Monday, December 9, 2013

Thanksgiving Pilgrimage to Bicycle Mecca

The bicycle Meccas of the upper Northwest - Portland and Seattle - were part of my extended Thanksgiving holiday. And lo, the weather gods smiled upon me with cold but rainless days.

But first, Thanksgiving started with coastal walks along Pebble Beach - daytime temperatures in the mid-60s, and clear, with the rare treat of a night sky filled with stars. 

Pebble Beach
The Cycling Yogi and I made a day trip for hiking at Pinnacles National Monument. Leaving the California coastline, the day was close to 80 degrees and the steep uphill climb rewarded us with spectacular views of the unique rock formations. But the highlight for me was clambering through the cool, dark caves at the end of the descent. There is a primal mystery to being in a dark stone cave, conjuring ancient memories of our primitive forebears.


On the way back up the coast to San Francisco, where we would return our rental car, we stopped for a short hike at Henry Cowell state park - a serene grove of redwoods. These enormous old trees never fail to inspire a reverence for the mysteries of nature. Among the strangest observations was the gigantic pine cones that dropped from rather spindly trees at Pinnacles compared to the pine cones of the enormous redwoods, which resembled a mulberry in size and shape.

After a quick dinner with cousins in San Francisco, we flew to Portland, where I had booked us at one of the downtown Kimpton hotels because of their policy of providing free bikes to guests. I had intended to explore some of the city by bike and it seemed like a good deal to pay a little more for a nice hotel and not have to search and pay for a rental bike. I rode a sturdy Public bike in a lovely shade of red. The 3 gears were plenty for Portland's mild hills. The Cycling Yogi and I rode to an Indian restaurant for lunch and then he headed off to his appointments at Portland State University and I went to NE Portland, riding across the Broadway bridge and returning by the Burnside bridge. I ducked under an awning to let a brief rain shower pass and made the requisite visit to Powell's book store, finding a belated Hanukkah gift for my child. Dinner at Thai Peacock provided a chance to catch up with my oldest friend, Amy, who took a selfie of us and posted it on Facebook.

My hotel bike parked at the Alberta Street Co-op
I had come prepared with a pocket map of Portland's bike routes, but ended up mostly winging it. Natives probably know which roads have lanes and sharrows: many do. But I frequently chose the wrong streets, quickly realizing that those with streetcar tracks are not ideal for bikes. My second day was devoted to exploring the Alberta Street area of NE, where I found a nice food co-op. In it I saw a couple that looked like they had stepped out of a Portlandia episode - covered from head to toe in what looked like hand knit garments: hats, sweaters, scarves, leggings, name it. They looked like they might have raised and shorn the sheep, spun and vegetable-dyed the wool, and designed and knit the clothes. That aside, the local hazelnuts were a delicious treat - without a hint of the rancid taste that often taints those found on the East coast.

Despite temperatures in the 40s, there were plenty of folks on bikes, as I expected, given the city's reputation. My next stop was the Mississippi Avenue neighborhood, filled with hip boutiques and artsy shops. I found some fleece-lined leggings, which came in handy during the rest of my trip, when I went further north to Washington. After grabbing lunch from a food cart, we walked to Union Station to catch the train to Seattle.

Decorative railing on Mississippi

West coast Amtrak is slower but more elegant than the Eastern seaboard routes I ride so frequently. First, it's cheap. Our rides cost about $25 each - far less than a ride from DC to Philly, even at the cheapest fares. We were assigned seats and the cars were clean and nearly empty. A train ride from DC to Philly takes 2 hours, whereas driving takes 3-3.5 hours. Going from Portland to Seattle by car takes about 3 hours, but the trip is closer to 4 hours on the train. Nevertheless, the ride was pleasant, with beautiful scenery until the skies darkened around 5 p.m.

We stayed with friends in Seattle, going each morning for a different park walk and returning on our friends' bikes. It was cold - but we dressed for it and the joy of discovering the Interurban bike path, which took us to within blocks of home, surpassed any worries about the temperature. We were told Seattle has had an unusually dry and sunny winter - but much colder than usual. While the temperatures were fine on a dry day, they would have been miserable in the rain.

