Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Karen's New Xtracycle

The Obvious Answer

I broke my leg in a crash last year. Freak accident, patch of mud on an otherwise clear paved trail, wheels gone sideways, bad landing, and crack. Split my femur like a wishbone in what's called a "spiral fracture."

For the curious, no bikes were harmed in the making of this anecdote. Bent derailleur hanger, a little paint loss, and a missing frame pump. And the rider recovered, in a grisly tale of titanium implants, staples, crutches, and Vicodin that I will -- thankfully -- spare you.

But what I find telling, even a year after that crash, is the reaction of other people when they hear about it. Bikers and non-bikers alike will -- without fail -- ask the same question first:

"Do you still ride?"

I can take it in stride now. I expect it. But it threw me the first few times, and the repetition of it -- the sheer critical mass of that one question -- continues to throw me, especially when I keep hearing it from people who call themselves cyclists. I'll admit, there were dark moments during my recovery where I thought I would never get a leg over an upright bike again. Yet even in those dark moments, my mind turned to recumbent trikes. There was no question that I would ride something. The question was simply what I would be able to ride.

It's funny. Most of the people I know -- myself included -- have been in some form of car accident, from a paint-scraping fender-bender to a full-on, airbag-popping rollover. Some have been injured. Some have been seriously injured. Yet no one asks, "So, you giving up driving?" We accept (or more accurately, deny) a given level of risk in our most common transportation choice. Ironically, it's the statistical anomaly, the freak accident, that makes the safer, saner choice seem extreme.

Sure, I'll give up riding someday. The grisly recovery taught me that I'm stuck in a mortal, fallible sack of skin. This body won't be able to make the pedals go around forever. But to just walk away, 35 years old, perfectly functional (and ever-so-slightly bionic), for one bad day, one moment of inattentiveness, when I've seen that the number of riding days on my calendar is finite? Hardly.

Do I still ride? Ask me if I still breathe instead.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Difference

Ask a bunch of bicycle commuters to describe the commute experience. Then do the same for a group of automobile commuters to do the same. What do you think the #1 difference is going to be? Think about that for a moment while I digress.

Spring is almost over, like we're in our last week folks. Today I took on a long overdue Spring Cleaning task. Part of it involved going through boxes and piles of clothes and sorting them into piles: keepers, charity donation and rag. I'm sure this work will have its own reward in the resulting order. Yeah, right. In the meantime I am having fun trying on shirts that I haven't worn in five years. (Did you think I did this spring cleaning every year?) The real reward is easily slipping into something that, before bike commuting, I could not squirm into. Wheee!! New clothes!

How about that commuter difference? The #1 difference is that most bike commuters describe the commute as fun or enjoyable. Car commuters never use those terms. Think about that the next time you prepare to leave home on your way to work. Are you going to have fun on the way?

Monday, June 9, 2008

What Randonneuring Is All About

Tom Petty once wrote:

Every now and then I get down to the end of the day
And I have to stop and ask myself why I've done it.
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard
And nothin' ever really seems to come from it.

Jennifer Chang just finished the Seattle International Randonneurs 600 kilometer brevet and posted this eloquent answer to Mr Petty's question on the SIR mailing list:

Hello Randonneurs,

In an impulsive moment, I've decided to post my 3:30 am journal rambling, as I feel it reflects sentiments of all of us, who attempt these hard rides. Thank you to multitude of SIR organizers and volunteers, who make these rides possible!


Monday, June 9, 2008, 3:30 AM

After SIR 4 Passes 600K

I've slept, and it's 3:30 am, and I'm up because I can't breathe and my system seems to be shutting down, but I am happy! How do you explain that!

I keep waivering back and forth about this randonneuring stuff. It's really one of the most difficult things I've done in my life and I am SO miserable, while I'm doing it, though I have moments, like when I was climbing White Pass and the sun rose slowly over the creek, and I knew I was one of the few that witnessed the light hitting the craggy walls and mountain grandeur, and I was going wow, and wow, you know.

The worst moment is when you've done over hundred miles and the sun is setting and it's beautiful, and you want the ride to end, just like that, in ease, after the hard day, you wish to literally ride off into the sunset, into hot showers, warm food and soft bed, and you've got OVER hundred miles to go! That's, for me, psychologically, the hardest part.

But, these randonneur rides end in crescendo, in heart beat, in racing beat, as you race against the time, hard, into finishline and you cross, not really into beautiful sunset, but into someone's garage, in dark, or a strange motel lobby, and there are lights, late into the night, and there are friendly cyclists, who are staying up, waiting for you! Looking out for the lost sheep. And you go, wow, I did it. I finished it. And it's an addicting high. Very, very addicting.

I always love the randonneuring ride, after it's done. How could you not? I love the other rides, too, for the comfort at the end of the hard, beautiful day. I don't have to choose, but does that mean I have to continue with randonneuring?

It's hard on my body. So hard on my body. Takes me to my limits: physical, mental, emotional. Period. But, in those limits, I am aware of my boundaries. Boundaries that define, I. And I feel sizzlingly alive, within my set limits. I am not infinite, but I am I.

It's addicting. It's the high.

Paul "Dr. Codfish" Johnson shares the control worker's view of this ride here:


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Crossing the Bow River

Dwayne riding over the Bow River on a RANS Street crank forward bike,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada.