Thursday, October 31, 2013

Corpus Christi Carol

I'm impatient. I know this. Right this moment I want, more than anything, for it to just snow already and be done with it. In March I'll be wanting nothing more than clear paths and no more snow. Such is life. 

This winter, I think, is going to be challenging for me as a bike commuter in ways that prior winters have not. As with any endeavor, though, I will adapt. I hope. 

Over the past two winters of commuting, I've built a fairly solid sense of what to wear for certain conditions. The problem is that each year my gear closet changes a bit and I get new bits and baubs that I have to experiment with. 

Advice for riding in the winter - gear considerations

First, winter riding is, as we know, a different beast than that nice bike path ride in the summer. It does take some gear to be able to safely and comfortably ride in the winter. 

But get the thought out your head that you have to go drop two week's wages at REI. While my gear has slowly evolved to use more and more cycling specific items, some of the best gear I've gotten has been from thrift stores and has been non-specific, or gear for other sporting pursuits. 

That said - here's my list of layers for various conditions: 

Head - Buff over ears and helmet
Hands - standard bike gloves (currently Fox Ranger)
Feet - cycling shoes and light fleece socks
Bottom - chamois short, Novara Windwall or Tempest pants (Tempest better for lower end of temp scale)
Top - poly sleeveless shirt, poly tee, merino jersey or North Face Apex lightweight poly jacket (Note: merino jersey was a steel at 9 bucks at my local thrift and one of my favorite pieces of gear)

Pretty much the same as the 40s, but I will throw on a pair of Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves and may wear a lightweight wool sock once it dips below freezing. 

I add a long sleeved poly tee over the standard poly tee and favor the North Face jacket or in the lower 20s I'll throw on my REI Windflyte jacket. On the bottom I will go with the Windwall pants with a mid-weight pair of tights. On my hands I'll wear the Versaliner gloves, often with the shells that they come with to block wind. On my head I'll either double up my buff or switch over to a fleece skill cap in the lower temps. Feet - in the past I'd move to a Keen winter boot with wool socks. This winter I think I will try using my cycling shoes with a neoprene cover and wool socks to see how low I can go. 

Head - REI windproof skull cap, buff around neck
Hands - Black Diamond Guide Glove outer shell over Versaliner liners
Feet - Keen winter boots, midweight wool socks with lightweight poly liner sock
Bottom - chamois short, light merino base layer tight, Windwall pant
Top - merino or poly base layer shirt, REI Windflyte shirt, REI Windflyte jacket (pit vents full open, generally)

Same as above, with the addition of another light layer top and bottom and chaning the Versaliner liners out for the Black Diamond liners that came with the gloves

Same as above - change to a heavyweight sock

Same as above, substitute second light layer for second midweight layer on top, close the pit zips

Substitute second midweight layer for second heavyweight layer

Ain't been there yet. 

Sometimes, when it is in the single digits and snowing I will wear ski goggles to help keep my eyes from freezing over, though those tend to present a different set of challenges. I also, sometimes, start the ride with a buff over my mouth and nose, but even down into the -20s - the coldest weather at which I have ridden, I tend to leave my face exposed - apart from what is covered by my beard. I tend to overheat anytime I have my mouth and nose covered. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Killing All the Flies

So, just curious. Has anyone figured out where these post titles come from?

I got home last night and decided to put the Nate's on both the front and rear of the bike and to see if I could figure out why the one tire has so much of a hop in it. I knew it wasn't the wheel itself. There's a tiny bit out of true, but the Nate tires have always been wonky - as if they are out of round fairly seriously.

I installed them, soaped up the bead to help the tires move on the rim a bit easier and then pumped them up to 40 PSI (Not fun with a low volume floor pump - who knew it would take 15 minutes to pump those big tires up to that pressure) and then let them sit overnight. Came out to the garage this AM and let out air to ~19 PSI. No problem.

Went back into the house, got my coffee, played with the dogs, oggled the wife, then headed out the door.

Front was flat. Argh... So I pumped it up and headed out the door, figuring I just didn't get the nut tightened all the way down or something. Nope. About half way to the bus I had to pump it up again. Then when I got almost to the bus stop I had to get off and walk because it was so flat I couldn't steer at all. Quite the workout, though, moving all that dead rubber.

My bus ride in was spent swapping out the tube and getting it all pumped back up. Good fun, that. Bus driver was cool about things. As were the other passengers. I am becoming such a pro at changing tubes that the actual changing process takes no more than two minutes. The pumping, though, that takes a bit longer. My small hand pump takes about three million strokes to get the tire to a ridable pressure. Not a desirable pressure. Just ridable.

I figure what happened with the tube was that the soapy water dried, causing the tube to stick to the tire's casing and when I aired it down either a small bit of rubber pulled away from the tube - a natural flaw in the tube itself - or that one of the myriad patches loosened its grip after being stretched and then aired down. I'll have to take a look at it tonight and see what's what.

Oh - for your viewing pleasure I present the traffic I had to deal with last night:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The's in there

After a great night of salmon and sunsets, this morning's commute was a nice one. A bit breezy, but warm and dry. Always good things there.

