetings of the group that became the Minneapolis Bike Coalition; 
  • Planning of the RiverLake Greenway; 
  • Planning of the Southern Connector bike boulevard; 
  • Bike parking at 48th and Chicago, and;
  • Probably a few other things that I am forgetting.
None of these have been particularly rewarding but there are some results to report: 
  • Marq2 was a F'ing Gong Show and a real loss for cyclists (that project should be added to the list of URS projects [I-35W Bridge and Sabo Bridge] that screwed Minneapolis). We lost north-south bike lanes in the heart of the MPLS Central Business District while The City was congratulating itself on how "bike friendly" they were. 
  • The Minneapolis Bike Coalition is doing some good things but not in the direction or fashion I was thinking; 
  • RiverLake is in and successful, which is great;
  • The Southern Connector looks like it's going to be built, so that's potentially one for the good guys, and;
  •  Bike parking at 48th and Chicago is a cluster fuck and has been an exercise in wasted time - all of the businesses are for it (as long as it's entirely free, delivered to them effortlessly and in no way compromises existing automobile parking capacity).
Additionally, I've tried to get into a few other areas but never gotten traction. These include:
  • Bike Alliance of Minnesota advocacy committee;
  • Minneapolis Bike Coalition, and;
  • Minneapolis Bike Advisory Committee

My outsider's perception is that BAM is pretty ossified and those seats are... established. The MPLS Bike Advisory Committee had "openings", but they weren't actually all that open - I applied for a ward position, but lost out to a person that has been on this committee for a long time and means to stay that way. The MBC is actively looking for volunteers but the organizational/leadership structure doesn't work for me and I don't see much growth there. That being said, I firmly believe that MBC does good work and I support them in word and deed. I just don't want to be part of their scene.

Here's what I have concluded.

Living in a really strong Bike City is great for a lot of reasons - we have a lot of good bike amenities (which benefit local residents and pedestrians - not just cyclists), we have a lot of very talented and dedicated people that are working to improve those amenities as well. Additionally, we have  base of motivated people willing to volunteer a little time and effort to move things along for those organizations.

What that means, though, is that this particular pond is pretty crowded. It's like trying to get into Science Club at MIT or something. Good luck, Chuck.

Therefore, if one wants to make a difference, it would be economically rational to focus on some other under-served area and not pile-on with the over-served issues (such as bike advocacy). I'll still support MBC projects that make sense, keep active with cycling education by exercising my LCI credential and make a stink with the City when it matters, but otherwise the general cycling advocacy is getting shoved to the back-burning for the foreseeable future.

Apr 27, 2012

God Will Hand Us the Sword of Justice

This is one of the best movies about nothing in particular that I have ever seen.

The Parking Lot Movie is a documentary about a bunch of guys who work at the Corner Parking Lot (aka "The CPL") in Charlottesville, VA. Like all parking lot attendants, these guys are over-educated, thoughtful, insightful and misunderstood. The movie documents their struggles and torments against boredom, entitled college kids and, sometimes, each other. Spoiler alert - one of them ends up as the bass-man with Yo La Tengo.

The CPL song kicks ass, too.

Apr 26, 2012

It Might Be Time

It might be time to get another Beers for Bloggers together, what with Spring in the air and the trails clogged with pale-legged people.

I propose a get-together next week - perhaps Thursday, May 3 after work - at Sea Salt. This might the 5th time or so that we've done this, I guess, and it's always a good time so hopefully a few people can make it. Some usually get food, others just stay for a beverage and a chat and then head on down the road. Whatever; it's casual and no pressure and the company is good.

Hopefully we can get a few cyber friends as well as real-life friends over to come on over, including (but not limited to):

We put the welcome mat out for everybody, so if you are in the neighborhood and want to stop in, by all means please do so.

Why HAM?

A reader or two have picked up on some recent references to HAM radio and asked about that, so here's a bit of explanation on how I came to get a license...

I have always been a huge weather nerd; I love thunderstorms, secretly want my own weather station and have wanted to be a "trained spotter" for awhile now.

Last summer, figuring I had the time, I looked into spotter training. I was informed by the National Weather Service that I had missed all the training sessions and there would not be any more until next Spring. Minor set back, but I "friended" the NWS and waited for training season 2012.

