Friday, February 27, 2009

Getting groceries home, easily and painlessly

Part of my bike strategy is that I have a bike dedicated to being utilitarian and less attractive to thieves.  Having something like that makes it easy to keep my "fun" bikes as fast and impractical and flashy as I want.  There are a bunch of solutions to the utility part but many are not at all secure and don't really work for me and how I like to be able to ride my utility bike.

I got the bike for $95, used.  The rack was $10, also used.  The wire baskets were $25 each.  The fenders came off my previous attempt at a commute bike, as did the chain, and the saddle is from my mountain bike after I put on something more appropriate to the way I use it.  I also had to replace the left shift lever, and that was again removed from my previous commute attempt.  If I didn't have the spare around, though, I could have lived with the one that was on it.  I have a whole little stoke blog from when I first got the bike.

Granted I already like bikes and I'm fairly mechanically inclined.  But every city I've lived in has a couple reputable shops carrying used bikes, as well as Craig's List, pawn shops and thrift stores.  The budget for this thing is about a day's pay, seven tanks of gas or three bus passes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In Sickness and in Health

The phrase "In Sickness and in Health" has a nice ring to it, but it doesn't quite make sense.  How can someone simultaneously be sick and healthy?  Calling in sick to work to go skiing (I don't have work to call in sick to, unfortunately) strikes me as one way.  As far as other people are concerned, I'm sick.  Unless the other people in question are in my car.  But it's hard for me to imagine feeling healthier than I do when I'm making turns.

So right now I'm putting out feelers to see if anyone who's less unemployed than I am wants to set a bad example.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Arrr We Having Fun Yet?

From time to time, I ride with a cycling club called Point83.  To call them a "club" is almost too strong a word.  There's no process for joining - a person just shows up and rides if they want to.  Rides start at designated places on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are typically slow, short, and involve a lot of drinking.  When I only had time to ride at night, it was nice to be out on bikes with a group, but since I've been able to go riding during the day more and I have some other demands on my time in the evenings, I haven't been bothering lately.

Every now and then, they put on a larger event.  The Fucking Hills Race is one of these.  It piggybacks on the back of the Chilly Hilly, a ride put on by the Cascade Cycling Club, which is the largest and most rules-oriented club in the region.  Of course it's irrestistable to poke fun at them from time to time.  Cascade calls the ride their season opener.  It's a 33-mile loop on Bainbridge Island, which is a relatively unpopulated island in Puget Sound, and it has 2675' of climbing.  Cascade's riders wear numbers (actually multiple numbers, in multiple places on their bikes and bodies) so Point83's riders wear pirate flags.  Sometimes multiple pirate flags, like as capes or on flag poles flown from their bike racks.  I wasn't planning to go, but a few of my friends were and they said, "Come on!  It's lots of fun."  I didn't have anything better to do with my Sunday and the timing of the race is about right for me to switch gears in my training, so I figured I'd go.

I'm not sure why it's organized as a race, but it's only a race in a very loose sense anyway - there are no course martials to prevent someone from taking a shortcut, and most of the pirates were riding their usual bikes, with racks, fenders, panniers, etc. etc., some even wearing messenger bags.  Since the roads are open, there's also a limit to how hard someone can ride the course.  In that group, a stripped-down bike like my LeMond is a definite rarity.  Anyway, I'm a competitive person, so if someone says "race," then, like Jean Girard in Talladega Nights, I'm in it to battle with the entirety of my heart.  And brain - more on that in a moment.

The course length is kind of wierd for me.  I never practice riding 33 miles fast - since my events last fall were half an hour, I did intervals on a route that took me a little more than that to complete.  I sometimes practice riding really hard for forty-five minutes or even an hour, but never for the amount of time it takes to ride 33 miles.  I also sometimes do some really long rides - my 100-miler a couple weeks ago, for example.  So I figured I'd do the first half at my long distance pace, maybe with a few "magic shifts" and quick accelerations when I crested hills, and then go hard for the second half.  I ended up having a really good time.

My endurance pace is already faster than the vast majority of the riders who were on the course, so I dropped most of the pirates pretty quickly.  I started from near the back of the pack, so I saw the occasional pirate for most of the first half of the race.  It was fun to call out "Arrr!" as I passed them and get an "Arrr!" or "A-hoy matee" in return.  Around mile 17, I fell in with a couple of other very fast-moving pirates, and then the course flattened out a bunch.  I figured it was as good a time as any to eat a power bar, so I did, and then I started going faster - getting out of the saddle for ascents I thought I could finish that way, sprinting up to speed at the tops, not downshifting on the little rollers that I could just charge, etc.

I started to regret the power bar a little bit, but I caught back on to the other pirates, who'd dropped me when I was eating it, and dropped them, and then encountered another pirate pushing his bike up one of the stiffer climbs.  He and I ended up trading places for most of the last ten miles.  I'd drop him on the longer climbs, but he set the pace on the longer flat sections.  He said he weighed 190 pounds, but he was pretty lean, so he had to have been pretty muscular.  I also started trading spots with a group of four roadies.  I think they must have arrived on the same ferry and been going just a tiny bit slower than I was, because they were riding at almost exactly the same pace.  I had a bit of the same thing with them - I tended to pass them on the climbs, but I'd have to grab a wheel and hang on in the flat sections.

One of the amusing things about the four roadies was that they thought the course was only 27 miles long, not the advertised 33.  So when I hopped on the back of their paceline the first time, around mile 25, and asked if it was cool if I sat in for a while, they said sure, but why?  When mile 27 came and went, and mile 28 came and went, and mile 29 came and went, I think they decided that actually the course was really 33 miles.  Sitting in for 9 miles makes much more sense than sitting in for 2, although ultimately I didn't.  The other two pirates who were going my pace showed up again, and I was much more interested in them.

I think I lost a couple places at the very end finding the finish line, which was sort of hidden, but I wouldn't have placed in the top five and they stopped counting after that, so it didn't really matter.  Still, it would have been fun to know specifically how I placed - I know I was near the top of the field, just not how near.  Because I was trying for my fastest possible time on the course, I had a lot of time to hang out and eat chili.  One of my friends actually did three laps of the course, but wasn't competing in the Point83 event, and my other two were mostly just trying to finish.  Paul engaged in a fair amount of drama concerning how hard it was, although he wasn't trying for a fastest possible time and his bike's got some really low gear ratios available.  I'm really proud of my friend Amanda, though.  The amount of climb by mile is slightly less than the climbing on the hills route that I showed her, which is still something of a project route for her, but this ride was almost five times as long.  It's one thing to do a long ride on a flat course.  This course was pretty brutal.

Derrick, who does a fair amount of the organization for Point83, called and e-mailed a ton of equipment manufacturers before the race to see if they wanted to provide prize items.  A lot of them came through.  The top five men and women each got first pick, and then all finishers names went into a hat and following picks were by random drawing.  I got a 90mm downhill/freeride stem that I put on my mountain bike, and a couple more items when they finished calling names and opened the remaining prizes to "grab anything you want."  I'd been meaning to go out and pay money (when I had some) for such a stem, but now I don't have to.  It does weigh 100g more, though...  I also scored some tire levers I don't need, a spare set of grips for my mountain bike, a hat, and a new size XL white T-shirt (it's not even gone in the wash yet and I'm using it as a rag to clean my chains.)

By far the most rewarding thing about this ride, though, was that since I've never tried to do 33 miles (or 32, since our finish line wasn't quite at the ferry terminal) fast before, I had no idea how quickly I could do it.  I ended up cranking it out in 1:46.  That works out to an average speed of 18.1mph.  Rolling hills are kind of my thing, so I expected to go pretty fast, but I tend to hover around 18.5mph when I'm riding my bike longish stretches in the flats; I can sprint to slightly higher speeds but I really can't maintain more than 19mph (without a tailwind) for any length of time.  Since hills slow me down and my averages on my long rides tend to be around 14-16mph, I figured two hours would be a good goal for the ride.  I guess I've underestimated the training I've been doing, and the degree to which my sprints, climbs and quick recoveries would still be there for me after not doing speed work since November.  Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised.  Part of it was the lack of traffic - I could mostly focus on staying at the same level of intensity all the time in the first half of the route, and on going as fast as I can without blowing up on the second half.

Now I need to see if I can do a Century in 6 hours (17mph average.)  I'm not sure how likely that is, since my races are only an hour long this season, which means my "go fast" rides won't last longer than an hour and a half of really working hard and the training value to rides over about three hours is pretty questionable.  I figure if I just shrug and do a really long ride once a week, I can work on that goal without really impeding my progress toward racing fast.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another Friend, Another Blog

I think the only mention of my friend Amanda in this blog so far is in my "More Thoughts on Training" entry.  And it's pretty oblique, in a sense - I just say that the main body of the entry is an e-mail to a friend.  In another sense, though, I suspect that she has a pretty strong presence in that blog.  The e-mail was, after all, to her.  She's probably better at saying who she is in her own words.

