Go lightly

July 6, 2020 § 10 Comments

It is super important when you are carrying your life around on your bicycle that you do not go heavily. Many people know this, and those who have muchel experience pedaling long distances keenly understand the important of lightness.

Some things are extremely heavy and must be taken with you, for example, the heaviest things of all, feelings. You can sqwunch them down into tiny Zip-Loc bags but their infinite mass is such that they will still feel like the heavy things they are. Never think that you can lighten your load by leaving them behind because they follow you wherever you go.

Other things are extremely heavy and must not be taken with you, for example, my Fidibus electric grain mill that weighs about 25 pounds, and my Staub giant-sized Dutch oven, which weighs another 20 pounds or so. Equally so for the bags of grain, for, although nothing would feel more homey than grinding up flour to make biscuits, I’d also have to bring along an oven.

The difficulty comes in deciding where to sacrifice weight for awesomeness. For example, a knife. Many people believe that you can effectively tour without one of these:

In fact, none of the bikepacking articles I’ve read mention the virtue or necessity of bringing your biggest kitchen knife. True, it is very large, very wooden handled, and very steel. True, it would likely, due to poor packing, slice through the expensive panniers, the carbon frame, the spokes, rim, and leg. True, in order for it to really work well you’d need to also carry the wooden cutting board and, more importantly, this:

A two-sided, heavy whetstone is crucial to keeping your giant whacker knife in good whacking shape. All in all, it would seem to make no sense at all to lug around such massive items when lightweight cheap alternatives are mostly everywhere, and in fact none of my friends who are quite expert in bike touring have recommended a large knife, a wooden cutting board, and a water stone. Could they be trying to trick me into going on this trip unprepared?

Because I think about Dan’l Boone. He’d never have left his Bowie knife at home. Why? Because you can’t skin a bear with a pocket knife. You can’t deftly cut the sinews of an elk with a mini-blade. When all your powder is gone and the enemy is breaching your log barricade and you have to dispatch a dozen foes in hand-to-hand-combat, a Swiss Army knife with 32 attachments isn’t going to cut it unless one of the attachments is a bazooka.

Nope, nothing was more necessary to the wilderness forays of yore than a trusty, razor sharp, long-bladed knife. Should I be deterred that the combined weight of these items is a third of my total carrying weight? Yes. Will I be deterred by these mere numbers? Unlikely.

And then of course there is the cast-iron skillet, an item that oddly enough never makes the list of “Most Essential Lightweight Backpacking Items.” It’s not even that heavy, as I found when I weighed it.

And when you think about all that wild venison I’ll be frying up outside of Ventura for breakfast on Saturday morning, it simply makes no sense to imagine doing it in a Teflon-coated aluminum pan that won’t absorb the bear grease properly to ensure the wild game flavor that makes trips like this so memorable.

Anyway, as various items are making or not making the final cut, I’m always eager to hear from you, Dear Reader, regarding which items should be left at home. I’ll listen with an open mind, as long as you don’t suggest that I leave the feelings behind.

END


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Burning down the house

July 5, 2020 § 9 Comments

It’s called “JetBoil.” Not “JetCook” or “JetSautee” or “JetStew.”

“JetBoil.”

It jets out heat. And it boils.

When I was a kid I learned the importance of proper preparation. Before we went backpacking I learned to pitch our tent in two minutes flat. That was a big deal because the poles were all disconnected and nothing was marked and you had to put the right poles together, not to mention string the elastic over the front connections, and then get the fly draped right, snapped, and staked.

I’d stand out there in the blazing Houston heat and humidity and practice whipping that thing up and tearing it down with a stopwatch. My brother Ian would occasionally look out the window and say something encouraging like, “You are such a fucking dork.”

The practice paid off because our first day on the trail we got to camp and everyone fell down exhausted. After a couple of minutes in swooped a massive Rockies thunderstorm, beginning with golfball sized-drops. I jumped up and threw up that tent in a jiffy.

The others jumped up but hadn’t practiced tenting, so when the deluge opened Ian and I were snug and dry, watching out the flap as the others got drenched to the skin. We learned a couple of new cusswords. I looked at Ian. “Doesn’t seem so dorky now, does it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It still does.”

For my bike trip I bought a stove called a “JetBoil.” Nowadays stoves are pretty much idiot proof, and I emphasize “pretty much.”

Without reading the instructions [those are for idiots], I decided to cook up some oatmeal in the boil receptacle. The boil receptacle apparently is for boiling when using the JetBoil. It is what you use to boil, a kind of boiler that boils.

There were all kinds of warnings about using camp stoves indoors, but they were clearly written for someone else.

After a few minutes with the heat on full blast I smelled a funny smell that didn’t smell like yummy oatmeal but instead smelled like burned something. I switched off the flame but it was too late. I’d baked an extraordinary crust onto the bottom of the boiler that is there for boiling. I scraped and cussed and cussed and scraped for 30 minutes until it all came off, leaving a residue of brown stain inside the boiler and arthritis in my wrists.

It is not a good feeling to buy a $4,000 camp stove suitable for summiting K-2 only to make it look after one use like it’s been to K-2. And back.

The next day I decided to cook some oatmeal in a pot. So I threw the ol’ pot down on the ol’ JetBoil and fired that sucker up. It really fired. I turned away for a couple of seconds to look at my hummingbirds and when I turned back, that fire was still firing, only it wasn’t simply firing the pot, it was firing the entire stove, which was blazing away.

“Hmmm,” I thought, as the flames licked around the hyper-combustible fuel can and devoured the stove, “that doesn’t look quite right.”

So I turned off the switch, burned the shit out of my fingers, beat out the flames with a towel, and scraped away the huge chunks of melted plastic. “Product defect, clearly,” I concluded, amidst a heap of fresh oaths, “but in case it’s simply operator error I better try again.”