Although it's not heavily publicized, the spotter reporting systems are run on amateur radio "nets". When severe weather is anticipated, the Skywarn ham radio net is activated. Trained spotters that observe something reportable transmit their Skywarn identification number and a brief (very brief) description of what they are seeing. If net control wants more information, then they will answer the observer's I.D. number and ask for more detail.

Here's the rub, though - one needs to obtain an FCC amateur radio license to push that PTT button on a radio. Once I figured this out, getting a HAM license became the next order of business. Just about anyone can get a HAM license provided they pass the test; in fact it's easier than ever to get a license right now - a few years ago we went from 5 levels of licenses to only three (Technician, General and Extra Class) and Morse is no longer required for at least Technician and General.

HAM radio study guides are available on-line and at radio stores, and there are classes around to help get you through the material. The content of the exam covers a lot of ground, ranging from how a radio transmits and receives, how antennas work, basic electronics (capacitance, resistance, inductance, etc.), operating practices, licensing requirements and regulations, etc. The test is only 35 questions for a Technician license, but the scope of the test is broad.

Like a lot of things, the more you learn, the more interesting things become. I found the radio (which had started as a necessary step to the larger goal of storm spotting) become a hobby in itself. Once you are in, the sky is the limit (no pun intended) in what you can do with it - some people get their jollys trying to make really long distance contacts with low power, others explore different bands and get into contests, still others experiment with making antennas and components. It's endless, it really is.

I just got my Technician license in late March and have already started studying to upgrade to General (more band privileges is the primary motivation here) have already lined up a few gigs doing radio event support. I am also planning to get into ARES once I have a little more experience under my belt and better radio set-up, but we'll have to wait and see on that.

My first gig is the Ironman Ride on May 6, so if you are riding that, keep an eye out for the radio nerds, because one them will be me.

Apr 19, 2012

Finding the Groove

I was down at my Mother's the first part of this week, working on financial matters following the passing of my Father in early April. With death certificates in hand, we set off to pay visits to the investment manager, the bank, the tax guy and a good portion of the World Wide Web (that wondrous array of "tubes" that we can all thank Al Gore for) in order to exercise fiduciary responsibility and protect entitlements and benefits.

It all went surprisingly well. I was expecting a lot more Bad Things to happen, but it helps to have a business background, some life experience, a steady hand and a steely gaze whenever one leaves sight of land on The Sea of Bureaucracy.

In fact,  thanks to Volkswagon turbo technology, I was able to make it back to the Twin Towns in time for my newly-resumed art welding class on Wednesday afternoon. I sparked up the torch, made a few simple welds, learned a valuable lesson about the effects of hot metal on fingers, and generally eased back in to the groove just a little bit yesterday.

That was followed today by a class field trip to Amble's, which is truly a jewel of the Twin Cities. This place has been there since before time, it seems, and it's packed to the rafters with all kinds of weird and interesting stuff. The photo with this post is from the gear-and-chain-and-other-stuff aisle that I lingered in this afternoon. I walked out with $15 of scrap that is the starting material for my weathervane. Details to follow, depending on how I do with this project...

In other news, I currently have a bike in the basement awaiting a pre-century tune-up and will be heading out tomorrow with stand and tools in to create a bike from parts for another friend tomorrow.  It might be time for Beers for Bloggers very soon...

It seems that things are slowly returning to normal.

Apr 10, 2012

Back in the Game

We returned this afternoon from my Father's funeral. Suffice it to say that he was one hell of a guy and will be missed by many, many people. Rest assured that the world is a better place because he was here. We, the family, owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of Columbia St. Mary's Hospital and Horizon Hospice, as well as countless friends of my parents and their advisors.

I thought I was prepared for this - this has been coming for some time, and thanks to my EMR training, it seems that I knew as much (or more) than the nurses re: what was really going on towards the end. In spite of that, the funeral itself felt... surreal - like I was watching it rather than participating in it. Knowledge is not necessarily power, after all. My brother did an exceptional job on the eulogy; I don't think I could have pulled that off with the skill that he demonstrated, so that's appreciated.

It's truly a blessing to have the time to your parents in their "golden" years. I left work in July not knowing what the future held, but the time was quickly filled with a bunch of hobbies and interests that ended up getting back-burnered because of family issues. That's a high-class problem, though. Most people have to take FMLA or go to the favor-bank to get time off of work. Unlike my siblings, I didn't have that problem, so I am grateful for that as well.

