Thursday, July 30, 2009

Round Trip

There were many things to ponder and much time to ponder them in during the bike tour. When I wasn't fantasizing about cookies, my musings tended toward the vagaries of the U.S. energy and transportation systems. The bike tour itself was one example. Sometimes the only way from Point A to Point B was via restricted-access roads, in which case we – people and bikes – needed to be trucked. When the infrastructure isn't favorable, you need to rely upon friends.

Multi-modal day

On the road, some of us noticed this stark Ghost Bike memorial near Lima, some of us didn't, which I suppose could be taken as a metaphor. (Read more about Jonathan Dechau here and here.)

Jonathan Dechau Ghost Bike

Some of us noticed the controversial Sheldon hills wind turbine array in western NYS. I support green energy (obviously), but can sympathize with those concerned about noise, shadow flicker, and ice throw, too.

Sheldon hills wind turbine

All of us noticed the Davis-Besse nuclear generating station. What this photo doesn't show is the road passes so close to the cooling tower that it's shrouded in a constant fine drizzle... that we had to ride through. It wasn't hot, at least not in temperature.

Davis-Besse cooling tower

The return trip via Amtrak provided further fodder for meditations on the themes. Grand Rapids is a good-sized city of 200,000 yet its Amtrak station is smaller and more spare than many NJ Transit commuter stations, and has a far more infrequent schedule (my train was at the crack o' dawn). By contrast, I'm told the GR airport is well-equipped.

Grand Rapids Amtrak station

Like many NJ Transit stations, the GR Amtrak station has a low platform relative to the height of the train. What do women great with child, youngsters, oldsters, and others with limited mobility do? At least the conductors provided a sturdy step stool.

At least there's a step stool

I wanted to go to NY Penn Station, but had to go to Chicago to get there. Once there, I had a 10-hour layover. Crazy! But when Amtrak serves up lemons, one may as well enjoy a Taste of Chicago. There may have been side trips to visit Loopy Yarns, the Bean, and the Art Institute, too.

Taste of Chicago

On the trip to NYC, the swaying of the train began to bother my knee injury. My seatmate told me that when the train went clickety-clack, I would hiss in my sleep. I resorted to texting like a madwoman to stay occupied. Happily, NY Penn Station has platforms level with the trains. It's somewhat different than Grand Rapids in a few other ways, too.

NY Penn Station

Because the GR Amtrak station does not accept checked luggage and because of the long layover in Chicago, I had to ship my bike and my bulky luggage by different means – again, my thanks to all my friends who helped out. I finally fetched home the last piece of errant luggage over the weekend. I love my yellow milk crate (even if it's plastic, cough)!

Fetching luggage home

And that is how I got from here to there and back again.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Epic Cycle

The epic cycle was, well, epic: nine days, 618 miles (1,000 km), from Syracuse, NY to the UCC General Synod in Grand Rapids, MI.Map The stated purpose of the ride was "to protest U.S. oil gluttony," but (this being a group of UCC folk) I imagine there were at least as many reasons for riding as there were riders. For my part, I'm concerned about global warming and reducing my carbon footprint, which I increasingly see not only as a matter of environmental stewardship but also as a matter of intergenerational justice. I wanted to give slow travel a try, in a meaningful way, on a major trip.

Here's our intrepid group at Mile 0, Fairmount Community Church in Syracuse. How fresh and eager we look! And, yes, I was the only woman rider (and the only layperson) for the first half of the tour.

Depart Mile 0, Syracuse

The tour was supported, meaning a SAG vehicle carried luggage, snacks, and bike stuff and picked up riders unable to continue. The support staff narrative is inextricably intertwined with the riders narrative, not least because I injured my knee and experienced the tour from both perspectives.

SAG vehicle

As I was telling Heather, when on tour it's surprising how quickly one reality drops away, to be replaced by quite a different normal. For example, "normal" people stay indoors when it's raining or hot. Bikers bike on. "Normal" people are accustomed to amenities. Bikers, um....

Au naturel

Sometimes the riding was very sweet...


... sometimes not so much. Notice the shredded tires and tubes – the bike shop dude had never seen the like and was impressed.

Totally shredded

Our master wrench (and his apprentice) did a lot of repairs on the road or in the evenings – one of the many things I appreciate about bicycles is one can do most repairs oneself. When we needed parts, we discovered the best way to find a local bike shop is to call the local library. Librarians rock! The reference librarian in Grand Rapids, a biking librarian, even offered to lend me a bike after I shipped mine home. (So just imagine the awesomeness of a knitting biking librarian.)

Master wrench and apprentice

Along the way, I picked up a funky bike tan (helmet line, sleeve line, glove line including tiny spots matching the perforations, shorts line, socks line) that, because we were mostly headed west and the sun was mostly in the south, was darker on my left side than on my right.Bikes Babes Beer I was constantly re-adjusting my helmet straps – at first I thought they were stretching, but it would seem my chin fat was shrinking (!). I developed a rather alarming craving for protein and apparently activated some kind of mutant accelerated healing factor that at the same time suppressed immune, inflammatory, and allergic reactions. But most amazing to me was how quickly the men got stronger. Some were uncomfortable with frank appraisal of male beauty (the guys who whinged the most about "objectification" also loved the bar sign, eyeroll) – I marvel at their strength, grace, and hardihood.

