Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cycle Chic...Moi?

I am generally as far from “cycle chic” as it gets. My typical commute is 10 miles and I sweat like a pig – even in cold weather. So biking in work clothes…I don’t think so. Besides, comfort is more my style, and I’m usually clad in lycra or fleece – depending on the season. However, if I’m just riding my bike to the metro, I try to wear my “normal” clothes (which aren’t very chic, but a cut above sweat pants).

But this morning, I was taking the Arlington wiggle to the Ballston metro – about a 3-mile ride and it was brisk, but not too cold. On a whim, I put on black tights, short little boots and a claret-colored Betsey Johnson dress with a swingy skirt that I nabbed for a couple dollars in an Olympia, WA thrift store. Topped off with a tight black jacket and a scarf wound round my neck, I took off about 8:20 a.m. feeling, well, chic.

The “wiggle” takes me through my Arlington, VA neighborhood, and I was just in time for the elementary school bus pick-ups. The streets were swarmed with the big yellow monsters, and there were loads of kids with their parents clustered at the bus stops. I secretly hoped that I was inspiring the bus stop kids to beg their parents to let them bike to school, feeling like a good role model for the joys of bike riding.

Maybe it was my imagination, or perhaps it was my good mood – feeling so light and free on my bike, and having my current favorite song-to-bike-to come on Pandora (J Band, Take Our Turn – I don’t care if it is about Jesus) but I definitely think I got a lot more smiles from people while I was wearing my “chic” outfit. Is there something about wearing lycra that creates a subliminal (if not totally conscious) antipathy in non-bikers? Are all people in lycra associated with the obnoxious and impatient racer-types who cut in and out of traffic and seem grimly intense in their pursuit of speed? Or is it just that people still prefer to see a woman in a dress than in sports gear?

In any case, it made me re-think this whole “cycle chic” debate. I have to say, riding in tights and a loose, swingy, stretchy skirt was as comfortable as could be. Sadly, it was really, truly my last ride before shoulder surgery, but once I’m out of the sling, I may rethink my bike attire, trying to add some more “normal” clothes for short trips and see if the smiles are sustained.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Car Free?

            I’ve now been car free for about half an hour, having just signed over the title to my 2005 Prius to my 19-year-old daughter. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around – the young people relying on bikes and public transit and the older generation tied to our cars? But I won’t proclaim car freedom yet, as this is the beginning of an experiment. And my timing of becoming car free is hardly carefree.

            On Thursday I undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, so I will hardly be going anywhere for several weeks. I wouldn’t be driving anyway, nor will I be biking. That made this morning’s bike commute especially poignant, as it may be the last, or one of the last for the year. So public transit will be my new best friend – at least I hope it will be more friend than foe

            In any case, I still had many fresh-looking bouquets of flowers from my daughter’s pre-Thanksgiving dumpster dive at Trader Joe’s. So I strapped them to the back rack of my bike with 2 bungee cords and had a colorful ride to work. I shared the bounty with my office colleagues and, I hope, brightened the morning commute for others on the bike path and the streets of downtown D.C.

            I noticed that the entrance to the south side of the National Mall is now open, so I rode that nice smooth stretch, which I haven’t done in months – having been riding along the north side. It felt like old times to ride around the WWII Memorial, before heading toward the Pennsylvania Avenue velobahn. The pre-inaugural resurfacing is in progress, so the bike lanes are so much smoother, but a bit scary without lane markings. And they seem to have changed the timing of the lights to prevent zooming down the avenue – or perhaps I was just slow, being mindful of the flowers. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the brisk morning and felt happy to count myself among the balaclava brigade of cold-weather cyclists.

            My daughter plans to spend the next month driving back to the West coast, visiting friends and family along the way. Once she registers the car, she will send back to me my prized YOGINI vanity plates. They won’t go up for grabs for 90 days – giving me that much time to decide whether they will adorn my wall as a reminder of my driving days, or whether I will break down and get a new Prius. I plan to take advantage of my Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) discount on a Zipcar membership, and perhaps join Car2Go, as well, as I saw they have a $10 deal on membership.

