Camp face

August 13, 2020 § 7 Comments

Camp face is what you get in the morning when you are not used to sleeping on the ground or in an RV, henceforth called a “junk hauler.” Why “junk hauler”? Because they aren’t recreational at all. People who drag them around are the last ones you see out doing anything, let alone riding the bikes or paddling the canoes they have strapped to the back.

Nor are they vehicles, since the vast majority are trailers, and the ones that are self-propelled go nowhere except a parking space. I guess you could call them MCFPDs, Massive Carbon Footprint Parking Devices, but lets’ stick with “junk hauler” because it fits so well.

Anyway, I first became aware of camp face when I was at the toilets and saw women walk up with hoodies pulled so far down that you could barely see their chins. It dawned on me that for a lot of people the first step in the day to becoming a person is covering their face with makeup and getting their hair properly haired. But in the morning, all you see are people with camp face, deep haggard lines of grey and purple, sallow skin from all the alcohols, and everything hidden that can be.

Yesterday I got to Jack’s Bikes and sure enough they took my bike, put it on the stand, and concluded that there was some mystery something with the other doodad that meant the thing connected to the hip bone wouldn’t ever work but GOOD NEWS! I could send it back to the manufacturer, Mr. Johnathan Sram, and they would send me a new one for free, and then I’d be back on the road.

I looked glum.

The mechanic, a really nice guy named Lucas, added “But that probably won’t help you much, will it?”

“Will the perpetual brake drag result in catastrophic failure?”

“Of the bike? Or you?”

“Either. Both.”

“Nope. You should be fine.” Then he put on a fresh tar. “These tars you have are too soft. You need something heavier.”

“I’ve only had two flats in 1,600 miles.”

“Trust me.”

“Okay.”

He put on some much heavier tars and sent me on my way, which was about 100 yards because the tube hadn’t seated properly and rolled with a huge bump. I went back.

The other mechanic nodded as I explained the problem, and sagely added, “Anything worth doing is worth doing twice.”

I was now $73 poorer in cash but $73 richer in the knowledge that nothing could be done, and grateful that they’d taken care of me so quickly and professionally. All cyclists have a soft spot for long-distance tourists on broken bikes, or at least a spot that isn’t hard as iron. Usually.

Twenty-five miles later I was back in camp and surprised to see that the neighboring site had been invaded by body snatchers. Instead of the loud and drunken and macho Jacob there sat a person who looked exactly like him only surrounded by his wife and mother-in-law. A bike was even present, with which to lean the car up against. I had low hopes that the bike would ever be actually ridden, as it appeared to be quantumly entangled with the car.

Jacob looked really glum, but even in his sober state he was the world’s richest deep-mine vein of dumbness. If he had been a movie, it would have been “Dumb and Duh.”

“Y’know,” he said to his wife, “my dream vacation is just gettin’ drunk and wasted.”

So he was, you know, actually living the dream. A kind of artist in the alcohols, an alcoholman Vincent van Gone.

Then he looked sadly at his wife and m-i-l. “I was perfectly happy without you both here. I’m glad you came, though.”

His m-i-l insulted him in Spanish. “He is a big lazy drunk.”

“What’s she saying?”

“That you are a hard-working man.”

“Darned right I am.”

As I watched this little bit of family hell play out, a man drove up towing his 30-foot junk hauler. He was going to dock the SS Crap into a very tiny slip, designed in 1936 for campers who camped with these things called “tents.”

“This,” I said to myself as I noted the strained look on his face, “is gonna be good.”

It took him an hour to get it backed in, clogging the one-way, narrow park road so that none of the other junk haulers could get by. Everyone was used to it, though. His wife was the equivalent of a tugboat pilot and she looked the part. The way she ran from side to side of that junk hauler I figure she got enough exercise to last her until they sailed into the next port.

“Left! Left!” and “No! Right!” followed by my all time fave, “Watch that tree!”

The tree was unable to get out of the way in time and Ol’ Joe backed the trailer, irresistible force, into the tree, immovable object. A huge shaking of leaves and falling of branches occurred, and an even bigger falling of oaths.

When the hawsers were tied, Cap’n Crapper climbed off the deck, sopping in sweat. “You did great!” his first mate shouted.

And that’s when I did the arithmetic: 1 Junk Hauler parking job = 1 year off your life. This poor guy looked awful, and to think this was his R&R. Next he had to unhitch the SS Crap from his $75,000 pick-them-up-truck, an equally complex operation, after which he had to level the ship, extend her wings, connect various lines, and do all manner of tasks before he could climb belowdecks and wrestle some alcohols to the ground.

The next time I saw him he had won the wrestling match, and several more besides, as he smelled like a gin factory.

It occurred to me that the allure of the junk hauler was that you could leave your home, which you hated, but still be insulated from Jacob. Best of all, it took so much time to chart the course, provision, sail, and dock the garbage barge that there was no time left to do anything but wrestle with the alcohols. Plus you had a cheering section to praise you for docking without knocking over the 1,000-year-old tree, although it wasn’t as straight as it had been at the start of the day.

I felt insignificant in my little tent. Which is, you know, how I like it.

END


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The magic happens at night

August 12, 2020 § 6 Comments

I know what the first people thought when they got to the moon. It’s the same thing I thought when I got to the border. “How the fuck am I getting back?”

I holed up in Birch Bay State Park but it was a battle. All of the wind had been taken out of my sails, and my sails had been furled, stowed, and tossed overboard. “Ride my bike? Another 100 yards? What the fuck for?”

The plan was, as all plans are, a template for what isn’t ever going to happen, and it went like this: 1 night at Birch Bay SP, 2 nights at Larrabee SP, then seek out the first leg of the Cascades-Sierras route back to Los Angeles. More daunting than the coastal trail by about 1,000 miles and 12 billion feet of elevation and winter and weather and wolves and grizzlies and no fuzzy Christmas-themed pajamas, my plan fell apart in the form of a nail.