Amanda occupies kind of an unusual position in my life.  From when I started getting serious about dance onwards, my life has been populated mainly by people who were in excellent physical shape, with a fair number of athletic interests.  I allowed myself to look through people who didn't fit that mold, unless I had pretty compelling reasons otherwise.  I actually met Amanda, sort of, for the first time last July, when I was visiting Seattle.  I was on my way out on a ride with some friends who already knew her, and we bumped into her on the Burke.  I didn't say anything at the time, but my thoughts were, why are we stopping to talk to these fat people?  I'm sure that I'd have accepted the interruption more readily if she and her husband had been out for a run, and looked like runners.

So if I'm so intolerant of people who don't look like me, act like me and weigh what I do, why am I friends with this woman?  I've always maintained to myself, somewhat defensively, that I'm not interested in people for what they look like but for what they think and feel and what they do.  Since people who dance or do sports typically look like athletes, at least somewhat, I've been able to slip into a lazy way of thinking in which only people who look like athletes do sports and dance.  One key problem with this way of thinking is that I'm also interested in talking about art and theatre, but somehow I've gotten by.  For the moment, at least, Amanda is interested in, and actively pursuing, cycling, and has side interests in hiking, running, and probably other things.  But she doesn't look like a cyclist or a runner or Washington's breed of mountain-charging hiker.

Amanda has been lifting weights and riding bikes pretty consistently for several months now and while the weight's coming off, there's a limit to how quickly the human body can safely change.  So while Amanda is still pretty far from her target weight and has a pretty fair distance to go in terms of her endurance, cardiovascular fitness, etc. in order to achieve her goals, she also fits my sanitized definition of the kinds of people I associate with.  I'm the first to admit that that's pretty unimportant.  However, definitions aside, I'm finding that I truly enjoy spending time with her.  While our rides together are very slow, she maintains a steady pace and doesn't complain.  It's amazing how high a bar that turns out to be.  She also turns out to be an excellent dance partner.  Having a regular partner is unusual for me in either activity, and I'm really enjoying it that I get to share these interests with someone.  I think fate may be telling me something by having it be someone who has recently weighed over 100 pounds more than me.

The other thing about Amanda is that I think her project is really cool.  One of the things I love about people is that we have the capacity to grow, change and remake ourselves throughout our lives.  I hope to grow and change until the day I die, which I hope not to do for another seventy or eight years.  A lot of people seem either content with where they are at the moment or powerless, for whatever reason, to change themselves or their circumstances.  Amanda is different from that.  She's already been with this project a lot longer than most people's new diet and exercise plans ever last, and I truly believe that between her commitment to her project and the dividends it's already starting to give her, she's going to succeed.  The opportunity to be part of another person's successful recreation of herself is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Super-light Colorado... hardpack

Action Mom took my brother and me skiing in Colorado last weekend. Between my employment situation and the lack of weather here in Washington, I haven't been skiing in weeks, and I'd only done three days this season. Two weren't even in Washington.

Colorado hasn't had any new snow in a while either, so aside from one bowl that faced the right way to catch some windblown snow, the surfaces were pretty much all either hardpack or sticky, tracked-out stuff in the trees.  But we still had a really good time.

When the snow is beautiful, I don't really like to stop and start - I go for every possible run.  But on other days, it's fun to bring out the camera every now and then.  Zach is a better photographer than I am, although I think that digital point-and-shoots level the playing field a little bit.  Also, I just discovered that my camera has a function in which it continues to take pictures as long as I hold down the button.

As you can see, Zach's not throwing a lot of snow around.  It's kind of too bad - his new skis are very big, and I'm sure that what they can do in powder is incredible.  Those boots are new too.

On the next lap, I had Zach take some pictures of me.  I'm not narcissistic, I swear.

He hid behind some rocks.  Maybe he was afraid I was going to hit him or something.

We agreed that this was the best shot from those two laps.  Not sure what the deal is with the blur, because the rest of the picture is in focus.  Zach theorizes that the ISO speed was too low and I was going really fast.  I enjoy that theory because of the part where I'm going like a bat out of hell.  Anyway, my skis were totally the right tool for the conditions - big, stiff and stable.  I had a really good time despite the snow quality.  Even when I jumped off the dropoff over a different part of Spaulding Bowl and it was nothing but ice.

Still not as much of a good time as if it was powder.  That would have been awesome.

I was a little bummed that I didn't catch Zach looking as cool as he caught me looking.  Because he definitely looks at least as cool when he's skiing, so it's the photographer.

This is Zach using big mountain skis to catch miniature air.  It's more or less the definition of "overkill," but I'm the one who told him to wait for me to set up to take a picture of it.  We spent way too long discussing the best part of the traverse to air off of.