So, my wife sent me an article today that is pretty interesting in that it is the typical rhetoric that the anti-bike crowd tends to put forth. Check it out here.

I can't disagree with all of the author's points. Yes, there are some cyclists who are jerks and don't use common sense when riding the roads. Yes, there are groups of cyclists who refuse to let other road users pass. 

The same can be said of motorists. There are some who are jerks - the looky-loos in the rented RV traveling down the Seward Highway at 30 MPH and not pulling over to let others pass. We can find examples of bad behavior in any group.
Now, in the article the author states plainly that his step father, once able to pull around a group of cyclists, resorts to the same type of behavior that he so dislikes in the cyclists. 

Isn't that indicative of the very nature of the problems we see in general in our wonderful society? What ever happened to being the bigger person and leading by example? 

The article doesn't shed any new light on the topic at hand. Nor does it explore any of the myriad reasons that cyclists prefer to ride in the road and take the lane rather than riding the shoulder and conceding the roadway - let me tell you something, it is for safety reasons 9 times out of 10 rather than just cyclists trying to be jerks. 

By taking the lane it requires that if a car is going to over take, he does so in a safer manner. He's not going to pull into the oncoming lane if there is another car coming and he's not going to try to sneak around you as he would if you were on the shoulder. At least, that is the theory. 

When I ride on the road I take the center of the lane. When I hear a vehicle coming up behind me I will nudge over to the right, if the way is clear for him to pass. If not, I will stay in the center of the lane until it is clear for the car to overtake. Then I move over. 

Because I'm a couple hundred pounds and cars are a couple of thousand, I have to take all steps and precautions I can to ensure the following:
1) I am seen by all drivers
2) I am aware of my surroundings and ride in a manner that is safe for those surroundings
3) I yield right of way only when it is safe for me to do so
4) I obey traffic laws as practical and practicable and ride in a reasonable and predictable manner
5) Ride where my safety is most assured

I tend to think that the cyclists with whom the public has the most issue with are not those of us who ride cycle as transportation on a daily basis, but rather are those who ride as entertainment or exercise only - two pursuits that tend to be viewed as frivolous by many in our nation. Lord knows we could use a bit more exercise, but whatever.
No, transportation cyclists, I think, tend to be a bit more purposeful in their cycling. They ride to get from point A to point B, just like drivers drive. There will always be conflicts there, but I have to take some time to refute some of the claims that commenters to this article make: 

1) "OMG, where to start! The day some fool declared that bicycles have the same rights on the road as vehicles was the day this whole discussion came about. Let's see, vehicles and their owners: are registered, and pay for that registration; are licensed, have to pass a test to get the license, pay for the license renewal, demonstrate certain physical abilities to renew; have to pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the rules of the road; pay excise taxes on the purchase of fuel, tires, and vehicle; have to pay taxes when they renew their registration; are assessed 'points' for violations on any infractions of the law, and can lose the privilege of driving; have to carry insurance - both for themselves and to protect from others who are uninsured; and it goes on." 

--First of all Mr. or Mrs. Beenhereawhile, the argument that you attempt to make in your comment is predicated on a falsehood and willful ignorance of history. First off, public roadway systems throughout the world, let alone in the US, predates the automobile by thousands of years. Thousands. The bicycle has had road rights for longer than the car has been around. And before that, horses and pedestrians. I'm sure that when the bike first became the prefered mode of transport over the horse or walking that there were numerous similar arguments. 

You also build an argument on the assumption that someone who rides a bike does not have a driver's license. You also tend to overlook the fact that an officer of the law can, and is bound, to cite cyclists who break traffic laws on a public roadway just as they are bound to enforce the laws for drivers. So, when a cyclist rides on the roadway, he or she has a duty to adhere to the laws of the road as is practicable and practical. You state that "If a vehicle driver is moving at a speed of 10MPH or less than the posted speed limit they can be cited for not yielding right of way to others, have a host of laws they must obey, and are held to it by cops." First, I believe, I have not checked or verified the laws in all 50 states, but I do believe that the 10MPH under the speed limit law is generally used only for interstate traffic, which are roadways that bar cyclists from use to begin with, though some cyclists do indeed ride the interstate and in those cases that minimum speed is posted. The Alaska statute AS 28.35.140 does not mention a specific speed that would constitute obstruction, but rather a series of situations that can be deemed as obstruction. Each of these would be at the discretion of the officer.  Also, let's again keep in mind that police officers have the duty to enforce traffic laws for cyclists on the roadways as well as for motorists. If they choose not to, then that is a failure on their part. I can hear your retort - "but cyclists don't have licenses so how can an officer cite them?" Good point. There are challenges to citing a cyclist, but again, most cyclists are also drivers. 

Yes, drivers pay fuel taxes and excise taxes on tires, etc., but again, most cyclists are also drivers, thus pay the same taxes and fees. No, cyclists do not have to carry insurance, but when is the last time that a cyclist ran into your 3/4 ton pickup and did any damage? And if they do, they are held just as liable as if they were a driver, provided you as the driver file the appropriate police reports. You can then go after their homeowner's or renters insurance (in many cases) or place a lien in order to recoup damages. Insurance is not what dictates financial responsibility in the event of an accident - the causer of the accident is responsible for any financial restitution, insurance just makes that burden less for the responsible party. 