For want of a nail a shoe was lost, etc. etc. until the kingdom was lost. But for the having of a nail I got a slow-ass leak riding into the park that coincided with I Can’t Take These Rubbing Brakes Anymore Syndrome. Despite the best efforts of the best mechanics, my rear brake had been rubbing since the Rock in Malibu.

Lawyer math calculates about 10 watts lost per minute over 248 hours or roughly 148,800 watts pissed into the wind, literally. [Chris Tregillis will, if I’m lucky, send me the actual wattage loss, hopefully with an equivalent as to how much farther I would have actually gone and how much better I would have looked doing it.]

Anyway, I was sick and tired of the rubbing, squeaking, unfixable brake and had it in my head that if I pulled the wheel out of the rear triangle, and yes, it’s always the rear that flats, the brake rubby pistony thingy would make it impossible to get the wheel back in and I’d have to walk all 24 miles back to the bike shop in Bellingham to get it fixed.

Not that there were any bike shops in Bellingham that would fix it.

Bike shop 1:

“Hi, I’m a pathetic tourist from LA who has a catastrophic brake failure in the making and who has been living on nothing but cookies made by Tom’s sister and blueberries picked by Brent and Carson, and is there any way you could squeeze me into your slammed schedule to bleed the brakes or replace the master cylinder or sell me a new set of brakes or a complete bike or a car?”

“No.”

Bike shop 2:

“Hi, [repeat plaintive plaint].”

“No.”

Bike shop 3:

“No.”

Bike shop 4:

“We don’t open until Wednesday.”

I gave up until I remembered to call the shop that Jeff and Susan had SPECIFICALLY recommended, Jack’s Bicycles.

“Bring it by when we open at 9:30 and we will try to squeeze it in before the end of the day.”

Through tearful sobs I assured the nice lady I’d be there for sure. But before I got there I had to get through the night camped out next to Jacob. Jacob was camping with his wife and mother-in-law, both of whom were back in Seattle and camping by phone. Thankfully, at 10:00 pm, two hours past the time I’d been lying on the dirt listening to Jacob discover more alcohols, he put the phone on SPEAKERPHONE LOUD so I could hear the conversation.

“Fuck I don’t care if you wanna come, come if you fucking wanna come fuck it.”

“I want to come but what about the toilets? Are they clean?”

“I don’t fucking know I’m a guy I just piss anywhere who the fuck cares it’s camping I’m fucking drunk as fuck come if you fucking want or stay I don’t fucking care.”

“My mom wants to know about the toilets.”

“Your mom would be able to get a guy if she wasn’t hanging out around you all the time and would learn to speak fucking English. We’re in Englishland for fuck’s sake not Spanishland. It’s fucking paradise here. Get your fucking ass out here. If your mom would fucking learn English she could find a guy like me.”

“You sound really drunk.”

“I’m so fucking drunk listen, I’m sitting by the fucking fire, it’s magical, fucking magical, jamming to Zeppelin, the fucking magic happens at night but if you’re coming don’t fucking show up at seven in the morning or some shit.”

“I’m not going anywhere without toilets.”

“Listen they got fucking toilets it’s a fucking state park. Your mom needs a guy like me but she ain’t never gonna find one hanging around you all the time.”

This pleasant, loving repartee continued for an hour (timed) with successive tracks of bad music played so loud that it shook my tent flaps. Jacob finally hung up and a drunk couple of alcoholers wandered over, looking for more alcohols.

“People in this fucking campground are so fucking boring,” said the alcoholwoman. “You look like you know how to party.”

“Fuck yeah, grab an alcohol.”

The alcoholman opened an alcohol. “Man those tunes are killer. Crank ‘em up, bro!”

Bro did just that and one of my tentpoles snapped from the bass line, along with my right temple, which caved in. By 4:00 am the alcohols had worked their night magic and even Bro Jacob couldn’t resist the charms of sleep apnea and the allure of the world’s most vicious hangover, so he did what any normal alcoholman would do: He turned on his car.

The throaty roar of a 1998 Chevy Dungmobile mercifully killed whatever night sounds might have survived Jimmy Page’s three chords and Robert Plant’s testicles bound up in piano wire, and just as I said, “It can’t get any worse,” I remembered that it can always get worse and the surest way to get there is to tell yourself it can’t.

Alocoholman and Alcoholwoman stumbled over from their tent. “Dude! You are still going killer strong! Way to rock it!” I heard more alcohols being opened.

“Why did you turn on your car?” asked the alcoholwoman.

“I like the sound,” said Jacob. “Reminds me of Jersey.”

“Bitchin’,” said the alcoholman. “You from fucking Jersey?”

“Newark.”

“Oh holy fucking shit that it so badass! Newark!”

I waited for the sound of trousers to unzip and the appropriate display of appreciation for finding a real man from Newark. Not hearing it, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I staggered out of the tent. Jacob looked up from his $125 collapsible Barcalounger in surprise. “Hey,” I said. “Can you turn off the music?”

“Off?”

“Yeah, off.”

“Completely off?”

I stood there, unshaven, rugged looking, rangy, and a bit Sasquatch-esque at the edge of the fire. Jacob from Newark was a bald, pudgy, stupid looking gnome whose sum total of badass was spelled out in his orange Crocs. “Oh, well, okay. Sure. I guess it is kind of late. Sorry.”

I thought he was going to cry and would have felt bad if I had any feelings left.

But I didn’t and the silence brought deep and merciful sleep. But not for Jacob, because I was up by six whistling, cooking breakfast, and pumping air into my rear tire, anything that could make a racket, a clack, a clank, a wheeze, or a grunt.

I heard Jacob roll over in his tent, groaning as the little men with hammers beat the living shit out of the inside of his skull with heated jackhammers.

Karma may not be a bitch, I thought, but she’s close.

END


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Summit

August 11, 2020 § 12 Comments

It took 31 days and a whole lot of bacon, but I finally went as far north as I could without getting arrested. The border area in Blaine, WA, was empty, so I pedaled along one of the border entry queues for a short ways, snapped a picture, then turned around.

It was like kissing the Wailing Wall without kissing it and without quite getting to the wall.

