David

Since I mentioned two lifelong friends from school, a memorial to David Okuma is in order. This has nothing to do with bikes.

David, like Curtis, was an LA native. He grew up in East LA and was buddies with some guys who later formed a band. He introduced me to that band when I stayed with him on a subsequent visit to LA. I liked the album so much he gave it to me. Later he introduced me to them literally, as he got us backstage passes when they opened for the Grateful Dead at Laguna Seca raceway near Monterey CA.

David was a rock ‘n’ roller, though not a musician. He worked in record stores all his life. He introduced me to a lot of music, some that I would never have listened to without him. He had to cull his record collection periodically so it would fit in his house. When he came to Madison I took him to hear the UW symphony and hiking in Parfrey’s Glen. I hope he forgave me for that.

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David and Kiyoshi (who is now at least 40)

When I asked David about Disneyland he told me it was only for tourists; he’d never been there. When I visited him in Pasadena, his first words were, “Do you want to go to Disneyland?” as he whipped out a pack of tickets from the entryway table. I reminded him of what he had told me ten years earlier. He said now that he had a child he had discovered Disneyland and they went there all the time. It was great. He figured his parents had told him that it was only for tourists because they couldn’t afford to take him there. He was not going to deprive his son that way. We went to Disneyland, which was overrun by Iowans, as this was December 30 or so and Iowa would be be playing in the Rose Bowl on January 1.

But back to that band he introduced me to: two of the greatest rock songs ever written appeared on the same album. The links below are to those two songs. The album opens with a lament about the death of dreams – a woman struck down in a drive-by shooting, a child killed by a reckless driver, a woman who gave up her life to be a wife. The other song is also about dreams – searching for a meaning to life and wondering about the answers you get – whether a seeker climbing to a mountain top, or an immigrant worker slaving in a sweat shop and wondering “Is this all there is?” The band, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is Los Lobos.

David died June 1, 2015. I’ve been told that Los Lobos were at his bedside for his last week.

P.S. Two people asked last week that I write about training. I thought that would be boring but was told “don’t make it boring”. So there are two posts scheduled for the week before the ride starts. I plan to update them periodically, since they currently contain only the first couple months of training.

P.P.S. I’m two steps closer to going on this trip! My passport arrived yesterday (the trip goes into Canada and my old passport expired 10 years ago) and so did my new phone. I’ve taken another step into the 21st century -first a carbon fiber bike, now a cell phone. Next thing you know, I’ll be using emojis!? This postscript was written on the phone with the add-on keyboard – you’ll hear more about that in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curtis

My first supported bike tour was Cycle Oregon IV. This year is #31 (or is that XXXI?). I CycleOregonjpgwas talked into the ride by my friend Curtis Chock. Curtis was my roommate during my first ill-fated attempt at being a college student. It was the fall of 1971 and I enrolled at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood. The college is long gone and the campus is now the home of the American Film Institute. I quickly discovered that I didn’t really want to be a college student. One semester of college netted me two lifelong friends, so it was a good investment after all.

Curtis was an art major and later became a chiropractor. He never let work get in the way of having a good time and frequently tried to enlist me in various trips. Even after I had kids he would call me up and ask me to go somewhere next week. Canyon de Chelly was the destination on a number of the trips I didn’t make. He never seemed to understand that I did not have a life conducive to jumping on an airplane to join him somewhere.

Luckily I had the sense to say yes a few times. Cycle Oregon was one of those times. We rode an average of 85 miles/day for a week.  We rode over the Cascades and around Mt Hood. We rode through the high desert country. Every morning I arose early and they fed me breakfast. I would return to the campsite just as Curtis was getting up. We’d pack up and I would schlep the gear to a truck while he had breakfast. I’d hit the road, arriving in a new camp mid-afternoon. The trucks with our gear would be waiting. I’d pitch the tent and go take a shower. There was a portable shower truck that traveled with us. Curtis would roll in in time for us to have dinner together and talk over the day. At the end of the week we were told they fed us 7500 calories/day. I lost weight even though I had seconds a few times.  That trip made me realize letting someone carry my gear was not necessarily a bad thing.

When Al (my first touring partner when I was 21) and I toured, we carried everything on our bikes except the fresh food we would buy for dinner. The ride into town with an unladen bike felt like flying.  That ride seemed like the reward for riding all day like a pack mule.  Preparing enough food every day to keep us fueled was a lot of work. Letting someone else prepare meals and carry gear seems awfully civilized now.

Curtis also convinced me to stay in a tent cabin in Yosemite National Park. We had lunch in the

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Ahwahnee dining room

white linen tablecloth Awahnee Hotel. (I made up for that with a solo winter trip there in my own tent. That’s a story for another time. For now, we’ll just say that it snowed 3 feet overnight and a bear stole all my food. How it got to it that high off the ground I’ll never know.) Before I knew Curtis I never understood why one would pay to go cross-country skiing. To me, the point of cross-country skiing was that you could go anywhere (hence the name cross-country). Paying to ski on groomed trails seemed silly – until he took me to Royal Gorge. Looking at the website now, it looks much fancier than it

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Ahwahnee Hotel

was then. We drove to a parking lot that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere (and it was dark). We were met by a Sno-Cat pulling sleds. We piled into the sleds and were given lap robes for a trip into the woods. We arrived at a small lodge and were told to leave our skis outside. Each morning our skis would be freshly waxed (though it was this trip that helped me see the wisdom of waxless skis for California ski conditions).  We could ski all day and be fed at night, with our skis ready to go the next morning.