"Bicyclists, on the other hand: pay no taxes to contribute toward the upkeep of the surfaces they ride on; don't regularly ride on either side of the road - rather, whichever side they want to. (Compton says he rides 'facing traffic' but, legally, bicycles are supposed to travel 'with the flow of traffic) They take advantage of whatever rules they want (if it's even that) at intersections - sometimes crossing with pedestrians (okay, if they walk the bike across the crosswalk), sometimes going with traffic (If you're making a right-hand turn watch out for the bike in the extreme right-hand lane traveling straight across the intersection), and sometimes just blowing across the intersection like they owned it." Do I need to go there again? Cyclists pay the same taxes as everyone else in most instances. We pay sales tax, property taxes, gas taxes, and all kinds of other taxes that go to road upkeep. And just how much damage does a 30 pound bike with a 250 pound rider do to the roadway? Let me tell you. Not much. 

And yes, some cyclists do choose which laws to obey and when. Going back to my earlier statement - I will ride in such a manner as to ensure that I get home to my kids at the end of the day, even if that means going through a red light.  Why is it that so many people get their panties in a bunch about the fact that cyclists don't pay taxes that go for road maintenance? We do. Even I, who ride bike to work 100% of the time still pay taxes that go towards road maintenance. As Onermailliw1 states "I have no problem sharing the road, but if there is a bike path, use it instead. Realize that highway dollars are being spent(most comes from gas taxes, BTW) on you behalf when it could be utilized for road repair somewhere else. I too have been given the international hand jesture that says I'm #1 by a bicyclists riding side by side in the road. It's a 55 mph highway, you are on the losing end of this argument. Single file please. The part that really erked me was there was a newly paved bike path 50ft to the right."  

The thing is that most highway dollars do not come from gas taxes at all. Most come from property taxes and federal matching, and other sources. In fact, Alaska is 50th in terms of how much of our road funding comes from gas taxes.

And this whole thing about bike trails. Another thing that comes up time and again. Hey, I love me some bike trail, but many times those trails are more dangerous than riding on the road when the trails have intersections with roadways so that drivers have two intersections to monitor for traffic rather than one. Also, trails don't go everywhere that we need to go.

See, I really just need to make sure I get home to this at the end of the day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Solving the Correspondence Problem

No commute for me today. Instead, I rode in with the wife, who had a dentist appointment. As we made our way in to town I started to wonder just how much sense it would make to let her drive home alone after having a root canal.

So, here I am, back at home, working remotely. Good times. Couldn't pick a better day for it. Rainy. Windy. Generally cruddy.

That said, I did get a nice, if brief, snow ride in yesterday. My son had been bugging me to take him to Hatcher's Pass to go skiing for some time so I figured why not? Right? It was rainy and crappy in the valley, but by the time we got up to the mine the rain had turned to snow and the temps were a comfortable 39F.

The kids skied a bit and I rode my bike. Let's just say I am not in climbing shape, let alone snow climbing shape! I put in only a few miles, but each and every one kicked my arse. It was worth it though. Hatcher's is such a beautiful area and such a fun place to be. I just should have focused on boarding rather than biking.

But I'm still happy as can be that I did it. It was fun and a nice reminder that snow presents a whole new set of riding challenges.

On Friday, after work at the school, I got a bit of time to ride for a bit. A glorious day for it. unfortunately I didn't get to do the full CCC loop, like I wanted, but I did get out and about a bit and was able to get a couple of pictures that show just how nice of a day it was. I love fall days when it's sunny, warm with that slight tinge of cold in the air, the scent of leaves turning and falling.

Anchorage looking northward towards Palmer. The ship yards are so colorful.

Well, not really, but interesting to look at none the less.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preaching to the perverted

I did a lot of thinking on my ride this AM. And what I came up with is that cycling is way, way too much of a status activity.

I don't know. Maybe it's because of something my wife said to me last night - "Did you know the bike shop has studded fat tires in stock? They're $450 for a pair." Then this morning a guy on a fattie rolled past with studs on. You know how much ice it out there right now? None. That's how much. So why roll studs?

Normally I wouldn't think too much about this, except for the fact of the rest of this rider's gear. It was in the mid-30s today, no rain, no wind. A nice day. And here is where I'm going to come across as a judgmental bastard, but so be it. This rider on studs rolls past and is decked out in full balaclava, fancy coat, pogies, high end shell pants, shoe covers - the whole outfit probably cost as much as my bike in total.

And first my thoughts were just that this is someone who doesn't ride everyday year round, good on him for getting out in the cool and dark.

Then a roadie passed me in full kit and somehow my thoughts turned to the displays that so many of us put on when we ride. And how many of us judge others by what they ride and wear.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I think I representative. When I first started bike commuting, I rode a standard, full suspension mountain bike. Year round. In the summer I'd get stares when I rode it on the MUP instead of a road bike like every other rider. In the winter I'd get stares because I wasn't riding fat like the other riders. I'd get stares because I wasn't wearing the appropriate kit. I was a dirtbag rider.