Then I pedaled into Blaine, had coffee, chatted with a guy and his wife from Tacoma, and went campsite hunting. My mind wasn’t blank, but it wasn’t exactly cluttered.

Riding your bike at age 56 from LA to the Canadian border in 31 days is hardly a monumental feat of any kind. Randonneurs knock out Paris-Brest-Paris in 90 hours, more than 700 miles of furious riding. What I just did takes some perseverance, perhaps, but in the end it was nothing more than a series of 55-mile bike rides. Would it have been easier stopping at motels and eating at restaurants?

Maybe.

But I wouldn’t have met the same people or felt so exposed. I wouldn’t have been the beneficiary of the hard-earned wisdom of so many strangers. I wouldn’t have confronted The Alone so nakedly. I wouldn’t have had true friends show up with spare batteries, bacon, spare propane, blueberries, and invitations to come stay for a shower or a day.

Most of all, I wouldn’t have gotten to cross the threshold into The New. One piece of wisdom related to that is a comment I heard last night, a comment about making decisions based on fear or making them based on love. I didn’t probe much, but I thought I understood the gist of it. Acting based on the one is much better than acting based on the other.

For me, though, that’s not the dichotomy. It’s acting based on fear versus acting based on non-fear. Based on security.

Did I do that thing because I was afraid of what might happen if I didn’t? Or did I do it because I was secure that it was the right thing to do, and if unsure, did I do it because I was secure that I could bear the outcome?

These daily bike rides have been packed with choices. Go? Quit? Shorter? Longer? Haagen-Dasz? Ben & Jerry’s? Take the kind invitation? Tough it out? Follow my head? Follow my pocketbook? Follow my heart?

There are right answers, you just don’t know what they are, often, until later, or even until much later, or even until never. So if you decided out of security, you’ll travel well while awaiting the denouement. If you decided out of fear? Then no matter how it turns out, you’re scared and unable to live in the pedal stroke.

I didn’t see it before, but now I think that living there, in the pedal stroke, is a mighty fine place to dwell.

END


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Loans ‘n Guns!

August 10, 2020 § 14 Comments

There I was, sitting in the supermarket parking lot next to the bike rack with my scruffy, abandoned look, and half a baguette jammed into a mostly empty jar of peanut butter.

Two nice people biked up with a dog in a carrier. The dog, Rudy, noticed my peanut butter and we became fast friends. Less than an hour later the tent was pitched in their front yard, overlooking one of the most spectacular views on earth.

Yard view …

What had happened? How had I gone from sleeping on rocks next to the Persian guys who’d partied until four a.m. to the lap of luxury overlooking one of the natural wonders of the world?

Two days before I’d done a leg-breaking 65 miles, leaving Belfair State Park in the drizzling cold. It was one of those mornings where your legs feel like hard chewing gum and of course the road begins with lots of uphill. It was a long slog all the way to Bremerton, where I stopped, got coffee, and got lost.

Going through the town I saw a sign that said “Loans and Guns!” Seemed smart; use the one to get the other, then use the other to get the one. Two great tastes that go great together.

The pace never picked up and I went through a lot of highway/backroad combos, finally tapping into my inner hoarder when I wheeled into a Big 5 Sporting Goods and bought two cans of unneeded propane, pair of sandals, and adopted a bungee that I found laying in the road. Ya never know!

After Bremerton it was beautiful waterway after waterway. Lakeside roads, inlets, port towns, and finally the giant Hood Canal, which is spanned by a pontoon bridge. If you were in a cage, you had the pleasure of a 50-minute wait to reach the stoplight that let you cross the bridge. If you were on a bike, you blew past everyone and zipped right across, with muchel angry stares as you passed.

The state weed of Washington is the blackberry, and I stopped to pick fistful after fistful, eating so many that it seemed like I couldn’t eat another one … until discovering the next giant ripe cluster.

The day’s destination was Fort Townsend State Park, where the hiker-biker site was set amidst huge old-growth pines and firs and the people with the junk-hauling trailers had to “camp” on gravel underneath scrawny saplings.

One of the fellow bikers was Richard, a fellow in his 70’s on his way to Santa Monica, where he’d lived as a child. His goal was to find some sunshine. “Get tired of all this rain up here in Seattle,” he said. It seemed as if he’d recently lost his job and home and was in the early stages of homelessness. I wondered how he was going to survive the brutal freeway traffic of the 101 along the Oregon and California coasts, the RVs buzzing him, the careless logging trucks, the angry local traffic … but the pull of the sun is strong.

After a long exhausting day, I fried up some sausage, cheese, and veggies for dinner and called it good.

The next morning it was raining so the start was delayed. I went to the ferry in Port Townsend and loaded up, sharing floor space with giant RVs. Before the ferry left I had had hour to kill, so pedaled into town, waited 30 minutes for a cup of coffee on the beach. Once the ferry left I watched people get out of their RVs with giant folding chairs sitting in the bow theso they wouldn’t have to exercise by standing.

Once on Whidbey Island I rode to Deception Pass State Park, and got to ride to the grocery store with no panniers. It was like I’d been given an extra 200 watts. Although the campsite was one of the best yet, I shared the park with the Persian Alcohols, a merry group of travelers who had crammed trucks, trailers, tents, and endless gallons of alcohols into their campsite. As part of their alcohols they had brought a pool table and they serenaded the park with belly-dancing music and cue balls smashing as loud as if shot from a cannon.

The revelry was astonishing until about one a.m., at which time it became annoying, and then at two a.m., at which time it became maddening, with silence finally reigning at four o’clock. I was up at five, secure in the knowledge that the Persian Alcohols would be greeting the day with an amazing cacophony of pounding hangover migraines.

In addition a finding a cadre of newbie children mtb’ers who I ushered up the trail, the camp included s’mores, a real camp fire, and a late-night raccoon attack that wholly depleted the marshmallow stores.