I fired up the ol’ JetBoil again and within seconds the whole thing was swallowed up in bright yellow flames of fire. “That doesn’t seem right,” I again surmised in between a new and even more original series of cusswords.

That’s when I looked off to the left, where this thing called a “pot rest” was sitting. I had neglected to put the “pot” on the “pot rest,” placing it instead directly over the flame, which had nowhere to go but down and onto the inflammable plastic ring that holds the igniter in place.

“Clearly a defect to have an inflammable piece of plastic on a stove that will obviously be operated by complete idiots,” I concluded.

And then of course there came The Moment that we all have when we look at the expensive thing we’ve bought and ruined because, too lazy to read the instructions, that moment of: CAN I EXCHANGE IT FOR A NEW ONE?

With pot holder attached …

The answer, fyi, was “No.”

END


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Beef Stroganoff

June 28, 2020 § 13 Comments

I was never a very good ‘cross racer but I think I was a pretty solid cyclocross eater. That’s because Tumbleweed was at most of the races, and after every 45-minute slaughterfest he’d set up his stove and a frying pan and whip up a defeat-erasing breakfast.

He always seemed like a genius to me. With nothing but a couple of link sausages and eggs, some pepper, a spice or two, and a couple of fresh vegetables he could make some of the finest food I’d ever eaten. Having backpacked as a kid, and as a votive of Sancho Panza in my 30s, I knew of course that “Hunger is the best sauce.” Tumbleweed’s ‘cross breakfasts were simple, hearty, and fresh, coming hard on the heels of an all-out physical effort. In retrospect the reason his food was so good is that the only thing he did that none of the other 200 racers and their entourages bothered to do was care. Caring is what it took to set up camp and cook that kind of food and share it with his friends.

I’ve spent three years baking bread and fiddling around in the kitchen, but when the covids showed up, pitched camp, and announced they were here to stay, my cooking hit a whole new level of simplicity. A handful of fresh vegetables, flour, and spices (and yes, bacon, eggs, and milk fresh are vegetables), and suddenly I realized that I didn’t need anything else and could still eat like a king. More importantly, I didn’t want anything else.

And here’s a brag: I make oatmeal so good you can eat it seven days a week and never blink. I can make eggs, bacon, and toast that you will come groveling for. My biscuits are off the fucking hook, and so are my hotcakes, cornbread, beans, and half-a-dozen other simple things made with the ingredients that even the most basic kitchen would have.

Being able to cook to please yourself with a few simple things is the story of humankind. The mantra that people can’t prepare their own food is an invention of only the last thirty years.

Now then, there is nothing to focus your attention on preparing your own food like the thought of taking an 1,800-mile bicycle camping trip. My first ploy was to visit the Internet, because when I backpacked as a teenager there wasn’t one. I was unsurprised to mostly find dried things in a pouch way more complicated than anything I make at home. I was even more unsurprised at the cost. $11 for chicken and mashed potatoes? You fucking kidding me? I eat at home like a king for six or seven dollars A DAY.

As I scrolled through the cornucopia of high-culture yuppie foods for sale, foods that suspiciously mimicked the items on the average yuppie’s favorite restaurants, it hit me. People buy this shit because they do not cook.

What they do is eat out, and the contest in restaurants isn’t in the taste, it’s in the name, the “cuisine,” the CCF (chi-chi-factor), and the ethnic flavor that reassures them that although they have no black friends and have never sat at a black family’s dinner table, they can be totally non-racist by enjoying some Louisiana jambalaya with red beans and rice high on a snowy plateau where everyone is coincidentally white.

In addition to the fact that people don’t cook, the yuppie culture of being “outdoors” is radically different from what middle-class people, poor people, or rednecks do. What rednecks do is “camp.” What ethnically sensitive white people in Houston and Manhattan Beach do is “backpack.” Camping involves Wal-Mart, burgers, a giant cooler, a trailer hitch, s’mores, hot dogs, beer, a big campfire, firecrackers, fishin’, and sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

Backpacking and bikepacking involve missions, goals, challenges, lightweight everything, saving the earth, leaving no trace, REI, organic coffee and a press made from recycled plastic, vegan kidney pie, extra supplies of whiteness in case you run out on the trail, and most crucially to differentiate it from rednecking, fancy packaged food.

All of this focus on trail food brought back memories.

In the summer of 1977 I was thirteen. My dad and a couple of his buddies had planned a fathers-sons backpacking trip to southern Colorado. We were going to spend ten days backpacking, starting on the Rainbow Trail outside of Poncha Springs.

Just like Houston.

“It’s going to be hard,” my dad had said. “So we’ll need to do some practice hikes.”

Houston, at sea level, was slightly different from the Rainbow Trail, which started above Poncha Springs, itself already at 7,000 feet. The trail was 29 miles long and sported about 6,000 feet in elevation gain.

My dad and I did a couple of hikes. I had a canvas Boy Scout backpack on an aluminum frame, filled it with a couple of books and strapped on my sleeping bag, and did a few walks in the blistering Houston heat. “Colorado is really cool,” my dad said. “It won’t feel like this at all.” He was right and damned right, but that’s mostly another story.

The most fun thing about that trip, though, was the planning and the buying. The nearest REI was in Colorado so we ordered everything from a catalog. It took six weeks for our stuff to come, and the thing we were most excited about? The freeze-dried food. We boys had never seen or had such a thing, and the pouches had some pretty way-out names.

For example, Beef Stroganoff. Dad had ordered four of those, in consultation with Don Huddle, the leader. “That’s good, hearty stuff,” Don had said.

I knew it was hearty because it had the word “beef” in it, and I was from Texas. “Who though was Stroganoff?” I wondered. And wtf had he done that was so impressive that his name would be paired with the mightiest food word in Texas, “beef”?