Hell, I still am a dirtbag rider. I ride fat now and in the summer I get stares because I'm on fat. In the winter I'll get stares for some other reason.

But here's the thing. I do the same damned thing to others. Instead of looking at another rider and saying big up for being out here, I immediately think about the tires he's rolling (in my opinion not because they are needed but rather to say Look at me, I'm riding 450 dollars of rubber), the kit he's wearing, and how he's super over dressed for the conditions.

Why? Why do we judge others immediately? Better question. How do we stop? If you want to spend 140 bucks on Surly's awesome wool jersey? Go for it. I'll spend 9 bucks on a second-hand I/O Bio merino jersey.

See what I did there? Had to go with a name brand.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Denial Twist

So let's talk of cabbage and kings and other things...

Changes to the bike - After getting some Shimano M324 pedals a few weeks back and riding them on the river bottoms twice I realized I really didn't like them. Discount the fact that two instances of riding in sandy conditions and they were clicking like bastards, I found I couldn't stand needing to look at my feet to clip in to make sure I was on the right side of the pedal. That and the fact I had to bash the hell out of feet to get the sand off the cleats each time I unclipped and then tried to clip back in. Annoying.

So I took em back and picked up another pair of Egg Beater 1 pedals and a new set of flats for winter for less than what I paid for the Shimano's. I figure the Egg Beaters at 49 bucks are a good deal even if I only get two seasons out of them.

I also picked up a Timbuk2 Bento Goody Box on the cheap. I've wanted a gas tank type bag for a while and I figured this might let me simplify my rig a bit by moving my tools out of my Revelate bag so I can get rid of that for the daily ride and use it only when riding sans panniers. So far I like the box, but I did find that you can't fit a fat tube in it. Fail.

I've started to toy with the idea of going tubless again. If I decide to make the leap, I'll take pics and post here. Thinking I can see some big advantages to that.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Watching the stars circle my head
in the 26 degree darkness of four in the morning.
Ice chips of light arranged long ago
by a poet without words, I recognize you Orion,
Ursa major and your babe.
Neptune or Beatlejuice burn blue
and I recognize just how insignificant this all is,
showered in light born before we crawled from the sea.

Identifying mountains reflecting the bold moon
from snow drenched peaks - they look like phosphorescent
screens waiting for projection - a place to throw dreams
and desires to magnify and bounce back.

What does it mean that we experience the world
through the interpretation of stimuli - does the world stop
if we are not here to interpret its presence?

I break things. It is in my nature. It is who I am. I reach
to the stars, sending my own light into the universe
to cancel out and destroy all those mysteries I can never
solve, to pierce the darkness of all those emotions I
just don't quite get.

Mindless in my physical action,
I continue on, knowing only to push up. Down. Up.

The only sound in this world is pressure equalization
between the outside of me and the in. In and out.

Feel lightness. Feel every fiber burn as I realize the weight
of a lifetime of pushing air, pushing fluid, interpreting stimuli
and just wanting to sleep under the cold light of a billion years ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

There are only two things certain in this world...

bike maintenance and taxes.

As mentioned, I recently replaced the bearings in my bottom bracket. No bigs, right? Well now I have a mystery creak when pedaling under load. It could be any number of things - a slightly loose cup, the crank bolt being slightly loose, a pedal with issues. Who knows? I do seem to remember that when I first got the cranks, there was a bit of a creak that worked itself out after a couple hundred miles. I figure I'll take a few moments this coming weekend to take a closer look, but I'm trying to not obsess over it. Not now.

No, now I want to think about the cool things that are happening for cyclists, and, I guess, skiiers, in Anchorage.

Anchorage has a great trail system in town. The Chester Creek trail, the Coastal trail, and the Campbell Creek trail have, at one time or another succumbed to my tires. Fat or otherwise. For some reason, though, someone bisected the Campbell trail with a highway. Really?

For years and years, to connect one part of the Campbell Creek trail to another, you had to limbo under the highway bridges the went over the namesake creek - not too difficult in the summery months - a pain in the winter when the space between creek and girder was often less than four feet. The other option was to detour around to Tudor road which really wasn't much of an option at all. Nasty road that Tudor.

Well, folks, after a spell of construction, they've gotten it done. They've finally connected the trail with an actual underpass and all is right with the world. Well, there is that Lake Otis abomination with the trail, but that's another story. The point is, it is now possible to easily link up these three trails for an awesome ~31 mile loop of the city. Really, what is better than being able to ride 31 miles, or thereabouts, without more than a few feet where you have to worry about cars? An awesome Sunday ride.

Only problem? I don't live in Anchorage anymore. I have a sneaking suspicion that Thursday I might just get sick around noon and try to sneak in a ride of the loop. A look some are calling the Three Cs loop. I like it.

Now the question, does more infrastructure mean more cyclists? I hope so.

Morning is dark. The light is inviting.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Come to me...

Oh it is good. Yes it is. New bearing day. A day of rapturous joy throughout the land.