While the Persian Alcoholers were groaning in their cots I packed up and got underway early, reaching Bellingham by 11:30. The ride along Chukanuk Road is one of the prettiest on earth, and wends along a cliff side that puts you up in the canopy of 150-foot firs and pines.

It was in the supermarket parking lot that I got adopted in the parking lot by Jeff, Susan, and Rudy Palmer as rescue cyclists who were obviously headed for the Abandoned Cyclist Shelter and eventual euthanasia.

Jeff and Susan, avid cyclists, not only put me up in the prettiest front yard on earth but smoothly integrated me into their garden party which included a sumptuous feast of Caesar salad, loaves of Jeff’s sourdough bread, and a New York double cheesecake topped with raspberry sauce from homegrown raspberries, courtesy of Bill and Kathleen Mirand.

One night the hard ground, the next night a yard softer than any feather bed, due to nothing more than the serendipitous kindness of strangers.

END


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To infinity, and beyond!

August 9, 2020 § 2 Comments

I’ve been underway for twenty-six days, with two days sans riding. It’s the longest I’ve ever been underway in my life. A transformation takes place when you are constantly looking for a place to stay and for food to eat. The things that used to occupy your head become vague, then they go away.

People were made to deal with the stress of finding food and shelter. It is healthy stress, invigorating stress, stress that you mind and body respond well to. It differs from work stress, from Facebag stress, from the psycho-social stress of dealing with “modern life” because your body and mind don’t really object to it, and when those obstacles are conquered for the day you fall into a kind of deep, relaxed tranquility that nothing else compares with.

And the the next morning the hunger and uncertainty restart, you are propelled from the warm sleeping bag, the pedals turn slowly at first, and the next adventure of the next day has begun.

From Olympia I took mostly side roads on a route suggested by Corey. Wooded roads, neighborhood roads, logging roads, spruce, fir, pine, old growth forest, recently logged hillsides, farmland, blackberries, and the 10-mile pedal along Mason Lake made this one of the most beautiful rides of the entire trip.

The day’s destination was Belfair, and it turned out to be a hard and hilly day, hewing closely to the typical average of 10 mph; 60 miles in six hours. The only blowback we got as cyclists came after the turnoff in Belfair towards the park, where signs warned not to “pick up hitchhikers” due to the “correctional facility.”

Whatever they were correcting, it wasn’t bad driving habits as more than a dozen cars in less than three miles dealt out nasty punishment passes. But the park’s gorgeous hiker-biker sites made it all worthwhile.

I’d gotten a text from a blog reader, Brent, who drove over from Tacoma with his son Carson to deliver crucial lifesaving supplies of homemade raspberry jam, freshly picked blueberries, and sticks of Sckubrats instant coffee. It was awesome to put a face to a name, and more importantly, to put mouth to delicious jam and berries.

My neighboring site mate was a guy who had ridden from Jackson Hole en route to San Francisco. He’d been underway for a month.

The park was filled with the typical assortment of giant storage trailers, and one of them had a table saw out in front along with a jigsaw and a lathe. I tried to imagine the conversation prior to leaving.

“Bubba! Don’t forget the danged lathe like you did last time!”

“Okay, Maw.”

“We needed to plane those joists and all’s we had was the table saw. Don’t forget the table saw, either!”

“Okay, Maw.”

“Or the recliners!”

“Okay, Maw.”

“And fer damn sure don’t forget the margarita machine.”

“Aw fer fuxake, Maw, I’d just as soon forget the air compressor.”

As I sat in my tent I heard a lady walking by the hiker-biker sites with her little boy. I peeked out. He was about five, dressed up in a Buzz Lightyear outfit.

“See those people? They are on bicycles.”

Buzz didn’t say anything.

“They put all their stuff on bikes and ride around with it.”

“All of it?”

“Everything.”

“How can they do that?”

“Well, they leave at home a lot of things that you might think you need but maybe you really don’t.”

“Like what?”

“Do they bring their toys?”

“I guess maybe some of them. But not many.”

Buzz didn’t say anything.

The next morning at 6:00 I was cooking breakfast and who should come racing by but Buzz Lightyear. “Hi, Buzz!” I said.

He waved and grinned. “Hi!”

A few minutes later he came by again, racing even faster. “Wow!” I said. “You are fast, Buzz!”

He pedaled furiously off.

As I was packing up his mom came by. “Just wanted to let you know that I was telling my son about you bike tourists yesterday.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“He was so fascinated. He stayed up so late asking so many questions!”

“Like what?”

“Oh, just about what toys you brought, and what about pajamas, and did you still have corn flakes and Pop-Tarts for breakfast.”

“The big stuff.”

“Exactly!”

My eldest son used to have a Buzz Lightyear outfit. He’d put it on and go tearing around our house in Japan. He’d put that outfit on and become strong, daring, ready to right the wrongs of the universe with a single punch. And underneath his little helmet there was always a smile of “I want to be like you someday, Dad!”

I wonder if that smile, even a little bit of it, is still there?

END


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Smooth shifting

August 8, 2020 § 5 Comments

My bike hasn’t shifted right for about two years. Various diagnoses, no effective treatment, so as with all lifestyle illnesses, I’ve lived with it. Getting it to go down a cog requires finesse, timing, and coaxing. That’s just the way it rolls.

Somewhere along the way Deb Banks texted me. “If you need a place to rest up near Olympia, let me know. I have good friends there.”

Turned out I did need a place to rest up, and wasn’t particular about where. So I texted the friend, Corey Thompson, who happens to be an amazing framebuilder, hard-ass randonneur with two Paris-Brest-Paris finishes under his belt, and magician bike wrench.

He and his wife Stephanie ushered me onto their farm and pointed out several likely places to camp. I chose the one off in a corner under a giant spreading tree. The ride from Centralia to Olympia had been incredible. Outside Olympia there is a rails-to-trails bike path called the Chehalis Western Trail that goes for miles through beautiful forest.

Corey and Stephanie served up an amazing dinner that included some great stories about Paris-Brest-Paris, such as attempting it on a tandem and having the weather drop into the 30’s. Wit rain. In August. And then there was the roadside kitten that Stephanie thought was a hallucination but if it was, Corey had seen it too.