In addition to prepping for our 10-day hike with a couple of gentle walks around the neighborhood, when the REI shipment arrived, dad decided we should cook one of the dinners to see how it tasted. Dog forbid we got up on the trail and the stuff wouldn’t cook, or was inedible.

I was so excited. I was going to get a threefer: Beef, freeze-dried food, and find out what made a beef a Stroganoff. I was pretty eager, let me tell you.

To add to the authenticity of it, dad set up our camp stove in the backyard, which was itself a whole other level of excitement. Like any normal kid I loved fires, and this mini backpacking camp gadget oozed, well, fire. It had a fuel tank that you had to fill with kerosene and pump up, and some little paste stuff that you used to get the fire going. Dad seemed to know what he was doing, and as long as it ended in fire I didn’t care.

Our backyard in Houston was probably a bit tamer than what we were going to find on the Rainbow Trail, but it never occurred to me that if dad were having trouble and cursing like the ex-sailor he was getting this thing going in the backyard where we had 100 matches and limitless oaths, what would happen at 10,000 feet in a rainstorm? And no, it never occurred to me that it would snow in summer anywhere, for any reason, at any elevation. BTW, what was elevation and why did the dads talk about it all the time?

The fire finally got going and it was death and destruction beyond my wildest dreams. The little stove was wholly unstable, so balancing the pot to boil the water was itself a circus trick, but dad pulled it off by putting it on the picnic table. I didn’t ever wonder whether we’d have giant redwood picnic tables at our backcountry primitive campsite just a couple of steps beneath the roof of the sky.

The water boiled, and in went the Beef Stroganoff. Opening the pack was so exciting; the food looked like something from an alien’s intestines. Then as it steamed up and cooked it turned into an orange and brown goulash that smelled okay but looked highly suspect. In Texas we knew what beans and cornbread looked like, but not Beef Stroganoff.

Anyway, I was excited, my brother Ian was mildly excited, and dad was pretty proud at having gotten that finicky stove to light and the water to boil. We capped off the simulation by pouring the goop into our plastic plates and eating with our camp spoons.

I stuck the spoon into my mouth and got a nasty shock. Whoever Stroganoff was, what he’d done to the beef was criminal. Had ol’ Stroganoff served that up to any cowboy in my family he’d have been strung up. I spit it out and made a face. Dad chewed dejectedly and forced his down. Ian didn’t even try it after watching us. “That’s the grossest looking stuff I’ve ever seen,” he said in disgust.

A month later we were seven days into our hike. We’d eaten all of our dinner meals except, you guessed it, the Beef Stroganoff. Every day had begun with a raging appetite so sharp and relentless that our lives were punctuated as if by harpoons with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Every bite of everything we ate tasted so fucking good I can remember it now. Velveeta? Luxury food. Gorp? Manna from heaven. Freeze-dried eggs? Better than the real thing.

In other words, real hunger makes no distinction in taste. If you think a thing doesn’t taste good, the simplest explanation is that you aren’t really hungry. This is why people who eat out are always critical of the food–they aren’t really hungry.

If you’re burning 4,500 kcal a day on 2,000 kcal of food, the point will immediately be reached when your body will demand satiety in any form that can be consumed, and it won’t quibble about whether the center was a tad too pink. It will eat the whole fucking slab of beef raw and have but one question: Is there more? And if there is and I can’t have it, I will kill you.

Hunger on the trail is compounded by being on the trail. Psychologically you know you can’t “live off the land,” and you’re limited to what’s in the pack. People get possessive of certain things. You want to know where civil society evolved? At the dinner table, where rules had to be in place to keep Caveperson A from killing Cavperson B over the little bit of kidney burning on the stick.

But the day finally came when we had to cook the Beef Stroganoff. Don and the others had been prepared for the culinary misery that awaited, and as the goop bubbled and stewed, dad ladled it out onto waiting plates. The others looked a bit forlorn, but Don, who’d been in the mountains all his life, stabbed it with his spoon and took a bite.

“God damn, Chandler,” he said, “this is great!”

We all looked and then took a bite. Indeed, it was the finest tasting thing we swore we’d ever had. Big chunks of beef, tomatoes, and generous pieces of Stroganoff sprinkled everywhere. The most dicey part of any dinner, divvying up seconds so that no one got a gram more than anyone else, was even more tense than usual, so good was that goop.

We ate as we always did. Quickly and silently. Once it was all gone, which took three eyeblinks, Don said, “You and the boys were yanking our chain, weren’t you? That’s the best meal we’ve had on this trip.”

“I know,” dad said, “and we have two more meals where those came from.” I’ve never seen more happiness in more leaned-up, sunburned faces than when dad told them that nugget.

The other dad, Carl, nodded in respect at dad’s clever tactic. “Saving the best for last.”

But Don wasn’t ready to give up that easily. “So why’d you tell us it was so bad?”

“We made it at home before we left and it was gross,” I piped up.

Don smiled and nodded. “Yes, indeed. Everything, and I do mean everything, is better on the trail.”

END


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Discovering nature through buying crap

June 25, 2020 § 19 Comments

It’s a fact that if you’re planning to ride your bike from somewhere far back to where you are now you will have to do some minimal planning.

Here are the biggies:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. How long will it take?
  3. What will I eat?
  4. Where will I sleep?
  5. What clothes will I wear?

Number 1 is answered simply: Seattle.

Number 2 is even simpler: I don’t care.

But for numbers 3, 4, and 5, well, I care about those things. You’d think that since long distance biking has been around since the 1800s, when the first ride ’round the world happened from 1884 to 1886 on a 40-lb. penny farthing, that these questions of food, shelter, and clothing would be well trodden and easily answered.

But no.

