Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bluto was my role model*

* What's your excuse?

Y'all oughta be ashamed of yerselves.

Here I was, thinkin' each person who reads my blog must be an individual of intelligence and good taste, and you let me down. I check the stats occasionally; I know what kind of places you people are hanging out in when you waste your employers' time on this shit. State and federal government agencies, oil companies, software firms, engineering outfits, university computer networks—they all show up in my barely understandable stats.

I mean, seriously people. I figured most of you were smarter than me. It's not like that's hard to achieve!

So I write a post about doing the Octoginta ride next weekend and admit I have no earthly idea what the name of that event means, and who is the only person who tells me?

My sister-in-law in Phoenix, who happened to be reading the blog only because she was bored out of her skull and couldn't find anything better to do! She's not even one of us! She's a civilian—one of those people who owns one cheap bike and is happy that way!

And she had to be the one to tell me that "Octoginta" is Latin for 80. As in 80 miles. Which—by some freakish coincidence—just happens to be the length of the event.

It's like calling a 100-mile ride a "century," but gettin' all hoity-toity to do it.

Now, personally, I'm not embarrassed by not knowing such a thing. After all, I majored in journalism. Journalism school is like an academic refugee camp for people who drink too much and can't do math.

Or Latin.

But some of you people understand gear ratios and how carbon fiber actually works. You took all the hard classes. I expected more from you, people, I really did.

Vado pro veho!

Or something like that.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On the road again

A few weeks back, I sold three old bikes while clearing out some space and improving my bike-storage strategy. One of them was the 1970 Raleigh Sport, an English 3-speed that my dad purchased and rode through the brief window between retirement and cancer.

I pulled this thing out of my mother's attic a few years after Dad died, and I hauled it home to New Mexico. Then I moved it all the way to Alaska when we came up here 11 years ago. At some point after we bought our house in Anchorage, I finally got around to mostly disassembling the thing before all my good intentions fell apart and the restoration project stalled. The frame spent the past few years hanging from a hook in my backyard shed, while most of the parts collected dust on a shelf.

Bikes should be ridden, not stored in cardboard boxes, so I finally decided to admit to myself that I'd probably never finish the damned thing. I sold it to a guy named Zach, who quickly turned the pile of parts back into a functional bicycle while sending me updates via e-mails and Gmail chats. Then he was was nice enough to share these pics of the bike after it was rebuilt.

Dad picked up this thing at a yard sale in Arizona, so I don't know much of its history. But at 37 years old, it's still chugging along and making its rider happy. (Zach will probably be even happier if he succeeds in softening up that old, dried-out Brooks saddle.)

It was a fairly cheap, utilitarian bike in its day. Countless versions of it are still being ridden around the world. How many of today's cheap bikes do you think will still be in use 37 years from now?

"Damn few" is probably a pretty safe bet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Octo what?

“Charlie’s out there in the bush, gettin’ stronger.”
—Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, ‘Apocalypse Now’

I don’t think a bike has really settled in at my house until it has been around long enough to take a vacation. The roadie is rapidly approaching its first anniversary and hasn’t left Alaska yet, but that’s about to change.

In less than two weeks, I’m taking it down south for a week of riding with my younger brother. He still has nice weather and is riding to stay in shape. He's out there gettin' stronger while I watch my gut grow. Here in Alaska, it’s getting dark earlier and raining a lot, and I’m barely riding. I’m even driving my ass to work every day because of obligations that are temporarily screwing up the bike-commuting option.

My brother and I try to meet somewhere every couple of years so we can spend a few days riding together. Sometimes I put the hurt on him, sometimes he puts the hurt on me. I think he’s looking to tip the balance in his favor.

Our first day will be devoted to mellow fun at the annual Octoginta ride in Lawrence, Kansas. I’m looking forward to a mass ride in Lawrence, which I haven’t seen in years. I grew up as a Jayhawks fan and have fond memories of spending weekends on the KU campus while visiting older siblings who went to college there.

