posts tagged with 'biking'

the PMC kids ride experience

lots of bikes in the parking lot after the ride

where'd we park again?

Harvey and Zion rode in their first charity ride on Saturday, to support the fund-raising efforts of the Pan Mass Challenge and Dana-Farber. We were late sign-ups, but once they were registered (on Thursday afternoon) the boys were pretty excited about it all, and we spent a few long conversations on what they might expect and what cancer is. Three other families on our small street also had kids riding, and the energy level was high at 8:00 Friday night as they ran practice races with each other.

Then Saturday Harvey woke up feeling sick, and before long had thrown up, oh, five or six times (when he's sick he goes all in!). Luckily he was up at 5:00, so he had plenty of time to work around to feeling better by the time we had to leave at 8:30. Of course, he hadn't eaten anything, but that didn't stop him from mounting up for the ride to the assembly spot, about a mile away. Of course we biked up; I was particularly proud of how I set Leah up to carry Zion's bike.

Leah riding the blue bike carrying Lijah and Zion; Zion's bike strapped on the back

bikes carrying bikes

We got there good and early to make sure we'd have time to pick up the boys' numbers and shirts, which meant we had plenty of time to wait around for the start. Zion, signed up to ride the tricycle obstacle course, was raring to go.

zion waiting on his bike

ready and waiting

So was Lijah; Harvey, for his part, was happy for a little down time to get some more rest in.

Harvey, wearing his helmet, lying on the ground by Leah and Lijah

saving his energy

There was lots going on as hundreds of young riders assembled, but mostly we just sat around in our parking space corral with the rest of Team 14; we had a cracker each to give us energy for the ride (Harvey had a bite of a cracker). Finally, the preliminaries drew to a close and the team headed to the starting line for our final instructions—with Harvey, Lijah, and I bringing up the rear.

Harvey and the rest of team 14 waiting in front of the balloon arch starting line

ready, set...

Then we were off. We were in the "steady" ability group—the middle of three levels for the 5-mile ride—but the leaders headed out quick while the Archibalds took a minute to warm up. A sidewalk portion let us regain contact (a little too much contact when folks in front of us had trouble negotiating a turn!).

the group riding along the sidewalk

on the sidewalk

We were delighted to see, passing the Martins' house, a cheering section with personalized signs for Harvey; I only wish I had my camera ready either of the two times we went by. The half-way point aid station also sadly went unphotographed: I was too busy watching Harvey and Lijah enjoy their snack of goldfish (well-earned in one case, at least) to remember to get out the camera. Pictures were easier when we were all rolling smoothly along.

the group riding on the street

a little more room

The course was fairly hilly, but Harvey took it like a champ. One of the few kids on a single-speed, he had to dismount for a couple of the steepest climbs, but both times he ran his bike up very smartly. He started to suffer a little towards the end—I told him he could stop any time if he needed to throw up, after he warned me it was a possibility—but he pushed on strong to the end. Lijah, on the other hand, was totally worn out by the effort.

Lijah sleeping in the Copilot seat

the end of a long, hard ride

The scene back at the start-finish line was even crazier than before the ride. All the kids abandoned their bikes (as pictured above) to enjoy free hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, ice cream, and cotton candy; plus a bounce house, glitter tattoos, a water slide, and of course the obstacle course, where Zion had confidently completed three laps (Leah has those pictures). After half a hot dog and half an ice cream, Harvey started to recover his energy—much faster after Megan joined us and she and Zion dragged him off to the bouncy house. He even managed to get back on his bike for his turn at the obstacle course.

Harvey riding over a wooden ramp on the tennis court

smallest hill of the day

I felt a little bad for our littlest boy, the only Archibald who couldn't manage to participate on his own bike; but then he found a bucket of sand that occupied him for half an hour, so I didn't worry as much.

Lijah digging in a five-gallon bucket of sand

tiny sandbox

It was a grand day all around, and even before we got home Harvey was talking about next year and starting to lay his plans. Then we went inside and all three boys slept for two hours.

Thanks so much to all of you who saw Leah's Facebook post and supported Harvey and Zion with donations. If you missed your chance no worries; we made our goal, and you'll have another chance next year, when we might even put up a fundraising page a full week in advance of the ride!

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lest I be judged

I'm usually not a judgmental sort, but put me on a bicycle and watch out! The following is a partial list of the things I've looked down on other riders for doing.

  • Adjusting their arm sleeves while stopped at the end of the bike path.
  • Wearing full kit and going slower than me.
  • Having aerobars.
  • Having a squeaky chain.
  • Passing me and then slowing down.
  • Passing me and then not letting me catch up, denying me a chance to demonstrate my superiority.
  • Wearing full kit and riding two abreast on the bike path with five feet separating the two riders.
  • Talking loudly about cycling while cycling.
  • Wearing a full face mask and goggles in March, when it's warmed up enough for me to think about going without my muffler.
  • Riding with an unbuckled helmet.
  • Riding a fixie.
  • Falling over at an intersection after failing to unclip.

And things I have not looked down on other riders for doing?

  • Being a young man riding a vintage step-through frame in an untucked button-down, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

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training wheels reconsidered

The cognoscenti are down on training wheels these days: balance bikes are all the thing. And I used to be right there with them. I wanted Harvey to get one back when he was three, and was a little disappointed when grandma Beth, instead, delivered a 12-inch bike with training wheels. At least it was a beautiful 12-inch bike, with full fenders and a rack. And in the event it was perfect for what Harvey needed. So I didn't mind at all when Grandpa Ira recently procured Zion his own, even smaller, first bike.

Zion's new bike: red 12-inch with training wheels

little bicycle

This recent Metafilter thread reminded me of the balance bike/training wheels dispute. Amidst discussion of countersteering and neoroplasticity one commenter wrote, "training wheels taught me nothing about riding a bike except where my hands and feet were supposed to go." I said something pretty similar back when we were thinking about Harvey's next step after the tricycle; my thought was that the tricycle had already taught him to pedal, so balancing was all that was left to learn. And of course, I figured it'd be best done on a balance bike.

What didn't occur to me back then was, at least for Harvey, there was a lot of value in letting him ride with his training wheels over distance. Sure, the pedaling action is pretty much the same as with the tricycle, but the tricycle is a direct drive machine with a pretty small drive wheel, so it is not at all the thing for transportation. On his 12-inch bike, on the other hand, he was able to travel as far as three miles in a trip, and he used it many times to get to Whole Foods or the library. It may be that some kids use their balance bikes for trips of similar length, but balance bikes do have some drawbacks: no brakes, for one!

For whatever reason, at the age of 5 3/4 Harvey was then able to learn to ride on just two wheels without any trouble at all. He just pushed off with one foot and lifted up the other one, and trusted the natural balance of the bike to keep him upright. He fell once or twice, but mostly just from crashing into things; it wasn't the pathetic parade of tipping over that we're given to expect from a first timer (how much trouble he may have had with countersteering is a subject for another post). I can't say for sure, but I do believe that the advantage of being very comfortable on a bike with training wheels did transfer when he took them off.

And of course, the advantage of having already experienced longer rides also transferred. Towards the end of our recent trip of over eight miles, he told me he was ready to go lots farther. As much fun as riding with friends in the street might be, cycling for transportation at age 5 is useful!

I don't know how much of Harvey's experience is transferrable to other kids—even to Zion—and I still think balance bikes are super cool, but I can't be disdainful of training wheels like I was. For our determined but cautious firstborn, they were just the thing.

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multi-family cycle adventure number one

One of the families we invited for our Patriots Day picnic was so invested in the bike ride part of the proceedings that they got a new trail-a-bike for the purpose. When the cycling part of the day was canceled we naturally scheduled a make-up ride at the first available opportunity. It turned out that some other families wanted to come too.

kids and grownups riding on the bike path

group riders

We ended up with seven adults and ten kids, five of whom were under five. Four of the kids were on their own bikes, two on trail-a-bikes, two in Leah's blue bike, and two in copilot seats. The ride up to Lexington was marred slightly by a flat and some uncertainty about our ability to make it the whole way, so when we got there everyone was delighted!

Zion playing on the Green in Lexington

happy to be out and about

Besides running around by Buckman Tavern we also stopped into the visitor center to see the Battle of Lexington Diorama, and also the bathrooms. But before too long we were back in the saddle for the trip home. It was much more relaxing that the outward journey, since everyone was flush with confidence and snacks, and it was mostly downhill. Harvey and Ollie enjoyed chatting as they rode.

Harvey on his own bike and Ollie on the Trail-a-Bike behind his dad talking as they ride

happily chatting

Zion and Clara took in the sights.

Zion and Clara smile at the camera from the bucket on the blue bike

I don't know how much they had to say to each other

And Lijah fell asleep, eventually.

Lijah asleep in the copilot seat behind me

worn out from the ride

When we got home we—I mean, Luke—fired up the grill to feed the hungry crowd a well-deserved dinner. Then it was my job to convert the charcoal fire to wood for the marshmallow toasting.

Bruce and Gillian toasting marshmallows over the fire in the grill

blurry from the heat

Since marshmallows are more an experience than a desert, we also had ice cream. Lijah very much enjoyed his first Bedford Farms of the season.

Leah holding Lijah, Lijah holding an ice cream cone

nightcap

It was good. We'll do it again.

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just another family bike ride

Mama, Zion, Lijah, and Harvey

ready to ride

Now that we can all get out together on bicycles, the call of the open road is hard to resist. This afternoon we took off on a ride, destination unknown.

Harvey and Mama (carrying Zion and Lijah) riding on a path through the woods

family singletrack

Not that we stayed on the road long; despite all the snow and some recent rain the woodsy trails are in fine shape and even the big blue bike zipped right along. Unfortunately Harvey's been a little under the weather lately and not eating very much, so the dirt was a little too tiring. He was happier when we switched back to pavement, but dismayed again by the only big hill of the trip.

Harvey grimacing coming up a hill; Mama behind him

Harvey opens up his suitcase of courage

He made it up like a champion, though! Zion and Lijah, riding as cargo, had less to worry about, though they did have their own challenges. Zion asked the two of them could ride together in the blue bike, so he could tickle the baby—but Lijah gave as good as he got and Zion's screeches as his brother pulled his hair and dragged his helmet off his head were something to behold. After our first stop we switched Lijah to my bike.

Harvey and Mama (w/ Zion) biking by the middle school

moving right along

To keep the motivation level high we made the playground our ultimate destination: the same playground we visit so often, but not usually at the end of three miles of riding through woods and over hills. It worked, and everyone was happy. Once we got off the bikes the bigger boys were moving too fast to photograph, but Lijah is still too little to escape!

Lijah behind the tubular bell bars at the playground

musical baby jail

We're doing a bigger family ride on Saturday; let us know if you want to join us!

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Elijah's first bike trip as cargo

I took a break from bike transportation for the better part of over a year, in order to raise a third child. There are some stupid rules in our state about babies under one not going on bicycles. This is not a blog post about that, because that would be an angry anarchist rant. Instead, this is a blog post about hope. The first bike trip with me and three kids altogether.

setting off!

From a test drive in our home street yesterday we learned that Elijah likes riding in the blue bike. I thought I'd start with a sort ride up to the bagel store to see if he'd stay buckled in. It's not a 5-point harnas, but he stayed still with the lap belt.

Young biker happily eating a bagel. You can see our bike through the store window, a totally unintentional but beautiful selfie staging.

After fueling up with bagels and milk, the boys decided they could take on a ride further afield, down the bike path towards Billerica.

look at him go!

We went about half a mile to a playground we remembered from two years ago, at the abandoned Coast Guard housing.

grass growing around the play structure is eerie yet kind of nice

The 20 small single family homes have stood empty for years, since the Coast Guard cleared out. It's a colossal waste of infrastructure in a town that desperately needs more affordable housing, but this is not an anarchist rant.

empty neighborhood

On the ride home Elijah had some things to rant about. He was desperate to fall asleep, and couldn't find a comfortable position. Poor thing. The trip was proof of concept that he can stay in the bucket, but not that he can sleep comfortably in it.

Lijah sleeping slumped forward in the blue bike

not the most comfortable sleeping position. The lap belt around his waist is holding him in.

Hopefully this is just the start of a very freeing summer. Here's my happy face selfie. It smiles at the future.

biking selfie. No helmet, i know i know.

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practice adventure

Harvey and Zion running in the grass beyond the parked bicycle

running free

A week from today is Patriots Day, and we plan to bike up to the parade. Today we took a practice run to make sure Harvey could do it on his own bike (it's around an 8-mile round-trip), and to check how long it would take. Of course, just like we plan to on Patriots Day we had to bring some food!

the boys eating a picnic lunch by the bikes

practice picnic

After the running and lunching we visited the Lexington library for a while—far more rich and rare than our own local library—and then climbed to the top of the belfry hill to read some of our books. On the way home we stopped, as is so often the case, to see some water.

the boys looking at a pond

the call of the waves...

I wanted to get more work done in the garden this beautiful summery day, but I confess it's awful hard to resist a bike ride, stories, and a pond.

Harvey's pink bike and my gray one leaning against a stone bench in the meadow

at rest

The Patriots Day ride and picnic is on for the morning of Monday the 20th... let us know if you want to join us!

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training, fewer wheels

Harvey riding his bike towards the camera--no training wheels!

two-wheeled sensation

Harvey doesn't like being bad at things. Rather than trying and failing like most people, he just waits until he's really ready, and then hits the ground running. Or, in this case, rolling. Yes, he taught himself how to ride a two-wheeler in one day.

Before we were buried in snow earlier this winter we'd made some half-hearted attempts at practicing without training wheels—you know, with the holding the back of the seat and running alongside—all quickly aborted when Harvey rejected my every attempt at correcting his technique. Naturally enough, I might add; I'm just the same way.

Then yesterday, beautifully warm, the boys were out riding around with the neighbor kids and he asked me to take off his training wheels. I was busy pruning apple trees so I tried to put him off—I didn't want to get involved in the emotional conflict I thought would be the inevitable result. But when he kept asking I finally agreed to do it, if he went and got the wrench. Which he did with alacrity.

Once two-wheeled he asked if he could just sit on the seat and push the bike with his feet for a bit, and I agreed that was the best way to proceed. Which he did for about two minutes, then the next thing I knew he was getting his feet on the pedals for a good five seconds at a time! And then we had to go in. Today was much cooler, but he was eager to get back to practicing... at least as long as I was out there riding with him. Which was fine with me! Before long he was racing around like he'd been doing it for years, so I got out the camera to take some video.