Instead, I give you www.bikepacking.com. Everything starts off as you’d expect before devolving into the worst sort of “good times equals buy shit” product reviews you’ve ever seen. My favorite is the intro into bikepacking, so infused with enthusiasm and good vibes it’s almost poetic:

Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about exploring places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat, enjoy!

Backpacking.com writer on drugs

So you’re now ready to launch forth into the wilderness or the Long Beach Mountains, and they follow with a key assurance because the one thing you know about new endeavors is “maxed-out-credit-card.”

A common misconception is that bikepacking requires a small fortune to fully appreciate: the perfect bike, custom bags, and all the latest ultralight camping gear. 

Backpacking.com writer on even more drugs

Why is this a common misconception? Because it’s not a misconception. The first box below this paean to minimalism and “ride whatcha got” is the most complicated gearing chart I’ve ever seen, and I used to ride the track. And after assuring you that your beat up ol’ Specialized Stumpjumper is plenty good to get started, just so you know, you’re a complete dork without one of these bad girl-boys. That is, they provide a list of off-the-Experian-Equifax-chart of wildly overpriced two-wheeled toys. Starting with the Knolly Cache, you can get back to the simple, minimalist fun of riding a bike carefree and etcetera for a mere $5,299 (loaded version).

And what are you bitching about? When you get a burrito do you not get it loaded with sour cream and guac? ‘Course fuckin’ not, and you’re getting the loaded bikepacking bike, too.

It takes a handful of minutes when gazing at the incredible photography on the web site to realize that bikepacking is like backpacking is like road riding is like Life in the 21st Century: You are what you own.

The models on the web site are as perfect as it gets. A ruggedly handsome young man with neatly trimmed ragged beard, sitting seiza on a tile floor boiling water for a single cup of organic, locally sourced tea, after passing through the picturesque Land of the Yurts. He probably recycles his turds into organic yurt muffins. Weirdest of all, he appears to be traveling with a photographer and perfect lighting, and he packs a plastic chair and small house with tile floors. Mirrors? Hipster magic? Silly bullshit?

Real photo from bikepacking.com’s Camping at Home section

Which is a key point: If you aint’ doing yurts, you ain’t shit. Yurts are the ultimate in legit badass travel of all kinds. Asian people with no names and toothy grins, aged beyond their years living healthily outdoors and tending their goats, happily smiling at bwana as they bring him into the yurt, sing some songs handed down from their ancestors, feed him fresh yogurt, and send him on his way for $4.00, which is two months’ income in Yurtville.

The ruggedly neat model doesn’t speak Yurtish. Doesn’t know anything about the history of the Yurt people, and certainly couldn’t milk a goat. But as a white young man with the world at his fingertips, he can sashay into Yurtville with $20k in gear, bow, drink tea, absorb the wisdom of the ages, then load up the Gram and his product review post with the best pics evah.

Bikepacking.com is in fact, like virtually all backpacking and bicycling publications, built on an implied racism: White young men have the world at their fingertips, where they can eschew mortgages and the rat race for $12k bikes, $129 stuff sacks, and organic, locally-sourced porn sites. Women and non-white folks best see themselves as smiling Yurters or accessories to the main manly event.

Where are the Asian bikepackers? The black ones? The latinos? The women? The people over 25? They are somewhere else because this white guy badass land. Get used to it, bitches.

And why do we have learn that the handmade sleeping bag was crafted in the white state of Maine by a retired badass white bike racer whose new mission in life is to source his down bags with feathers that were not plucked from live birds? Are you fuggin’ kidding me? No–you’re selling me, and you’re doing a damn good job of it because I bought one of those fucking things. It better be warm and it better not harm my conscience.

And who pays for these spiffily dirty, ruggedly kempt, long-haired vagabonds who have made their life’s “passion” traveling from yurt to yurt and windswept Kyrgyz plain to windswept Kyrgyz plain?

Answer: You do.

The slumping, drooping, middle aged fart who has five days of vacation (nine if you string together two weekends) is the person who fills his suburban yurt aka mancave aka Zwiftcave with the latest and greatest overpriced bits of wilderness survival equipment that, the minute it rains hard, will be jettisoned for the nearest Motel Six.

But worry not! You may be huddled in front of the widescreen in a motel during a downpour, gnawing salty Domino’s and drinking PBR, dreading the next leg of your trip, but the humble Adonises at bikepacking.com have the words in place to let you know that but for that danged job, you’d be just like them. To wit:

Yes, I know, fresh produce is a pain to lug around. Squeezing in those extra carrots will have you scrutinising your panniers for valuable pockets of unused space. But fear not. You can shed pack weight and still ride healthy. Wise friends of mine in Ecuador shared with me the art of creating homemade camping fare. From their family farm, they harvest vegetables and dehydrate them, compacting them in ziplock bags of hearty goodness. On a recent ride along the Colorado Trail, our natural provisions – chard, carrots, onions, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes – lasted us two whole weeks. Added to miso soups and rice noodles, they brought with them a sense of wellness that permeated both body and soul.

Bikepacking.com writer o’ding on carrots

Did you get the badassedness with which that paragraph was laced? “Wise friends” = In touch with the ancients. “Ecuador” = so far away from Detroit you can’t imagine + Not scared of South America, kidnaping, or coke cartels. “Recent ride along the Colorado Trail” = my easy days are your dream vacation. And who could miss “chard, carrots, onions, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes lasted two whole weeks” = Moral and physical superiority of the Vegan Way + skinny AF.

And if you’re not feeling like a complete POS for scarfing that third Subway, the rugged gentle racist adds this little nudge, which really makes his essay a 10-point buck in the world of #fakeoutdoorsywhitedudebullshit:

After all, isn’t the act of toasting tortillas around the campfire more memorable than jet boiling a prepackaged dinner and rolling into your sleeping bag?