I was particularly impressed by the bicycle infrastructure in the areas we explored. Lots of protected bike lanes: a two-way bike lane adjacent to the curb, separated from vehicular traffic by a curb or lane markings on the street. They felt very safe, and every driveway that intersected the bike lane was painted green.

Great bicycle infrastructure

My only mishap came from my unfamiliarity with the road bike I'd borrowed. I'm not used to the forward position and the shifters on the brakes took getting used to. Our second morning out, no sooner had I mounted the bike than I got disoriented while moving my hands to a more comfortable position. I was moving slowly, but rode right into a telephone pole, toppling over, bruising my hip, and straining a muscle in - no, no, no - my right shoulder...the one on which I had surgery a year ago. It’s already feeling better, and I hope that in a few days the pain will be gone completely. My bruise is about the size and color of a lovely plum.

From Seattle we drove to Olympia for our last 3 days. It was even colder there, temperatures dipping into the teens at night, but the clear skies allowed magnificent views of Mt. Rainer, usually obscured by overcast sky. Leaving early this morning from Seattle, the plane climbed above the cloud cover. For a few minutes, the tip of Ranier was visible, poking above the clouds, which spread like a soft white sea in the sky, sun shining down upon it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Coffeeneuring – Oh where, oh where, has my little blog gone?

I’m tempted to sing that pathetic Willie Nelson excuse-for-an-apology to my blog: “you were always on my mind.” I’ve been traveling a lot the past two months and, ideally – the more I travel, the more I blog. But while my blog may have been on my mind, my fingers failed to hit the keyboard and, like Willie and his neglected lover, “I just didn’t take the time.” So I’m using the coffeeneuring challenge to catch up on my travels…even though some of them don’t include a hot beverage and others don’t include a bike.

September 19-20: It all began in Boston. No, not the American Revolution…my autumn travels. A business trip took me to Brookline. On my cab ride from Logan airport I was delighted to see a sign warning riders to LOOK FOR BIKES before getting out of the taxi. But the highlight of the trip was my first – yes, unbelievably my first – bike share experience as I took a joyride using the Hubway. Also, I want to give a shout out to Rani Bistro – which served up one of the most delicious meals of my life at a very reasonable price. If you’re in the Boston area – head to Coolidge Corner with a hearty appetite for modern Mumbai food.

Great to see this warning sign in the taxi

Hubway bike share

 October 3-4: Next stop Charleston, West Virginia. Again mixing business with pleasure, I tacked some time onto my trip to see cousin-in-law Ethan Murrow’s art exhibit at the Clay Center for the Arts. Seeing his work in photos or on the web is impressive, but nothing compared to experiencing it in person! My disappointment about Charleston was being unable to find a rental bike. The small downtown was walkable everywhere and I visited the farmer’s market in an old train station, used the public library (which had all the books I needed for a school project), and found a really nice independent book store – Taylor Books. 

Beautiful produce at the farmers market

 October 5: Back home, I biked to Saturday morning Pilates and treated myself to a post-workout soy chai latte and stress reduction foot soak at Arlington’s House of Steep. Delicious chai, aromatic but pricey foot soak, 5 miles round trip. (Coffeeneur #1)

House of Steep - delicious soy chai latte

 October 10-14: Birthday weekend took me to Philly – first with book group for an outing to the Barnes museum (yes, worth a visit), then with Ruth to the Magic Gardens (also worth a visit) in hip south Philly which had a cool vintage clothing shop, anarchist bookstore, and her friend’s son’s brand new (we were there on day 10) OX Coffee, already bustling with patrons and soon to add a performance space for music. I had coffee, but didn’t get there by bike.

Magic Gardens - lots of bike wheels

As members of the book group left for their respective homes, I met up with the Cycling Yogi to celebrate my birthday. On Saturday, we rode from his Mount Airy home to InFusion, a funky, indie shop on Germantown Avenue, where the atmosphere was great, but they totally messed up my request for a soy chai latte (about 2.5 miles round trip – coffeeneur #2). I got a truly wretched concoction of weak tea and had to go back to ask for the soy part, with disappointing results. But they get points for being a vegan/vegetarian cafĂ© and art space. More important, the Cycling Yogi didn’t disappoint, fulfilling all my birthday wishes on Sunday.