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Curtis skiing in the Sierra Nevada

As a child I remember seeing photos of Hollywood stars skiing in California. The starlets would be in bikinis. Being from Wisconsin I associated snow with cold and the pictures were unfathomable. On our weekend at Royal Gorge (at the end of ski season) it got warm enough that as the sun rose higher in the sky I took off more clothes. I finally skied nude, just to say that I did. Mostly I skied in gym shorts and gaiters.

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and relaxing after a day of skiing

Curtis had a knack for finding just the right gift for no particular occasion. I bought a new car and noticed that it came with a lighted hole for a cigarette lighter (all cars once came with cigarette lighters). I mentioned it off-handedly to Curtis when he was riding with me; how the light shined out of the hole in the dashboard. As soon as he got home he bought a cigarette lighter and mailed it to me to fill the hole. When he went to China to visit family he brought back a cashmere sweater which became my favorite cross-country ski sweater. He found out I didn’t have tights for cool weather riding, so he sent me a pair.

He was always buying new bikes. I remember his Jack Taylor (an old English frame

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Jack Taylor

builder), his Merlin (a 1990s era titanium bike builder in New England), and his Bike Friday (a folding bike from Oregon).  I got to ride the Bike Friday on a trip down the beach from Santa Monica to Newport Beach, with Curtis on the Merlin. We had dinner at a sidewalk café in Santa Monica afterward and froze. Southern California gets chilly when the sun goes down. That was my last trip with Curtis.  He died on Christmas Day 2010.

 

Daylight Day! Wednesday, March 7 marked the first day of the season it was light enough to ride to and from work without lights. With luck there will be three more of those days before Daylight Savings Time plunges me back into morning darkness.

Weird clothes

People sometimes wonder why bicyclists wear such weird clothes.  Most of them make sense. This is the section for non-geeks, who wonder about the sanity of the bike geeks. I’ve been writing this post in my head since I bought my first bike shorts 40-some years ago.

Bike shorts. If you’ve ever ridden any distance in jeans, (cutoff or otherwise) you know why bike shorts were invented.  They’re shorts so they don’t impinge on knee movement. They have no inseam to chafe your inner thighs.  They fit snugly so they move with your leg rather than rub against your thigh as you pedal. They are padded because your pudendal nerve is right where the seams on jeans meet – if you press on that nerve long enough (like on a bike saddle), you go numb. There is something disconcerting about having to look to see if you’re peeing because you can’t feel anything. On bike shorts, there is no seam there.

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Chamois

The padding used to be chamois and is now synthetic. Chamois is very soft when new. Once it has gotten wet and dries again it needs to be moisturized, which led to the development of “chamois fat”, various patented concoctions to replace the natural fats washed out of chamois. (The chamois fat I used to use seemed to be fish oil based, so I could absorb all those good Omega-3 fatty acids.) (No, I don’t really mean that last part, and I hadn’t heard of Omega-3 fatty acids back in those days – but it did smell kinda like fish.) With synthetic chamois, some folks still use weird concoctions, but now they call them butters, for the pun. Bike shorts are (or used to be) black because bike saddles were leather, which was oiled for softness. The oil left visible stains on any other color. Saddles are now usually synthetic, as are shorts.

Jerseys. Frankly, jerseys are (in part) a vehicle for advertising, just like the coveralls NASCAR drivers wear. If you are a professional racer, your sponsors put their logos on your jersey so they can make money from your success. If companies are not paying you to ride, it is mostly silly to advertise their products on your body. Jerseys are made to wick away moisture (they used to be wool, as shorts used to be). They fit snugly so as not to flap in the breeze. They have a zipper for ventilation because it is easier to work than buttons or snaps while riding. They have pockets on the lower back because that’s the easiest place to reach and the stuff in your pockets doesn’t make your jersey sag, as it would if the pockets were in front. Jerseys tend to be brightly colored. That way, if a car runs you over, you know they were aiming for you rather than failing to see you.

handjpgGloves. See shorts. The pressure on your median and ulnar nerves (as well as vibration) tends to make your hands numb. Padded gloves prevent that. Leather palms protect your palms in a crash. The old-fashioned crocheted backs give you really neat tan lines. (Most gloves no longer have crocheted backs.) Gloves also allow you to run a hand over the surface of your tires if

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tire savers

you ride through glass (don’t try this without gloves), on the theory that when you run over a piece of glass it only goes partway through your tire but when you keep riding on it, the pressure drives it further into your tire so you get a flat. There used to be little gizmos called tire savers for the same purpose, with the idea that they would knock a piece of glass free before you ran over it a second time.