The farm had a plethora of chickens, roosters crowing in the morning, and Gwendel the cat who did an excellent job mousing. However, the roosters had been separated from the hens because the hens were too young for rooster-hen business, and the roosters were all so depressed that they refused to crow at daybreak, crowing instead around 7:00. Or maybe they were just depressed by the shelter-in-place order due to the covids. Or maybe it was because the roosters all had girl names.

“The hatchery told us they were hens,” Stephanie said. “But when they started crowing and chasing the pullets, we became skeptical.”

I also got to see the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into Corey’s hand-lugged steel frames. He’s been building frames since he was a kid, but has done it full time the last few years.

“Would you build me a frame?” I asked.

“Are you patient?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. It’ll be ready in 2024.”

I’d been having trouble with my disc brakes, in addition to the fact that I have no idea how to service them. “That’s no problem, but I want the bike to run caliper instead of disk brakes.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really? Why?”

“Because I have no idea how to work on disc brakes.”

“It’s not that difficult to learn,” he said with the typical look that mechanics have as they contemplate the sad mental state of a human who owns a bike but cannot maintain it.

The next morning I got up at 5:30 to begin what was going to be a long day, and heard the tapping of raindrops. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m finally going to have to cook in the rain, pack in the rain, and ride all day in the rain.” I’d been dreading it.

As I girded myself for the day of rain riding Corey came by the tent in shorts and a flannel shirt. “Going to get bagels if you have any requests.”

“What about the rain?” I asked.

He looked at me. “What rain?”

I crawled abashed out of the tent and started making my morning coffee.

After amazing bagels I asked him if I could borrow some lube for my chain and mentioned that my brake had been squeaking. “Let’s throw it up on the stand and take a look,” he said.

As he “took a look” it turned out that the brake bone was connected to the brake line bone, which was connected to the master cylinder bone, which was connected to the shifter bone, which was connected to the cable bone, which was connected to the derailleur bone, and all of it was somehow connected to the crank bone.

Two hours later the entire drive train and brake assembly had been taken apart and rebuilt. I stared at it in glum depression.

“Hey, Corey,” I said.

“Yeah?” He had just finished sewing up the chest cavity with the new heart and liver transplant.

“You know how last night you said that working on brakes wasn’t that difficult to learn?”

“Yeah?”

“Neither is astrophysics. For some people.”

I rolled out of their driveway clicking away on gears that moved more solidly than they had the day the bike was brand new. And there was more magic than that. My tattered handlebar tape had been re-wrapped with all the tatters tucked away so that it was like new. It was as if I’d rolled in to get some chain lube and had rolled out with a new bike. The cat waved a paw goodbye. I think.

END


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Don’t die!

August 7, 2020 § 14 Comments

I have been bicycling a long time now and have not seen one single solitary sporty bicycle rider. But today outside Centralia I was pedaling along and there came one. He was sporty indeed with a helmet to protect him in case there was a meteor shower, a computer to tell him how close he was to getting to ride the Tour this year, and a serious look that said, “I don’t see you because, wanker.”

We were both approaching the same intersection and saw each other from a long way off. He hurried to make sure the got there before I did so he wouldn’t have to greet me. At the intersection he turned left, which put him ahead of me about a hundred yards.

We were going into a headwind and it was a very nasty little hill, about half a mile long with two stairsteps in it. Sporty put his head down and pedaled his little heart out.

I sat about twenty yards off his wheel and waited until he started grabbing gears and huffing and puffing. I overhauled him and zoomed past.

“Oh, hello there!” he said, pretending that this was the first he’d seen me, and doubly pretending that I wasn’t in tennis shoes pedaling a Conestoga wagon.

“Hi!” I said brightly and zoomed up the hill. “Cyclists,” I thought, “are the world’s finest people.”

After about ten miles I got to my destination in Centralia and wheeled my bike up to the office. “I’d like to reserve a tent space for tomorrow night,” I told the RV park lady.

“We don’t do that no more.”

“Oh. It says here on the Adventure Cycling Association map that you do. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. We used to but we quit.”

“Oh. How come?”

“Uh, the homeless. Lots of homeless.”

“In an RV park?”

“And, uh, the toilets and bathhouse. We got to get them all remodeled and it’s, uh, too expensive. You know the RV folks use their own toilets.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Where are you coming from, hon?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Oh, goodness. How long you been riding that thing?”

“Twenty-five days now.”

“And you ain’t got no more beard that that? Lord, my husband don’t shave for a week he looks like Sasquatch.”

“Yeah, same with Manslaughter.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. Just a very hairy buddy.”

“And how long do you want to stay?”

“Just one night.”

“Well, you look like a nice boy even with that raggedy peachfuzz. But we absolutely don’t do no tent camping, zero.”

“Okay.”

“But I guess I could let you stay one night.”

“Really?”

“Yeah but just one night. You can go back on the back of the property under the trees and pitch your tent there. You’ll see where all the tent campsites used to be.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

“Long as you don’t mind the trains.”

“The trains?”

“We’re backed up against the tracks. It gets kinda noisy when the big ones come through.”

“It does?”

“Yes. And the mill. The mill is on the other side of the tracks.”

“What kind of mill?”

“Lumber, what else? The trucks unload and load at night and in the early hours and in the morning and afternoon and evening and they get real rackety.”

“Is there any time they don’t load and unload?”

“No. Christmas.”

“I guess I’m still a go.”

“But you gotta promise me one thing.”

“Sure.”

“Don’t die.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, all them trees is red oak, they are stiff as a board, I mean, they actually are boards if you think about it, or I guess boards is they, but anyway you know what a widomaker is?”

“A widowmaker?”

“Yeah, it’s a limb that falls on your head and makes your wife a widow. Those trees are chock full of ’em. One of them baby limbs weighs two hundred pounds. Sam had one fall his pickup and turned the bed into the most expensive taco in southern Washington. One of those things hits your head and you will not look good the next morning because you will be dead. We can’t get insurance for any of the sites back there and it’s too danged expensive to trim ’em. So we can’t do tent camping no more.”