I think things will be settling down for the time-being, so I am looking forward to getting back into more of a routine, though there will surely be trips home to conduct some business and/or check on things.

In the near-term,  art welding is back on the agenda (CAFAC was great about working through my previous cancelation and re-start ).  I am also about 90% of the way to becoming a Skywarn Storm Spotter. The 90% of the effort is obtaining a HAM radio license (not exactly easy). Now I only have to complete a 4-hour Metro Skywarn training to get in on this good clean fun.  I have also thrown my hat in the ring for radio support on the Ironman ride in May and will look for more radio support roles going forward. HAM radio is not exactly easy to get into, but once you are in, you're in - the license is good for 10 years. It also seems to be endlessly fascinating, so I am proud of my license and look forward to using it for public safety and emergency communications in the future.

Hopefully, there will be rides on nice days followed by libations and sustenance at Sea Salt in the near future as well.

Be well, ride safe and count your blessings.

Apr 3, 2012

On Hold

I have been absent from this blog too much, lately, and I think I need to fess up and just put a hold on things for the time being.

My family is needing my immediate attention and that is getting the Lion's Share of my energy these days, diverting my energy, focus and sarcasm from all those those things I've known before.

Rather than hash together some half-assed content and update the blog sporadically to bridge this situation like some other bloggers might try, I am just putting this site on hold for the time being (according to Hoyle that's entirely legit and I don't lose a turn).

I don't see this as permanent shut-down by any means. Me being me, I'll likely pick up this blog when the dust settles. It's just that I can't sustain this right now and I don't know when things will change. And given my hard-wired desire to exceed expectations, I don't want you all thinking that I just don't give a shit, because I do, in fact, give a shit. It's just that right now I can't give a...

Um... That metaphor didn't work out quite as well as I was hoping, so nevermind about that.

Until then, thanks everyone for stopping be and seeing what I have to say regardless of how inconsequential it is. Keep the faith, ride as much as you can, be kind to each other and for God's sake be careful.

Here's Bob to fill in the blanks.

- Joe

Mar 16, 2012

An Early Ride on Sakatah Singing Hills

I took advantage of the freakishly warm weather to ride the Sakatah "Singing Hills" State Trail today. This was my second time on the Sakatah - the first time I started in Mankato and made it to Waterville. This time I started in Faribault and made it to Waterville. So, I guess I've ridden the whole trail in kind of a limp fashion.

The brochures tell us that "Sakatah" means "singing hills". I am pretty sure those hills are singing thanks to the relentless southern cross winds I've experienced every time I ride this trail. The first time was the worst by far - steady 20 - 30 mph cross winds dried us out like dead bugs. The trail from Mankato east to Waterville is pretty open, so the prairie wind has a lot of fetch to get going.

Today the wind picked up steadily throughout the day. I hit the trail about 11:30 in a slight breeze; by the time I stopped for lunch in Waterville the wind was kicking up dust and blowing my gloves off the table.

These early season rides are always kind of a humbling ritual. I am not in as good of shape as I would wish. The cycle-specific fitness from last year seems to have slipped as usual. The good news is that it always bounces back pretty quickly, but that makes some kind of sloggy rides until that happens.

According to the mileage chart in the brochure, this was about a 43 mile ride. I can't personally vouch for that because my little bike computer thing died an early death less than two miles from the trail head this morning. I bet that's pretty close, though. Forty three miles is nothing to brag about, but that's about what I was hoping for on this ride.

Mar 9, 2012

Traffic Calming for Southern Connector

A bike infrastructure project that I am interested in is moving forward, it seems. The Southern Connector would provide a bike route on 17th Ave. from Minnehaha Parkway all the way to north of the Midtown Greenway. Eventually, this route would also tie in to the planned Intercity Bike Route as well, but that project is a ways down the road at this point.

I have posted several times about the Southern Connector project and provided comments during a field review of the route. I am interested in this one because we really do need a north-south route alternative to Park Ave./Portland Ave. on the east side of I-35W.

Recently, I noticed an experimental median on 42nd Street at 17th Ave. That crossing is probably the most dangerous on the Southern Connector route. We used to live blocks from this intersection, and often had trouble crossing this street because cars travel too fast on 42nd Street in general, and as the second photo shows, the sight lines from 17th Ave. are terrible due to a hill immediately east of that intersection that obstructs cyclist and pedestrian views of traffic heading west on 42nd Street.