Of course, with me as a cycling model he wasn't content to stick around home for long. Once he showed me that he could brake under control and turn around in the width of the street, we took to the sidewalks of the wider world for some more practice. I was so impressed with how well he navigated the range of obstacles: we both laughed when he crashed into that telephone pole, sure, but he also negotiated street crossings and sharp turns like a pro. Just think how far he'll go this summer!

Is it ok to feel a little bit proud?

Harvey riding away from the camera

away he goes

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apology

I'm sorry. In a moment of weakness, I drove to work yesterday, and it was a mistake. Not only for me personally—I had fine reasons, with a touch of sickness and a fairly broken bicycle, but it ended up taking me longer in the car than it would have on the snowy bike path—but for the city as a whole. There are too many cars everywhere, and I felt terrible for adding one more to the mess! The Greater Boston area just isn't built for this much snow.

At least, it isn't built for this much snow together with this many cars. As I sat on Mass Ave, stationary for minutes at a time, and watched the cyclists braver and wiser than I roll easily past through the slop, I wondered how much better the traffic situation would be if even, oh, ten percent of the folks in cars could be on bikes instead? Or what about a quarter? How many commuters could possibly bike instead of drive? Lots, I bet... if the infrastructure were better.

Because part of the problem is that, with the tremendous effort towns are putting into clearing the roads for cars, bike paths and sidewalks are being neglected. Sure, most of the main bikeways are now cleared shortly after each storm—for which I'm ever so grateful!—but they only get one pass for every ten or twenty on the roads, which means that they often end up with a messy inch or two of snow. They're not impassible by any means, but it does slow you down a lot. That's another reason why I wimped out yesterday.

I shouldn't have. As it turns out, side streets in Cambridge are even worse, covered with several inches of soft dirty snow still and hemmed in by cars embedded in snow banks. Those cars were probably parked there after the first storm or two, so they were already squeezing in on the road; now completely buried they turn what used to be two-way streets into narrow canyons that I felt nervous about being able to fit through. And that's just Cambridge... what must Boston be like?!

So yeah, I'm sorry I drove. I won't do it again. And if you need to get around this winter, try cycling! Even if you're not a very quick rider you'll get to enjoy the very pleasant experience of passing lots of cars... and of knowing you're no longer part of the problem, but part of the solution!

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cargo bikes, nae fatbikes

It's cold here. Normally that means that the bike shop around the corner will have switched over to its back-up cross-country ski business (never mind that there's no snow yet), but this year one segment of the bike-sales business seems to be holding up into the winter: the fatbike. After maneuvering around the floor model positioned right in front of the counter during a recent stop at the shop, I asked how sales were and heard that plenty of folks were interested. Never mind that the last couple days of snow squalls and below-zero windchill the only other bikes—and even tracks—that I saw were narrow-tired commuters and cheap mountain bikes.

I'm not opposed to fatbikes; they certainly have their place, if you're riding the Iditarod Trail Invitational or bikerafting Alaska's lost coast. Only I'm not sure how much we need them around here, when we barely ever get enough snow to snow-shoe on. And even then, they're only for recreational cycling—which I suppose is fine so far as it goes (though I'm clearly not much of a recreational cyclist myself). But when I think of how I'd like cycling to be perceived, my vision isn't mainly of big knobby wheels bashing over extreme terrain—nor yet of carbon-fiber frames and skinny tires doing big loops of the countryside. Those things have their place, but they should be sideshows to the regular business of people getting places by bicycle.

As it is, recreational cycling minimizes cycling generally. When you drive to the parking lot at the end of the bike path, you're casting a vote of no-confidence in the bicycle as a means of transportation for people who know and observe you; and you're not supporting the riders who are out in the street and would appreciate some company. When the average driver sees more bikes being carried on racks than actually being ridden, he comes to see that as normal—and then gives me grief for being on the road.

Cargo bikes, now, are totally serious. Nothing fun about them! When you get a bike you can fit your whole family into you're making a powerful statement that bicycles are for getting to the library, or the playground, or even the supermarket. And when we're out on the big blue bike people totally take notice and ask questions and even, sometimes, get jealous. I'm sure they'd ask questions about a fatbike, too, but I like the answers a lot better for the cargo bike. So maybe this spring we can see some of them in the local shop?

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that's how I roll

Yesterday the temperature was maybe in the low teens as I took my bike out of the shed for the first time in maybe three weeks to ride to work. Leah suggested I take the car, but I told her I wouldn't miss that ride for the world. I like the cold! I also very much enjoy cycling, but apparently that enjoyment doesn't extend to riding when I don't need to do it to get to work. At least not over Christmas! (in my defense, I didn't have a tremendous amount of free time). And when I'm not riding, I'm not doing bike maintenance, so my poor machine was just as I left it weeks before—with the addition of all that time sitting damp and salty.

Surprisingly, it was in pretty good shape. I even took off without feeling like I had to lube the chain (though the clock also had something to do with that decision). But "good shape" for any bicycle of mine is pretty relative. This particular bike currently has a bent front derailleur and two bent chainrings, a rusty stuck spring on the rear derailleur that keeps it from tensioning the chain most of the time, and rear brakes that offer the faintest hint of stopping power when applied fully (which, now that I think about it, didn't apply on this particular ride as the lever was frozen—or maybe rusted!—solid). Also something is going on with the freewheel: the last few times I rode in December there were moments when I found myself able to freewheel in both directions, the pedals spinning wildly without propelling me forward. That was kind of worrying. But then the pawls caught again and I was off, so never mind!

Even with all that in the back of my mind (the way back) yesterday morning I just hopped on and hit the road. That says something about my personality, I think: that I'm a joyful optimist, trusting in God and my ability to deal with problems as they arise, and not willing to let anything get in the way of an adventure (or at least a fun ride to work). Also that I'm lazy and unable to do proper preventative maintenance, and that even when things aren't working it takes me a long time to work up the will to fix them. Leah would agree strongly with both points, I think... if she read them. I really hope she doesn't, though, since she doesn't like to hear about me riding into the city on broken bicycles. Shh!

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cargo cult

The Concrete Gardeners got a cargo bike. I like to think that we can take just a little bit of the credit for encouraging them in that direction, and to celebrate we just had to take a cargo bike ride ourselves. Of course, we're not in the southern hemisphere like some people, so it's winter here; and what's more it's turned cold again in the last couple days. I think it might be another polar vortex. But we didn't let that stop us! Or at least, it didn't stop three of us: Leah was stopped, but that was mainly a function of being eight months pregnant. And also she doesn't like the library as much as we do.

Facing near-unimaginable cold (well, not as cold as this morning or yesterday, but still) we bundled up well. For the boys it was two pairs of pants and sweaters, fleece coats, and down jackets, all topped off with fleecy mufflers. I should have taken pictures, but I didn't want to take my mittens off; it was something like this, only more so. And then I put a big wool blanket over their laps. The whole setup would actually have been sufficient for a far longer ride in far colder temperatures: we were only going less than a mile each way at somewhere around 15°F (though with a windchill of 0°F!). But better safe than sorry! especially with Zion.

It all went beautifully well, and there was nary a complaint—not about being cold, at least. There might have been some murmurs about crowding, and also about being asked to leave places when not quite ready to do so... but we had to! Mama was waiting for us at home.

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public service announcements

fair warning

The weather has been crazy around here. Now it's super warm, but not too long ago it was super cold, and I expect it'll be back to cold again before too long. I don't mind (though you know I like the cold!) except that the rain and melting followed by freezing left a bit of ice, which last Thursday was covered up by a teeny little bit of snow. Which was treacherous. I fell, as pictured above, right where at least one other person had fallen before me (I saw the marks in the snow and thought someone had been kicking it around; after I made my own set it was all clear!). Since I had to get to work I couldn't stand around and warn everyone else personally, so I did the next best thing.

Of course, my warnings probably didn't last long, since it was still snowing as I continued on my way. When I got to work a coworker commented on the snow in my hair—there in some quantities because I don't wear a cap under my helmet, just ear-warmers. "You should wear a cap!" she told me. "You'll get sick!" When I demurred politely, she repeated herself, and I answered plainly, "no I won't!". I hope it didn't come across as rude, but I was hard pressed not to pull out Leah's "I break that curse in Jesus' name!"

Five days later and sickness hasn't laid me low yet, so it may be that this time I dodged the bullet that is wet hair in 30° temperatures. Or maybe getting an hour of outdoor exercise a day is healthier than not, and exposure to the elements on a mild winter day isn't the end of the world. Either way.

Yes, I'm a little sensitive, because now that I'm on my fourth school year of biking to work consistently I've pretty much heard all the comments that folks can come up with. Of course I try not to take it personally; just like when they see someone with a Saint Bernard, people probably can't help it. And the upside is that it gives me even more sympathy for what Leah has to deal with these days! Yes, we'll survive; but maybe as a society we could work on checking our off-hand comments for annoyingness before we let them go? You do that, and I'll keep marking ice hazards for you—does that sound fair?

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today's snow

Blizzardy snow all day kept us from going out to lunch with Grandma and Grandpa and cousin Nisia (the draw for Harvey and Zion... I suppose I'd talk to my brother), which was disappointing. But at least the weather gave the boys a chance to use their new Christmas snow shovels, which appeared under the tree this morning, and for Harvey to show off his ability to get all his snow gear on himself. That's important since, come March, he's going to be totally on his own; how else will be able to manage with more kids than parents?! Another sign of snow-related maturity was that, after his friend rubbed a pile of snow into his face, he was able to recover with only a little bit of crying and whining.

Overall, Harvey's cold tolerance is really impressive. This afternoon it was in the single digits with a fierce wind and fine blowing snow and he was more than happy to be outside for over an hour, even after he got snow down his collar and on the inside of his hat's ear flaps. In fact, he spent the last 10-15 minutes of the afternoon's outside time (his second session of the day) sitting on the ground eating snow. I know I've remarked on this before, but I can't help but marvel. He doesn't even seem to be getting much frostbite, the bane (I'm told) of my own snow-eating career at a similar age. Maybe next winter will see him expeditioning in the Alaskan wilderness.

For my part I'm working hard to make sure that I can keep up with him. Despite the blizzard warning hysteria I headed off to the first work day of the new year on the bicycle; with cold temperatures and fine snow I'd rather ride than drive, and the commute today was beautiful. The trip home was kind of slow thanks to three or four inches of snow on the trail, but wonderfully relaxing and pleasant except for comments from walkers. I got two, which is a new development: does that mean that the weather was more extreme than any I've yet cycled in? I can't think so. I think it's just that, when things were even worse, nobody was out walking! I was a little peeved initially, but on reflection I think I'll take "wow... more power to ya, pal" as spoken in the spirit of genuine encouragement and admiration.

We're looking forward to playing in the snow some more when it finally stops falling tomorrow (or Saturday, whatever), and to our rescheduled lunch date too. The regular running of the world is cancelled, so we'll have plenty of time!

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a few thoughts and observations

The boys—Harvey especially—have expressed with certainty the opinion that winter doesn't start until there's snow on the ground. They care nothing for my theory that it's temperature and light levels that matter (as far as I'm concerned when I can't grow vegetables and the hens aren't laying it's winter), to say nothing of that nonsense about waiting until the days start getting longer. With the three light snowfalls we've enjoyed over the past four days they're now satisfied that winter is at least trying, even if Harvey might wish for a little better depth of snow.

It was certainly winter riding on the commute this morning, since yesterday's snow had been partially melted by rain and then frozen solid overnight. On the way to work Monday I was feeling smug about how I could zip right through the inch of snow on the bike path without hardly slowing down, while the cars on the road needed the service of plows and salt trucks and were still mired in ferocious traffic; today I was very glad that most of the path had been plowed late yesterday because otherwise the frozen landscape of footprints and wheel tracks would have been seriously tiresome to ride over. The flat ice that covered most of the path, on the other hand, was just fun, and in moderation so was the lumpy stuff. I much prefer challenges of skill to those of endurance, so anything that makes my commute harder technically is welcome—for the first couple days at least!

I have to do all this commuting because they keep making me work. As a substitute teacher I can theoretically stay home when I need to; a couple weeks ago I was complaining to friends how tired I was after having to work all the working days in a week, something which I was forced to acknowledge that most people have somehow found a way to deal with. Well I've been dealing too lately, since I'm signed up to work every day of December until school lets out. When you add in the church work I do that means I'm working 17 out of the first 20 days in December, which would be a bit much in any month, never mind one where I'm also trying to get ready for Christmas! So if I don't get you a present, that's my excuse.

Regardless of how much I personally am getting done, Christmas is definitely in the air around here. The Advent Calendar is out and we're enjoying the daily ritual of the boys fighting over who's going to get to pull out each day's felt piece. Harvey and I enjoyed a orchestral Christmas concert Sunday (Zion was too sick to come, sadly). The boys are having fun playing Christmas, making presents and hanging their nutcracker ornaments on the rosemary plant. And all the neighbors' houses are beautifully decorated with festive lights! (our house is lit up by the second-hand glow; that counts, right?).

I should really be working on the Christmas card instead of writing here, but I'm afraid if I don't write these things down I'll never remember them—and as frantic as I feel these days things are pretty good, and definitely worth remembering. So.

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on your right

One day last week I was on my way home on the bike path when I passed a gentleman walking by himself. I wasn't paying any particular attention to my ride: I was thinking about other things, not trying to make great time, just idly peddling down the slight grade west of Lexington center. As I came up next to the man, the only other person in sight on the path, I moved well over into the opposite lane to give him plenty of room, just like I had for the last, oh, 20 or 30 walkers I'd passed already over my ten-mile commute. Only this one did something different. As I came up to go around him he called out crisply, without turning around, "on your right!" A second later, as I went by, he followed up with an equally assured "thank you!"

Now, while cyclists will immediately understand what he was going for, those of you who spend less time around aficionados of two-wheeled recreation might be a little confused. Briefly: there's a custom among certain cyclists—mostly bearded commuters on steel frames and the occasional eager bibbed and jerseyed road rider—to call out a friendly (usually) "on your left!" to other riders they pass. I do it myself, in narrow confines: it's good practice to let other folks know you're there when they might be startled or get in your way otherwise. This gentleman's "on your right" therefore was a condemnation of my failure to let him know that I was on his left. It couldn't possibly serve any other purpose: if he honestly thought I didn't know he was there he would have gotten out of the way or, at the very least, said something more to the point. No, it was an accusation!