When we were in high school, a buddy and I once got a little help from his older sister's boyfriend and poached a vacant KU dorm room for a night to avoid the two-hour drive home after a rip-roaring ZZ Top concert. (This was during the “World Wide Texas Tour” in 1977, when the bearded brethren were still a country/blues band with soul—quite a few years before they bought fuzzy guitars and started making silly MTV videos.)

The only thing I can’t figure out about this trip is what the hell “Octoginta” means. I thought my brother would know because he lives nearby in Kansas City. He said he’s not sure, but he thinks he recently treated a case of it in the hospital where he works.

I forgot to ask where the rash appears. Maybe I'll pack some extra chamois cream.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eklutna Lake Trail

Despite its popularity with the general
public, I think the Eklutna Lake Trail
is underrated by serious mountain bikers.OK, so it has all the technical challenge
of hopping two curbs while riding to
the liquor store for a six-pack.

Sometimes we need to remember
that mountain biking isn't about
hard trails, races or outriding our friends.
It's about having fun, getting some exercise
and riding to pretty places where
cell phones don't ring. And this trail
has some of the best scenery around.

On a pretty fall day you get snow-covered peaks,
frosty leaves, and sunshine reflecting off
Eklutna Glacier. If you keep your eyes open,
you might see some Dall sheep, a mountain goat
or a bear. (My son had his first close-range bear
encounter here about five years ago.)
It's 26 miles of beautiful country,
and a damn nice way to spend a day
on a bicycle.

A person could do worse.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fausto—the universal language

My job occasionally takes me to strange places. On Wednesday, I found myself shooting photos aboard a large ship crewed by Italians headed for Asia. The captain was a nice guy from a small town near Naples. He welcomed me aboard and was very accommodating, but I got the impression he couldn't quite figure me out.

When evening came around, he invited me to dinner in the officer's mess. We made small talk as he led me there and showed me parts of the ship along the way. As we ate, we discussed everything from his hometown to the hard, lonely life of a mariner to futbol and our families. Eventually, cycling came up because ... well, because I was involved in the conversation, and I'm too myopic and socially dysfunctional to have a conversation that doesn't eventually involve at least one bicycle.

He began to tell me about a big bike race held in his country and I said, "Of course! the Giro d'Italia!" His smile broadened instantly. The names of great old racers started popping up and as soon as he realized I could discuss Coppi, Pantani, Anquetil and Merckx, an already nice guy relaxed and opened up even more. I could sense that he enjoyed finding an American whose interests range beyond the NFL (actually, mine don't even include the NFL).

After dinner, we stood on the bridge for a long time as he showed me charts and his usual route to Japan, and told me about his ship's infrastructure, and the storms and other hazards along the Great Circle Route.

When midnight rolled around, it was time for me and another guy to leave the ship via a smaller boat that was pulling alongside so that we could climb down and jump aboard while the bigger vessel continued to steam through the darkness. I thanked the captain for his hospitality and he replied, "Anytime! Anytime!" This is a guy responsible for transporting dangerous cargo, so he doesn't get a lot of visitors—especially in these paranoid, post-9/11 days—but he sounded like he'd welcome me aboard any time I asked for a lift on one of his regular runs.

As we left the bridge, I shook his hand one final time as he said, "See you next time. Well, not next time, but sometime when you want to come again."

Even though he was a very friendly guy, I don't think he would have warmed up to me as much if the only sports conversation I could have was about the Yankees being six games behind the 49ers, or whatever the hell it is most ESPN viewers talk about.

I know it'll never happen, but I sort of liked the idea of climbing aboard and spending a few days on the run to Japan while hanging out with guys from the land of Cipollini.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All Pugged up

I've been getting my Pugsley ready for its first full winter, which really just means I installed a new handlebar and put some air in the tires. I did, however, need a better light for nocturnal trail rides, and about 10 days ago I found a killer deal.

Is there anything better than finding insane deals on bike stuff?

Of course not. It was a rhetorical question. If you found yourself answering with anything not along the lines of, "Oh hell no!" go stab your own knee with a fork.