October 19-23: Off to Santa Fe – again mixing in a hearty dose of pleasure with another business trip. I had no problem finding a rental bike; it was finding my breath at the 9,000 foot elevation that was the problem. I arrived on a Saturday, dropped my bags at my hotel and walked to Mellow Velo (do you love it?) for a sturdy and comfortable mountain bike hybrid. Riding back to the hotel on level ground I was panting a bit. After a good night’s sleep, I got up to a freezing morning. I layered up and biked to Downtown Subscription for an hour with the New York Times and an unremarkable cup of coffee. By then I was ready to hit the Canyon Road trail where I was glad to have those big tires for my white knuckled descent on a dirt road. Total miles – about 8 (coffeeneur #3); felt more like 12 with my labored breathing. The next day I was more acclimated and took a longer ride on the Rail Trail toward the desert, then turning off on the Arroyo de los Chamisos trail so that I could stay on a paved route.

The mellow fellow at Mellow Velo

mediocre coffee at Dwontown Subscription
The Santa Fe desert

October 25-26: Back to Philly for a short-but-sweet visit to the Cycling Yogi and my next coffeeneur (#4) – this time biking to The Chestnut Hill Coffee Co. (round trip 6 miles) and an overly sweet hot chocolate. The highlight of the trip was learning from another patron that the tiny hole in my tights had split wide open (nope, no underwear) necessitating a quick wrap of my jacket around my waist. Fortunately the day had warmed up sufficiently that I didn’t need to wear the jacket in the traditional manner and thus the world was spared the embarrassing (yes – in this case it’s the perfect word) look at my bare ass.

Smiling - before I realized I had a big hole in my tights

November 2: This is when I realized that I had misread the coffeeneuring rules. I had thought I couldn’t record more than one trip in a weekend and was baffled by people crowing about having finished the challenge. It was a perfect bike day so again, after Pilates, I rode for a treat – this time to Java Shack in Clarendon (8 miles round trip – coffeeneur #5) – which not only has its own bike corral, but knows how to make a delicious soy chai latte (obviously my drink of choice). Sitting at an outdoor table, even with the previous week’s City Paper for reading material, was mighty fine for November.

Outstanding soy chai latte

Convenient bike corral at Java Shack

November 9-10: I knew it would be a challenge to finish up my last two coffeeneuring stops this weekend, as I had a full schedule. The Cycling Yogi was here and we lingered overlong in bed on Saturday, solving the world’s problems. Too late for early Pilates, we cycled to Northside Social where I had a redeye and he had hot chocolate (coffeeneur #6 – 7 miles round trip). We had to drink fast, so we could cycle back to late Pilates. I was able to resist the amazing looking baked goods only because I was headed to 75 minutes of strenuous stomach crunching – not a good combination with a giant muffin, I decided.

so-so redeye

The Cycling Yoga

Sunday, however, was the challenge. I teach yoga from 9-12 Sunday mornings and had theater plans immediately afterwards. I knew I would get home too late to want to bike anywhere in the dark. I had placed the requirement on myself that I visit only independent coffee shops – no Starbucks, Caribou, Cosi, etc. – so the nearby options were either out of bounds or didn’t open until 9 a.m. As luck would have it, Rappahannock in south Arlington – an 11 mile round trip ride – opens at 7 a.m. – even on Sunday. I got there by 7:30, had a chai, burned my lip, and biked back home by 8:30 – in time for a quick shower and off to yoga.

Thank you to Rappahannock for opening early on Sunday

So, I’ve neglected my blog, but succeeded at the coffeeneuring challenge – enjoying the perfect crisp autumn biking weather, comparing the hot beverages (top marks for chai latte go to House of Steep and Java Shack), and – when I decide I need a treat – Northside Social will definitely be the place…so long as it’s after Pilates.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Taquerias Tofu Huts Toy Stores and Tattoo Parlors

A business trip provides a chance to experience a new city's bike culture. Prior to printing my boarding pass for a quick visit to Boston, I went online to check out the opportunity to do some bike riding. I was delighted to see that Boston was celebrating the two-year anniversary of its bike share system: Hubway. Even more delightful was the discovery that a docking station was located across the street from my Brookline hotel at Coolidge Corner.

I had hoped I'd be able to bike from my hotel to my meeting at Boston College, but alas, I was near the western edge of the Hubway system and there would be no place to return the bike. So my plan was to get up early and just go for a little neighborhood jaunt.