“How am I supposed to not die?”

“It’s not that hard. Check the tree you’re under real good. Look for any limb that looks all rotten and hanging on like a baby tooth about to fall out of your gum. Stay clear of all those.”

“Are there a lot of them?”

“Most all of ’em is that way but there are a few spots that are pretty solid.”

“What do I owe you?”

“Thirteen dollars.”

I went onto the back of the lot and pitched my tent. It was quiet, splendid beneath the towering red oaks.

Later I walked over to the bath house. A guy was sitting in front of his trailer with a Father Time beard. I waved and he nodded back so I walked over.

“You bicyclin’?”

“Yep.”

“Don’t see none of them no more.”

“That right?”

“Them damn widowmakers, can’t get no insurance. You goin’ to the bathhouse?”

“Yes.”

“Well you better have a code.”

“I do.”

“Them homeless used to cross the tracks and hop the bobwar and use the toilets. I kept tellin’ management to put a code box on the fuckin’ door but they wouldn’t. Then one night some gal goes in there dyes her fuckin’ hair pink and paints the whole fuckin’ place with pink hair dye. Now who in this fuckin’ place has pink hair? That would be fuckin’ nobody. So I tell ’em to put on a fuckin’ code box but they don’t.”

“There are worse colors than pink, I guess.”

“Yeah, and that would be brown. Because a few nights later some other homeless comes in and smears shit all over the floors, doors, walls, stalls, washing machine, windows, a regular shit party.”

“Hum.”

“Yeah. You can bet they got a fuckin’ code box put on there 24 hours later.”

“So what’s it like now?”

“Ain’t nobody been murdered, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s close enough.”

We said our goodbyes, and when I returned to my tent the oaks were still splendid, silent, sunshine filtering down through the leaves.

END


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When the alcohols are running

August 6, 2020 § 14 Comments

I got to the state park in the afternoon. I’d ridden less than thirty miles but the cumulative effects of being old, slow, weak, and lazy made it feel like 300.

The entry kiosk had a yellow hotline to Washington State Parks where you can check in and pay by credit card. I called. “I want a bike spot for one night.”

“We don’t have those but we have regular ones.”

“The camp host said you had them.”

“He’s wrong.”

“But he’s at the camp site. He’s the camp host.”

“My computer says we don’t have those but we have a regular one. It will accommodate your vehicle up to 28 feet.”

“My vehicle is a bicycle and it’s about six feet long. It fits nicely into, you know, a ditch.”

“Would you like the spot?”

“Yes.”

“$32 please. I can take your card when you’re ready.”

I wasn’t ready but I wasn’t willing to sleep in another Camp Tampon so I gave her the card and went to my campsite. I pitched my tent and started cooking my pork chops with green onions, mushrooms, garlic, bell peppers, and a leftover baguette.

The camp hostess came over. “What are you cooking? That smells incredible!”

“Just pork chops.”

“On what? I don’t see a stove or anything!”

I pointed to my tiny stove. “This is all I have.”

“My goodness! That smells better than what we’ve been cooking in our RV kitchen. Say … are you just a bike camper?”

“That’s all. Unfortunately.”

“Then why are you in this RV space? They cost $32 a night but the hiker-biker sites are only $12.”

“I know. But the reservations lady wouldn’t sell me one.”

“You’re joking. Why not?”

“She said there aren’t any.”

The camp hostess threw up her hands. “That’s outrageous. The hiker-biker spot is RIGHT THERE. We were so excited to you! We haven’t had a hiker-biker all year! I’ll get to the bottom of this!”

I looked around for some hike to go with my bike, hoping it might help my appeal.

She stamped off and came back in a couple of minutes. “I spoke with the ranger. If you’ll move to the hiker-biker site they’ll refund your money. I’m so sorry!”

“No problem. Thank you for getting that fixed!”

I finished dinner and moved my site. My new neighbors were four alcoholmen who had driven down from the Olympic Peninsula for the seasonal running of the alcohol. They had a giant RV, a huge pickeverythingup truck, a boat, and their living room. Other than thatthey were rolling spartan af. From the looks of it they’d had a very successful day out on the river.

“You might regret switching sites!” one of the alcoholmen yelled over, jollily. “We’re kind of enjoying ourselves!”

AC/DC blasted from the home stereo system because you can leave behind the comforts home for the rugged survivalism of a 28-foot RV as long as you have AC/DC to get you through the tough times, i.e. the six or eleven steps between your recliner and the margarita machine.

“What are you guys fishing for?” I asked.

“Alcohol,” the guy, Jackson, said. “They have a very successful alcohol hatchery program here on the Cowlitz River. Huge releases and a lot of good clean water up behind the dam so they can perfectly regulate the river levels; that’s crucial for the fingerling alcohols and for the older alcohols as they swim up-bottle to spawn.”

“How was today’s guzzle?”

“We pulled in so many alcohols!” he said gaily. I saw a half-dozen bottles of tequila connected with a stringer in the main cooler. They had that listless look of alcohols in a tank knowing that it was only a matter of time.

“Those are some big alcohols!” I said.

“Yessir. Caught most of ’em with our bare hands.” He staggered over to the margarita machine and topped off his 1-quart plastic cup.

It was nearing dinnertime so the other alcoholmen stumbled out of the RV and began frying up the freshly caught alcohols. Pretty soon the whole campground was filled with the smell of grilled alcohols and the muttered incoherence of utterly smashed alcoholmen. “Come have an alcohol!” Jackson waved to me. “You won’t regret it until tomorrow morning!”

“Thanks!” I said. “I’m a breathanarian; I quit eating alcohols five years or so ago. I couldn’t tolerate the pain they go through when they are slaughtered.”

“I hear ya. But they is some good eatin’!”

Before long everyone had passed out. I lay in my tent savoring the beautiful night sounds of the forest blended peacefully with the sonorous snores of the wasted alcoholmen as they sleep-apneaed in a symphonic synchronicity of diabetes, clogged arteries, and incipient congestive heart failure.