Backpacking.com writer going into insulin shock from all the self-love he’s ingested

It’s not long before you’ve sunk deep into the desperation swamp of “Holy fuck I gotta buy one of those and those and two of those and read the review on sleeping bags quilts tarps tents stoves tires” and then you realized you’ve been conned.

The best view of this strategic Buy Shit Now marketing endeavor is called “Make Your Own Cylindrical Stuff Sack.” It’s a little bit of fresh air authenticity to show you that even though you’ve already spent $1,500 and you still don’t even have the right tires, you can go minimalist by making your own stuff. See? They show you how right here.

All you need to start with is … a sewing machine. Of course! Let’s see, I’ve got four of those and since I took homemaking in high school I’m darned handy with a needle and bobbin. Oh wait! I must have misplaced them! Better go online and get another one! Oh, look! Here you can get one and they only cost $189.00! Throw in seventeen hours of work to learn how to do a basic sew, spend $75 on the remaining materials, $350 for the trip to the ER to have your thumb reattached, and you can have a stuff sack for under $800. Oh, wait, let’s see how much it would cost to buy one on bikepacking.com? What? $35-$89? And I get to keep my thumb? Hmmmm …

Going back to the beginning, if you’re gonna ride your bike, you gotta eat, sleep, and dress. I suppose you could ride what you got, eat what’s in the pantry, and wear what’s in the closet.

But where’s the fun in that?

END


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Bike hunting

June 22, 2020 § 5 Comments

When is the last time you went bike shopping?

By “bike shopping” I don’t mean getting on the internets. I mean really bike shopping, like they used to back in the old days.

Austin used to have the bike equivalent of Motor Mile along 24th Street. There was the Co-Op Bike Shop, World Cycles, Peloton Cycles, and Freewheeling, all within easy walking distance and within way easier biking distance. You could go a few blocks either direction and hit Bice Cyclery or Bicycle Sport Shop.

The first “bike” bike I bought, I went to World Cycles and checked out their Univegas. Remember those? And I also browsed through the Co-Op, digesting the sticker shock of $350 entire United States 1982 Dollars for a danged bicycle. Ultimately I bought my Nishiki International for $375 because I knew right away that Freewheeling was the shop of shops.

My youngest son graduated from college the other day and I told him that I’d get him a bike. He lives in Long Beach, so I rode over there yesterday. I had left it up to him to pick a couple of shops. Riding in Long Beach is wholly different from riding in the South Bay because Long Beach decided years ago to make itself bike accessible.

The main thing you notice is that people don’t honk. It doesn’t matter how you ride. They are looking for you, they see you, they slow down, and they avoid you. At first it’s quite strange, but especially in the downtown area you quickly realize that you have, you know, The Right to be on your bike in the middle of the street in traffic.

The first stop was a tiny place on the corner of Anaheim and Redondo. There were no windows and it was dark inside. The doors had big boards on them that the owner had to take down in order to open-unlock the shop. The shop had just opened. We walked in and it was clearly not the place where we were going to get an entry-level, Nishiki International-type road bike.

The small shop space was packed with BMX bikes and well stocked with tattoos. The tattoos jibed well because my son has a rather large one on his arm, but the BMX inventory, less so.

He had taken the bus to meet me, and the next shop was about fifteen minutes away, on 7th Street, so we started walking. The weather was cool and sunny and we talked about THINGS. It is good sometimes when a dad and a son, or when two people, can talk about THINGS. They needn’t be heavy or complicated, although they certainly may be, but they have to be real.

It is surprising how quickly time passes when you talk about THINGS, and soon enough we were at the other shop. It was burglar-proofed with bars everywhere, and shut up tighter than a clam. The sign said “Sunday: 11-4” but it was past noon and not a mouse was stirring. What I liked best about the place was its name: “Bicycle Shop.” More places should be so simply named. “Resaurant.” “Clothes Shop.” “Grocery Store.” “Barbershop.”

Maybe people should, too. They certainly used to be. “James.” “Susan.” William.” “Anne.”

A fellow parked outside the shop in a beat-up Mercedes with a bike strapped onto the trunk was waiting, too. “Any idea when this place is going to open?” I asked.

“Naw,” the guy said.

“How long have you been here?”

“Hour at least. I ain’t in no rush.”

That was apparent, and it was a good reminder about bike shopping, which when done properly should be a journey. By now there were no more bike shops in easy walking distance, so we decided to pick up the trail on Tuesday. He’d borrow a bike and make a longer list so that we could see a few more shops, maybe even one that was both open and that stocked road bikes.

We walked back towards the bus stop, talked about a few more THINGS, then stopped and got some noodles. It’s the first time I’ve been in a restaurant in about a year. When you eat all the time at home, restaurants can be exciting and surreal places, but more about that later, perhaps.

In keeping with Long Beach’s bike friendliness, there was a giant bike rack parked in front of the restaurant shaped into the word “dine.” Over lunch we talked a bit more about THINGS, he reminiscing about the story I’d once told about breaking all the bottles in an alley as a little kid and watching all the cars get flat tires, me reminiscing about the time our dog Fletcher got into a dogfight and trying to win by biting the other dog’s tail.

We finished and parted ways, him towards the bus stop and me back towards Los Angeles. We hadn’t gotten a bike, but we had certainly shopped for one. And anyway, the point probably wasn’t even the purchase of the bike. The point was THINGS.

END


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A sippy cup for your badass self

June 14, 2020 § 9 Comments

My grandsons never had sippy cups. They had regular ones with big mouths and so they spilled stuff everywhere. Mostly, though, they spilled on themselves, dribbling down their chins and necks onto their shirt collars. Or they tumped the cups contents onto their chest or lap. They would have sopped their bibs if they’d ever worn one.