No play is a damned good thing.

Should have taken pics of the process, but I was too excited. Here is the general run-down:

1: Remove cranks
2: Remove cups
3: Destroy crappy plastic spacer/covers
4: Heat cup to just enough to bring whatever remaining grease to a boil
5: Wrap cup in rag and using a small nail set and hammer, lightly tap the inside lip of the bearing from the backside of the cup
6: Watch in glee as the crap bearing rolls across the floor
7: Wipe down the inside of the cup
8: Place new bearing in place
9: Place cup on 2x4
10: Place 2x4 over top of new bearing
11: Whack it a few times to set bearing
12: Place old bearing over new and finish tapping into place
13: Reassemble bike and go for a ride

The process was actually quite simple. I suppose the special tool would have made it even easier, but by heating the cup, the bearings just kinda slid out and then back in.

Took the boy with me to the river where we rode a nice 6 mile loop and found seven golf balls and one fire extinguisher. Fun times all around.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fascination Street
Bus fares? What'r those? I have about the best situation in the world. I don't have to pay for my bus ride each day. One of my employers does. This holds true for both the Valley Mover system as well as the People Mover system.

However, I can see where a lot of riders would be adversely affected by a fare hike on the People Mover. While I don't disagree with raising some fares - an adult fare of 2 bucks isn't outlandish, it does seem that the fares for seniors should remain static. Those who live on fixed incomes have a hard enough time as it is. Effectively doubling their transportation costs would have an effect greater than anyone on the city council could imagine. Hell, I seriously doubt any of them have ridden a bus in years, if ever.

One thing that caught my eye in the article is that the proposed increase would bring in ~$600,000 a year and roughly half of that would go to boost service. When they say boost service, what do they mean? More buses? Better drivers? Better bike racks? Nicer bus stop shelters? There is mention of running more buses on a few key routes, which is good, but is it worth an overall fare hike?

I don't know all the issues and details with the People Mover. But being a bus rider now, I can see where any fare hike without clearly defined benefits to the riders is viewed as a city government getting greedy.

Certainly a lot of riders, hell, most riders, ride because they have limited choices. They can ride the bus, walk, or bike because they can't afford a car and gas or because they no longer have driving privileges, or any number of other reasons. And, let's be honest, riding a bike from the east side to the west side is not practical for most people on a daily basis. That ride is difficult under the best circumstances. Imagine trying to do it at three in the morning to get to some minimum wage job at a gas station for your 5 am shift start. In January. Not ideal. I'd do it, but I'm a moron. Or so I've been told. The bus is a practical solution to the transportation needs of so many folks, but raising the fares...

I just don't know. It seems that those who most need a break and a hand-up in this town are the ones who are constantly getting the shaft. Whatever. No words no more. I'm going to go ride my bike.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Never Get Back Home

Link Wednesday:

What kind of rider are you? Me? I generally fall into the creeper category because I prefer to sit in the creeper seats. Not because I watch people, but I want to watch my bike. Which is parked in the choke. I'm a bit over protective, I guess.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Error has Turned Animals into Men...

Been a while. I know. Haven't had much to say. I've decided that there is one thing I really hate about living in Alaska - the fact that I can call all over town and not find parts I need. Just a bummer.

See, my bottom bracket bearings are shot. Mush. So I've decided to get new bearings rather than a whole new bottom bracket. That's part of the reason that I went with the one I went with. After seven months of hard use, they need replacement. Particularly as RaceFace bearings, from what I read on the intertubes, are not of the the best quality to begin with.

So I've got bearings on order and I just hope that they arrive before the play in the current ones causes any damage to my cups or spindle.

As such, I didn't ride over the weekend. Yesterday I decided to work from home and after putting in my hours for the day decided I needed to go for a ride before I completely lost my mind. I wanted to ride some trail, as I've been lax about doing that this year. But with the bottom bracket issues, it seemed that it might be best to stick to flatter country overall. As such I decided to take a bit of a ride I've wanted to do for a long time and never gotten around to - the Matanuska River Bottoms. The Matanuska river is a glacial torrent that has been changing its course for years and has left large expanse of gravel and river rock and mud in its stead. Because of public right of way, the river bottoms is a favorite place for all kinds of folks to go and recreate. From the motorheads to the rockhounds, you can find evidence of them all here. And not less than a few different bike tracks.

I'd read of other folks riding this area, but hadn't had a chance myself. I'm hooked. It's slow rolling - picking lines and crawling over rocks. I only explored a tiny portion of the ridable area, but I have a strong suspicion that I could roam for miles both up and down stream.

The scenery isn't half bad, either. To the north, east, and south are mountains and glaciers. To the west are woods and then town. It's a quick way to get away right close to town. From my house it is 7.93 miles to the river. If I had more time, I could have spent hours exploring, but knowing I had another 8 miles to ride back home and that the temps and the light were going to drop fast, I only puttered around for maybe two miles or so. I found some interesting stuff, though. Like refrigerators. Like tires - mostly bald and often used for fire rings. Like barrels and other metal debris from upriver, maybe from mines or something? 