During the route reconnaissance ride during the planning phase of the project, there was discussion of traffic calming and potentially a median at the intersection of 17th Ave. So. and 42nd Street to provide shelter for pedestrians crossing the busy 42nd Street.

With the temporary median in, I was curious to see it's effect on traffic, and if it was in fact slowing vehicles down to make this crossing safer for bikes and pedestrians. My quick reconnaissance this morning leads me to believe that this is working. I shot a short video of the intersection - you can see the cars building up speed as the leave the Cedar Ave. intersection but then brake and slow as they see the median.

Yes - the temporary median is ugly, but the final version will be much better looking. I think this will be a good improvement for the neighborhood and hope that the median becomes permanent at this location - that would make the crossing of this street a lot safer. Call 311 and let them know the median is an improvement if you agree.

Mar 8, 2012

Sabo Bridge Cable Vibration

A friend sent me a link to a short video of suspension cables on the Sabo bridge vibrating rather dramatically prior to the cable/bracket failure. I don't know the person who shot the photo, but I know the bridge and can vouch for the location. Interesting...

Mar 7, 2012

Turning the Page

Basket 'O Cat
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Well, it's been quite a journey lately.

It seems that almost all of my attention for the past six weeks or has been devoted to preparing for my parent's move to an assisted living facility located in the heart of The Ancestral Homeland.

If you have been through relocating parents, this is all old news; if you have not gone through this yet, a mere description could never suffice to capture the whole gestalt. The short snappy version of this is that moving parents entails business transactions with strangers, inventorying a lifetime of possessions to see what comes and what goes, getting the move planned and done, and then tucking them in to the new place and watching to see that everything is going to be okay. All this while managing a laundry list of chronic and acute health issues while trying your hand at applied behavioral psychology and anger management.

With the parent's now getting settled, I am looking forward to getting things back on track myself. As I have pointed out previously, I missed a few things that had been planned, including the 2012 Bike Summit, an information meeting on the Intercity Bike Trail, welding class, working at the food shelf, not one but two book club meetings, etc., etc.

That said, it was a rare gift indeed to have the time and energy necessary to devote to this passage. That is a luxury most people don't have when they face this phase in life. As easy as it would be to complain about the splash this made in my end of the swimming pool, that's all really embarrassingly minor compared to big things like my parent's future.

I am amazed at how all-consuming caregiving can be. Anyone who has been there knows that it fills the space you give it, and it always seems like there is more to do. I have been spared the brunt of this since I live so far away from my parent's and my siblings are much closer and did much, much more of the support work. I did get a better appreciation for the load they have shouldered, though, and that's kind of a gift, too.

There will be a few more trips to clean out the house, and probably another for the closing when it finally sells, but at this point I am resting up and making plans to get my personal trains back on the tracks.

Feb 20, 2012

More Bad Luck With Bridges

I must say, Minneapolis has bad luck with bridges.

This morning I arose to reports that the Sabo Bridge was closed to traffic due to a cable problem, and in fact the Light Rail and Hiawatha Ave. (which the Sabo bridge goes over) were also closed to traffic.

I have been fighting a bad cold, but I shrugged off the blankets and went up there this morning to see what was to be seen and shoot a few photos before this gets cleaned up.

It looks like the two eastern-most cables (the longest ones) separated from the tower on the bridge and slithered down from their anchors on the sides of the bridge.

Early reports from the Star Tribune indicate that two other sets of cables are also severely "compromised" and workers were placing shoring under the bridge today. Apparently, somebody was walking across the bridge last night at about 10:30 and found the cables laying on the deck of the bridge. The clear-thinking citizen called "311" and reported it. That's one 311 report the City jumped on, apparently, because it was closed right after that.

The Sabo bridge opened for business in November 2007 at a cost of $5.1 million, and it has become the iconic symbol of Minneapolis bike infrastructure. It's so new that the problem has to be a design or construction flaw rather than lack of maintenance, I would guess.

I am hoping a security camera caught the cable snapping. I would have loved to have seen that - it would have been on hell of a KER-TWAING.

Depending on what happened, I can foresee this bridge being closed for awhile. If the main tower is sinking, or the footings are shifting, that would be a lengthy repair, I suspect. On another note, the design engineer for this bridge was the same as for the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi.