Anyway, I was walking through the local REI store checking out the big fall sale when I looked in the glass case full of fancy bike lights and saw last year's NightRider MiNewt on sale. It's being replaced by a second-generation light, but the first version is still ... well, light years ahead of all my old stuff. By the time they applied the 20-percent discount offered to members on a single item, I was snatching last year's $160 light for about 85 bucks.

This happened only a couple of days after I had ridden Johnson Pass and found myself longing for a Camelbak large enough to carry more food. My M.U.L.E. just couldn't carry as many calories—or as much water—as John's H.A.W.G.

This left me wondering two things: 1) Should I blow a hundred bucks on another Camelbak, and 2) what the hell do the acronyms M.U.L.E. and H.A.W.G. stand for?

Whatever. My wife and I walked out of REI that day with my new light, and then she wanted to step into a nearby outdoor-clothing store that I rarely enter. Right away, a guy walks up, hands us each a coupon and says it's worth 50 percent of any single item the following weekend. We started looking around, and sure enough, they had two big-ass Camelbaks with nebulous acronyms.

So last Saturday, I was there with a coupon in my hand when they opened the door at 10 a.m., and five minutes later I was walking out with a H.A.W.G. that cost only 50 bucks.

I almost felt like I was shoplifting. It was a disturbingly good feeling.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A beer-run classic

I was preparing to go to dinner at Ken and Heather's place Saturday evening, but I was scratching my head over one of life's most vexing dilemmas: how to transport two six-packs of bottled beer and four big chunks of halibut without my BOB trailer, which someone recently borrowed.

Even if I'd had the BOB, I was really in the mood to ride my Pugsley, which is way too fat to accommodate the trailer's fork. Driving wasn't a good option. My friends live a little less than a mile away, so I'd walk there and back before I'd go beerless for a couple of hours just so I could drive home.

Then I remembered that I had all the parts required to assemble a great American classic: the rack-mounted milk-crate cargo hauler. Give a resourceful man a purloined milk crate and a fistful of zip ties, and he can move damned near anything. It might arrive in more pieces that it's supposed to be in, but he can gawl-darn move it.

These contraptions are one of the greatest utilitarian accessories in the history of bicycling. Over the decades since some some dirt-bag student carried out the first covert crate-snatching mission in the hostile territory of a supermarket's back lot and safely delivered the package to the extraction zone of his front porch, these things have hauled countless loads of beer to college dorms and apartments. Sure, they've also held TVs and supported bookshelves, but who really cares? It's hauling beer that made 'em famous.

So I ran out to the backyard shed and grabbed a crate that I boosted from a grocery-store alley during my reckless youth—27 years ago, to be exact. That's the other great thing about milk crates ... they never freakin' wear out!

Anyway, I went back into the garage, clamped a rack around the seatpost of my Pugs, and zip-tied that milk crate on good and tight. Next thing I knew, I had 'er loaded up with beer and dead fish, and was standing in the driveway trying to figure out how I was gonna get my 44-year-old leg over a bike that was starting to look like the Clampetts' vee-hickle when they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills, that is.

The act of mounting the bike wasn't exactly poetry in motion, but what the hell—I was off to a party with a full trunk, a smile on my face and no need for a driver's license.

I didn't care if the car-imprisoned civilians stared at my fat-ass tires or the junk in my trunk. I was rollin' a modern-day classic, and cold beer bottles were clinkin' on my six.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Abusive relationship

Maybe I'm just weird, but I think
there's something really cool about
beating up a good bike ...
and then cleaning its wounds
and getting it back in action.

Then again, if I'm weird we all are,
because most mountain bikers I know
get off on this odd pattern of behavior.

Weird can be good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

B&I is on the road

In a town where at least one person
is struggling with the alphabet.

But if you want to go for a ride
or catch a fish,
this shop can set you up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nope, I still don't get it

I'll confess: I have been tempted to take an old frame and build up a singlespeed just to see what all the excitement is about. But something keeps getting in the way.

My geared bikes work. Really well.

Besides, I remember riding one-geared bikes as a kid. I also remember walking up a lot of hills, just like I often see SS riders doing.