Helmets. Because a helmet is a lot cheaper than the treatment for a traumatic brain injury.

Shoes. Bike shoes have a stiff sole to transmit power to the pedals more effectively. This also protects from hot spots and numbness in your feet. If your feet are attached to your pedals (via the cleats that make people walk funny), the power transmission portion of your pedal stroke is doubled – you can both push and pull (or, more effectively, pedal in circles rather than just a series of alternating pushes). It helps to disconnect your shoe from your pedal before you stop.

By now you’re probably hoping I’ll get on the road already and write about the scenery and post pictures of exotic places instead of my garage door. Good luck with that.

P.S. Thanks to the half-fast club for a great birthday dinner on 2/27. Nothing like stretching a birthday for five weeks.

Winter biking

When I had my paper route I rode 364 days per year (no paper on Christmas Day).  I didn’t think much of it; it was what I had to do for my job. Nowadays people make a big deal about winter riding.  There were a few exceptions to my daily riding: when I was sick I got a ride in the car, and my dad had a rule that when the temperature was colder than -20 degrees I got a ride. (My mom once pointed out that, while it was my dad’s rule, she was usually the one who got up to drive me.) This was before wind chill was widely known or reported, so it meant actual air temperature. There were mornings I looked out the window and saw -18 and wondered how I could make it read a few degrees colder. This was at 4:30 AM and the temperature tends to continue to drop until shortly after sunrise, so I was probably out at -20 several times without knowing it. I figure if that rule was good enough for my dad, it’s good enough for me, so I ride to work unless the temperature is colder than -20 degrees.

There are a few simple principles for winter riding that I have figured out over the years:winter 1) keep your hands and feet warm, 2) cover all skin when it is below zero, 3) don’t fall – it hurts more in the cold, so use studded snow tires. (Those didn’t exist when I was a kid, either.) (The mittens shown above were made by Kevin Kinney of Empire Wool and Canvas Company. They are no longer available. Maybe if enough people ask nicely, he’ll bring them back.)

studs

It also helps to have wraparound glasses if your eyes are sensitive. Mine tend to water in the cold and my eyelashes flick the tears onto my lenses, where they freeze – when the ice sublimates (or melts and evaporates when I go inside), I’m left with salt stains that are hard to see through. Glasses do make their own problems. If you have your face covered it is hard to keep from fogging up your lenses. If it is cold enough, that fog freezes and may need to be scraped off periodically. Not needing glasses may be an advantage. I know someone who wears goggles and breathes through a snorkel.

Twenty below zero has gotten rarer these days. If you doubt the local effects of global climate change, see http://www.aos.wisc.edu/~sco/lakes/Mendota-ice.html, where you will see the history of when ice has formed and melted on Lake Mendota since 1852.

There are a few tricks to winter riding. Studded tires work great on ice and hard-packed snow. They are not great on clear pavement. Since you’re riding on metal and not rubber, you need to take turns more slowly with less lean or they  will slide out from under you. They are not great in deep snow. The worst is that brown, greasy snow that collects at the edges of roads and in unplowed intersections. If anyone knows a good solution to that snow (other than staying out of it) put it in the comments below.

Riding predictably in a straight line is more important than staying to the far right. There will be more on this in a later post. Snow tends to get pushed to the edges of the roadway and then partially refreezes. The edge between pavement and this stuff is treacherous. Rather than riding in the slop and sliding around, ride on the clear pavement in a straight line. The law in most states says to ride “as far to the right as practicable“, not as far to the right as possible. I avoid streets with bike lanes in the winter, as that is where all the slippery stuff collects. Instead I take the side roads that cars tend to avoid because they (the roads, not the cars) are slow. Since roads are crowned, as snow melts (from salt or the heat of car tires), it runs toward the edges, then refreezes. Particularly bad are roads where the middle gets full sun and the edge is in shade (think urban streets with buildings close to the street).

In the winter, simpler is better, so my current bike has no derailleurs. It has a three-speed hub (like the English three-speeds of my youth). It has hydraulic disc brakes which work better when wet, icy, or gritty. Brakes on the wheel rims take more time to dry when you apply them, plus the grit from sand and salt wears the rims quickly. Wheels last almost forever on bikes you ride in good weather (assuming you take care of them in other ways). Winter bikes go through rims in a couple of winters. And no chain, as keeping a chain clean and lubricated is an essential but messy and time-consuming winter chore. To clean the belt, I park the bike over the floor drain in the basement, fill a bucket with water, and pour it slowly over the belt, rotating the cranks so the whole belt gets rinsed.

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Spot Brand bike
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with detail of belt drive

Really, anybody can ride a bike in  the winter. It is not a big deal. If you are warm for the first two blocks you are overdressed. You’ll start cold and heat up quickly. I found that, when I drove to work one below zero day last winter, I arrived feeling colder than when I ride my bike. The car never really heated up fully.