Although DC has the nation's premier bike share program, I  confess I have yet to use a Capitol Bikeshare, or CaBi. After all, I have a bike...why pay to use a heavy tank, I figured. So my navigation of the Hubway bike share system was a first...and proved to be simple.

It was a perfect, cool, sunny morning for a ride. The station was fully stocked with bikes at 7 a.m. and I eyeballed the bikes, successfully selecting one that had the seat adjusted just right for my short legs. Yes, the 3-speed bike was heavy as a tank, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easily it rode, even going up hills. For the most part, I stayed in 3rd gear, downshifting only to 2nd on modest hills. That said, I managed to avoid some of the very steep up hills in the neighborhood. I did, however, go down one enormous hill - a bit nervous about how well the bike's brakes would function. Needless to say, I'm still alive, though the brakes could have been a bit tighter.

The bungee-corded basket held my backpack securely. The easy step-through design, seat, and handlebar placement were all quite comfy. All in all - I quickly became a bike share booster.

I didn't plan a route, preferring to just meander around the area, feeling like a kid out exploring. Side streets had little traffic in the early morning, and major streets all had bike lanes or sharrows. The Boston bike lanes are printed with regular exhortations for riders to wear helmets, "no excuses." Of course, I didn't bring a helmet with me, so I just had to be careful.

I found myself in the diverse Allston neighborhood, taking note of the businesses I rode by: taquerias, tofu huts, toy stores, and tattoo parlors. There were kosher delis, a Brazilian bakery, check cashing ripoff joints, and the usual excess of coffee choices.

I made note of other Hubway docking stations, because I wanted to plan ahead in the event that the one closest to my hotel was full when I returned. As evidence of the robust use of the system, when I brought my bike back (within the half hour's use that came with my $6 rental fee) "my" slot was filled, but two other slots were open. I thought it was pretty good that between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. at least four people had used this one station.

After returning the bike, I walked to Peet's for my morning caffeine boost. A long line of people snaked around the corner and I thought, Peet's can't be that popular. Indeed, they were waiting for Verizon wireless to open, as the new iPhones were going on sale. I adore my iPhone, but it astonishes me that people would wait in line for hours just to get a new one. Clearly, as the photo below shows...everyone already has a smartphone!

I left Boston with a new interest in using bike share at home...if only they would expand Arlington's coverage a little farther west, as the closest station is over 2 miles from where I live. But I anticipate using the CaBi bikes for short trips around DC...or the closer-in sections of Arlington.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A French Bulldog Makes Connections

With some time off around Labor Day, I packed my bike in the back of a $137/week (including tax!!) rental car and headed out for a Taoist weekend in Yogaville. It was a spur-of-the moment decision. I had wanted to go to my usual “spiritual home” – the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA. But I’d hoped to share the 5-hour drive with my friend Gayle. Gayle is hard in training for the New York to DC Climate Ride in three weeks and didn’t feel she could take the time off from her rigorous schedule. As a side note – Gayle is 65 years old and has been doing 60, 70, even 90 mile bike rides to get in shape – so, GO GAYLE!! But I couldn’t face the long drive alone and decided to go to Yogaville instead – a much shorter 3-hour trip.

I arrived a day early, getting there in plenty of time for a pre-dinner yoga class. The next morning – after another yoga class – I was determined to spend the morning writing. I’d lost all the edits I’d done while in Minnesota and, well, let’s just say it hasn’t been a highly productive summer for writing.

But I was distracted by mournful howls penetrating the stillness of my room. I peeked out and saw that, across the way, a lonely French Bulldog was parked in the window of another room, wailing for its human companion. I went over and talked to her through the window, reassuring her that someone would be back soon. It seemed to calm her down and I was able to complete the edits on one essay. I then took a laughing yoga class, which definitely cheered me up, went for a post-lunch bike ride, and had a massage – not a bad way to spend a day.

As I left my room the next day, the little Bulldog came running over to me (the door to her room was open). I don’t think it’s anthropomorphism when I say she wanted to thank me for my visit the previous day. Her gratitude was so great that, when I started walking to lunch, she insisted on following me. I went back to the room and found her owner – letting her know that Naima (I’d read her nametag) was about to take off with me.