Two day riders and four distance riders joined the group at various points – we were ten riding into Grand Rapids. It was 97° F (36° C) and humid, a record high for the date. We looked correspondingly charming on arrival at First Park Congregational Church.

Arrival in Grand Rapids

After riding the entire trip without incident, I crashed on arrival in the parking lot – deliberately, as my options were be hit by a car or hit a post. I trust gentle readers will not be scandalized to learn my first thought was, "Oh... shit." Happily, my mad biking skillz include knowing how to crash: in biking, unlike driving, a well-managed head-on collision can be safer than a glancing impact, so I aimed straight for the post, braced my arms, pressed hard on the pedals to lower my center of gravity to prevent being thrown over the handlebars, hit the post squarely with the front tire, bounced off, braked hard, balanced for a moment, then gently fell over sideways. And nobody got hurt!

Ride's end was General Synod in Grand Rapids. The mayor says it was the biggest convention to date in his fair city. The view of the Grand River was quite appealing.

Welcome to Grand Rapids

As gentle readers have endured my blathering about Synod before now, suffice to say the vision that sustained me whilst riding was this: in the far background, the sun setting over Lake Michigan; in the near background, Grand Rapids shining in the westering light like the city on the hill; in the foreground, a giant platter of homemade cookies!!! Thank you, Michigan Conference UCC, I was not disappointed (sorry, Joan, for eating Detroit first). At Synod, UCC = unlimited coffee and cookies.

General Synod cookies

Reflecting on the tour, I'm deeply grateful I got to know such a great bunch of bikers and devoted support staff. The nine days were intensely intimate yet peculiarly limited. Being book-larnèd church folk, some in the group wrestled a bit with language to describe the experience – gemeinde or koinonia, community, which some would contrast with congregation. I dunno. Maybe it's sufficient to say it was an out-of-car experience.

Out of car experience

As for The Cause of small carbon footprint slow travel, it can be done! And if by me, then by pretty much anybody. My key learning was that paradigm shift I mentioned to Heather. Previously, I'd biked decently long distances, a metric century (100 km or 62 mi), but always as a day ride in loops. Now I know it's entirely do-able to bike long distances as a way to get from one place to another. Even for a cyclist with mad skillz, that's a significant conceptual breakthrough.

And if getting there was epic, well, so was getting back. To be continued.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Pause

Lanae linumque nodo

It's said the classic place to begin an epic cycle is in medias res [in the middle of things]. Having just returned from an epic cycle – a bike tour from Syracuse, NY to Grand Rapids, MI and a train journey from Grand Rapids to Chicago to NYC to Exit 151, I would hazard the middle of things would be the pause in between, la paz, that refreshes. For me, that would be this vision of paradise terrestrial. Ah!

City Knitting

Put another way, while in Grand Rapids I hopped on the #6 Eastown bus (which has bike racks!) to City Knitting, a friendly, full-service LYS full of all that's good and fibery. The helpful staff [hi, Lorilee!] made a weary out-of-town knitter feel like a cherished regular. I can think of no higher praise.


There's a knitted U.S. flag adorning the interior hallway leading to the shop. I neglected to ask after its story, but I'm sure it's a good one.

U.S. flag at City Knitting

Inside, the yarn is sensibly organized by weight, with an entire room devoted to sock and lace yarn (!!!). I was very restrained and contented myself with a skein of locally dyed Yarn Hollow Elemental (63% Superwash Merino, 20% silk, 15% nylon, 2% silver) for a prayer shawl, some Yarn Hollow 80/20 Merino Tussah roving for the Tour de Fleece, Addi circulars with the new, blue cable, and Summer 2009 Spin-Off.

Loot from City Knitting

I immediately cast on for the shawl. I can't decide if the new, blue is all that much better than the old, tan. But I am very certain that knitting kept me peaceable through some inane spectacles that involved adults buzzing like 'skeeters. Then there was the theological claim that made me briefly channel Jonathan Edwards, it made me so angry. Yikes. I must be getting good at this knitting thing – my gauge didn't tighten up. Or maybe new, blue really is all that.

Jumping forward from remembrances past, Designs by Romi is having a sale, see Rosemary's happy bluebird post for details and a chance to win (!) one of her beauteous shawl pins.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What – Huh?

I must have missed the memo while I was away. Were I an organized blogger,Tour de Fleece button I would have posted this post this morning. Given that it's evening, QED. Apparently TdF spinners were supposed to state goals and post pix of their first day's work.

My goal for the duration is to turn this excellent Yarnaboard! prize from Lisa, Crown Mountain Farms Sock Hop roving, colorway Blue Suede Shoes...

Sock Hop roving

... into sock yarn sufficient for one pair of socks. Here's today's progress.

July 4 spinning

Sock Hop is lovely to spin – it flows smoothly onto the spindle almost without pre-drafting. There's 8 oz (227 g) of it, putatively enough for several pair, so I'll stop around 400 yds (365 m) plied. Allez!