This spillage occasioned a fair amount of wiping by their mom but she never got them sippy cups. Why? Because the spilling didn’t last. Before long they were able to manhandle giant glasses that took both hands, and were able to carefully drink from the biggest of vessels. If they could hold it, they could drink it without spilling. You see, they learned quickly that life sucked with yummy chocolate milk ending up on your chin or lap instead of in your mouth.

But this isn’t a rant on sippy cups, which have their place. Only their place isn’t in the paws of littl’uns, it’s in the fist of big’uns. Big, badass ‘uns like you.

Last year a buddy gave me a thank-you gift. I don’t recall what he was thanking me for. Maybe I had sent him a case or maybe I had showed him how to pedal more better, or maybe he had seen me do something that warranted a present or maybe he was a regular blog reader WHO WAS TOO CHEAP TO SUBSCRIBE. Nah, for sure not that.

And I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t need another fuggin’ coffee cup.”

To which I say this: “That’s true. You don’t need another one. You just need one.” In fact, you can take all your other coffee cups and toss them right now. It will enhance your self-standing as someone who doesn’t like clutter. It will advance the latent minimalism that you wish you could practice but can’t. It will clear out space in your cupboard which is now so fuggin’ crowded with cups and glasses that you can’t hardly get anything that’s not on the front row.

Best of all? It will forevermore banish the most brutal question a cyclist can face in the morning, that is, “Which cup do I want to drink my coffee out of?” The answer, my friend, is this:

Up to now you’ve answered that key cyclist question by means of affection. You have some cup that reminded you of that thing that one time that person said or did or that trip you took or whatevs. Or, you have some cup with some logo from some badass thing that you almost finished that one time and got that participant tee for. Maybe granny left you a set of Fiesta cups and saucers and you’re doing homage to dead people and suffering cold coffee as a result.

Doesn’t matter. This YETI beast will become your new best friend, your lover if you are lucky. It is made OEM by Giant Bicycles of highest modulus carbon with reinforced carbon which is itself 100% carbon. The interior is soldered with repurposed bicycles tires and spoke nipples to provide a more pleasurable drinking experience. But what accounts for the YETI’s ability to keep everything hot and cold at the same time indefinitely?

Answer: Physics, or more precisely, the lack thereof.

The YETI has opted out of the standard End User License Agreement requiring virtually all organisms and the particles from which they are composed to comport with the operations of quantum physics. By opting out, the YETI is able to do things that other cups simply cannot such as:

  • Be hot and cold at the same time.
  • Verify both velocity and location simultaneously.
  • Occupy two different spaces at the same time.
  • Determine the state of Schrodinger’s cat.
  • Expand to fill the universe.
  • Exceed the speed of light.
  • Automatically block blog spam.
  • Catch “the one that got away.”
  • Ensure a minimum length of eight inches.

On the down side, this comes at a price. The smallest YETI retails for $19.99, although it does come in a variety of pleasing color selections to compensate for the up-charge.

Clear out your cupboard now and make it sparkle with the only sippy cup you’ll ever need. And tell ’em Wanky sentcha.

END


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Rate the app!

February 11, 2020 § 8 Comments

My phone blew up last week, which is to say I got three text messages over a period of four days. And! They were all about the same thing!

The “thing” was the release of the new Chaucer app, a little program that recites the General Prologue in Middle English, and provides extensive notes about the vocabulary and about the historical background of various characters. Somehow, people knew I was interested in Chaucer. Weird.

My first reaction to the app was that it doesn’t work. There is no way for me to actually hear the recitation, no matter how I fiddle with the volume or slam the device onto the edge of the desk, hard. “It’s like it was designed by a 10-year-old,” I fumed, before realizing that if it had been designed by a 10-year-old it would have worked flawlessly.

Instead it was designed by medievalists. I’m not sure that coding was in the curriculum back in those days, wedged in between Latin and Greek. In any event, the app’s most important feature doesn’t work, at least on my phone, which is the only one I care about. Your results may hopefully vary.

But broken app? So what?

The pointe is this, to speken shorte and pleyne, that someone has tried to take Chaucer and yank him out of the ivory tower and put him in the hands of the average swenker. Is that a good thing? Yes, a thousand times, yes!

If the app had worked properly, it would have followed along in the text of the general prologue with the recitation, so you could hear how the text was supposed to be pronounced in Middle English. Of course I say “supposed to be” because, as with virtually all dead languages, there is only a rough approximation of how Middle English really sounded.

Maybe you can download it and it will work for you. The notes are chock-full of interesting tidbits, and give you a sense of how dense Chaucer’s writing was. Most of all, hopefully it will make you want to read more.

END


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Ugg socks

December 26, 2019 § 26 Comments

Back in the day, when dirt was new and God was a boy, as the weather got cold we would take an old pair of ragg wool socks, pull them over our shoes, and cut a hole in the socks for the cleats. These shoe covers were the best ever. They stayed warm when wet, they were cheap, and they kept your toes toasty.

The problem was that the yarn unraveled after about a dozen rides and then you had to get new socks. It was pretty wasteful.

My feet started freezing again this winter and I went for a ride in the rain. My neoprene shoe covers that I’ve had for about twenty years now, and whose backs I have to hold closed with safety pins because the zippers are shot, didn’t work very well. But to their credit, they never did.

So facing more cold, early morning rides, I bought some wool socks. These were giant; they went up to mid-shin. But because I didn’t want to be wasteful, I took them to the lady at the cleaners who does alterations and asked her if she cut cut the hole and then hem it so the yarn wouldn’t unravel.

“No way,” she said, and sent me across the street to the cobbler. “He might be able to help.”

The cobbler listened to my plight. “Nope,” he said.”But that lady down the street does tricky alterations. Might try her.”