The rest of my stay at Yogaville was filled with learning some of the lovely practices from the NI family style of Qi Gong: the Dao-IN and The Eight Treasures, as taught by Paul Olko. After eyeing each other throughout the 4-day workshop, another participant and I finally realized that we had known each other through mutual yoga buddies many years ago and we had a good time catching up on old friends and memories. As a counterpoint to the quiet Qi Gong sessions, each afternoon I took a bike ride in the sweltering heat. What a joy to ride on gently rolling country roads with hardly a car – even though the heat wore me out.

On Sunday afternoon Naima was outside again and, as I went over to pet her, her owner asked if I was from New York, and did people tell me all the time that I looked just like Jane Goldberg? I’m not from New York, and I don’t look like Jane Goldberg – but I do know that she’s an awesome tap dancer because Sarah, one of my oldest friends, used to dance with her in New York. As we started connecting the dots, it turned out that Naima’s human was Connie – a good friend of Sarah’s. The two of them had performed as The Doily Sisters at La Mama in New York more than 30 years ago. What a small world it turned out to be.

Connie was at Yogaville for a different program and we never would have connected, had not dear little Naima brought us together. We only had a short time to talk, but Connie and I were delighted to find each other. It seemed the hand of fate guided me to Yogaville.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Guest Blog from the Cyling Yogi ...being about Kundalini Bliss, Google Maps and the Male Ego

[Note from Biking Yogini: Although the Cycling Yogi is no longer my partner, I am sharing his (somewhat lengthy) musings  - despite my very different thoughts about the value of "inner peace," which is, IMHO, more compelling than ecstasy. But readers can decide for themselves.]

It was four years ago this week that BY was to me just a face on the computer screen.  What intrigued me were her vivid accounts of two kundalini experiences (she had no trouble naming them).  I wish I could say that what I experienced was sympathetic joy or the curiosity of the expanding mind, but in truth what I felt was more like I WANT THAT.

Peace, IMHO, is overrated.  I’m not speaking of the cessation of war, which is the highest, most transformative social and political movement toward which we can work.  I mean “inner peace”, by which we often mean “mindfluness-based stress reduction,” not to be confused with numbness. We want our sleep to be less troubled.  But if that’s all we get from our practice, we’re selling ourselves short.  Ecstasy - State of Wonder - Rapture - Cosmic Thrill - Explosive Joy - Abiding love - now that’s more like it!

What I really want is not to dispel my anxiety but to transmute it into spiritual rapture.

Some time in the last two years there began to appear in my Inbox twice-weekly emails from the Night Sky Sangha. This is a small, loose group of seekers that meets in Doylestown, 20+ mi north of me, under the chaotic charismatic choreography of Jeff P. (Jeff asked me not to put his name out where Google might find it, for fear of misunderstanding by the clients of his day job, where he specializes in accounting for government contracts.)  Jeff likes to write about escaping the illusion of ordinariness, embracing a radical vision of Things As They Are, which he calls by the name “This”.   Here’s a sample:

The reason enlightened people have an advantage is because they have become completely inebriated with the radiant nature of pure and abiding consciousness and know this fractal wonderland of WTF as themselves - thus there is no fear or bracing against unpleasant circumstances occurring to their person or body, since they have veritably transcended or seen beyond. They are easily and perhaps always immersed in the core intimacy of direct understanding that they are God - not as a willful or choice-burdened creator, but as the engine of creation, expressive dreaming, and awareness / sensorium of all permutation as a non-durational singularity.

Inspiring stuff.  Jeff is a poet.  Once before, I bicycled up to Doylestown to meet him and join his group.  I’d been corresponding with Jeff after posting on Daily Inspiration last week his explosive dismissal of the Four Noble Truths.  Last night I was tempted to plan a trip to Doylestown for his Sunday 9AM meditation group, but I didn’t feel quite enough juice.  I like my regular Sunday ritual: an hour of kundalini yoga, centered around a 10-minute headstand, followed by meditation and discussion group at my own local sangha, less than ¼ mile from home.  But by 6 AM, I was wide awake and I could feel the electric pull of Night Sky growing in my hara.  Perhaps I was influenced by a swimming buddy who
told me about meeting musicians in Rittenhouse Sq, getting to know them and inviting them home.  Isn’t openness my credo?  Isn’t it new people, new experiences and new ideas that keep me alive?  And the day dawned 68 degrees with clear blue above.

