Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Nitty Gritty

After mostly avoiding driving in the snow for the past couple of weeks, I was happy to see snow in the parking lot at Red Hook, where I could possibly do 360s without hitting anything. Most Sundays that would be a difficult task, as not only was there usually no snow, but the lot was normally filled with cars brimming with brightly colored cyclists and their steeds. This Sunday was reserved for the desperate, including David, Steve, Kole, Michael, Pete and me. Orin showed up with a dog which didn't look too good for riding on but he (Orin, not the dog) proved his worth when he loaned Pete a wheel that he'd forgotten at home.

The decision was made to go to Tully's and hide out until guilt got us on our bikes. No, that's not the reason, I can hear David saying, it's to wait for the rain to let up. Either way, we zipped around the corner to the fireplace at Tully's and hung out for about an hour. At the point at which we reached critical mass, we all got up and went back to Red Hook to set off again on a different conveyance: our bikes. Well, that's not totally true. Kole, known for riding everywhere, even to Red Hook from Seattle that morning, had ridden his bike to and fro Tully's. I rode to the fireplace, as well, as a show of how desperate I was to ride.

Before we set off on the actual ride that would take us south to Redmond and around Lake Sammamish, I showed them my tiara. It was my way of saying, hey, remember me, I'm a Princess, a Laugher Princess and I do not want to be blown out the back of a bunch of Rabbits. We set off into a drizzle and in not too long, David flatted and we stopped to wait for him to fix it. While we were standing around, the conversation turned from bearings to shifters to tires to hubs. I guess that's what a bunch of guys talk about and I wondered what the female equivalent would be- baselayers, socks, shorts, gloves, helmets? Partly because of this thought and because I realized I was riding with guys with beards (Pete has just a mustache, does that count as half?), I burst out laughing. I had been cautioned by Bill to beware the guys with beards but now here I was with nearly five of them in conditions that were less than ideal.

Once we started rolling again, Michael asked what pace I would like to ride so they wouldn't drop me. I hadn't been riding at all for a while and didn't have a quick answer so he came up with 17 and I agreed to it. I think we all need to re-calibrate our speedometers so they are synchronized to the same speed. According to mine, we were going 18 or 19 most of the time. Buy, hey, what's a couple of miles an hour among friends? Everyone was staying together for the most part so I figured they were already making a concession for me so I just went along for the ride, drafting as close as I could to whomever was in front of me (except for Steve, who had cool wooden fenders but no flaps-he created his own rain shower behind him). And this was an experienced group of riders so I didn't have to worry about squirrels or constant slowing and speeding up or other irregular movements that are common in some groups. But I'm glad I wasn't drafting David when he went on his off-road expedition around garbage cans and through the snow. He stayed up and rejoined the group, barely shaken.

And now for the nitty gritty. Well, it was mostly gritty, grit from sanded roads, grit from dirt, grit from who-knows-what. It was coming up from the wheels, running through the brakes, traveling the downtube to the bottom bracket and chainrings to the chain and into the derailleur. Yup, that about covers it; it was covering or filling spaces over the entire bicycle, to say nothing of what our shoecovers or front of our tights looked like. There was far less snow on the route than we had anticipated but, in its place, was sand and gravel, potholes and cracks.

We made it back to Red Hook and our cars (except for Kole, who was riding home) and we all decided to just dump the bikes in our cars and deal with the grit later. Beer was more important anyway- must replenish spent carbs after 38 miles. It was great to be back riding on the roads, in the elements and drinking post-ride. To quote Pete, all is right with the world again.

To make up for a lack of photos, here's a Dave Matthews video of Proudest Monkey. He sings, "car horns, corners and the gritty". 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very White Christmas

I managed to make my way up most of the hill to Marie's house. After all, I was driving a Subaru and following her in the same car, different color. When my wheels started to spin, I backed up into her neighbor's meticulously shoveled driveway and headed downhill to park. This was to be quite a portent for the next 24 hours.

We spent a lovely evening drinking wine (this is Marie's house), eating food, including the infamous fish soup, a Czech tradition, and opening gifts. Marie's son, Ashton, was dressed in all manner of fashion: plaid pajama bottoms, t-shirt and yellow-tinted aviator glasses and the gifts he received only added to that worldly menagerie: a (manly) paisley pashmina scarf, a blanket with peace, love and hippiness and some lumps of coal. Marie's friend Steve, known as the man who was fired from his wrapping job, presented his gifts either completely unwrapped or in a plastic bag: a book for Ashton and African jewelry for us. Marie presented me with the proper stemware for drinking red wine and I passed to her a gift from the "Goddess of Wool"- armwarmers. 

Since it was "only" 11pm at that time, we headed on up to the neighbors' house for dessert and games. Baldo, the Doberman, bounded up to us at the door with a sniff to each person's crotch and Michelle and Joe treated us to pumpkin pie, while their daughter, Sabina, drew us into a hilarious game that took us late into the night, laughing and drinking more wine.