And let me say, I want to wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologize to him. I wish I had stopped to do just that, but I was so startled and befuddled that I was a couple hundred yards further on before the thought of contrition bubbled to the top of my brain, and I figured it would be awkward to stop and wait for him to come up to me again. It might even have looked confrontational, which I didn't want at all—because, as I said, I was totally sorry for not warning him I was coming. It wouldn't have cost me anything to do just that; I in no way object to the idea of letting each and every person I need to pass that I'm about to go by them. I don't feel that it's at all necessary in every case, sure, but if I had any idea that this individual wanted me to warn him I would have done so with pleasure.

At the same time, though, I kind of feel bad for him. His non-warning—and his non-thanks—was so crisp and pat that I'm sure he must have done the same thing to every cyclist who passed him, that day and every other day. Which means that cyclists not warning him is like a thing with him, a burden of frustration and anger that he has to bear constantly. Can you imagine walking on a smoothly paved path through woods and marshes, with birds calling and leaves falling around you; but instead of taking in your surroundings, or losing yourself in your own thoughts, you're listening carefully for the quiet sounds of a bicycle behind you, ready to unleash your perfectly-timed rebuke and feel the potent rush of justification as yet another person fails to live up to your ideals of common decency.

I spent the rest of my ride worrying about where in my life I'm acting like this gentleman. I think I feel a lot like that while I wait at crosswalks on winding suburban arteries and watch driver after driver zip by with, at best, an apologetic shrug. I almost want the cars not to stop: my self-righteousness is a better reward even then getting where I want to go. Which is foolishness, as I sometimes recognize—especially when I'm all set to blast a driver with a sarcastic wave and they see me and brake to a sudden stop. Self-righteousness evaporating in the glare of reality is never a pleasant feeling.

I'm sure I do the same sort of thing more subtly in lots of other ways too. I have some strong opinions, you might have noticed. But my encounter with the gentleman on the bike path helped me realize how unhelpful that kind of thinking is for everyone involved. When you act that way you spend more time angried-up and itching for a fight—and at the same time you don't do anything to really improve the problem that upset you in the first place.

I'm not, for example, going to start hitting everyone I pass with an "on your left". On balance, I still think it's more irritating than not, and it'd take reasoned argument and maybe some survey data to convince me otherwise. I won't even warn this particular gentlemen next time, because I have no recollection of what he looks like beyond that he was wearing, I think, a brown jacket. Of course, I can't think of any better way he might carry on his crusade—maybe put up some stickers?—but I think when you reach the point of weighing ineffectual angry action against no action at all, it might be better to do nothing.

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let's walk

Apparently Americans don't walk very much. That's actually not really news to me, and not only because the article I linked there is a year and a half old; monitoring the sidewalks around town makes it clear that most people in Bedford, at least, don't like to use anything other than a private automobile for purposes of transportation. That doesn't mean that people aren't out and about: there are plenty of joggers, dog walkers, and couples taking romantic strolls. But all that is recreational; whenever folks want to get anywhere—even if it's the Whole Foods less than a mile away—they hop in their cars.

Though I suppose I can't blame them. According to famous walkability-rating website Walk Score our address comes in at 43, which is defined as "Car-Dependent". "Most errands require a car", the report tells us. Whether that assessment defines or reflects people's behavior, they're going to be driving most places. Which is kind of silly, because as well as the Whole Foods we can also walk to another grocery store, a library, a post office, a wide variety of restaurants (including an excellent ice cream store), playgrounds, and swimming, all in under a mile and a half. What else? Hardware store, office supplies, two TX Company clothing stores, even auto parts are within striking distance of our little suburban home. Sure, a mile and a half takes up to half an hour each way, but think of all the interesting sights you'll see as you stroll. And if things were any closer, it'd feel like we were living in the city. We don't really want to live in the city, see, and we'll walk a bit more if that means we can keep our big yard.

Not that we always have to walk. Thankfully, we also have bicycles, and today saw an important first for our family: we took three bikes out on an errand. Harvey is as yet limited to not much more than two miles round trip, and to the sidewalks and bike paths (he's also not really a fan of big hills right now—though, to be fair, neither is Leah when she's hauling both boys), but that's enough to get him some useful places. Even better, the rack on his bike lets him bring things home with him—today his cargo was only a real-estate flyer, sure, but the concept is sound.

Even with a four-year-old moving under his own power our cycling speed beats walking (to say nothing of the reduction in effort required), and when he's riding with Leah our rate and range is obviously improved tremendously. That means that, contra Walk Score, we don't require a car hardly at all; as it is we largely only drive to the cheap grocery store the next town over, to church, and to outings in the country. "Only"—it still comes out to an outing by car at least every other day, enough that I don't have any desire to join the ranks of the "car-free". Plus, how would we go on vacation?! Which is all good, because I recognize that my own limits are just as arbitrary as those of my neighbors who want to drive around the corner. I could do without a car altogether, but it would make my life harder; they probably feel the same way about walking to Whole Foods. Totally fair—to each his own. I'm just glad we live in a place that makes it so easy for those of us who want to to buck the non-walking trend.

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country close to home

the big bike heading down a narrow country lane

hard to believe this is in Bedford

In the absence of the camping pictures, which it occurs to me I neglected to finish posting, here are some shots of our most recent adventure. A few days ago I discovered a hidden treasure right here in town (well, mostly: it's on the border of Bedford and Billerica), a narrow country road that wends its way between woods, mansions, and several horse farms. Seeing the horses, I knew I had to bring Zion out to see them, since he's definitely a fan. So yesterday we headed over that way for a late-afternoon ride.

several horses in a small pasture

horsies for Zion

Zion was pretty excited to see the horses, even if we didn't indulge him in the opportunity to ride one—or even to get out of the bike to get a closer look, poor little guy! He fell asleep on the outward leg of the trip, but luckily the road past the farms was so bumpy that he woke up on his own and didn't miss a thing.

just another horse in a pasture

horses everywhere

It's pretty amazing to me that there's this totally rural corner of town hiding out there that I didn't manage to learn about in the first eight years or so that we've lived here. Aside from being very indifferently paved the roadway is barely wide enough for one car, at least in the northern section, and it's just the picture of a country lane. Further into Bedford it gains some width and a double yellow line, thanks to the condos that infiltrated the neighborhood when one of the horse farms divested of some property. But things are still pretty horsey even at that end of the street.

the big bike passing by a sprawling horse farm, with white barns and fences

the posh sort of farm

Though there was much more to explore—the road goes by an area of town forest adjacent to the Great Meadows preserve, and there are some nice looking paths back there—but we decided to save further adventuring for another day. It was already very much the longest purely recreational ride that Leah has taken on the big bike, and we were also drawn home by the thought of supper. Everybody else was doing it!

close-up of a black horse grazing

nom nom

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if it ain't brokie

We had something of an accident on the way home from the farmers market on Tuesday. No one was hurt, and we determined that the big bike is pretty secure for the kids, even in the case of an upset. The only casualty of the smash-up was my rear wheel, which was bent pretty badly. The guys at the shop say it's too twisted to fix—though I did manage to ride home on it—and a replacement won't be in until next week. Commuting for the last few days of the school year has been affected.

I drove Wednesday, but despite Leah's protestations that it'd be fine for me to take the car again yesterday I knew that my doing so would interfere with Harvey's birthday outing—we couldn't have that! So as an emergency repair I pulled the rear wheel from my older bicycle, which was perfect except for the curious fact that said bicycle was built with the freewheel in the bottom bracket rather than, as is usual today, the rear hub. Which means of course that the rear hub is a fixed-gear hub—albeit one with a five-speed cassette attached. And that means today I premiered what might be the world's first fixed-gear ten-speed.

In the interest of getting places I've pulled some pretty crazy workarounds before; this gambit was nothing so remarkable. The only issue was that I had to remember to keep pedaling. In a regular fixie that's not a concern because the fixed-gear hub naturally makes the pedals move with the wheel's rotation, but on my mutant machine the derailleur removes any chain tension on the bottom side of the chain run. That means that I can actually coast—for a few feet at least, until the chain goes completely slack and potentially gets sucked into the spokes. But that didn't happen, and the need for constant motion was hardly even a problem.

All the more impressive was the fact that on the return trip I managed to carry a banjo and a box holding three four-inch pots (exotic basil plants—my coworkers know what I like!). You car commuters have no idea of the fun you're missing!

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misadventures

This morning I was glad I left home in good time, because not too long into the journey to work I heard a thunk behind me that I knew right away was something falling off. I stopped, but even before I turned around I was nervous about the fact that there was only one thunk, unexpected behavior for an object falling on pavement from a bicycle moving at a fair rate of speed. My worst fears were confirmed when I saw that my tail-light was missing and there was a storm drain just behind where I'd stopped. Yes of course, the light had dropped off (my fault for not making sure it was attached all the way) and bounced once directly down the grate. On the plus side, it floats and the water wasn't flowing hardly at all down there!

I wasn't far from home, so I quickly hopped back on the bike and zipped back around the corner. I found a four-foot dowel and a metal hanger left over from the consignment sale, and with a little drilling and clipping fashioned a handy light-hooking tool. (I knew just what to do thanks to long experience as a child fishing balls out of similar drains; though my workmanship is considerably better now.) I had a little scare when my first fishing attempt knocked the light out of sight further down the drain tunnel, but working from a different angle I was able to hook it back and up. Then I stowed the tool safely in the woods for later retrieval and scurried on to work.

On the way home I was going as quick as anything hoping to beat the expected rain (motivated by a few spitting drops already falling) when there was a very surprising bang and a significant wobble in my forward motion. In this case my first thought—that my terrible shoddy-though-expensive fenders had somehow fouled the spokes—was wrong, and it was only a double-headed nail pushed clean through the rear tire. I rode on the flat for a little while, anxious not to have too far to walk on the heavily-trafficked road, but wanting to be able to ever use those wheels again I soon resigned myself to walking (I do have tools to fix a flat—everything but an actual portable pump, which is out of my price range).

Was I terribly put out by either of these occurrences? I was not. In the first case I was able to solve the problem and demonstrate my ingenuity and in the second I actually quite enjoyed the walk. The rain mostly held off, and it's not so often I get to walk two or three miles by myself. The broken bicycle was only a minor impediment. That's one reason I like cycling; problems with bicycles are much easier to cope with than ones you have with cars. As long as you don't have to be somewhere in too much of a hurry, you're pretty much safe and self-reliant, which sure sounds good to me.

That said, I sure hope my commute is less eventful tomorrow!

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Level Up, Hippies

So, I bought a new bike.

proof that federal tax credits DO stimulate the economy

I was frustrated that I couldn't carry both kids by myself, that trips to Whole Foods were consigned to a two-parent operation, or worse, this B.S.:

unhappy in red

This is from an attempted trip to Whole Foods on 'earth day.' We got less than a quarter mile from our house when Harvey whined that he was tiiiiiired of pedaling, and the wagon rammed into my shin leaving a giant bruise. We aborted that mission and headed to Whole Foods in the car. Here are the little carbon suckers that day, acting like conscious consumption makes their poop not stink.

so much wrong with this picture, environmentally speaking.

Well no more! Omitting the fact that this bike shipped from Utah fully assembled, our trips to Whole Foods are now carbon neutral.

room for 4 kids, or 2 kids plus baby dolls and a lot of snacks.

The bike is made by Madsen cycles, a family operation for good and ill. (Good because the mom on the phone was very pleasant when I called to order my bike; ill because I never really got an order confirmation or a tracking number, and because the bike arrived a week later than they said it would.) It rides very well despite being too heavy to lift AT ALL even without children inside. But with 80lbs of kids in the back, it's still easier to pull than 20lbs of baby in the trailer. Two fewer friction-y wheels, I guess. Of course it's trickier to balance than with a trailer. I don't worry about balance when I'm riding, but when I stop at a light I use my strictest voice to command the children to keep their hands in the vehicle and not to sway AT ALL.

the ride is so sweet that Zion is chilaxin

Although we've only had it for a few days now, we've already ridden to some pretty cool places. Whole Foods (of course) but also Lexington center and Chip in Farm twice, and the second time our bike generated so much attention from the farmer that we got to help feed a calf!

the boys are supposed to be helping but mostly they're watching.

The most frequently asked question over the past few days has been: Did you just stick a big storage crate on the back of a bike? The answer is: wicked expensive No. The big blue crate is a custom-made plastic piece that is bolted onto a bike with a long tail and smaller back wheel. The plastic peaks up in the middle to fit the wheel. It's not like something you'd buy at The Container Store. It's sturdy as heck, with two rows of removable seats and four seat belts. I even took Dan for a ride in there and the thing didn't even creek.

this is what it looks like right before you pass me

The first day we got the bike Harvey didn't want to get out of the bucket, he kept asking me to ride up and down the street. Then when we got Zion in there too and took a spin around the block Harvey kept reaching over to hug him. Super adorable. Zion still throws a tantrum nearly every time we put his helmet on, but he has fun once we're going. And I have to remind myself, we'd have tantrums if we were driving in the car too. Biking is more enjoyable than driving a car.

Not to be outdone, Dan went to Bikes Not Bombs over the weekend and bought himself a new bicycle. Okay, it actually had nothing to do with being outdone, he didn't have a working bike to get him to and from his place of employment anymore. So while he picked out the cheapest model on the lot I watched the kids do some urb-ex and tried to keep them from eating trash bike parts off the ground.

exploring the back lot

You give them a couple days of lovely rides through the wooded countryside, and then all they want to do is play on a fire escape. Typical.

urban catalogue models. Cut it out, kids.

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exploration

my bicycle leaning against a highway sign

I didn't make it to Providence

I took a little ride this morning. Some of these paths were explored.

the view down the power-line right-of-way

but on the other side, it didn't say nothin

The power-line right-of-ways have "no trespassing" signs at the entrances, but not where they connect with other trail systems.