The next morning I got up and watched them emerge from their massive carbon footprint. “Shit,” said Jackson. “Those fucking alcohols will give you a nasty fucking hangover if you aren’t careful.”

“Were you careful?” I asked.

He lit a cigarette to go with the one that was already burning in his other fist, then he raised the back of his hand to wipe the Ganges of sweat off his temple, grimacing. “I reckon maybe I wasn’t.”

END


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The unexecuted life is not worth examining

August 5, 2020 § 11 Comments

When I was young and enamored of philosophy, I turned over again and again Socrates’s maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living.

I got older and put away childish things such as philosophy, and instead took up adult activities such as bicycles concomitant with the duties of adulthood, by which I simply mean “job.”

Job subsumed everything for over thirty years, even though the type of job itself changed. Job was a giant duty umbrella, a love-blocking parasol of responsibility painted in the dull green of money. Under that umbrella life thrived, things grew, and the troubling musings of philosophy, when they dared pop up, were doused with Round-Up, mercilessly weeded, and tossed out from under the protective shade of money.

Throughout those decades of job I would sometimes find my way back to philosophy, directly or by circuit. One year in Japan, I believe it was 1995, I emailed my old mentor Ed Allaire, philosophy professor nonpareil, and we had a short exchange.

“What is philosophy, though?” I asked him in one of our emails.

“That is a silly question,” he said.

Our exchange died a painless death shortly thereafter, but his few words stayed with me down the years, those just quoted, and these, reflections on the death of his parents: “They have been gone so long that the torments they inflicted only vaguely trouble me now.”

Also in, let’s say 1995, I discovered Chaucer, and then found his words again on or about January 28, 2019, the day, driving to the airport, that I tried to dredge up what bits and pieces of The Miller’s Tale that I had memorized during long and solitary bike rides throughout northern Japan.

Chaucer was a poet, which of all practices Socrates held higher than philosophy because he realized that it came from inspiration. In English, “inspire” of course means “to breathe into.” Into the poet was breathed the word. From where?

Chaucer as all poets dabbled in philosophy, kind of my perfect mix, the soft porn of intellectual pursuit. A little hard work, lots of gentleness and beauty. And as I’ve ridden my bike up the west coast, reciting for hours on end the few thousand lines of Chaucer committed to memory, I’ve been able to turn them over and examine them in a way that I could never have done cloistered in a library or at home, in a nook with a book.

For example, “Who may ben a fool but if he love?”

Who, indeed? Nor is this insight limited to the 14th Century. Son House, the singer and guitar player of the 1930’s, put it this way: “Love make you do things you don’t wanna do.”

Throughout the cascade of our genome we have been made fools, we have done things we don’t wanna do, and we don’t know why. Put another way, physics doesn’t care about your emotions. You will cast aside everything you have, you will willingly throw away your life, you will plunge into any abyss for love.

The pleas of those you care most for, the reviling of society, the loss of all standing, regard, possessions, health, and outlook for the future will at a moment’s notice find themselves on the chopping block if they stand in the way of love. Why should this be? How can it be?

Well, I’ve heard tell that the unexamined life is not worth living. So let me not throw that away, too.

But the rest of that bit from Chaucer:

“The god of love, a benedicitee
How mighty and how great a lord is he.
Ayenst his might there gayneth none obstacles
He may be cleped a god for his miracles.

“Lo here this Arcite and this Palamon
That quitly weren out of my prison
And might han lived in Thebes roially
And witen I am hir mortal enemy
And that hir deeth lieth in my might also
And yet hath love maugree hire eyen two
Broght hem thider bothe for to dye.
Now is that not an heigh folie?

Who may ben a fool but if he love?”

Love is above all a thing of physics. It obeys the laws of particles and waves, finding resonance and synchronicity in itself, changing, quantum, such that it can either be located or have its velocity measured, but never both. It is the cat in the box, the thing and the un-thing.

And love between two people is never a function of romance or passion, it is the physical operation of subatomic things that cannot be seen but that govern the movement of each other. Trickling up, we see love’s synchronicity as romance, passion, shared interest, a nap together in the sunshine, the union of body and mind, but those things are never unique to love and can be generated, confusingly, in bits and pieces due to infatuation or eroticism or any number of other feelings.

Love is profoundly physical in the sense of physics, but even so it is rare because in life we are so seldom free to seek our companion particle when we are a wave, or to accept our companion wave when we are a particle. The money umbrella shields us from the cold but it also shields us from love; cast away the umbrella and you are still unlikely to find love, but you will certainly freeze to death.

The thing itself is the rarest of rare earth minerals. We look for it most often in the wrong places without even knowing that it is the object of our hunt. Again, Chaucer:

“We seken fast after felicitee

But we goon wrong ful often, trewely.”

The moment at which the thing finds us, however, life never again can be the same. Love changes us forever, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but the cat can never be put back in Schrodinger’s box because it was always both the cat and the un-cat. Determining that it is the one immediately and forever extinguishes the other. Seeing love for the first time eliminates forever all life that existed with non-love.

These truths are held to be so self-evident that mightily have poets, artists, musicians, humans of every stripe striven throughout the running hourglass of human existence to point them out. Each age has had to rediscover it, each generation has had to have its “Eureka!” moment, and each person caught in love’s tangle has had to piece together from the fragments of his past life what in the world just happened.

Lovestruck. The thunderbolt of love.

We build shrines to Shakespeare and a hundred others who tried to tell us that love is the great destroyer, the great leveler, hoping perhaps that the greater the shrine the more invincible we would ourselves be from the arrow, or from the operation of quantum physics.

In vain. Those defenses are pierced as easily as the bubble floating out of the end of a child’s soapy toy.

Despite all this, it leads to a place that isn’t any easier than the place it led from. After all this examination, then what? Was Socrates exhorting us to examine and then go back to sleep? Or, as he evinced in his own death, was he insisting that after the examination there must, for the process to be complete, be subsequent action in accord with the outcome of the exam?