There were some challenges in the terrain. But, being fat and happy, I was easily able to overcome these. You hear a lot of chatter round here about the 'real Alaska' and how everything is getting so citified anymore. The thing is, from what I have seen when I go exploring around the edges of the wilderness, is that the 'real Alaska' seems a bit like a garbage dump. I realize that there are thousands of miles that I haven't explored yet, but at the edges of civilization if you don't run across at least one pile of assorted trash, often including one or more burnt out cars, you're not in the 'real Alaska.'

It's sad, but that's the way it is, I guess. But, sometimes abandoned cars make for good riding. 

I also found myself a handy new kickstand while out riding. It's a pain in the ass to carry on the rack - likes to poke me in the ass with every pedal stroke. 

All in all, a good day of riding. I can't wait to get back down there and do even more exploring. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

46 & 2

There's been much discussion lately on the MTBR commuter forms about how people got started with their bike commuting lifestyle.  On that forum I gave a quick synopsis of my transition from car to bike and I thought it might be fun to expand that discussion here.

I'll start with the purchase of my first decent bike in 2006. I was in graduate school in Vermillion, South Dakota and we had just sold our house and I wanted a bike to ride between our rental house and the college campus. I made my way to a bike shop where I was looking to buy something in the 3 to 4 hundred dollar range. The shop owner had just gotten a 2004 Giant NRS2 in the shop on trade in. The bike was more than that 3 to 4 hundred I'd expected to spend, but was also a much, much nicer ride than I could have gotten from a cheaper bike. One brief test ride around the parking lot and I was sold.

I lived, at the time, about a half mile from the school, so I would ride often. But there were plenty of times when I would get a ride from the wife and a few times when I would actually drive and park on campus. In short, I commuted by bike, but not religiously. I viewed the bike as more of a recreation device. I spent many, many hours and miles riding that thing all over the country side. I didn't have much in the way of trails to ride, but I did have plenty of gravel roads and farm highways.

When I completed graduate school we moved a bit further west. To Pierre, South Dakota where, again, I was less than a mile from my work. I started out strong, riding almost every day to work and back. But too often I'd drive because I knew I'd be going home for lunch and didn't want to deal with the extra ride each day. So I'd drive. As winter came on, I rode bike less and less and drove more and more, eventually I quit riding altogether. As I learned of my job and impending move to Anchorage, I started biking to work again.

At the time I was working on a joint Federal/State project and was getting massively over-paid. We all knew it and we also all knew that we would be transitioned off the project soon. The way that the company I worked for worked is that they would offer some folks the chance to stay on and move to the next project, but more often contracts were terminated and, because the work was alway set up as temporary, there was no severance packages or anything.

So as I saw the project starting to wrap up, I decided to move on and moving on led to me here. It also led me to take a significant pay cut. There was simply no place that would pay me what I had been making unless I got onto another short term Federal/State project, and I was done with that. Couple a big pay cut with a huge jump in the cost of living and, to be completely honest, even if I wanted to drive, I couldn't have afforded it most of the time. We had a number of times where we were scrounging the couch for gas money as it was. As an example of the vast, vast differences in cost of living in South Dakota our decent sized two bedroom townhouse style apartment was around $435 a month. I don't recall if it included utilities or not, most likely not, but still. We tried to get into a two bedroom up here that was $1100 a month, no utilities, and much smaller than where we had been living. Given that in our lives food and housing were our two big expenses, this jump was a shock.

In essence I started bike commuting not so much out of a desire to bike commute, but out of necessity. If I wanted to live in Alaska, this is what I would have to do.

At first I wasn't sold on the idea of commuting by bike. It seemed to add a lot of overhead to the day - clothes to carry and worry about changing into, the "extra" time it took to ensure that I arrived at places on time, and the sudden need for routine maintenance on the bike all seemed to be more hassle than it was worth. Not to mention my first morning riding in sub-freezing temps.

I quickly realized, though, that the commute by bike, under most conditions, did not take much longer than it would take me to drive - the routes being almost exactly the same, mileage-wise. The drive was about a half mile shorter than the bike route.  Indeed, there were days when the drive would take the same amount of time or a bit longer than riding.

That revelation certainly increased my desire to bike over drive. But I can't say there was any other giant A-Ha moment that made me decide to forego the car completely for my commuting purposes. I just remember waking up one morning in December or early January where it was well below zero and I got myself ready and out the door without asking myself the question I'd been asking since I had started riding bike: "Should I drive today?"

That was a big moment. I had been asking myself that question over and over each morning, but for the weeks prior it had become harder to find a worthy excuse for not riding until it got to where it wasn't even a question anymore.

And that's where I'm at now. It's not a question I ask. Just like drivers don't ask themselves whether or not they should drive to work or go by some other means. When it gets to that point, you know you're hooked. It just is what it is. Sure, there are days when I'd rather not have to work to get to work, but then I think about how bad I feel if I don't bike to work, how out of sorts and discombobulated.

It is what it is. And that's all it is.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fall...when a young man's thoughts turn to ... vehicle repair?