Since this was all on my poor road bike, I had to ride some roads too. The farm country is quiet this time of year.

a bleak-looking closed farm stand

waiting for summer

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non-cycling excuses and explanations

So I drove to work again today, the second day in a row. I feel so guilty! But I have reasons, even if they're not good ones. Yesterday we woke up to freezing rain and a quarter-inch of ice on top of an inch of snow, and after walking the dog Leah told me that biking would be a no-go. As I sadly waited for the car to warm up a little so I could chip it free of its coating of ice, I brought the bicycle down just for a little experiment. After a few moments of remembering what winter cycling was like I decided I could probably make it after all—but not in the time I had left. It was warm enough out that my narrow tires broke through the ice in most spots so I'd be able to have at least some semblance of traction; but unfortunately pushing through that mess would be slow, slow, slow. Since I hadn't left myself any extra time I reluctantly put the bike away.

You can see that a good part of my problem is lack of preparation. I also confess that my winter bike is far from ready to be ridden; I abandoned it last spring after it pretty much fell apart and never managed to do much to get it back in working order. But the current machine, with road gearing, narrow tires, and no fenders, is pretty poorly suited to bad-weather riding.

But it's not all my fault. The roads were passable, so I could have ridden an alternate route that avoided the untreated bike path—could have, that is, if I weren't afraid that winter-crazed drivers would run me off the road in a fit of rage or lack of attention (something that occurred even more strongly to Leah). Today the weather was fine but I drove so I could go into Burlington on the way home and pick up our Christmas cards from the printer; it's not far, but even in mid summer I'd be wary of braving the maelstrom of Middlesex turnpike on a bicycle. Heck, I'm nervous every time I drive there!

Do I wish the bike path were salted and sanded? I don't. I appreciate that it gets plowed (though the plowing after Sunday's snow probably made the surface worse when it started raining yesterday) because deep snow lasts and lasts and creates truly impassible conditions. But ice never sticks around long over the whole path, and the externalities of salt or even sand totally aren't worth the momentary advantage they provide. If it were up to me, in fact, I'd argue against salting roads too: what an ugly mess it makes! If we weren't all in such a hurry we wouldn't need to crush all natural phenomena under our wheels in order to keep to our schedule regardless of weather. Are our jobs really that important?!

Oh well. Staying home tomorrow, then back in the saddle Thursday!

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road use ranting

Today was the first snow-biking day of the season, though without any accumulation to provide difficulty it was pure winter-preview fun. I also took the first post-time change evening trip out in full dark, and that was less fun. I always feel, biking at night, that drivers are wondering why on earth I'm even out there, and thinking that, while of course they're very careful around me, it'd sort of be my fault if I got hit. Just like the feeling I get when I'm walking on one of our many sidewalk-less roads, or through a parking lot, especially with the dog or the kids. I don't belong there, in the domain of the cars! Why am I endangering myself and my dependents?! It's just not safe.

Here's the thing guys: they're cars, not bears or dragons or something. And you're driving them.

By which I mean to say, while I understand the drivers' perspective—cyclists or pedestrians are unexpected, and it may make them nervous to consider the potential danger—the responsibility should belong to the people using high-speed vehicles weighing thousands of pounds to make sure they don't run into anyone, and if they can't manage that they shouldn't be driving. In fact, I should be able to just walk into the middle of a major street and have traffic stop. Of course I'd be a jerk if I tried it—why should my convenience trump that of dozens of drivers—but we shouldn't assume that a mom whose kid gets killed by a car crossing the road is guilty of manslaughter in his death. That's just sickening.

I know that my position is a little unrealistic. Drivers just can't pay that much attention: they have to keep their eyes on other cars, listen to the radio, talk on the phone, pick up something they dropped on the floor... that kind of thing. But from my point of view, accusing a pedestrian or cyclist of foolishly putting himself in danger is a lot like blaming rape victims based on how they're dressed. Just like men have to be responsible for not, you know, violently sexually assaulting every alluring looking female in sight, drivers need to be in charge of not killing people around them with their automobiles. I'm not sure how we arrived at the point where that's a bold statement.

I'm not opposed to cars. We drive places too, as the situation requires. But when I'm driving I make sure to stay alert and give more vulnerable road users plenty of room. That shouldn't be too much to ask, and our public roads should be safe for anyone who wants to use them.

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locally-made hurricane porn

On Tuesday we toured the hurricane devastation in Lexington. For our part the only devastating thing was that the farmers market we had biked to was closed. In an effort to keep up the kids' spirits we toured the fallen down trees on the public green.

crash!

conquering the heights

We also saw a tree that had already been sawed apart. Harvey tried with to put his foot up on the stump, lumberjack style, but it did not yield to him.

ehn ehn ehn

And we saw the big big holes that the branches of the tree made when they hit the ground.

woops! careful

By the library more trees were down.

too big to put in our house for Christmas

But the babes were getting tired so it was time to head home. We only had to ride under one fallen tree and over another to get there!

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smugness is all we have

As we were cycling home through a light rain, on our way back from a 10-mile trip to the Farmers Market and the library up in Lexington, a thought occurred to me: if only there were some way to monetize our hippy tendencies. A smugness trading scheme, if you will. See, plenty of people want to live sustainable, hippy lifestyles; they're just prevented from achieving that goal by non-hippy hang-ups like scheduled activities for their kids, or jobs, or, you know, having any money. Not us!

So here's the plan. If you're a liberal environmentalist type but still find yourself driving your SUV everywhere, even to the store a mile and half away with no one else in the vehicle with you, throw us five bucks; we'll cycle a comparable distance with our family of four. For ten we'll do it in the rain! Do you wish you could do the locavore thing but only have time to shop at the Stop-and-Shop? For twenty dollars a week you can rest assured in the knowledge that we're eating exclusively local produce for you all summer long (the winter program would be a bit more expensive, unfortunately).

I figure that it's kind of like carbon trading. Just like with carbon-trade schemes companies can fill the air with greenhouse gasses just as fast as they always have, but by after a tiny fraction of their operating expenses to plant some trees in South America they get to trumpet their green credentials on their packaging. And I don't mean to sound too sarcastic: the tree planting is probably helping something, and the companies that pay for it are at least thinking of helping out. And you can be like them! It costs less than you think to join our smugness trading scheme and know that we're out there trying to live a different, more sustainable life—for you!

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make way for us

Harvey and Zion riding duck statues

ride em, duck boys!

We've been meaning to take the boys to visit the Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston all summer—all last summer too, when I think about it. But somehow it's easier for us to get to the Cape than into the city. As you can tell from the photo above, we finally made it. What did the trick? Realizing that we could bicycle there!

Leah and the trailer under a bridge, Boston in the background

that's where we're going!

As plotted by Google Maps the route from our house to the Public Garden is just a bit over 17 miles, one way. Naturally, by the time we got there we had worked up a pretty good appetite for our packed lunch.

Leah, Harvey, and Zion picnicing by the pond in the Public Garden

not a bad spot

After dining we met up with our friends (including Harvey and Zion's friend Timothy) and, once everyone had gathered around to hear me read the famous story—of course we brought it along, we had to compare the pictures with the real thing!—we headed over to the duckling statues.

Harvey, Zion, and Timothy playing with the duckling statues

Zion wanted to pet and feed them

There was quite a crowd trying to get their turn on the ducks, mostly for photo-op purposes, so the kids didn't get to play as long as they might have liked (not that I can cast stones, of course: I had my camera out the whole time). But the ducklings were definitely experienced, to everyone's great pleasure.

Zion riding a duckling

could he have one to bring home?

Next up was the Swan Boats, which turned out to be pleasantly affordable. We decided that the ride around the pond was the first time on a boat for both Zion and Harvey, which still seems shocking to me. But in any case it was a very pleasant excursion: wonderfully quiet and relaxing thanks to the pedal-powered nature of the boats (Leah noted that all our transportation for the day was pedal-powered!). And there really are ducks living on the island, like in the book.

Harvey, Zion, and Mama on the swan boat

swanning

Then it was on to more active pursuits. Somehow I never knew that you could swim in the Frog Pond in the summer—for free, even!—but needless to say as soon as the kids saw it they were in the water.

Zion in the Frog Pond

that's Harvey's hand

After they dried off—and note that this was all without swimsuits or towels, since we had no expectation of bathing—it was onto the nearby Tadpole playground. It was fun but included some water features, so when our injunctions to stay out of the fountains! started to wear off, we had to find another place to play. The next playground, out on the Esplanade along the Charles River, was pretty fancy.

Harvey at the bottom of a big metal-and-rope climbing structure

thinking about it

It was really designed for bigger kids, but there was still enough to keep our little ones occupied for quite a while—longer than Timothy wanted to stay awake. We bid him and his parents goodbye and then Mama and Zion played some more while Harvey and I walked around and looked at the river. Harvey was very interested in seeing the spot where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard made their nest, and we also worked out the route they took to get to the Public Garden. Of course, back then Storrow Drive wasn't a divided highway—good thing!

On the way home we stopped to pick up some dinner, and ate it at a picnic table on the shores of Spy Pond in Arlington. With the proximity to water I was prepared to tell the kids that they couldn't swim because of the poison algae, but they were so tired that it never came up. They did enjoy the food, though.

Spy Pond, late afternoon

we like water

We finally made it home at around 7:00, after nine and half hours away from home. We felt kind of bad for abandoning Rascal all that time, so we'll probably stay home tomorrow and give him some attention. We might need a bit of rest ourselves, too!

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beating the heat (such as it is)

Harvey standing in the Concord River with no pants on

wade in the water

So far we've managed to avoid the extreme heat that's been affecting the South and Midwest. It's been hot here, but regular hot, and that's fine: we need good hot weather for the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I wouldn't mind a little more rain, but we're alright so far; I haven't had to water any of those crops yet, so things can't be too bad.

The key to our survival has been that, unlike in the states hit by the heat wave, it's been getting cool at night. That means that while we start the night sweating on top of the sheets we end it fighting for the covers that we kicked to the foot of the bed earlier—and also that the fans can cool the whole house. We do have an air conditioner that we've been using occasionally to cut the humidity, or when we come in from a really hot walk or bike ride, but so far we haven't needed to run it all day just to survive.

And bicycling isn't always hot. In fact, I've found it to be wonderfully cooling under the right circumstances: that is, not pulling the fully loaded trailer up a hill greater than 5% grade. As long as we can keep a reasonable rate of speed up the breeze of our forward motion is just the thing on these humid days. Today Harvey and I did a nice 12-mile loop that took in the North Bridge at its furthest extent (putting our feet in the water was an added bonus!). He probably enjoyed it more: not only did he have the breeze without having to work for it, he also used the time on the bicycle to snatch a quick nap. Life isn't bad when you're three.

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vacation voyaging

a view from River Road down the valley to the Concord River

on the open road

I had last week off, and though I'm back to work now I wanted to share an enjoyable bicycle ride we took on Thursday, before Leah had her hair done.

Sorry for the shaky camera-work: it's hard to hold the thing steady, especially when Harvey is squirming around behind me. I do think it conveys the general impression of the trip well enough.

The commotion you see at the Old North Bridge was an annual commemoration by the Sudbury Minutemen, which was a pleasant surprise to us; we heard the drums from across the river as we enjoyed our picnic lunch, so we stuck around to see what was going to happen.

Sudbury Minutemen firing a volley from the Concord Bridge

make ready... elevate... fire!

Besides that excitement, we also saw geese, ducks, and a frog who on escaping (I was trying to get him with a macro lens) hopped right through Harvey's legs.

a green-and-brown frog in the grass

ribbit

Now that's old-timey fun!

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that's gross, guys

I've mostly made my peace with the other class of cyclists with whom I share the bike path, the ones on bicycles that cost ten to thirty times as much as mine who ride not for transportation but for exercise or, as I understand they put it, training. They're out there because they like riding, and more power to them for it; even I manage to ride for fun on occasion. Sure, I disagree with their fashion choices but I'm sure they think my fleece socks pulled up over "nice" work trousers are just as ridiculous. And some of them shout "clear" at intersections when there are no cars coming, which is very considerate of them. But I'm not a fan of the spitting.

Even nose-blowing I can understand. Some of us carry handkerchiefs (I confess I often multi-purpose with my grease rag) but those cycling jerseys have limited pocket space. Since I like tissues even less than bodily fluids on the ground, I can grudgingly admit that the good old-fashioned snot rocket has its uses. But not spitting.

All of us, I believe, have functioning throats and manage to swallow our saliva for most of the hours of the day. Why should it be any different just because there's a bicycle involved? This afternoon I was passed by a gentlemen who, before he passed out of my sight, spit twice; I estimate I had him in view for about a mile, so assuming a thirty-mile ride (that seems about right if you take the trouble to put on all that gear, don't you think?) and a tablespoon of expectorate per expulsion, that means he deposited a total of three and three-quarter cups of spit on the ground over the course of his ride!

Oh, it's because he was working so hard? Do they spit in spin class? They do not. So please, gentlemen (and ladies!)... do us a favor and save it for the baseball diamond.

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return from exile

signs and barricades closing off the bike path

how can they do this to me?!

For the past couple of months the Lexington DPW has been working on the bikeway, and for the last three or four weeks they've been working on the part of the bikeway that I use to get to work. For some reason they didn't let me ride through, though I'm sure I could have gone around the trucks and things on the grass. Instead I was exiled to the road, forced from my calm and secluded path onto surfaces much less convivial. In fact, I'm pretty sure some of the drivers were trying to kill me.

In their defense, they were just trying to get to work, and they probably didn't know that I was too. Also their vehicles are much bigger, which gives them greater moral standing; and I had the potential to hold them up, while if they got in my way I could just go around them. So it was totally fine for them to honk and try and run me off the road!

Actually, it wasn't that bad. I'm pretty confident on the bicycle, and probably just as much of a jerk as most of the drivers—I totally know how to take the lane if necessary. When the detour had me going through Lexington Center I even occasionally enjoyed being able to outpace traffic-slowed cars over a mile-and-a-half distance. Still, while thrilling, the experience was not particularly conducive to a generous state of mind upon my arrival at work: something about people threatening your life to get somewhere 15 seconds faster tends to bring out the rage, I'm afraid. And when the work shifted west a bit and I was driven onto this—well, forget it!

But now the barricades are down and my early-morning peace-of-mind has returned. I can ride as fast or as slow as I want, and my mind is free to wander to plans for the garden or future blog posts. All is right with the world—or would be, at least, if the two months of closures had included time for repaving all the sections of path that were ripped up for the work. Oh well, at least I'm better off than the roller-bladers.