            In addition to having constrained transportation options for the next month or so, I will also have keyboard limits, as my right arm will be immobilized in a sling. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the long period of rehab, but I am motivated to get well enough to get back on the bike, to carry it up and down the stairs, to lift it onto and off of the bus rack, and wall rack and, of course, not to experience pain during simple getting-dressed movements.
            In anticipation of going (at least temporarily) carless, I stocked up on heavy items, like dog food, laundry soap, a big jug of olive oil, and pounds of nuts. I took the dogs to the groomer and to the vet. But I really want to take this time as an experiment, not berating myself if I ultimately decide that the car free life is not for me, or at least, not yet.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Could Anyone Want More?

            My dumpster-diver daughter is home for a visit. She knows from experience that the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving will yield an extraordinary haul at Trader Joe’s – which is closed on the holiday and likely to have overstocked in advance. I heard her coming home in the middle of the night, and figured she’d gone to check it out. What a surprise I came downstairs to this morning: a veritable flower shop in my living room.

            The day dawned sunny and crisp, perfect for a bike ride. There were a few things I needed from the store to supplement the dumpster haul. I strapped panniers on my workhorse bike and rode to the Harris-Teeter that’s 5 miles from home, instead of the one that’s just half a mile away, wanting to enjoy a glorious ride. Families walking, children playing, and other cyclists presumably out for a pre-pig-out ride populated the bike path and adjacent parks and playgrounds.

I didn’t really have to go to the store today, but I knew that I would in the next few days and figured I’d take advantage of the Thursday senior discount, which I now qualify for. Why not? Of course, I’m grateful that I’m still fit and energetic enough to bike 10 miles in pursuit of food, now that I’m a “senior.”

We won’t be having a traditional Thanksgiving. My daughter and her friend are ardent Anarchists who object to the celebration of a Colonialist holiday – especially one that presaged the near-genocide of the Native American people. I agree with the political stance, but nevertheless, I enjoy setting aside this day to focus on all I have to be thankful for – not the least of which is a passionate, spirited child.

I tried to give away some of the flowers to local nursing homes, thinking the residents and staff might enjoy some brightness – but after calling around, no one seemed interested in taking them. So instead, I focused on designing a menu that would use the dumpstered ingredients to supplement the other foods on hand. I will admit that I was a bit squeamish when she first started bringing home dumpster food a few years ago. But having seen the perfectly good things that are thrown away – the huge quantities of waste – I’ve changed my mind (at least in cold weather). We’ll be having Brussels sprout soup, tossed salad, spanikopita, and the essential: pecan pie for dessert.

Listening to Pandora on my ride, I heard Barefoot Truth’s The Ocean, and thought it was a perfect Thanksgiving refrain:

Every now and then
I sit and I think about this life
And I say "yeah, how could anyone want more?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wiggle Room

True confessions: if I can avoid a hill, I’d just as soon do so. Well, at least the UP part of it. I felt like less of a wimp when I read the recent report on what bike riders really want. Turns out I’m not alone. Non-commuters will ride 1.7 flat miles to avoid 1 mile with a modest 2-4 percent upslope; even we hardy commuters will go 1.4 miles…and the steeper the slope, the greater lengths we’ll travel to avoid it.

For some time, I’d noticed that when I consulted Google maps to plan out a bike route, it suggested a zigzagging path through my neighborhood. I was in the habit of riding slightly farther, in order to get on the bike path as soon as possible, when I intended to travel east. When I take the path, the early stretch on the Custis Trail has a few steep up hills. When I go to the yoga studio, I usually take side streets, instead of the path, but still have three big hills to climb in the short 2.5-mile ride. When I looked up directions to yoga on Google, it again stubbornly recommended the strange zigzagging route, even though it was clearly longer.