Before we get too far into things, I just want to take a moment to point everyone to Slicing Up Eyeballs as a reminder of just how amazing the music scene was in 1987. Look at the number of hugely influential albums that came out that year! You simply can't go wrong listening to any of the albums in the top ten from that year.

Now... on to the matter at hand. As I posted last week some time, there have been car troubles in my life. And they just keep coming. Seems the truck I bought came along with some problems.

I think I've narrowed it down to an issue in the power steering system that is most likely not the rack and pinion, and the brakes - likely due to getting fluid on the pads.

My hope is that it doesn't turn out to cost a whole bunch to fix. I'm okay with doing some repairs and all, but I really hate the idea of putting too much time/effort/money into this vehicle. If things go well, we won't be keeping it long or we will keep it around as a fishing truck and nothing much more. It is simply too wasteful to drive daily.

I've got a buddy who's going to provide an assist and we'll get it back into safe driving condition fairly easily. But that's not until this weekend which means I have four days to "research" the symptoms on the interwebz and try to do some armchair diagnosis.

This has gotten me reflecting about our access to data on a day to day basis and how much different it is than it once was. Nearly any problem that we face in life we can google and find immeasurable amounts of information. The challenge is finding good quality information that actually answers the questions we have.

On the internet the idea of authority is a bit perverted. In example, the armchair pundits can claim their authority not by what they have done, but by the number of posts they have made. There are a few funny examples of this where people with credentials such as being in the hall of fame for whatever are yelled down on a discussion board by someone who has thousands of posts, but no clearly identified credentials IRL.

So we search and search the web and there are two things that happen almost simultaneously. One - we slowly come round to finding the information that simply confirms the answers we wanted to hear in the first place as we subtly change our search terms based on bits and pieces we've read on various pages. Humans are really gifted as this fine art. Two - we grow to believe that we can't act without having all of the information first - we need to have the cause and the solution defined before we ever actually engage in troubleshooting the problem IRL.

And maybe this leads to the creation of problems that aren't really there. Example: I have a bottom bracket on my bike that feels a bit crunchy. Crunchy bottom brackets aren't good. But, is this something I would have noticed if I had not read about it first? Maybe. It is an actual feeling I get when riding. But did I attune myself to feeling the first minor signs of crunchiness because I had read a number of reviews online that said that the bearings in the BB I purchased are crap and rarely last more than six months due to a bad seal design that lets water in to wash away the grease? Maybe.

Our minds can focus on the most minute things if they are made aware of them.

I've been scouring the net today looking for solutions to my car problems without having first actually done any troubleshooting in the real world to guide my searching - so I've gone down numerous rabbit holes. Now how many things that I've read about today will go wrong in the car tomorrow?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Constructing Towers

I just can't abide rudeness. Rather, I can't abide people who cannot respect another person's property.

On Friday afternoon, as I was commuting home I ended up falling asleep. It had been a stressful week and I was tired, so out I went. Not something I normally do on the bus. But a well needed respite, for sure.

When I awoke it was to the following scene:

Last I checked, that's not me with my foot up on the rack of my bike. Who does that? Who just presumes that it is okay to touch, molest, use as a footrest someone else's property? Not for nothing, but this is the same person who I posted about previously who takes up an entire three-spot bench by laying down and using it as her own personal bunk, regardless of how full or empty the bus is.


At least the ride to the bus stop was nice that day - took the long way round and got a picture of Knik Arm looking all pretty and such - Denali is in the background, but you can't really see it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Speaking of politics and health care

I ride the bus. Ya'll know this. What you might not know is that many of the other folks with whom I ride the bus work for the federal government. They ride the bus because the feds subsidize their monthly passes, which is awesome. However, the furlough has changed the ridership this past week.

My morning bus used to be ridden by enough people so that every row of seats had one person in it. Not too crowded, but not a ghost town, either. Now I get on the bus and can have my choice of seats because there's only a small handful of others riding.

It seems the same on the return trip.

It sucks for the people who are off work because of the furlough. It does. But what sucks even more is that the political machinations that have led to this are viewed as nothing more than politics as usual anymore and that the fight is over something that shouldn't even be viewed, in my opinion, as anything other than one of those inalienable rights.

I don't put much stock into Obama's health care reform plan. It doesn't do enough. Well, other than to ensure that the private insurance companies have a whole host of new customers. Yes, there are elements of the plan I agree with - such as the portability portion and the discontinuation of the asinine notion that if you've been sick in the past and you change insurance companies that the new company doesn't have to cover you for that preexisting condition.

Call me a socialist, if you must, but it really seems to me that everyone should have equal access to health care and that it should not be viewed as a for-profit business. Whether I am living on the streets or I am a millionaire, shouldn't i have the same right to pursue life via receiving the healthcare that I need? At a basic level? If I have the means, should I be allowed to pay for a higher level of health care? Experimental care? Sure. But at the base, if I am flat broke or rolling in green, I should be able to go to the doctor and receive treatment and not have to worry about paying for it.

Why is it that the good ol US of A, 'merica, is the only developed nation that doesn't offer true universal health coverage for its citizens? It seems that there are a few things that the government can assure in order ensure that the union is preserved and thrives into the next millenium. One is education - an educated populace ensures that the ideals of freedom and justice continue to prevail. The second is health - a healthy populace is more productive.