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we hit the road

my new 1970s Rampar machine, with kid seat

new to me

I got a new bicycle a week ago, and a good bit of the intervening time has been spent in first making it rideable, and then making it rideable for Harvey. He was an eager helper in the project, and we finished it yesterday (and immediately took a test ride, of course!). So when Leah suggested we all go out today, we enthusiastically agreed. We seem to be doing photos lately, so here's the story of our adventure in pictorial form.

Harvey and me getting ready for a winter ride

geared up and ready to go

We set out in high winds and scattered flurries, just the thing for Mama's first post-Zion bike ride. She was pulling the trailer, too. You'll see that Harvey brought a friend.

Harvey's doll reposing in the kid seat

along for the ride

There were a few obstacles in our path.

Harvey and me climbing over fallen tree-trunks

cyclocross style

And long-unused equipment needed some minor repairs along the way.

Harvey posing with a rear wheel

bike mechanic

But we made it to our destination, lovely Lexington Center, where we warmed up and relaxed in the children's room at the library.

Zion playing at the Lexington library

well-read and well-puzzled

Despite a break from cycling of well over a year and some vicious headwinds on the way home, Leah was still smiling at the end of the voyage.

Leah on the bicycle towing the trailer

journey's end

And Zion was zonked out. There's something about that trailer...

Zion sleeping in the bike trailer

it's like magic

So now our whole family is able to travel by bicycle (well, except for Rascal; sorry boy). Expect to see us out again soon and often... after the weather warms up a little more.

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cycling positives and negatives

One of the good things about this strange mild winter—which on the whole I deplore—is that there are still lots of cyclists out there keeping me company on the path. I do confess, though, that I find many of them humorously over-prepared for the actual conditions. Here's me in the same clothes I'm going to wear at work—inside—with a fleece coat on top, and they're wearing gore-tex parkas and neoprene balaclavas and who knows what else. And a lot of folks rocking studded tires too, which would have been awesome last year but now is kind of overkill. But it's awesome to see other folks riding in February at all, so I'll try not to make fun.

On the other hand, I recently learned that the school where I work officially discourages kids from cycling to school, which I find pretty discouraging myself. Here we have environmental education talking about what kids can do to "save the earth" and physical education telling them they need to get an hour of exercise a day... but it's too dangerous to ride a bike less than mile to school. I guess the crossing guards at both entrances are just to help the traffic flow more smoothly morning and afternoon; speaking as a professional in the field I can tell you that it can get pretty crazy with every single parent trying to get their car in there to pick up or drop off their child. If only there were some other way for kids to... oh yeah, never mind.

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brief commute report

The commute to work this morning was not pleasant, in any conventional sense. Persistent headwinds drove a mix of snow, rain, and ice pellets into my face, rendering my cheeks numb and raw—but except for my face I was unpleasantly warm, since winter is broken here and the temperature was actually well above freezing. My coat is almost waterproof, but my gloves aren't at all, so with the sweat I was feeling damp from inside and out. There was just enough snow on the path for me to feel a drag and remember how slow winter cycling can sometimes be.

All in all, it was great fun!

grumpy thoughts about cycling

I wonder if there's something I'm missing when it comes to cycling properly. The last few days I've seen several other cyclists—cyclists who, from their outfits and expensive rides, seemed likely to know what they were doing—peddling furiously for a few several seconds and then coasting for perhaps twice as long, before repeating the process. I always thought that was the cadence of a youngster on a "bmx" bike, the kind with an unfavorable gear ratio and a too-low seat. On an expensive road bike, not so much. Maybe it's some kind of a warm-up thing? I don't know. I try and keep my cadence as steady as I can, mostly because if I let it slow down too much I'm afraid I'll stop and never be able to get going again.

I don't know enough about the subject to teach it in gym class certainly. If I did I could tell the kiddies that they shouldn't ride on big roads and that they need to wear bright colors on the bicycle. And teach them hand signals! Essential for riding around the block. I suppose that it's nice that the subject comes up at all in the public school, but too me it seems like just another way to make riding a bike strictly a leisure-time activity. These kids should be riding to school! Although maybe not tomorrow; I hear there's snow in the forecast.

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good hippies bicycle to whole foods

I didn't ride my bicycle a whole lot over the summer, both because Zion is still too small for the state of Massachusetts to permit him to be carried in any pedal-driven conveyance (just by car, since cars are totally 100% safe), and also because it's pretty broken. But now that the new school year is upon us, I'm back in the saddle! Issues that keep me from riding recreationally are as nothing when I have to get to work. Which is nice: you know motivation and everything.

However, I could easily have driven to Whole Foods with Harvey this afternoon. It was hot, I was tired from riding home, and he isn't getting any lighter back there in the trailer. But I didn't! We rode, we shopped, and we hauled our produce home with us entirely under my own power. So of course now I can feel totally justified for today, saving-the-world-wise.

It's interesting how hard it can be for me to decide to ride short distances in town (it's not quite a mile to Whole Foods). Intellectually, I know that I'm likely to actually make better time on the bicycle, at least when I'm not hauling the trailer, and parking is way easier. But it is more work. If it's a hard choice for me, who ostensibly enjoys cycling, I imagine it must be almost insurmountable for folks who don't ride regularly. No wonder there aren't more bikes on the rack at Whole Foods (or, um, any bike racks at all at other local shopping plazas).

Of course, it's only the initial decision that's hard. Once I'm on the road I thoroughly enjoy the ride and never regret not being in the car. So... if you ever hear me equivocating about transportation options, point me to this post.

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trials and travails

So I've been having a bit of a difficult time over the past couple days. Obviously, the website has been having problems, and that's been a great trial to me; aside from how much I missed communicating with all of you via these pages (or, more commonly lately, watching Leah communicate) I also use squibix.net to record all sorts of things you don't care about: the weather, books I read, what's going on in the garden, and things like that. We had some really interesting weather the last few days, and I couldn't write it down... and now I don't remember it! Even worse, while things are now up and running again the site has apparently been reverted to how it looked on June 1 or 2, so all the updates we made since then have disappeared.

I was initially pretty sad to lose the blog posts, but then it occurred to me that they're all still there in RSS readers the world round—and, most pertinently, in the two RSS readers on my computer here. Even better, all your comments were also saved, though in that case I think only on my computer; I believe that I'm the only person anywhere in the world who subscribes to our comments feed. So even if the hosting company can't get their act together to repair the damage (I'm giving em another 24 hours or so), I'll be able to replace the missing posts and comments.

I was especially frustrated by the timing of the outage, because I've been putting my personal website on job applications, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that no one is reading those applications anyways (see the opening sentence of this post).

On top of all that, my bicycle was stolen from my workplace on Monday. I walked out at the end of the day and boy was I surprised to find it missing. Many people did many nice things to help console me in my loss—most usefully offering to lend me bicycles, more bicycles that I could ever hope to ride (and now I can say I've ridden a real single-speed; thanks Janice!). While not really holding out any hope that I'd ever see the poor machine, my prize possession, again, I went through the motions and filed a police report as well as making some very attractive posters designed to guilt the thief into giving the bike back to me, should he happen to return to the scene of the crime and see one of them.

Well, today the site works and I got the bicycle back. The thief rode it a couple miles and then dumped it in the woods, probably frustrated by the incredibly poor tuning on the derailleurs and the lack of adequate brake response. The police claim to have found it, but since I know for a fact that cops never go into the woods (proven at the afterparty following Leah's senior prom) it must have been someone else that stumbled upon it and reported it to them. Nevertheless, they were very kind and I was happy to get the call that I could come down and retrieve my wayward machine. Everyone asked me if it was damaged at all when I got it back, and I told them that it wasn't any more damaged that it had been while still in my possession.

So anyways, that's two things fixed at least in part (although I'm still looking into other hosting companies; not only did the recent difficulties not fill me with confidence in our current host, we're also continuing to have some problems with our email). They say things come in threes; maybe I'll finally get an interview somewhere next? Please?

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unchained

I broke my chain on the way home. I didn't know that was even possible! It was barely on my way home, actually: I threw my leg over the bike, all ready for another wet and exhilarating ride home, but on the first powerful pedal stroke (all my pedal strokes are powerful), snap! and then nothing. It was pretty disconcerting. The one advantage of this over a flat tire, which mishap has occurred several times in the past, was that I could at least coast down the hills as I trudged my way homewards.

Not that I had to trudge for long, though, because thanks to the kindness of my wonderful family (and the miracle of mobile telephony) I had a ride to look forward to. It was just so beautiful a rainy day that I wanted to be out and about; also, at that time of day one tends to want to put as much distance between one's self and one's workplace as possible.

When I was met with the car the first thing Harvey said to me was, "Bob the Builder Friday?"

"Bob the Builder Friday to you too!" was my reply.

I amused Leah, at least. It was the least I could do in exchange for transport! Well, that and relieving her of Mr. "I don't need a nap today" for a couple hours...

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some notes on the end of winter cycling

  • When you need to ride in your work clothes, there is a very brief interval between the time when you're still chilly with long underwear under your trousers and rain pants on top, and the time when it's too hot to ride in long trousers at all. So far this year that interval was basically Wednesday.
  • While it's nice to see more folks out on their bikes with the nicer weather, I kind of miss the cold-weather camaraderie of feeling like you could nod to every other cyclist you saw. The small-town feel is gone.
  • I'm also already starting to get annoyed with other cyclists. Like, the two guys in racing gear riding next to each other: would it be possible for you to do that while staying in your lane? It's not like the bike path is particularly narrow; you've got a good four feet now that the snow is mostly gone. If Leah and I can manage to ride abreast in the lane—while I'm pulling the trailer, no less!—then so can you. Think of it as practice for the peloton!
  • Having basically one gear and iffy brakes worked for the winter. But now I want to be able to go faster and, connected to that, to be able to stop when stopping is called for. Some long-deferred maintenance is clearly necessary.
  • I need a sign that says, "I was riding all winter—were you?". Otherwise how will people know that I'm hard-core?

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the vagaries of winter cycling

the snowy bike path again

the back trail

That was yesterday. Today was as I tweeted this morning. Conditions were suboptimal, especially alongside the landfill where a brownish sludge is seeping out, filling the space between the snowbanks, and freezing solid. I'm sure it's non-toxic—there's nothing in that dump but good old chemically-fertilized grass clippings and leaves—but it was certainly slippery.

brown sludge from the landfill frozen on the bike path

gross and very slick

I took a pretty good spill, but I wasn't hurt except for my pride and my genitals. You have to laugh at falling on your bike as an adult: it isn't something that is generally done past the age of six or so. Though I can't laugh too much, since when I fell on Monday I pulled a muscle in my ribs or something, and I notice it when I sneeze or breathe too much. Leah says it would get better faster if I took a day off of biking, but then I'd miss beautiful early-morning scenes like the one that heads this post or the photo below. Never mind that it was taken just moments after my fall: still pretty!

the scene from where I fell on the ice

ouch

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bad week for biking

On Monday it was a beautiful day, but I wanted to get my hair cut before work. There was no other possible time to do it, and I had waited much too long already. So instead of biking, I drove to work.

On Tuesday, it started snowing before I even left home, and there was a lot of snow in the forecast. I told everyone at work that my wife told me I had to take the car, which was a good excuse and also true.

On Wednesday it was still snowing and school was canceled.

Walking the dog on Thursday I noticed that cars were being forced to cross the center line of the road by the masses of snow along the shoulder. Aside from any issues of safety, this meant that if I encountered any traffic on the bike I would be stuck in it. I don't like being stuck in traffic while cycling: it's against nature. So I elected to take the car and be stuck in traffic while motoring.

Ditto Friday. But Friday, finally, was another beautiful sunny day. Oh how I wished I could be on the bike, especially in the afternoon with the temperature above freezing and the bike path cleared again. A fitting end to a week of shame and failure (but shame and failure while staying warm, dry, and alive).

Actually the worst thing about not riding was letting down my fans. Everyone knows how crazy I am, so while all the teachers and parents who spoke to me as I directed traffic congratulated me on my good sense I'm sure they were secretly disappointed not to see my bike there perched on the snow drift. It'll be back next week!

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my letter to the Bedford plow guys

I'd like to express my continued appreciation for the awesome job of plowing being done on the Bedford portion of the Minuteman bike path. I commute by bike from Bedford to East Lexington, and not only is the bike path the most direct route for me to get to work, it's also a far more pleasant and relaxing ride than taking the street. I've been surprised and delighted at how quickly the path's been cleared after each storm, and my riding in the winter has been just as fun as it is the rest of the year... if not more so! Thanks!

the snowy (but plowed!) bike path

an idyllic way to get to work

Seriously, having the path plowed is absolutely wonderful. And today it was cleared in Bedford but not in Lexington, which, while annoying, is also satisfying in that it points up how awesome our town is. Good job guys!

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some kind of crazy

People called me crazy for biking to work today. It wasn't the first time, but it was certainly the coldest: our weather source told me it was -6° F with a windchill of -20. Sounds cold, doesn't it! So I suppose it's no wonder that my fortitude was remarked on. But really, it wasn't that bad. Frightened by the forecast (and the "Wind Chill Advisory" from the National Weather Service) I started out all kinds of extra layers, but ended up taking them all off and doing most of the ride with my regular winter (or late-fall-through-early-spring) gear. And I enjoyed myself tremendously in the clear sunny air, both riding and walking with the dog morning and evening. I think it's safe to say that I love being out in the cold.

Admittedly, I handle cold weather better than some other folks do, for whatever reason. Fast metabolism or somesuch. But just because I can stand being out when the temperature dips into the single digits doesn't explain why I enjoy it so much; for that, we have to enter the realm of psychoanalysis, which I do in this old post. Something else occurred to me this afternoon, though, which is why I drag this tired old topic up again. That is, it seems to me that many people's experience of the cold is powerfully mediated by the way the weather is presented in the media, and then by their friends and acquaintances.