We were in Colorado visiting Action Mom's college friends.  Their son Nick was playing "native guide" for us that day.

He sold the heck out of that same mini-air.

The tree route uphill from this traverse was a favorite route of his.  It was pretty cool.

We took a bus from the cabin where we were staying to the resort.  I slept on it.  Holding my gear.  That's how badass I am.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Group Interview

I had a job interview today. It was for a recruiter, which isn't something I've done before. The recruiter specializes in placing recent college graduates, and while a couple of people in the room were in similar situations to mine, that's who most of the people there were. I think many of them were looking for their first "real job."

I forget from time to time how much cool stuff I've already had the opportunity to do in my life. Part of the festivities today was that we all answered some practice interview questions. They came out of a bag and everyone got a different one. Mine was, "What was your proudest accomplishment?" I told a little story about my first cyclocross race and passed the bag on. As soon as I passed it away, though, I thought of other things. The show I did for summer stock a couple years ago stands out as one of my more major accomplishments. So does my period of training in classical ballet. And earning a BA is nothing to sniff at either.

The next time we got to talk, aside from when we all introduced ourselves, was when they asked us what we saw ourselves doing in 3-5 years, and what our dream jobs, talent and money no object, were. I reversed the questions, because I'm a pain like that sometimes. I said that I might still be doing ballet if talent and money weren't an object, although it's a pretty crappy job, and that I really wanted to be doing design. And that in 3-5 years I hoped to either be working on an MFA or finished with an MFA and doing design.

Other people wanted to be somewhere in a corporate management position in 3-5 years or getting an MBA or being lawyers. I guess lawyers, at least, have job titles I understand. Most of the job titles that MBAs aspire to are just TLAs to me. Their dream jobs were pretty random. Working at a marina, being writers, being accountants by day, night club owners in New York by night, and writers with successful movie tie-ins on the weekend (all one guy for the last three,) being fitness trainers (from a girl who didn't look like she had an effective plan for herself) etc. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those goals. They're just not for me. At all.

Anyway, I came away from it thinking that I've actually done some really cool stuff. I've learned to be independent and assertive in how I approach situations like job interviews and meetings, I've learned about what I do and don't want to be doing with my life, and while the current hiccup is annoying, I think I've more-or-less arrived at this place in my life at the right time - I haven't rushed it but I don't think I could have arrived here sooner either - and as soon as I can get some income started up again, I'm on track.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Seattle's Dialectic Art

One of the things that I enjoy about Seattle is its parks.  Almost all cities have parks, but Seattle has a ton of them by design.  Some of them are very manicured.  Some are not.  Some are really only parks because they're useless (or at least unwanted) pieces of land for building and rather than admitting this the city has said, "No, it's a park."  Very much like Microsoft's "It's not a bug, it's a feature" strategy.  This repurposing of public space also extends to Seattle's approach to public art.

This is the Fremont Troll.  He lives at the intersection of Troll Ave. and N. 36th St.  Troll Avenue runs directly under Aurora from the ship canal to 36th, where it ends because the hillside rises up to meet the bridge that Aurora takes over the canal.  In most cities, this would be allowed to remain unused, and Seattle actually has a lot of similar locations that do.  But it also has things like this.  There are some concrete barriers below the field of view of the picture, separating the concrete apron around the troll from the traffic along 36th.  So he's actually got his own little park.

There's a ton of public art scattered around the city, which is lots of fun.  A lot of it is clean and people leave it alone.  As you can see, the troll has pink finger nails and someone has colored in his eye.  I also enjoy that he has long hair that has been allowed to fall over his other eye.  I think that the styling of the hair and the pink fingernails suggest a feminine aspect, even as his long, thick facial hair, lean face and big hands mark him as masculine.  That's also a real VW Beetle that he has in his left hand.  I think it looks like he's going to eat it, and I enjoy that the car the artist chose should be such an icon of the 50's and 60's.

I'm sure these folks have a name, but I don't know what it is.  They're standing on an island at the intersection between the Fremont Bridge, Fremont Ave. N, and N. 34th St.  It's kind of a funky intersection - it's possible to make some turns in one direction but not the other.  In any case, it takes two stages to cross N. 34th, and one stands on the island in between stages.  The statues may be waiting to cross.

They're almost always decorated to some degree.  Today's decoration is actually pretty tame.

I think it's interested that the people who decorated the statues decided to give them all mustaches.  Mustaches are actually back in style lately, for whatever reason.  I think that the presence of the mustaches on the statues is probably either self-referential or referring to those who are wearing them again.