I walked over to the shop that said, “We Do Difficult Alterations.” The lady listened to my plight. “Sure, I can do that. But it will be be very difficult because of the yarn. And it will be expensive.”

“How much?”

“$60,” she said.

“Wow,” I thought, calculating the $6 price of the socks. Then I thought about my cold feet. “Okay,” I said.

I came to pick them up and the price had raised to $90. Those are expensive socks. I paid and took them home.

On Tuesday’s NPR everyone made fun of me. “Ugg socks!” they said. Everyone agreed that they are the ugliest thing anyone had ever seen. But my feet were so warm.

Then yesterday I rode to Trancas, leaving at 5:30 AM. It was in the thirties. The other riders were bundled up but not their feet. My Ugg socks got a fair amount of negative attention until we were two hours in and everyone started to get really, really cold.

“You’re starting to look like the smartest one out here with those socks,” said CTB with a grin.

My feet stayed warm the whole way. I think I overpaid, though. But then I think about cold feet. Maybe I didn’t.

END


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Ugg sox

Fierce storage

December 14, 2019 § 7 Comments

The one thing about cyclists is they love to carry around useless junk, and lots of it. The other thing is that they love to carry it around in some cheap-ass bag that doesn’t work, like a Zip-Loc, or they use a mini-suitcase strapped under their seat that’s barely small enough to fit in an overhead bin.

The thing I’ve used for years is a little zippy thingy that we bought a bunch of at Nippon Daido. They eventually fall apart but at $1.50 each, you go through about one every five years.

#bargain

The downside to these little boy-boy ho-bags is that they don’t work all that great. If it’s a Zip-Loc it eventually tears, usually during a rainstorm. If it’s a little zipper bag, the ends tear and out fall your precious belongings at the least opportune times. “Where is my condom?” you’ll find yourself asking in the middle of a big ride while stopped behind a bush.

And these little boy-boy ho-bags are environmentally unfriendly. And they are made in prisons by slaves.

But the worst thing about using a little boy-boy ho-bag for your credit cards and DL and cash is the look you get when you whip it out, because you hate swapping back and forth between the bag and the wallet and now you’re seated at a swanky restaurant and fishing out a sweaty credit card from an equally sweaty zippered-up boy-boy ho-bag. Doesn’t matter how much you tip. You still look like a total loser.

Which I was fine with me until I heard that Frankie’s Fierce Hazel Bike Thingy had dropped.

These are made for bikers, designed by a biker, constructed of bullet-proof material, look classy, are sleek AF, and are exactly the right size for your credit cards, cash, and spare tampon. But Fierce Hazel doesn’t simply want you to abandon your boy-boy ho-bag in order to level up your wallet game at the 7-11.

She also wants you to shrink your carbon footprint, just a little, and so the bags are made from recycled fabric scraps. And she wants the people who make the bags to earn a living wage, so she uses a factory in Vietnam, run by women, that does exactly that.

I got my Fierce Hazel two days ago and took it on a maiden run to Santa Monica. It worked even better than it looked. The zipper enclosure has a tiny tab on either side for you to grip so that the zipper closes or opens quickly and easily. The inner area is big enough for a cell phone, but so is the outer pocket. It’s all waterproof and sweat-proof.

Best of all? When I whipped it out to pay for coffee, the barista eyed it. “That’s really cool,” he said. No one ever said that about a Zip-Loc sweating human fluids off the sides.

And of course it’s Christmas GIFT SEASON and all those other holidays too, including my favorite, Goat Sacrifice Druid Day. Hint, hint!

END


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Bike commuter holiday buying guide

November 29, 2019 § 20 Comments

I got a call from a cycling pal in Long Beach who I haven’t seen in a few years. “Dude,” he said, “I was reading your blog.”

No conversation that starts like this is ever good. Ever.

I steeled myself for the words “bully,” “asshole,” “defamation,” and “lawsuit.”

“Yes?” I said, trying to sound normal.

“Man, I read your post about new year resolutions and I’m getting the jump on it. You inspired me to start commuting.”

“Really?”

“Hell, yes. There’s no reason for me not to do it. My office is ten miles away and there’s a bike trail that practically goes from my front door to my office. I see people on it all day long and I’m always wishing I was out there, too.”

“That’s great!” I felt so happy. The conversation wasn’t going to be a demand for a retraction, and I now had proof positive that by blogging about commuting there were two actual people who had read any of it. In addition to reading, they were taking action. I felt like Adolph Ochs.

“But I got a couple of questions.”

My heart sank. Here it comes. “Yeah?”

“What gear do I need?”

“Gear?”

“Yeah. What do I need to commute?”

“Uh, a bike?”

“Dude, I got that. But it’s a very nice road bike. Not sure I want to turn it into a commuter.”

“Check. Shoot me an email and I’ll send you a list.”

So he did, and I did. Here it is. When you are wondering what to buy yourself for Black Friday, or Purple Tuesday, or whenever, start here!

For a bike: Any bike will do as long as it has tars and pedals. I use my ‘cross bike because it is beefy and because I suck at ‘cross. A f’rinstance is the Giant TCX Pro, about $2,900. One fact is that if your commute is in LA, you will beat the shit out of your equipment. The roads are variable and you will wear shit out if you commute much. So eventually you might want to think of something sturdy AF if you’re going to be doing this a lot.

Tars: I’d recommend the IRC sand tire tubeless. They roll smoothly but are grippy AF. When I wore out my rear tar I got a different IRC and although I like it, it’s too much tar for urban roads. Key point for tubeless commuting, per Gary Z. and Boozy P.? Run the pressure low. I have 40 in front and 45 in rear. Never (yet) flatted.