After all, it was a sunny day. When the wind stilled it was positively balmy: I had some trepidation about taking off my gloves to make a repair but found that I didn't mind at all being barehanded for two or three minutes at a stretch. The very fact that some parents hurried their kids into school this morning without gloves, a hat, or even a coat for themselves suggests that I wasn't the only one to find the day survivable even without the right clothes on. So why did the principal feel the need to make an announcement at the end of the day letting us know that, while dismissal procedures were going to be normal, students should be aware that it is very cold out and should not linger before moving to their parents' cars. Can't they, I don't know, tell if they're getting cold and act accordingly? On their own? Maybe not, in Coldmageddon 2011.

Happily, it's possible for us to think and act for ourselves. One reason I enjoy being out in the cold is that the inherent pleasure I take in the weather is multiplied by the feeling of doing something counter-cultural. Sure, it can be a little annoying to listen to all the comments about my questionable sanity, but that's what you get when you don't do what everyone else is doing. Of course, I don't want to suggest that I'm somehow more virtuous than anyone else for wanting to stand around in the sub-zero temperatures. Not only, as I say, does it not really bother me, it also offers no benefit at all to anyone besides myself. But it does make me happy, and I don't need to listen to tv weathermen or coddled suburbanites tell me any different.

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back to work

my bike at Harrington School after a snowy morning commute

made it!

Sometimes I think it's sad that magnificent snow like we got yesterday succumbs so quickly to plowing and salt and automotive traffic. Can't we just enjoy the enforced stillness for a little while longer? What, we have to go to work? Oh, alright then. At least I can bike on the beautiful, quiet snowy bike path, which my morning walk with Rascal revealed had been plowed. I was already composing a rapturous blog post about the commute when I came to an obstacle.

a closed gate blocking the plowed portion of the bike path

go no further

Note to bike path plow guys: if you plow through the open gate and then close the gate, it's kind of tough to get around it. Not that I'm complaining too much about this particular job, though, because as it happens the first segment of the path was the only one that had been touched by any sort of snow removal. In other words, there was no succumbing to be seen, and wasn't I unhappy when I realized it! Not only does getting to work on the roads involve me ingesting a significantly larger amount of liquefied road salt, the route is nearly a mile longer than the bike path. Still, I made it, and I enjoyed the ride, and I got to listen to a number of people tell me how awesome/crazy I am.

Besides the biking, I also managed some snowshoeing this morning and some sledding with Harvey (and James) this afternoon, so I'll sleep well tonight. It was a fine day for outdoor activities, to be sure.

bike, sled, and snowshoes in the evening snow

multi-modal snow fun

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winter preview

There was snow in the forecast for this morning, but it didn't deliver. Instead we just got light misty rain driven hard by, oh, 30 mile-per-hour winds. With water coming from all directions on the morning commute, I definitely felt that I would have preferred the snow. If nothing else I have a little bit of a better chance to keep my mittens dry in the snow. Unlike my last school, where I work now is a thoroughly modern building with heat that comes in from the ceiling or something, rather than from a beautiful piece of ironwork covered with a protective grate that's just the thing for drying sodden hats and mittens.

The other thing we notice with the coming of winter is that drivers are even less aware of cyclists on the road. I suspect it's a sort of cognitive dissonance: they see me, but so little do they expect to encounter a bicycle that their brain fails to process the visual information and they, for example, make not the slightest gesture towards stopping at the crosswalks. Be careful guys, my brakes don't work so well in the rain anymore!

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streak broken

Alas, I this week had to abandon my unannounced ambition of riding my bike to work every day this year: no alternate transportation, and no sick days (except I did give myself an out for the few days surrounding the birth of the new baby). Perhaps more hopeful than realistic, as was proved this week when I was brought low with a sore throat and fever. Stayed home Wednesday, and was gratefully chauffeured by Leah and Harvey Thursday (they were going that way anyway). Despite some lingering malaise, however, I was back on the bike this morning. The new streak stands at one day.

my morning commute

my bike and a full brook

just barely overtopping the path

What a wonderful commute I had this morning! The pouring rain calmed down to a bracing drizzle just before I had to leave; the way was carpeted with colorful fallen leaves under a canopy of red and gold; and merry streams of water gurgled alongside—and only very occasionally over—the path. Makes going to work almost worthwhile!

Also, no traffic!

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stick shift

I don't do a lot of maintenance on my bike. When I get home I pretty much drag it up on the porch and forget about it until I need it the next time. Since I got a new tire in the spring I don't think I've done anything more than grease the chain as needed and put new screws into my left pedal in a desperate attempt to hold it and my toe-clip together. Lately, though, it's been harder and harder to shift up from the middle to the biggest chainring (the little one has long been unreachable—no loss when I'm not riding off-road), and yesterday on the ride home it became impossible. Something needed to be done.

Sure, I could manually yank the chain where I want it to be, and I did just that yesterday at the top of the long descent towards home. But that's hardly practical: doing it while the bike is moving would require contortions of which I don't feel that I'm capable, not to mention the risk of pinched fingers (and unsightly grease-stains). Never say I'm not inventive, however! This morning I stopped to pick up a nice, straight stick, about a quarter-inch wide and two feet long, that was just the thing to apply pressure to the inside of the chain as I pedaled and bump it up onto the bigger ring. Worked like a charm! Not, of course, that I would try anything like that in traffic or whatnot—if nothing else, it would be cumbersome to keep taking the stick in and out of the (conveniently-located) stick-holding pocket of my backpack. But since I don't shift gears that often, it was perfectly adequate for the purpose. And I felt so clever!

I'll see if I can fix the derailleur this weekend.

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get 'bent

I've been seeing a whole lot more "non-traditional" cycles out there on the roads lately. More tandems, more single-speeds, and especially more recumbents. So much so that the other morning at work I was sufficiently curious to google "why a recumbent"—in quote marks, of course, because I wanted to hear how people answered that question in particular. You know the world will ask!

Apparently, the answers are comfort, fun, safety, and speed (source). Critically, looking cool—or even not looking a little ridiculous— is nowhere to be found in the propaganda, but cylists who favor recumbents are clearly above such peripheral concerns as outward appearance. And the other points are debatable, at least. For my part, I don't find an upright bike at all uncomfortable (though I never tried to ride 300 miles in 24 hours neither), my kind of fun riding wouldn't be possible on a recumbent, and I have never reached a speed where I "worry about flying over the handlebars" if I try to stop, something that is apparently a concern of many recumbent fans. As for safety, the pro-recumbent articles are mostly pointing out that recumbents aren't as dangerous as you think in traffic; but I was a little concerned to read that while recumbents may be low to the ground, you shouldn't worry because their freak factor keeps you safe:

Most drivers are blind to ordinary bikes, but that WTF reaction to them works in your favour - most drivers slow down far more, and give me much more room, than on a conventional bike. (source)

If that's all it takes to be safe, I'll just wear a gorilla mask when I'm cycling in traffic and I'll be as safe as can be!

In all seriousness, I don't think the height issue is actually a problem. If a driver can't see something as big as a bike that's three or four feet tall, they're probably not going to notice a five-foot tall upright rider either. Bike defensively! Plus, there are always those awesome orange flags like the one we rock on Harvey's trailer. And I recognize that the aerodynamic efficiency of recumbents can make a huge difference in headwinds or at speed. And, as I realized when talking about all this with Leah, the only reason I think recumbent cyclists look funny is because they depart from the norm; impartially considered, all cyclists are probably a little silly-looking.

Nevertheless, you will never see me on one of those awkward machines: I'm too cool for anything but my REI mountain bike with commuter tires, fender, and dork rack. At least until I turn fifty and grow a beard.

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sticker shocker

The previously mentioned sticker wars have heated up some.

another, more angry sign

I sense some hostility.

Hey Stupid!

Wake up! Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians no matter where they ride. Read the laws fully, you obviously don't have a clue. Bicyclists must abide by all motor vehicle laws.

Signed,
Pedestrians Against Arrogant Bicyclists Who Risk Other People's Lives

That signature line totally looks like it should result in a cool acronym, like PEDAVENGER or something, but it doesn't. PAABWRPL? That's a lost opportunity.

It's late, and rather than taking time away from working on my own sticker I'll just say this: motor vehicles aren't allowed on the bike path. Where does that leave your logic now, PAAB?! (Can I call you PAAB for short?)

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oh snap!

two versions of bicycle law on signs

sticker fight go!

So sometime in the spring some enterprising individual (or organization) put up stickers on the backs of many signs along the bike path in Lexington. Unlike the usual "stop snitching" messages or band logos, these stickers are reserved and official in appearance; also very large. This gives them the stamp of authority, especially when combined with their content, which reads in full:

BICYCLISTS MUST YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS

MASS. STATE LAW CHAPTER 85 SECTION 11

I was a little taken aback when I saw one of these stickers for the first time. I like to thing that we're all polite people, and resorting to legalism isn't necessary to keep cyclists from violent anti-pedestrian savagery. Also, I hate when people tell me what to do. Clearly I wasn't the only one in that latter category, because someone much more enterprising than me went so far as to put up (over the first sticker) a competing message. In a nice bright red, it reads:

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 85; Section 11

A person operating a bicycle on the sidewalk shall yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Yeah! That shows them! I'm glad that, here on the bike path, we can go back to shouting at walkers to get out of the way, and just flat-out ramming them if they're not quick enough! Wait, no one does that at all. Well, it's still nice to know the law is on your side if you decide you want to go that route.

Sarcasm aside, the second, redder sticker is technically more correct. It actually quotes the relevant statute, while the words—or indeed the sentiments—of the first are nowhere to be found anywhere in Chapter 85 of Massachusetts' General Laws. If you want to look for yourself, though, you should note that the the law in question is actually Chapter 85 Section 11B; Chapter 85 Section 11 proper says nothing about the subject at all, which quite confused me when I looked it up:

Section 11. Whoever violates an ordinance or by-law prohibiting persons from riding or driving at a rate of speed inconsistent with public safety or convenience may be arrested without a warrant by an officer authorized to make arrests and kept in custody not more than twenty-four hours, Sunday excepted; and within such time he shall be brought before a proper magistrate and proceeded against according to law.

Navigation on the malegislature.gov site (love that mal in there!) is so terrible that I never would have suspected an 11B existed, except for google: it was only a search for bicycle yield pedestrian site:http://www.malegislature.gov that led me to the real stuff. At least now I know where what looks like most of the bike laws are hiding!

So far only one of the original blue stickers has been covered. Will the red sticker vigilante strike again?!

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night rider

It may have been the super-warm temperatures that prevailed up until the beginning of this week that confused me, but it seems like dark is falling much earlier all of a sudden. Lights on inside at 6:30 with perfectly clear skies outside? How did this happen?! I suppose the equinox is only ten days away, but it's still a shock.

That being said, I did enjoy the first occasion I had in quite a while to employ the lights on my bike. It shows how hard-core I am, you know, setting out on a moonless night to get some milk from the store. I don't know if it's more or less hard-core than biking to work in a thunderstorm like I did on Wednesday; much of a muchness perhaps. And this evening only one car—pick-up truck, actually—offered to hit me, by trying to pull out of a side street without stopping. I was so surprised by the driver's failure to even pause that I would have been flattened had he not seen me and braked in time. I'll take the head-lamp next time: maybe if I shine it in people's eyes they'll notice me.

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biking law and praxis

Commenter Cindy points out that Massachusetts bike laws are friendlier to cyclists than ever before, which is of course very comforting. It's even better to see hordes of folks out on the bikes, as they were today: all sorts of folks on all sorts of bicycles. When drivers have lots of reminders that other forms of transportation exist they're more likely to look around a little bit before turning or pulling out; my careful study of human psychology tells me that actual bikes on the road will be more of a factor than a friendly legal climate. We can't even get more than one driver in four to stop for us at the crosswalk when we're on foot and pushing a stroller, and the state's crosswalk laws are hardly new or controversial.

Happily, I don't let it bother me much. When I'm on the street I behave like a vehicle, staying as far to the right as possible but not hesitating to move left before turning or to take the lane when necessary. I find that, with enough time spent out there on the roads, it's not even that terrifying: sure, I expose myself danger from the unaware—like the driver who prompted Cindy's comment—and the insane—like the gentleman who threw a cigarette at me a couple years ago—but most drivers are paying a modicum of attention and will not actually run you over should they happen to see you. In fact, in this case a certain amount of "aggressiveness" is safer than the caution exhibited by riders who aren't used to busy roads and who let themselves get into situations where they have to move across traffic from a virtual standstill.

Just as I don't rely on cycling-specific laws to protect me, I don't always pay the strictest attention to those that aim to regulate my behavior on the roads. As long as there are people saying that bikes don't belong out there with cars, I'm going to interpret traffic regulations liberally to keep myself safe (and moving fast!). I don't need to stop at all stop signs: with much better visibility and maneuverability than the driver of a car I can choose when it's safer to roll through. I can turn right on red even when the sign says otherwise. I can even ride on the sidewalk when that will keep cars from getting stuck behind me. Naturally, I only do any of those when conditions warrant. And hey, I've never caused, or even been involved in, an incident on the roadways! (spills on the ice don't count).

As I continue to ride almost every day, I do so in confidence that my skill and alertness, combined with the skill and alertness of most of the drivers out there, will keep me safe. And while it would be nice if everyone in a car could be aware of the legal rights of cyclists, I'd be content if they're just aware that we're there. Maybe even coming up on the right!

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biking the less-fun way

This week I was back to work, and so back to commuting on the bicycle. I am thankful that I don't have to do it pulling Harvey in the trailer, as much as I enjoy the extra exercise; in a bitter-sweet ceremony a week or two ago, the hitch was swapped over to Leah's bike and she is now the one who pulls him to the playground, the library, and the Whole Foods. I just go back and forth to work.

Not that that isn't exciting at times! So far, in just four days of commuting—I had today off, for that extra-long Labor Day weekend—I've encountered punk kids taking up the whole bike path, cross-country skaters swinging deadly steel-tipped poles as they swerved back and forth, and a car that tried to right-hook me twice in the space of a few hundred feet. Really! It had just barely passed me when it turned right onto a side street and I was only saved from having to brake suddenly by the fact that I was making the same right turn, and then I did have to brake suddenly when it turned right into a driveway a couple seconds later. No turn signal either time, of course—nor, I'm sure, any awareness that I was even there at all.

Good thing all those trips pulling Harvey over the summer made me extra-careful and oh-so-skillful! My sense of righteous indignation dates back much further, of course.