Do you have the courage of your conviction?

Thankfully with love no courage is required; it operates on its own.

END


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Living on a shoestring

August 4, 2020 § 10 Comments

I left Astoria in a hurry. My legs felt great, my bike felt light, and the road was gently rolling. After the tough climbing up and down the coast, it might as well have been flat.

Less than an hour into my ride I saw a guy with panniers standing on the side of the road. “Need anything?” I asked.

“Nope. Just taking a break.”

“What’s your name?”

“Daniel.”

“Seth.”

“Nice to meet you. Where are you going?”

“Not sure.”

“Best destination. I’m headed for Seaside. A woman called me and asked me to come work at her bike hostel.”

I looked him over. His hair was braided and he was wearing a t-shirt that said “Fighting Domestic Terrorism Since 1492.” It had a picture of native American chieftains on it.

His bike was tour perfect with nothing superfluous, although it looked heavy with the front fork panniers. “How long have you been out?”

“Four years. I’m a bike nomad. Everything I own is on that bike.”

“Where do you camp?”

“BLM and Forest Service land. It’s everywhere throughout Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. And it’s free.”

What started as a normal conversation soon digressed. He couldn’t stop talking about routes, destinations, destinations, routes. Each time I tried to steer the conversation back, he’d briefly touch on the question and return to routes and destinations.

Daniel was weathered and may have been blind in one eye; he was tattooed everywhere. He was obviously living on about 1/10 of a half of a quarter of a broken shoestring, but didn’t seem to mind too much, although it was definitely on his mind.

“This,” I thought, “is what you look like after four years of living in the woods.” It wasn’t very romantic and there were no deep truths solicited or exchanged. Just destinations, routes, routes, destinations.

Given his territory I figured he spent a big chunk of the year indoors, somewhere. Summertime in Washington and Oregon is lovely. Rainy season and winter? Gimme shelter. We parted and I started to wonder how long it would be before I looked and talked like Daniel. Or whether I already did?

I hammered all the way to Westport and then lost my time bonuses waiting an hour for the ferry to cross the Columbia River. A guy, Kumar, and his wife were parked at the ferry landing. Kumar lives in Austin.

“What part of Austin?”

“Manor.” He pronounced it wrong.

“Oh, May-Nor. Off FM 973.”

“You know it?”

“Rode it a thousand times on my bike with Fields before it became a freeway.”

They had left town due to the covids to visit their daughter in Ashland. Now they were meandering their way home. “Be safe,” he said.

I crossed the river with some Harley riders. One thing you realize about cars and motorcycles when you ride a lot of country roads, something you don’t realize on highways and in the city, is how fucking loud they are. Harleys especially. Loud and noxious and stupid. They looked so uncomfortable. The riders were obese and squeezed into these tiny seats. The women on the back looked miserable, saddlebags on saddlebags.

Silliest of all was the Harley insignia everywhere. Helmets, boots, jackets … more indicia of people who couldn’t satisfy the inside so they had to hang it all on the outside.

Over the river I was in Washington, on Puget Island, which was bucolic and Trump and beautiful. I had milk, oreos, pb, and bread then rode on. Somehow I was going really slowly and was really tired. Outside Longview I saw a sign that said “Fresh Peaches.”

I turned off and stopped at the stand. A nice young kid was selling the fruit. “How much are the peaches?” I asked.

“Three dollars a pound.”

“I’ll take a pound, please. Where are they from?”

“Yakima. My uncle buys them and we sell them all over. Where are you coming from?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Wow!”

At that moment his uncle came squealing up in a mini-van. “That’s my uncle … the boss!”

A lively man in his forties hopped out with a big paunch and a giant mustache. “Hola, amigo! You like my peaches?”

“They are sweet and flat fucking delicious.” I’d already eaten the whole pound. My mustache and hands were dripping in peach juice. The uncle looked at the four dead peach pits and whistled.

“Damn right they are sweet. Where you coming from, amigo? You look tired and dead like an old horse. Must a pretty long way. Longview?”

Longview was four miles away. I laughed. “Yeah, but I started last Thursday.”

He laughed harder. “I believe it, amigo. You too old for a bicycle. You ever tried riding in a car? It’s a lot easier, amigo, and you go more than five miles every two weeks. You want to try this?” He handed me a small white peach. I bit into it; sweet as sugar.

“Wow.”

“Yes, amigo, but you gotta be careful. You look at the middle of that peach just right and it’s gonna start looking like a panocha.”

“After three weeks on my bike, man, everything looks like a panocha.”

“I gotta have my panocha everyday, amigo, it’s my therapy.”

“There are worse therapies.”

“There’s none better, amigo. Panocha in the morning before breakfast and panocha at night after dinner. But no panocha in the afternoon. My old lady don’t like me getting no roadside snacks.”

I finished the peach. “That was incredible.”

“Here, amigo. I give you some more.” He filled a plastic bag with a couple pounds of bruised peaches. “You see these peaches, amigo?”

“Yes.”

“You see they all bruised and ugly?”

“Yes.”

“You know why they all bruised and ugly?”

“No.”

“Cause they are ripe and sweet as a panoche, amigo. You know what is funny about gringo ladies, amigo?”

“What?”

“They come to my place and they pay me three dollars for a pound of peaches that is beautiful, perfect, but is sometimes sour. You try to sell them a sweet peach with a little bruise, they don’t want it, amigo. They want it to look nice, cost a lot, and taste like shit. You know the difference between a gringo lady and a Mexican lady, amigo?”

“No.”

“You give a Mexican a choice between a pretty sour peach and a bruised sweet peach and you know what she say?”

“What?”

“She say she going to beat your ass for trying to sell her a sour peach.”

I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Here, amigo.” He handed me two ice cold bottles of water. “You got a long viaje, amigo, two or three weeks before you can make it back to Longview. You need this water bad and maybe some bath, too.”

I took the water with gratitude. “And don’t get in no trouble with no panocha when you make it back to Longview!” he shouted as I rode away.

END


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