Finally the light bulb went off. I remembered my excitement last summer when I learned about the San Francisco wiggle, a genius, east-west route through that city’s valleys, which allows bike riders to avoid the steeps ups and downs that characterize San Francisco. Could Google maps be kind and generous enough to be pointing me toward my own little Arlington wiggle?

In Google I should have trusted. This funny little zigzag through my neighborhood doesn’t avoid all hills, but it definitely minimizes the amount of climbing I must endure. Last Sunday I took the Arlington wiggle to the yoga studio – a slightly longer, but far less taxing ride. I also took it on a trip to Clarendon, where I purchased a brighter bike light (with a rechargeable battery, yay!) for these short days.

The wiggle is changing my life. One might be inclined to think it’s a change in the wrong direction – toward greater laziness and sloth. But I don’t see it that way. Some days I’m up for the challenge of hills and imagine I will still climb them – especially if I just want to take the most direct route or am feeling especially strong and energetic. But other days, the thought of those big climbs is enough to make me avoid the bike altogether. Knowing I have the option of the wiggle makes it easier to get on the bike. Once I start pedaling, who knows, maybe I’ll decide I’m up for the hills after all.

But I also realized that there are times when it’s better to take it a bit easier. Last week, I was fighting a cold, but nevertheless bike commuted a couple days in 40-ish degree weather. I could feel that I didn’t have my usual amount of stamina and, in retrospect, I think it would have been wiser to choose metro over bike. So today, I compromised. I didn’t bike the full 10 miles to work, but I also didn’t bike to my nearest metro stop, which is just under a mile from home. Instead, I biked to the next metro stop (Ballston) – an easy 3-mile ride (using the wiggle) – with the added advantage of a 70-cent fare reduction, each direction. Don’t laugh – those savings can add up and my new light was expensive! In any case, I’m glad to have a little extra “wiggle room” in my bike route options.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Biking Down in Dixie

          Even though I’ve lived below the Mason-Dixon Line my entire adult life, I was born and bred in Wisconsin and my identity is that of a Northerner. I pretend that the Washington D.C. and Arlington, Virginia neighborhoods I’ve lived in aren’t the “real” South. But a visit to my friend Janet’s lake house in rural North Carolina: that’s away down South in Dixie.

            This first weekend in November, the weather is temperate and the trees are just beginning to turn. But the sense of the South is most evident in the acres of cotton fields we pass on the way to the lake. The fluffy white balls cling to dry brown casings from which they’ve burst in snowy splendor. Low to the ground, planted in straight narrow rows, I can only imagine how back-breaking and hand-scarring the work of harvest was – back in the bad old days when it was done by slaves or sharecroppers.

            I didn’t bring my bike, but discover that Janet has a nice sturdy Trek that fits me fine, provided I lower the seat a few inches. Some air in the tires, and I take off, following the country roads with barely a car on them. There’s a mighty hill up from the lake. I can’t quite make it, having to hop off and walk up the last bit of it. Maybe my muscles were too relaxed – having had the treat of a much-needed two-hour massage this morning. Or maybe I’m just not challenging myself to climb enough hills at home. Either way, I continue on my solo ride – the crisp autumn air and bright sunlight making perfect riding weather.

            Past the cotton fields I discover tobacco growing, small wooden structures dotting the landscape that I guess may be drying sheds. My spirits sink as I round a corner to spy a Romney sign out by the road. Janet told me that, in 2008, some precincts in North Carolina went for Obama by a margin of just five votes. It turns out the margin wasn't quite that tiny, but pretty darn close (see link).,_2008 A cluster of trailers – not fancy ones – park on the field across the way and I wonder if their residents will vote and, if so, for whom.

            But the day is too lovely to waste in pointless fretting. I set up my laptop facing the lake, watching the ripples of water in constant gentle movement, sun touching the leaves across the lake – green and gold, with an occasional flame of red.