Pedals: I could go on a long time about pedals. Boozy P. set me up with these beasties. They have competition-grade bearings which means they spin as well or better than your Look/Shimano clip-ins. Flat pedals develop a whole different set of muscles. You are mashing down all the time, and if you are practicing #fakestarts at the lights, you will start to grow new thingies in your legs. Flat pedals are way more comfortable because you can move your feet around as conditions require. They also strengthen the muscles in your feet, which is a whole ‘nother piece of awesomeness. Plus, the big platform lets you really mash. And mashing is the best.

Pants: Pants are a big deal. Jeans get sopped with sweat and sag and rub. You’ll need suspenders, or at least want them in order to complete the #fakehipster look. I have two pairs of riding pants, both from BetaBrand. However, after getting them and liking them very, very much, I found out that Chrome makes what look like equally or perhaps more awesome pants. Bike pants stretch, don’t get soaked easily, look #fakedressy, and have all the pockets you need to store stuff. Most crucially, the paper over the plumber’s crack that likes to creep out when you’re hunched over the bars.

Suspenders: You can go low-rent and get clip-ons, or you can get button suspenders. They look better and don’t come unclipped, but they are a pain in the ass to take on and off the pants. You’ll need to take your riding pants down to the tailor and have her sew on suspender buttons. If you’re one of those people who’s always suffered from droopy pants, these are the best. Plus, no plumber’s crack, ever.

Shoes: With the above pedals, your tennis shoes might not cut it because the pedals have little pegs that hold your feet in place. You’ll feel these pegs through a soft or thin sole and it won’t feel good, especially at about mile 50. Normal shoes are also very flexy and it kind of sucks to be giving away all those watts to the thin air. Fortunately, Adidas makes an MTB shoe that you can walk in, has a stiff, thick sole, and only vaguely looks like it belongs in a coal mine. I wear the  Adidas Five Ten Freerider.

Underwear with cycling pad: If you have a really short commute, you don’t need anything special. If you are sitting in the saddle for any length of time, or in the rain, or in the heat, you will get raw ass. I grabbed a few pairs of the Zoic Essential Liner; it’s underwear with a cycling pad. I find it a little bunchy, kind of like wearing a big ol’ maxi-pad, but it is thinner than bib shorts and they work just fine.

Lights: Okay, here’s where I get fanatical. Combined with lane control, this will make the difference between riding as a normal part of traffic and riding as a gutter bunny always on the verge of getting smushed. Please don’t be a cheapskate and get a nice bike before you spend every penny you can on lights. It’s dumb and lazy. The Christmas tree effect has changed my riding experience because cars see me and avoid me. Even the occasional punishment pass is fine because I know they see me.

Rear: Cygolite 150 x 2 for seat post and to clip onto your rear pants pocket. These little bastards shoot out crazy bright blasts that penetrate steel. I actually have three, one on my seat post and two clipped to my rear pockets.

Rear: You can’t be overlit. Apace Vision Seat Stay Light x 4 will clip onto your seat stays. Individually they are not super bright, but together, each one set on a different blink mode, they are incredibly hi-viz. And they last forever, are waterproof, and are cheap.

Front: In the past I’ve always used the Diablo MK11. However, its runtime isn’t sufficient for commutes of over eight hours or when, for example, I did the Sags Fondo and then rode home from San Diego; i.e. I need something that can run for 10+ hours. For normal commuting the Diablo is plenty of light; if you really want to do it right, get 2 of the MK11 lights and put them on your bars so that you have twice the illumination and they act like car headlights. You can also run one on strobe and the other on steady beam for night commuting. If you don’t care about weight you can go with the Toro MK11 and auxiliary battery pack. That’s my birthmas gift to Seth this year.

Please don’t skimp on the lights and please consider running your lighting rig, including the headlights, on ALL rides. The total cost of the best lighting setup is way less than an ambulance ride. I see so many cyclists now with daytime lights, which is awesome, but many of them use the cheapest, smallest, most worthless ones they can find … and pair them with $10k bicycles. So lame.

Lights and therefore survival require planning. I’ve found that the toughest part of commuting is being organized. If you chuck all your shit in a heap after riding and wait until the next ride to sort it out, you’ll have problems, especially with the lights. It has to become habit that THE RIDE ISN’T DONE UNTIL THE LIGHTS ARE PLUGGED IN FOR RECHARGING. Spend a few bucks, get a couple of power strips, and set up a dedicated light charging station. Otherwise you’ll wind up with uncharged lights or worse, you’ll leave them on your bike because they haven’t run down all the way, and they’ll die mid-ride. In the dark. With 20 miles to go. I’ve learned this the hard way. The ride’s not done until they’re all plugged in. It’s as important as having air in your tires, maybe more so, because without air you can’t ride, but without lights you are begging get hit.

Gloves: I ride with full-fingered Giro gloves but also have a pair from Pedal Industries by Todd Brown in San Clemente. My hands are thin and girlish; the PI gloves are a better fit for a thicker, meatier hand.

Backpack: I have a small commuter pack for clothes, laptop, and lock. It is the best bike backpack on earth. Unfortunately it was a one-off promo model distributed by FastForward and I don’t know where to get another. For a mid-size pack, and I’ve just ordered one, go with the Chrome cargo or similar (Timbuktu and Ortlieb make great stuff). Rolltop packs are the best for commuting, I think. They make it a cinch to quickly get and stow stuff on the fly. And when commuting, you’re always on the fly.

Socks: I usually use cycling socks with the Adidas shoe; they aren’t too thin and fit well, but you can go with a thicker sock, too.

Glasses: Your favorite cycling glasses. Mine are still the SPY Quanta.

Helmet: Nope but thanks anyway.

Toolkit: With tubeless you should still carry a spare tube and tools to put the tube in if you get a bad gash or the tubeless won’t seal for some reason.

There. You can start your shopping engine now.

END


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