I keep reading articles about how singlespeed devotees swear by their simpler, easier-to-maintain machines. But on Friday my friend John and I rode over Johnson Pass and had to slog through several miles of mud. Our gears were packed with bear shit-flavored gumbo and wrapped with thick weeds.

At one point, I couldn't see any teeth on my middle ring—it was a solid disc of mud. The spaces between my rear cogs were a mass of brown and green. Same for the front and rear derailleurs, which were covered in inches of crud. The chain was covered, too, and had to pass through two enormous masses of sticky mud as it moved through the derailleurs. My bike was as filthy and mud-packed as it has ever been.

Then an amazing thing happened.

Everything kept working.

Not flawlessly, but pretty damned well. When I needed them, the derailleurs I've ridden for three seasons with only basic maintenance kept doing their jobs. I was able to access all the gear combinations I needed to finish a long, tiring ride. I shifted into the middle ring when we finally found good trail, and dropped back to the granny gear whenever I needed it for a short climb.

Same thing with the rear cogs. I ran out of legs before I ran out of gears, so I don't even know how many cogs I could have used beyond the four I needed.

And how much time have I spent this summer futzing with derailleurs? Well, let's see ... I remember shooting some lube on them once in awhile, and I might have turned a barrel adjuster once or twice.

Sorry, singlespeeders, but I still don't get the fascination with doing things the hard way. I'll take a reliable set of derailleurs and shifters every day of the week.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Throw your hands up and shout!

When I got off the trail yesterday and picked up a cell signal, I found a voicemail from a nice guy named Kevin, who said he had my missing camera.

His daughter had spotted it from the car as her mom was driving down a street near the trailhead where I left it on the roof of my 4Runner.

Now I have my camera and the photos I had taken right before I lost it, such as this one of my daughter doing her hands-free, standing-up gag. I also get to keep tormenting my friends by shooting pics during our rides.

Kevin declined the reward I had offered on Craigslist, so after I got home I mailed him a Kaladi Brothers gift card with a note telling him to go buy a few complicated coffees for himself, and a few hot chocolates for his sharp-eyed daughter.

Good people kick ass.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Heed the Call

The sick and twisted mind of Lucas Brunelle
has produced two new videos.

They might make you want to go play
in traffic, or they might give you nightmares.

Either way, you shouldn't miss them.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The dark post

No photo tonight. I went for a ride with my daughter.

We rolled through the woods, over pretty streams and through falling leaves. We even goofed around in a parking garage, where I took pictures of her standing up while riding with no hands. Then I took some great pictures of us together on a little bridge over a creek.

When we got back to Smokejumper Trailhead, I put my camera on top of the car while I racked the bikes.

And then I left it there.

While I drove home. I'm such an idiot.

Now my camera is lying somewhere beside a road, or in the hands of someone who picked it up and decided not to call the phone number that's on a sticker on the camera body.

Small digital cameras are one of the coolest accessories to have on a bike ride. I'm really gonna miss that thing.

Monday, September 03, 2007

One, two, three ...

How many misadventures in mountain biking have started with the words, "You think you could ride up that?"

Maura asked that question this afternoon, and John got into the idea of testing the limits of traction. Then a bunch of synapses in my brain stopped firing and the idea started to sound sort of cool. Next thing I knew, I was flopping and rolling down a hill with my legs wrapped around the frame of my bike.

Ride up it? Hell, I couldn't ride down it.

Ah, hell, summer's on the way out and the door's hittin' it on the ass. What good is a Labor Day weekend if you can't bag a ride and score a few new bruises before the temperatures start falling?

Fortunately, we also survived an encounter with the moose pictured above. Sometimes, the big critters just don't want to cooperate and get well off the trail. After several minutes of "nudging" our patience was running out and John squeaked by, leaving an increasingly nervous moose still in our way.

Finally, a narrow window of opportunity arose and Maura and I made our move by counting to three and gettin' the hell outta Dodge.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure a few misadventures have also started with the words, "One, two, three, GO!"