Feb 13, 2012

Welcome MN Bike Trail Navigator

I got an email recently from a person that has started yet another bike blog. This one is called MN Bike Trail Navigator. The tag-line kind of says it all - "a resource for exploring Minnesota's scenic bike trails". Recent posts include a report on trailhead upgrades at Lebanon Hills and an update on the Mississippi River Regional Trail in Dakota County. The site also offers lots of links to map resources that should prove handy for anyone looking to get out and explore some trailage.

MNBike Trail Navigator gets around in cyberspace, too. There is the blog link (above) as well as a Facebook page and Twitter (@mnbtnavigator). I'll add a link to this in my "Friends" column on the right side of this page as well.

On that note, if you  have not seen it yet, check out Fat Tire MN's blog as well. He's another recent addition to the Hall of Friends; I didn't realize he had a blog although I've been an admirer of his fat tire photos for some time now.

Feb 12, 2012

Intercity Bike Trail

Hey - we have a new project to get active about. The Intercity Bike Trail is currently in the planning phases. From a recent MPLS Park and Rec notice:
Three Rivers Park District, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the cities of Minneapolis, Bloomington, and Richfield, and other project partners are working together to finalize a master plan for the Intercity Regional Trail. When completed, the seven-mile Intercity Regional Trail will provide a paved, multi-use regional trail route from Lake Nokomis Parkway in Minneapolis south through Richfield and on to the Minnesota River in Bloomington.
The trail will connect to the Minneapolis Grand Rounds trail system at Lake Nokomis, Three Rivers Park District's Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail in Richfield, and the Mall of America in Bloomington. Possible connections across the Minnesota River to Dakota County'ss regional trail system also may be explored.
As part of the master planning process, an open house will be held to review the proposed trail segment within the City of Minneapolis on February 21. Details are as follows:
Intercity Regional Trail open house 
5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Hope Lutheran Church ¡ª Fellowship Hall
5728 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55417
Here is a link to the project page on the Three Rivers Park Districts website for more information (including meeting notes and more detailed route maps). It looks like there are some route alternatives to be hashed out where the trail would leave Lake Nokomis and head south down Cedar Ave. and that some bridge work might be in the offing.

If you can, make it to the open house on Feb. 21 and speak your mind. It would be great to have another decent route south from MPLS, and other than the confusion around Cedar Ave, this route looks like a keeper to me.

Pardon the Silence

At the Fort
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
A lot of things are kind of hold at the moment due to some family commitments that have now been complicated with some medical issues. I've been traveling quite a bit more than usual, and that leaves little time to do things worthy of posting (and little energy to post when I do manage to actually do something).

That said, I've got a few posts I'll get lined up before my next trip and meter them out as I can.

Feb 1, 2012

New Gig

I started a new gig this morning. Volunteering at a local food shelf somewhere in the 612. Because of client confidentiality, I am a little restricted in what I can say, and I can't take any pictures, so I am borrowing the photo for this post.
Although this was only my first day, it was a positive experience. I started out organizing and re-stocking the provisions, facing the shelves like a grocery store so the customers could see what was in stock and have easier access to it. Once I had the shelves ship-shape, they moved me over to the check-in station, where I learned to take I.D.'s, get people registered and give them their slips. Once they were done getting what they needed, I signed them back out. It's a SQL database, much like databases I have used before, so the computer part was easy once I had the sets down. In case you are wondering if this service is "necessary", about half of my customers today told me that this as emergency pick up.

After an hour of sign-in duty, we got a large produce delivery. By then it was pretty slow (most people come to the food shelf early), so putting produce away became an all-hands job and I ended up kind of supervising the perishable produce handling. We got that done, but the produce needs a sort yet - some of the stuff comes in mixed boxes so it's hard for people to see what is available. I'd like to get the produce arranged next time I go back if it's not done already. 

This was my first food shelf experience, per se. I did a Loaves-and-Fishes type effort in Connecticut, picking up either bread or produce (I did both) from grocery stores in Guilford, Branford and East Haven for delivery at a drop location in New Haven. That was a lot less formal - no background check, no supervision, no nothing. This food shelf I am currently working at is a much tighter ship - better inventory, better customer service and actual records of what comes in, goes out and how many people get support.

I got a nice volunteer buzz from the morning's work and felt like I helped some people and advanced the mission of the food shelf. I think this kind of volunteer work is important to building community; I am probably a little late in starting here, but I think it will be a good gig.