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making going to church an adventure

We were feeling jealous of the riders out there on the Tour de France course, so we did a little long-distance ride of our own this morning. Not only did we get to church in a completely carbon-neutral fashion, we also got to go swimming, go out for lunch, and get ice cream on our way back home. Plus, we put in a good 23 miles of cycling. Now that's how to enjoy a summer Sunday!

All the fun even wore Harvey out, and he spent most of it sitting down in cushioned comfort, so I'm not entirely sure how that works...

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transportation alternatives

It have been very warm here for a few days, leading to the realization on the part of any number of people that a heat wave is in fact a thing. Perhaps it is an annual realization. The worst part for me is that I can't hear the words without thinking of a rather bad song. I guess they can't all be winners, even for Irving Berlin. En tout cas: Harvey and I have been hanging out at home and doing what we can to manage our heat exposure, which is mostly accomplished by heading out for expeditions on the bike.

It seems counter-intuitive, certainly, to choose a human-powered mode of transportation when the news outlets are broadcasting heat advisories and things, and we do get some odd looks from motorists. But a little bit of driving in the car today (we had to take Rascal to somewhere he could swim) showed us that, in today's weather at any rate, biking is actually cooler than driving. At least, than driving in my car with it's regrettably inefficient air-conditioning. The movement of the bike even at low speed creates a wonderful cooling breeze, an effect that isn't replicated by the much faster air around the car: not enough of it gets in, not nearly enough to counteract the effects of sitting inside a metal-and-glass box. The only thing to be careful of is going too fast. Start to work too hard, of course, and that breeze doesn't have a chance of dissipating the heat that'll quickly build up. Now if only I could find a way of dissipating the huge clouds of smugness that envelop me after I travel anywhere by bicycle...

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another opening, another... market

Lexington's Farmers Market started up a couple weeks ago, and even that was later than it could have been; our super-local (like, around the corner) market—which must be the last to get going in the entire commonwealth—finally opened today. It was worth the wait, though, because even though it may not be the biggest market around it's still ours, and as it begins its third season I think I'm starting to like it.

It helps that as part of the opening-day celebrations they were offering a $2.00-off coupon to the first 50 customers to show up on bikes. I would ordinarily walk down so the puppy could get an airing as well, but with money on the table Harvey and I saddled up and made the minute-and-a-half ride. The money thus earned we spent on a bunch of Asian broccoli, I believe it was, which was an adventure in itself: the wonderful salesgirl at the Busa Farm booth (who is sufficiently easy on the eyes to be featured on the front page of the Bedford Farmers Market website) is never particularly useful in providing detailed information about the wide variety of unusual produce they grow in suburban East Lexington, and in this case all she could offer was that the plants we were buying were "kind of like broccoli and kind of like asparagus." With that it mind, I steamed the stems and florets and sauteed the leaves, and the whole thing was eminently edible accompanied with some whole-wheat couscous. Especially since it was free.

Photos of the opening day are available here, but I don't know if you need to even bother looking: I'm not in a single one.

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Harvey's new wheels

Harvey in the bike trailer

nonplussed

At great expense, I have procured a bike trailer for Harvey. It's my birthday gift to him, and like all great gifts it was chosen to serve the giver as much as the recipient. See, I enjoy biking, but for some reason I can't leave Harvey alone at home and he isn't much of a cyclist himself yet. So, I will tow him around.

We took our first ever ride all together, we three human members of the family. Rascal was disappointed to be left at home and barked at us, but since when I offered to get a trailer for him earlier he expressed a disinclination to be shut up in any such contraption, he isn't in much position to complain. Also he refused to run nicely alongside the bikes, so that's that.

In any case, we didn't go far, but it was wonderfully liberating to be out on the roads again. We used to ride bikes together occasionally, Leah and I, but we'd only been out once since Harvey was born (since several months before he was born, in fact!). To lend purpose to our journey we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some ingredients for dinner; the pizza tasted extra sweet for having been fetched in such a fashion.

Here's to many more voyages to come!

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Bike-to-Work Day a qualified success

the bike-to-work bikes at my workplace

about three percent of the workforce

Bike-to-Work Day was something of a success along the Bedford-Lexington corridor today; if nothing else, a bunch of recreational cyclists who usually keep the bikes in the garage all week were out this morning, some of them even daring to ride in their street clothes rather than the spandex we tend to see even on regular commuters out here in the suburbs. I'd say the traffic was more than double what it usually is, helped no doubt by the absolutely beautiful cycling weather.

The best part of the deal for me was that, on the way home, I was able to draft off of a gentleman who was late for a meeting. Now there's motivation for a quick ride! Unfortunately, I didn't hear about his predicament until the stoplight where he was turning off my route, or I would have handled more of the pace-setting (more than zero, that is—hey, he passed me at an intersection but couldn't drop me, so I think hanging on his wheel was entirely within my rights).

What do you think, should we do it again on Monday?

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on yer bike, Tebbit!

May is apparently "Bike Month" and this week is (or was) "Bike Week". To cap all the cycling-related celebrations (what, you didn't notice?!), tomorrow—that's Friday, May 21st—is Bike-to-Work Day! Not that you would have noticed unless you were already reading cycling-themed publications or websites, which is why I wanted to make sure and let you, the general public, know, just in time to come up with a plausible excuse as to why you didn't ride your bike to work. "It's too far" is a good one.

While I did manage to bike to work for a while this year, and still do whenever it fits around the child-care schedule—that is, Thursday and Friday—I do know that it is in fact very difficult for most folks to do. Heck, the only times I could make it last year were when my car was in the shop, and I have a much shorter commute than most. Still, there are people who manage it, like a coworker of mine who enjoys a blissful car-less existence in Somerville. When I told him about bike-to-work day, he replied that he'd be sure to ride tomorrow. He does sometimes take the bus, it must be said.

If you can manage it, though, it can be very rewarding. There's something about it that makes you feel apart from the workaday rush—certainly, you're probably going slower than everyone else (though not always). It can make even the morning commute enjoyable! I can't wait for the day when increased cargo capacity lets me do even the grocery shopping via cycle; at that point my smugness will be unstoppable. For tomorrow though, it's just to work.

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back in the (soggy) saddle

With the nice (albeit frighteningly unseasonable) weather, I've been just itching to get back on my bike—and not only from the bug bites! Unfortunately, since the mishap oh so many months ago things have only gotten worse for my poor machine. It was a flat tire that initially laid me low, but subsequent complications included rust, misalignment, and two floods. Not to mention, of course, the discovery that the tire itself was completely shot and needed to be replaced.

Well, now it has been. Also, the rust has been to some extent scraped off and the affected parts heavily oiled, and the bike itself has been removed from the flood-prone basement. The alignment issues are... still issues, but at least it will support my weight and move in a roughly forwardly direction. I'm thinking of riding it to work tomorrow!

Clearly, I am entirely fearless and intrepid when it comes to risking the time of those members of my family who would have to come and rescue me should something go wrong. What I'm most concerned about, actually, is the fact that the bike sat for some time—upside-down, for long-term tire-replacement purposes—in a few inches of basement flood. You'd never think that the saddle would show a tendency to absorb water under those conditions, but absorb water it has. Much more than it ever did, say, sitting out in the rain for seven hours. I tried to squeeze out as much of the moisture as I could, but I fear I'll have to ride sitting on a towel for the first couple post-flood cycling outings. Oh well, it's been so hot out I'm sure I'll appreciate the in-seat cooling.

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cycling envy

So my bike is still broken. It's now been over a month since I rode it, and while it was hard enough to be stuck in the car though the last sputtering gasps of winter, it's even harder now when spring seems to be in full, extra-early for our climate-changed 21st century bloom. Adding insult to, well, more insult is the fact that I see hundreds of other cyclists out on the roads—many of them even commuting, by the looks of it. "Fair-weather peddlers!" I want to cry out. "Where were you when it was pouring icy rain, or blowing at forty miles an hour, or eight inches deep in snow? Where were you then?!"

I do, I really do. Failing that, do you think it would work to put a bumper sticker on my car that says "I'd rather be biking?"

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deflationary pressures

a flat tire and road grime

my poor bike...

I was very much looking forward to biking to work today, after a full week stuck in the car due to an inability to coordinate my schedule with that of the bike shop. The snow day gave me a way around that problem, so it was with a happy heart and a new tube that I set out into the sunshine this morning.

Things did seem a little harder than usual in the early part of the ride, but I wrote that off as a result of my time off, plus maybe the half-inch or so of frozen snow on the ground. The extra work (not to mention the awesome February sun) warmed me up, so I stopped to adjust some layers—a mistake, as it turns out. When I got back on the bike I noticed the tell-tale squishyness that indicates a completely flat tire. My response cannot be printed here.

Even though this was the first time I flatted when I had in my possession both a new tube and a pump, I didn't want to go through all the bother of changing the tube when it was clear something was very wrong with either my tire or my rim. The dead tube barely made it three miles; I wasn't going to throw away another eight bucks in hopes of finishing off the next three. $2.67 a mile compares poorly even with the mileage of a full-sized SUV, I believe. Nor was I going to surrender and call Leah for a ride, especially since I knew she was walking the dog and wouldn't be able to help.

No, what I did was to push forward on the very squishy tire, stopping to re-inflate every half-mile or so when I started to feel the bumps through the rim. It was not fun, and when the pumping started to show diminishing returns (diminishing almost to nothing, in fact) I gave it up and rode the last mile or so standing up, to take as much weight as I could off the back wheel. I hope I didn't do any damage to the rim, but I just had to get to work!

In the end I made it in a little under an hour, compared to the half-hour or so it usually takes me. I expected the folks at work to be a little annoyed, since I was after all about 15 minutes late, but they were actually very solicitous. They were concerned, apparently, that I had had an accident and was lying in a ditch somewhere. Don't worry, even in the winter biking isn't any more dangerous than driving; it's just sometimes a little inconvenient.

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on the trail

Riding to work this morning through a dusting of new powder, I amused myself by identifying the various tracks I noticed on the bike path (especially since my eyes were mostly forced downward—look up too long and I risked getting bopped in the eyeball by an icy snowflake). There were the footprints of an early walker, a road bike, a bird hopping across the path, ooh! a rabbit! There's a dog being walked, and... what on earth?! What is that winding, dragging trail, with two parallel lines of scurrying footprints along its center? A giant caterpillar? Some sort of segmented worm?!

A little ways along, the answer was revealed: a little long-haired shi-tzu dog, with dragging toenails and fur sweeping the ground. Who would have thought. A segmented worm would have been more interesting.

I really wished that I'd had the camera along: I would have photographed the tracks to present any skilled native trackers in the audience a chance to prove their skills. I also would have photographed the spot where I swerved wildly on the snow-covered ice, careening back and forth across the path for a dozen yards before being forced to put my foot down (and it slipped too, of course). I didn't go down, but the tracks were certainly messy. In embarrassment, I wrote "oops" in the snow; oh I hope that someone goes be and sees it before it's covered with snow!

All in all, though, I was amazed by how well I was able to keep the bike under me this morning. If I had tried these conditions a few months ago I would have been completely destroyed. Isn't visible improvement wonderful! I can't wait for spring, when I can try out my awesome new balancing skills on the trails!

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down to the river to slide

my bike on the ice

on the frozen Concord River

I didn't want to fail to take advantage of the sunny weather, so I took a little ride out to the river this afternoon. As a bonus I wanted to get some pictures of cold, and what better place to do that then at the biggest body of water we've got around here? (I find the cold in the air doesn't photograph as well.) Unfortunately, there was some open water in the middle of the river, and the bright sun made the ice much too slippery to try and ride on. I had hopes of being able to explore down the river a little bit, something I never get to do in the summer in these boatless days, but I decided that discretion was the better part etc.

ice around a tree trunk

this can't be good for the trees

On our side of the river there's several acres of flooded woods that are now (naturally) completely frozen in. I suppose the trees can handle the ice about as well as they can the water; better, probably. There were many interesting sights and I took many pictures, but I won't bore you with any of the rest of them. It was so much fun down there that I'm surprised I didn't see anyone else—except, of course, a couple who came down in their car after spotting me from the bridge as they drove by. They wanted to check if anyone is drowning, they said. Nope, sorry to disappoint, and thanks for your concern! Just a fun Sunday outing. Next weekend I'll bring the family!

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there's no biking like snow biking

... for falling off the bike, that is. Seriously, it's been years since I had any trouble staying upright, but that's all changed now that I'm trying to ride in the snow.

Today I took advantage of the warmer temperatures and diminished snowpack to visit some of the local trails for the first time since the fall. I had fun, but I can't say that I looked particularly graceful out there. I fell off several times, once just catching the bike before it fell into a pond, and I had to get off and push for about half of the ground I covered. I even fell twice while walking, which is kind of embarrassing. Still, there were small triumphs: on the third try I made it down one long stretch without falling, I managed to go up one or two hills, and once I finally got started I was able to pedal through three or four inches of wet grainy snow covering the frozen surface of the old reservoir. Also, back on the roads for the ride home everything felt so easy! Good times.

a little achievement

It's no Iditarod Trail on a bike, sure, but we have to start small. That's what I did this afternoon when I braved the unplowed portion of the bikepath for the first time since last weekend's snow. It was just the thing to counteract the first part of the ride, into a stiff wind, because I was going so slow that wind resistance was not in any way a factor. Instead, all I had to do was to steer a straight line along the packed-down portion of the trail, about a foot wide, and when I messed that up and swerved off to one side or another keep the pedals turning until I could lurch my way back. Pretty hard-core, I can tell you. Plus it was such a beautiful afternoon that I was down to my short-sleeves by the end. And here people worry about me getting cold.

cold commute pictures at last

I finally brought the camera with me to work today. I figured since I was carrying everything else in the universe—jars of jam for gifts, books to go back to the library, uncountable pieces of back-up winter gear—one more thing wouldn't make a difference. And indeed it didn't, individually. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the best mood to pause and take photographs thanks to some delay in actually progressing towards the school. Beset by problems mechanical and navigational (read: things broke and I went the wrong way) I didn't have the leisurely ride I had hoped for.

The bike path in Lexington is plowed, and it is wonderful. In fact, it being plowed is the best Christmas present ever, and I would like to express those sentiments to the Lexington DPW. Do you think they get email or should I, like, send them a letter? The bike path in Bedford is not plowed, and it is terrible. Having not rode yesterday (not wimped out, I had to do errands!) I assumed that I could push through what was probably only light snow, and it's only about a mile, right? I could not push through. I tried, but in fact only made it about 8 feet. Really. I like ice, but so far I have to say that I need some more practice with the snow biking. So I had to detour some distance out of my way on the roads.