In the morning, xmas day, it was still very white out, with more than a foot of snow on the ground, and more snow began to fall. After breakfast, we felt a need to be productive so we went out to free Marie's car from its precarious spot in the driveway. The shovel came from the back of my car and is the variety that comes apart and can be carried in a backpack, while still being very effective. If I am ever buried in an avalanche, I hope Marie is along with that shovel. That woman can dig! She freed her car and drove down to the bottom of the hill, tires looking like they were swimming, to park until everything melted. Shortly thereafter, her friend Steve departed and we heard a car alarm go off. Worried that he might be having a problem, we went down to help him out. From the top of the hill, we called out to him that we'd be there in a moment. 

I had a bit of deja vu: it was just this past summer when there was a similar situation on a bike ride near Mt Rainier and a motorcyclist went off the road. He was told help was on the way and who should show up to help but me, Marie and Erika, later known as "Too Tall, Too Small and the Princess". This time, however, the Princess was nowhere to be found (lost again?) but at least we had a shovel. Marie did a little digging and I pushed and suddenly, the car was freed. 
We retreated back to the warmth of the house and sipped tea and nibbled on cookies. A short time later, Marie noticed an emergency vehicle who was trying to get up the hill and was struggling to get turned around. We looked at each other and knew exactly what we had to do: she grabbed the shovel and I went to get my camera. I promised the firefighter that the photos wouldn't be all over the internet and he was grateful. But I didn't mention this blog. Marie was to the rescue again, as she brought down some kitty litter and the fireman was off, ego only slightly bruised.

The snow was letting up a bit and it was time to go out and play. We put on some layers and joined up with the neighbors, setting off on foot up the hill. Among us, we had 4 types of sliding-in-snow devices and we headed toward Lewis Park to their open slopes. On the way, 
you guessed it, we stopped
to push a car out of the snow, then went merrily on our way. We took some roads but mostly trails, as Bellevue has lots of greenspace that has been preserved while the houses and subdivisions were being built. At the park, we all utilized the many different kinds of sliding mechanisms and even found another: a sheet of cardboard box covered with packing tape that we dubbed the "Ghetto Sled". Whatever works.

Exhausted from too much fun and dragging ourselves up the hill many times over, we headed back, primarily on the trails system. If I had been blindfolded and dropped there, I might have thought I was on the Commonwealth Basin trail at Snoqualmie Pass. There was that much snow!
Back at Marie's, the snow had stopped falling, the air was a little warmer and I decided to make my escape, though I knew that meant I would miss out on another feast, especially since Marie received a gift of a cookbook from Michelle. But who knew when it would really stop snowing at Marie's house so I prepared to leave. She walked me out to my car and, fittingly, I became the fifth car she helped push out of the snow that day.

For more photos of Winter Storm 2008, click here for the gallery.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice!

Seattle has morphed into the city I've always wanted to live in this past week. We already had the friendly atmosphere and the great food but now we have an incredible climate change...snow! In the 20 years I've lived here, this is the first time I remember it being cold and snowy for more than 5 days in a row. I can have a green tea latte down the street at Chocolati, then head down to Green Lake for a lap of skate skiing and hop a bus to work, catching lunch at Tom Douglas' pizza place, Serious Pie.

All this just in time for the Winter Solstice, which happens to coincide with the start of Hanukah this year. What a great gift! 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa Claus Convention, NYC

The following photo montage is a good illustration of what makes New York such a great city. They have heart, sense of humor and  a sense of unity. Enjoy these photos and narration from a New York Times photographer, Bill Cunningham.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Around the World on One Pair of Underwear

The saying goes that everyone's got a book in them and I agree. Each person's unique perspective on their set of circumstances and experiences can make for an interesting read. Sometimes, it's one experience in particular that someone writes about and, along those lines, is how I came up with a possible title of my book-to-be.
From Whirled Traveler

My commuter bike, the Surly, was working seamlessly, shifting with ease and rolling without much resistance and, as I was rounding the southwest corner of the Woodland Park Zoo, I thought how I would love to just keep on riding, extending this feeling of simplicity. I thought back to a ride I had done a year or so earlier with a friend who does long distance riding (randonneuring) and how I remarked at the 40-mile point that I felt like I could just keep riding all day and she replied, "Now, you're speaking my language!".

What if I did just keep riding all day and all week and month, etc. Where could that take me? I certainly wasn't taking much with me, as I had packed my one pannier with the day's food and clothing for work. Yes, just one pair of underwear. And, unlike most days, I just happened to have my debit card along because I was going to buy something downtown that I needed for the office. I graduated from an Outward Bound course many years ago and, on the eve before our 3-day solos, we were told that the less we took with us, the more we'd bring back. Based on that premise, I was going to need another pannier, a rack pack and a trailer for all I would bring back (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Then, my so-called good sense kicked in and I remembered that I was lucky to have a job and needed to keep it in order to keep my home and to save for a rainy day and maybe even retirement. But isn't retirement just another word for "the bike tour you wanted to take your whole life?"

With the feeling of responsibility and planning and enjoying my life not just in the present, but years from now when, hopefully, I can still enjoy it, I went to work. But I was left wondering about wandering...