Plus, the boss told me I could bring my bike inside rather than locking up outside. Sweet.

Jan 31, 2012

Another Memorial

The Star Trib ran an article a few weeks ago about an event that originally happened back in November. The day before Thanksgiving, an elderly man that was found unresponsive on a park bench at Lake Nokomis. Passers-by called an ambulance, but the man had died alone on the bench, sitting upright, starting at the lake and the Minneapolis Skyline. There was no identification on the body, the story never made the paper, and who the man was remained a mystery.

Now, the elderly man has been identified. Walkers at Lake Nokomis have also installed a small memorial on the bench where this man took in his last view of the Lake and the skyline. The strib article provides a sort of obituary and a little eulogy that he never got back at Thanksgiving, and the memorial serves a reminder to those that pass by on their daily walks.

I've always been fascinated with these types of memorials, and pass several on a weekly basis. Each one commemorates a life, but make no mistake - they are for the living more than the dead. Often people with no connection whatsoever to the deceased will leave a memento at the shrine, moved to do so by something that brings the deceased closer. Shared experience, appreciation of the same location, proximity, or maybe some other more personal reason that I could not begin to speculate on.

In this case, the deceased, John Scherer, was a stranger to almost everyone. Some recognized him, but none really knew him. That's what makes this memorial all the more touching. The massive public displays of grief at impromptu memorials for celebrities or classmates somehow seem less sincere to me than these small memorials erected for unknown people.

Eventually weather and/or the Park and Rec department will clear this memorial away, but I wanted to capture it before it was gone as a lasting, digital memorial to John Scherer. Hopefully, we'll get a plaque on the bench or something more permanent.

In fact, I may just look into doing that.

Jan 29, 2012

These Dynamic Times

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
It's been quiet here due partially to a creative drought and partially to the noise of life, so here's a quick update on just what's been going on...

We have been house-hunting, and found what we thought was a winner in the Longfellow neighborhood of So. MPLS. Despite repeated difficulties with the seller, the offer was accepted, the inspection conducted and financing completed. All this while preparing to put our current house on the market, no less.

The wheels came off the transaction for the third and final time when the new house appraised well below the contract price. This was the kiss of death to the transaction. We walked away from the deal last week. I wish the seller well and hope he finds some therapy or something to help him resolve his issues.

We have also reached the point where my parents need to move into an assisted living situation of some sort. I was down at their place for about seven days, helping out and starting to make arrangements for the future. I anticipate more trips like that in the future, as well.

The upshot for me is that a lot of stuff has been placed on hold. I doubt we'll continue the house-hunting for the short-term; we might be better off to wait until things are more settled and then make a long term "where do we want to live" decision rather than just finding a better arrangement in MPLS, anyway. That requires patience, however.

I also missed my second welding class at CAFAC and am weighing whether or not I would be better off to drop the class at this point, get a refund and then pick this up when I have more time. So far, sleeping on it has not yielded any insights. I'll go to the next class and talk to the instructor and see what she thinks, I guess.

Finally, I volunteered a few hours a week at a local food shelf, in the warehouse and inventory area. I was originally planning to start that last week as well, but that's been slipped a little bit as well. That's easy enough to pick back up again, though, so I'll be there this week and staffing as I can.

My New Year's eve rune stone counseled patience. Now I see why.

The good news is the creative drought seems to have eased. Maybe is the coming of Spring, longer day light, eating oatmeal or perhaps the solar flares. Who knows how the muses work?

Jan 18, 2012

First Weld

First Weld
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I am taking an introduction to oxy-acetylene welding class at CAFAC and today we got to spark up the torches and fuse metal. This was the second class - the first was devoted to welding safety and how the torch works (set-up and shut-down).

By the end of class I was able to form a puddle and pull or push the puddle to form a weld, but this is definitely something that takes some practice. Heat management via distance and angle is the trick of it all, it seems.

CAFAC is very cool; this class is ten weeks long. Once I am through that, I can re-enlist in the continuing education program and get access to the space and equipment at a reduced cost. There are also volunteer opportunities at CAFAC as well, so that's also a possibility.

Jan 10, 2012

Record Highs

Stopping for a break
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The temperature reached 54 degrees this afternoon and the sun was bright. It was a glorious day, particularly when you consider that it's January 10 in Minnesota.