And biking on the roads isn't nearly as fun, because of the cars. I even almost got run off the road by a school bus! I can tell you, when I was doing traffic duty later I didn't hold up the line of cars when he wanted to pull out, like I usually do! Because of all the people almost killing me, I was in a foul mood by the time I got to work. I was thus ready to about bite the head off of anyone who made a comment about how I must be so cold, or don't I notice it's cold, or I'm crazy for riding when it's so cold. You know. "I'm not talking about that anymore" was the politest of my planned responses.

In the event, however, no one said anything beyond asking if I was able to take the bike path. Really, they were all very polite and pleasant. Don't you just hate that when you're grumpy! But you know, I can never stay grumpy for long.

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mood improvement

After a day at work that was very disappointing, to say the least, I took a little detour on the ride home. I wanted to distract myself from moping and grumping, and a little off-road action seemed like it would be just the thing. Even though there isn't any hilly terrain handy on my route, I figured that dealing with the snow and frozen ruts would be interesting enough to take my mind off my troubles. As soon as I got a little way down the trail, though, I came to something even more interesting than bumps: vast sheets of ice stretching among the trees and brush, where the torrential rains of November had filled up the swamps. I hesitated for a moment, of course, but in my fatalistic mood I figured I might as well give it a shot.

And as it turns out, riding on smooth ice went remarkably well. As long as I didn't try to turn or stop, that is. Or turn too fast at least: I soon found that by avoiding sudden movements I could actually get around pretty skillfuly, and enjoyed myself for a couple minutes slaloming around the frozen-in trees. As delightful as that was, though, it was topped a few minutes later when the path led down to a whole frozen lake, or at least a pond—a vast expanse of clean ice, in any case, with a smooth clear shoreline that let me ride right down onto it. Which I did! This time, the lack of obstacles let me build up some pretty fair straight-ahead speed, and let me tell you, it's something for improving your mood to be skimming across shining white ice at twilight on a crisp 15° F December evening. There was even an island to circumnavigate. It was only three or four falls until I managed to get all the way around on one try.

Much happier, I resumed my homeward course. I was so excited by my new-found ice-biking skills that I even hazarded riding the frozen bridge that felled me the other day. I fell again, of course. Still, the most fun commute I've had in some time, and just what I needed to get the weekend off to a good start.

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careful!

I took a good spill on the way to work this morning. Most of the snow is melted from the bike path, but there's still a few patches of frozen slush that've made things very bumpy indeed the past couple days. Today, though, they were more deadly that before thanks to much colder temperatures and a little bit of snow overnight. The worst patch was on a bridge over a creek, and it was rather worse than I expected: so much so that as soon as I rode onto the ice I lost traction and the bike slid out right in front of me. I went over onto my back, where, happily, I was padded with a backpack filled with all sorts of spare warm garments. So no pain to speak of, nor did I get wet at all, even sliding ten feet or so before I came to a stop some distance removed from the bike. It must have all been very impressive; I wish someone had caught it on video for me to see!

I walked my bike over that spot on my way home.

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the reasons why

I didn't bike to work today. It just wouldn't have been a challenge; not like yesterday, when I did ride though the first winter storm of the season. Actually, I must be honest: I needed a bit of a rest after the snow biking. It wasn't too problematic traction-wise, but it was certainly strenuous! The worst part was listening to everyone tell me I was crazy again. They'd gotten over the rain biking, but snow was new to them. So. I guess it's like owning a big dog; fun, but you have to deal with the same reaction from folks on a daily basis.

Anyways: so why did I choose biking over driving that cold December morning? Read on!

  • I love biking, and I love snow. In combination they're awful hard to resist.
  • My car, the one with the traction, isn't feeling so good. Leah's is bad in the snow.
  • I knew everybody would be crazy with the first snowfall and driving like overcautious maniacs. I wanted to avoid that.
  • It wasn't really that cold out: above freezing, in fact.
  • I love biking.
  • Just like with the rain: if not now, then when?
  • I was afraid the bike path would freeze solid, and that it was in fact my last chance on it all winter (which remains to be seen).
  • I've been reading about someone who is much, much more hardcore than I.
  • I wanted to try it out and see how I would do.
  • I am, in fact, crazy.

See, plenty of great reasons!

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normalizing cycling

I rode to work in the pouring rain again yesterday. In my defense, it wasn't pouring when I started out—just drizzling. Then again, I knew it was going to pour, so I think the prosecutions wins that one. Two people commented that I was hard-core, but I really don't see what the big deal is. I mean, I wore my waterproof gear and it was a warm day, so there was really very little discomfort involved.

But then, there are people who are surprised I ride my bike even in the nicest of weather. One of the fourth graders was shocked, shocked! to hear that I had stopped by the grocery store to pick up straws (to make pyramids for math!). She remained incredulous even after I told her it was on the way: "it's not on the way from my house!" she said. Nope, I'm not coming from around the corner, even if I do arrive under my own power!

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like riding a bike

I was sick Friday, and didn't go to work. Saturday, still pretty woozy—not up to biking certainly. Sunday I was pretty much better but we went into the city to visit a great-grandmother after church, so that took all my energy for the day. Yesterday I took the car to work because I had to pick up Harvey on my way home. So today was the first biking day in a while, and I wondered how I'd manage it: would I forget how it's done?!

No, it turns out it's the kind of thing you lose; is there a saying to that effect?

a morning mishap

As someone who likes to be prepared for any eventuality, I like to carry a pump in amongst the gear I drag back and forth with me to work every day. Today, however, I didn't. So guess what happened? Yes indeed, a flat tire, about half way along the journey.

Initially I thought it would be no trouble just to walk the rest of the way to the school, but that notion failed to take into account the fact that walking is remarkably slower than cycling. Remarkably. I am not capable of calculating the percentage difference in the respective rates, but suffice it to say I would not have been able to make it on time on foot. (Fun fact: did you know that bicycles were once the fastest form of human transport? I thought of that as I trudged along.)

My next idea was to stop at a gas station and use their air. I had everything I needed to change the tire, after all, except the pump. Unfortunately, gas stations are not what they once were, and no longer provide inflation to customers: both places I managed to reach on foot had the pumps up there on an outside wall, but in both cases they were out of order. You know, what I call gas stations used to be known as service stations... and this isn't the first time were I've felt I know the reason for the change in terminology.

In any case, out of options for getting myself out of my predicament in time for work, I called, first, my wife—not home—and then my mother. The latter very kindly agreed to come and pick me up and bring me and my bike to work, and then even more kindly stopped by the school to drop of my pump, enabling me later to get home under my own power. So. I learned my lesson, and will never leave home without the pump again. Only problem is, I'm now out of spare inner tubes and the bike store doesn't open until after I start work tomorrow. I might leave an hour early tomorrow, just in case lightning strikes twice.

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fall

In the course of revisiting the biking grounds of my youth in search of some good off-road cycling, I passed through our local burying ground and couldn't help but notice how pretty it looked in the fall mist. So I came back a little later with Harvey in an attempt to photograph the scene. Unfortunately, between Harvey squiggling around in the Bjorn and my nervousness about my car (which is displaying some very worrying symptoms) I couldn't really concentrate; and thus I didn't notice that the "auto" mode on my camera failed me in the bright mist and pretty much over-exposed everything. Oh well. A little bit of messing with levels in Photoshop gets you the two acceptable images here.

And yes, I did fall on my bike as well. Several times.

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perspective

I rode my bike to work this morning, despite the cold rain and general yuckiness. As I wetly zipped past drivers sitting in traffic, we looked at each other, and both thought: sucker.

Why did I ride? Well, I guess it's this thing of trying to see biking as more than just a fun pastime. It is that, of course, but due to various recent events and conditions, I'm also interested in considering it a viable transportation form; in fact, the first transportation option, one that I default to absent any complicating conditions. And if I'm serious about that in New England, weather can't be a complicating condition. Not that I intend necessarily to ride every day, just that if I never ride in the rain there's something wrong with either my theory or my practice. I missed the last rainy day, so it had to be today.

And it really wasn't bad at all. Even my ancient rain gear kept me for the most part dry; the only part of me that was really significantly damp were my feet, especially, for some reason, my right foot. This didn't surprise me: not having a waterproof shoe solution, I chose to wear my beat-up old sneakers and wool socks. So, warm, if not dry. And sure, feet were plenty warm—albeit squishy—though I suppose I could have done without having to stand outside for half an hour in those wet shoes and socks doing traffic duty.

Really, the only downside to the whole deal was that everyone at work made fun of me and told me I'm insane. Well, perhaps. But I enjoyed the ride, I didn't get wet enough to have to change any clothes besides shoes and socks, and I got to stay true to my principles. Plus, it stopped raining by the afternoon. I stopped at the Lexington farmers market to buy a perhaps unsafe load of produce and delicious cider (thank you, new dork rack!), and just as I was getting back on the bike the sun came through the clouds right ahead of me, and I rode the rest of the way home with a patch of beautiful blue sky right over my head.

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an afternoon in the saddle

As promised, we took a bike ride this afternoon, and I took pictures. Not so much of the biking part—my camera is too unwieldy for that, as much as I would have loved to get some over-the-handlebar shots—but at least of some of the scenery. Like, for example, the historic house pictured above, which as leisurely bike-tourists we were happy to stop and visit.

We stopped an awful lot, actually, in the first section of the ride; how could we do otherwise, when there were British regulars in the middle of the road?!

This portion of the ride was through Minuteman National Park, so the presence of old-timey folks was not entirely unprecedented, though of course no less delightful for that. Ditto old houses. That was on rock dust; thence we headed, on modern roads, into historic Concord center, where we shopped for a bit. Then down Monument Street to use the bathroom at the Old North Bridge, before hopping on a dirt trail to give the folks on the mountain bike tandem a chance at real off-road riding. Here we all are at the end of that section of trail.

After that it was just getting home on the paved bike path, with Leah speeding ahead of us for milk-production reasons. Actually, it wasn't really getting home home, because we had left Harvey at Grandma Beth's and had to head over there to pick him up. It really brought back memories, riding up the hill on Oak Street when I would much rather have been off the bike eating dinner. As nostalgic as it was being back in the old hood, I much prefer the flat approach we have to our current residence. Scenic over there, though.

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not epic, but still enjoyable

I spent a while this morning reading about some truly hardcore cycling, so of course I had to get out and do a little riding myself. I didn't quite manage to ride an off-road century or summit any major peaks, but I did squish around a little in the swamps of Bedford and enjoy biking just for fun, rather than to get to work. You'd think I'd be getting better at this commuting business, but it still seems like I'm dragging every morning. After trying to ride through bottomless mud—well, at least six inches deep—I felt like I was just flying along when I got back on the roads. Good times.

It's been quite a while since I posted about biking, but I'm very much into it these days—to the point where it almost broke up our marriage! We're scheduled for a ride with friends tomorrow; let's see if I can provide a cycling post with photos.

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never mind the reason why

I rode my bike to work today, because I care about sustainability and things just that much. Also because my car is broken and in the shop, but still! It was a perfect day to bike, because the weather was great and at least this morning the traffic was terrible. It makes the desperate wheezing and aching muscles more bearable when you pass more cars than pass you, I think.

Of course, it doesn't matter why you choose to represent, hippie-style, because it's the actions that count. Just like this afternoon, when I (finally, says Leah) tried to call and cancel the tv service, the nice woman at Verizon wanted to know why we didn't want it any more.

"Well," I said, "we don't really watch it very much, and we're trying to simplify our life, and we have a baby coming and..."

"So you're interested in reducing your bill? Ok."

I suppose there isn't a box on her customer service ap for "customers trying to maintain integrity and not be slaves to popular culture," so "reducing our bill" it is. It's a factor, to be sure.

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a bad day for transportation

I am opposed to power windows. Last night when it started raining I ran to shut the windows on my car, and then in my haste to deal with other things that needed to be dealt with and get back into the house I left the keys in the car. Yes, this means that I didn't even turn off the electricity, or whatever it is that lets the windows go down when the engine isn't running. So naturally the battery is dead today. How did I discover this? Well, when I couldn't find the keys this afternoon when I wanted to go out. The car is always the last place you look.

So no real problem, I didn't really want to drive anyways. Biking is much nicer. Except not this time, because I ran over a tiny sliver of glass (not unlike the one that got stuck in my finger the other day) that put a hole in my front tire. The air came out slowly enough that I was able to bike, with some difficulty, up the hill on the way home, but by the time I reached the downhill portion I had to get off and walk. That's just not nice.

However, as Leah traveling much greater distances than I today, coming back on the train from New York, I'm happy to let her have all the transportation luck. It matters more when you're beyond walking distance from home, I think.

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timing

We've been having some weather here the past couple days. Despite that, I ventured out on my bike to make my first visit of the year to the Lexington farmers market. And I almost didn't make it! I was less than a half-mile away when the first drops started to fall—happily, right as I reached the only cover on the bike path between Bedford and Lexington. So still dry I hopped off my bike and sat down to wait out the storm.

When the lightning started I was glad I had done, and when the torrential, monsoon-like rain picked up I was more glad, and when it started hailing—hailing!—I was gladdest of all. Hail as big as peas, really! Some other folks didn't time the storm as well, but even the most soaked, with no more wet to get, were still glad of the shelter, and we had a convivial little gathering for a while.

After half an hour or so things calmed down, and I ventured out (getting instantly very wet indeed from the puddles, oh well). I was pleasantly surprised to find the market still standing, though damp and very puddly. After all that I didn't buy anything, for reasons discussed above, but I always like the scene in any case. It was worth a try.

I liked the scene so much, in fact, that I almost stayed too long: it was getting awful dark as I made my way home in some haste. I still had it, though, and the next downpour held off until five minutes after I got home.

So local were these little storms that the first one, that inundated Lexington and was so fierce people were pulling their cars to the side of the road rather than trying to drive in it, dropped barely a drop on Bedford. We would have been set if things had gone otherwise, though, because I called Leah to tell her about the hail and she did an awesome job putting up a tarp over the poor delicate tomatoes. Just in case, right? I hope the next rain we get is more general as well as more gentle.

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