Yet the health care fight seems so transparently about people on both sides of the aisle who are not worried about the individuals that make up this country, but rather the corporations who more and more run it. If the insurance lobby was not so powerful do you thing that there would be the fight we are in right now? They stand to lose billions of dollars in future profits if this whole thing goes through. And their not going to absorb the loses, they'll trickle them down the stream to the providers. Capitalism is good in some arenas, but it just doesn't make sense in others. When the desires of business are put before the good of the individual the entire nation suffers.

Have we not learned anything from the past? Robber barons? The railroad monopolies? The meat packing industry? Oil? There are so many examples of the desires of the corporations outweighing the individual's needs and trampling the individual's inalienable rights that I find it reprehensible that we, as a nation, have decided to go back down that road.

I can't say that my arguments are perfectly formed here. I have not presented evidence to support my claims. Hell, like everyone else in this country, I haven't read the healthcare reform act. We know that building an argument on pure emotion and circumspection is a recipe for disaster. And I'm not the one who can make a difference with an argument, but I do feel that there are some real obvious flaws with the debate that is taking place in our nation today and that, because of the noise everyone is bombarded with every second of every day that we are overlooking these flaws, the primary one being who is really driving the vitriol and the backlash against an act that, at it's base, benefits every American by making our populace just bit healthier, which should reap myriad rewards down the line - from a more productive work force to a reinvigorated economy.

And if you oppose the act because you're worried about your taxes getting raised to pay for some deadbeat's health insurance - fuck you. Your taxes are going to get raised regardless and you're an idiot if you think they aren't.

 I'd rather pay to help an American live a better life than pay to send soldiers to go kill some stranger in a strange land.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What the hell has become of me?

It has been a rough couple of days. Hell, a rough week all around. Things have just been breaking a lot. Breaking bad, even. In general it just feels like things can't go any further south.

I detailed out the bike issues I'd been having last week. And just when it seemed that everything was starting to settle down and work out, I had another huge wrench get thrown into the works.

Something catastrophic happened to our one motor vehicle on Saturday. We were running some errands, or rather planning to, when the car, a diesel Jeep Liberty, started bucking and running rough. We pulled over just as soon as we could and as we were getting ready to pull to the side of the road the car just stopped and wouldn't start again.

We made the walk back home, found a tow company and a mechanic and had them pull it off the side of the road. But there we were with no vehicle. Yes, I know it is possible to live without a car, even with kids. I get this, and being a bike commuter, I should try to get the family even more involved in the car-light lifestyle. But here's the thing - the Valley isn't as amenable to a low car lifestyle as Anchorage - something I knew when I moved us up there. Example - my kids could ride bike the four miles to school. However, for the first and last mile to mile and a half of the ride there are no sidewalks, MUPs, sharrows, or other designated bike lanes. Which I'm okay with. The roads are generally wide and most of the time people do not drive too crazy. The bigger problem in my mind is that there are no streetlights at all. It is dark as hades out there in the mornings. So that means that to ensure they get safely to school, we'd have to get lights and reflective gear and such - which is all good, but when your car breaks down on Saturday and the bike shop is closed on Sunday, it makes it hard to get that squared before Monday.

But I could have gone to Wal-Mart. I agree. I could have. And I have an excuse as to why I didn't. I too much other stuff to do. It simply comes down to the fact that I had massive amounts of grading to work through, which I am still not done with three days later. And maybe I just had some crazy idea in the back of my head that I'd get the Jeep back on Monday, and this would all be moot.

At any rate, Monday ended up being a blur of activities - cruising Craig's List looking for a vehicle that was both cheap and seemingly dependable, working with the mechanic to try to figure out what actually happened, and trying to set up appointments to look at cars while also doing my normal work.

In the end I ended up finding a vehicle and after driving it decided to go with it. A gas hog of a vehicle. An overblown, too big, silly vehicle. But one that seemed to run well and was in fairly decent shape and was cheap enough overall. A 99 Suburban. The big one with big 454 engine and the 3/4 ton chassis. What the hell was I thinking? My carbon footprint just went through the roof.

I'd been toying with the idea of a pickup for some time and now that I have the house that we are still trying to work on, I do have a valid need to be able to haul large items. I also have three kids, a wife, and two dogs and the kids want to bring their friends with at times. And, most importantly, I need room for the fishing gear when we go dipnetting. And it's a fairly Alaskan vehicle. Dented in spots. There is some duct tape on it. And it is just a bit over the top.

The wife hates it. Like me, she just wants the Jeep back. Even with the Jeep's temperament, we'd grown attached to it. If I remember correctly, she didn't really like the Jeep at the start either. But when we bought the jeep we planned to keep it for a long time and so she had plenty of time to get used to it. This vehicle, though, this one I think is just going to be temporary. I think that I'll figure out what I am going to do with the Jeep and then take some time to find the right vehicle for our lifestyle and family and then sell off the suburban, hopefully not at too much of a loss.

I guess it's all a chance to learn, huh?