Tomorrow the low temp is supposed to be 5 degrees, so I took advantage of the unseasonable weather by getting in a 2.5 hour ride along the river. It was warm enough that the trails were very muddy - my bike is a mess and my pants and jacket were totally back-spackled with sand and mud by the time I got home.

Still, what a blessing to be riding around with no hat or gloves in the middle of January.

Jan 9, 2012

Get Your Cameras and Get Rolling, Please.

People of Earth - I ask for your help in a matter of great importance (at least to me and 619 other people).

I am an admin for the Flickr group "Bikebyshootings". This group is dedicated to photography from a moving bicycle. Ideally, we want photos that capture the motion, the feeling of speed and the fun of swooshing around on a bike. We have some really great photos in the group, in fact, the photo with this post was pulled from that group.

Just think how nice it would be to have a collection of photos that evoke the motion, color, excitement and sheer, unmitigated fun of riding around on a bike. That's what I am striving for at Bikebyshootings.

Unfortunately, all is not well in Bikebyshootings. I just finished cleaning up the recent submissions. We continue to get a lot of pretty low-quality photos (and a lot more redundant photos) submitted to this group. The tried and true "photo-of-my-lap-while-wearing-a-skirt" seems to show up once a week or so. The even more tiresome "photo-of-me-riding-an-xtracycle-along-the-California-Coast-in-a-polo-shirt-with-a-camera-on-a-stick" is really starting to get old.

Good idea, but give it a rest and try from something different tomorrow, please.

Here's my ask:

Carry a small digital camera with you and take a shot or two each day. Vary the angle, try new things, capture your experience. Recognize that like any worthwhile endeavor, this may not be easy or immediately rewarding, but keep at it. Looking for "the shot" will make your ride more interesting, open your eyes to possibilities you might not be seeing currently, and Bikebyshootings might benefit from your efforts if you submit one or two to the group.

Rember - we are looking for photos from a moving bike; we are not looking for photos of your bike, or places your rode to, or for that matter photos of something you saw while sitting on your bike at a stop light don't count for this group (shoot away though - whatever floats your boat).

I know my few readers can do better than what we've got out there tonight, in fact our own "Repeet" has posted some of the best photos out there, so it's time we pull together and raise the bar on this group.

That's all. You can go back to what you were doing now and thanks for reading.

Jan 1, 2012

Consulting the Runes

Generally speaking, we are not real big on "family traditions". We generally visit who we need to during the and/or do what seems right on any given holiday. Circumstances change and we need to adapt and respond to that. One tradition we do have, however, is to draw Rune stones on New Year's Eve.

For those not familiar with Runes, they are an ancient Scandinavian divination tool; sort of a parallel to the I Ching or Tarot cards, but originating from ancient Nordic cultures. They consist of 24 small stones with runic symbols etched on them. The symbols indicate forces at work in our lives.

I have dabbled in the I Ching (absolutely not my culture) and have no interest whatsoever in Tarot cards, but somehow the Runes resonate with me, in spite of my Catholic predisposition to shun divination. Properly approached, the Runes are always spot-on, even if you don't think they are. With the proper intention, it is not possible to draw "the wrong" stone. How can I say that? I have seen multiple instances where someone draws a Rune, dismisses it as being "incorrect" and re-draws the exact same stone (despite mixing the stones well). That's just too strange to ignore.

Back in the days when I was pouring everything I had into my career, I frequently drew the Rune of Teiwaz, which looks like an arrow pointing up. This Rune is "a rune of bravery and steadfastness in the face of any adversity.  New partnerships will produce great things.  This is a rune of energy, contentment and passion and it is a much used talisman.  Other meanings include: a brave and noble death, self knowledge, faith, victory and success in law and war".

That seems about right in retrospect.

This New Year's Eve the Runes pitched me a change-up; I drew the Rune of Raido, reveresed (aka, upside down). Raido is a Rune of personal development and transformation and is indicative of journeys and travel (either physical or spiritual). Either way, this journey will bring about positive developments.  Raido also indicates a time of choice and of making the right move to ensure all effort and energy is channeled in the right direction.

The fact that the Rune was reversed is a caution, however; it indicates delays and possibly difficult journeys.  It can also mean that there are important lessons that need to be learned.

And so it goes. I was hoping for something a little more triumphant, perhaps.

Still, if I am honest with myself, that seems like it might be the right Rune for this New Year's Eve.