So I packed and got on my bike.  For my haste to leave, I had but two regrets:  I didn’t take time to plot out a Google Map route on small roads.  I can take Easton Rd to Willow Grove, and from there York Rd = Rte 273 goes straight to the Pebble Hill Church where Night Sky gathers.

Even though it’s a 4-lane commercial road, I figured that at this time in the morning the traffic would be tolerable, and it would cut off a couple of miles, eliminate stops to check the map, and get me there on time.  (I might have just used the Google Navigator app in my Droid phone, but the App stopped working.  I’d seen this same symptom once last month, and had finally (after missing a doctor’s appointment in the swamps of South Jersey) solved the problem by un-installing the automatic G-map update, reverting to the version that’s hard-wired into the phone.  But I felt I had no time to do that today.)

The other thing I didn’t have time for was my headstand.

So the bike ride wasn’t beautiful, but it was efficient.  The most interesting thing that happened was about ¾ of the way there, beginning a straight, seemingly vertical stretch of road, I heard “On your left!” and a thirty-something sportster zoomed by with his razor tires and carbon fiber spokes.  He wasn’t lean, but his calves meant business, and they flashed tattoos as he left me in his wake.  Well, I’m not free of the Male Disease.  I started churning the pedals, huffing and puffing. I stayed with him all the way to the top of the hill, and when he stopped for a sip of water, I couldn’t resist announcing, “On your left!” Yes, he passed me again a few minutes later, but I stayed within sight of him and his buddy until I turned onto Sugar Bottom Rd, off the highway and into the Night Sky.

I made the trip in 92 minutes, about 4½-minute miles.  I was pumped.  I was much earlier than I expected, the doors were all locked with not a meditator in sight, so I found a soft spot of grass and indulged my 10-minute headstand after all.

 Jeff looks like a balding, middle-aged accountant.  You’d never guess.  The group was pretty tame, it seemed.  But I’m here for an experience of wonder and mystery and bliss, and it is my expectation, my coming to meditation with this intention that will make it so.  It was a good meditation.  I have no complaints, except that I spent a lot of it writing this blog post in my head, turning present awareness into a story.  I suppose there are worse things to do.  Some time toward the end I had the thought: I’ve already had the experience I seek.  I probably have this experience regularly, maybe nightly, and I don’t remember it.  I don’t remember it because it’s not of this world.  It’s a pure state free of thought and sensation, and I routinely forget it because it has no connection to the concerns of my waking life.

After meditation, I was going to turn around and bicycle home, but Jeff extended me a personal invitation to join the group for breakfast in town, so I threw my bike in back of his van and accepted a ride.  At breakfast, Jeff got to talking about This again.  For improvisational poetry, it wasn’t bad.  He found a hundred ways to knock us out of our ordinary, to remind us that there was a reality radically separate from the thoughts in our heads.  

We don’t dwell in philosophy or conjecture or abstraction, we simply go directly to the curious nature of present experiencing and peel it back to see its nature, to peer into the present evidence of the nirvanic/samsaric disposition of having no condition imposed upon us.

That’s how you wake up, you just wake up, and wake up again; eschewing the predilection for turning unobtainable mystery into something you can have an opinion about.

But there was, I thought, a disconnect between the form of what he was saying and the content.  He wasn’t exuding joy and wonder.  He was taking center stage, absorbing attention, dominating a group of 6 people sitting around a table.  I couldn’t help wishing he would elicit his disciples’ personal truths and inspirations, instead of telling us what to think.  Sigh.  This is what’s wrong with men, you know.  

I tried a couple of times to subvert the protocol, to get us away from the classroom model where the teacher lectures and responds to questions, addressing one student at a time.  But I got the impression that others around the table were comfortable with what they were getting, and it’s what they came to breakfast for.  I quietly slipped over to the cashier and paid everyone’s tab.  (It wasn’t a gesture of generosity so much as a reminder about random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.)  Jeff interrupted his lecture to say good-bye as I put on my helmet and backpack.  I thanked him for his poetry.

I figured out how to delete the updates to G-Map, and on the way home, I followed the voice directions for bicycle.  G-Nav took me way west of the route that I had travelled earlier.  She introduced me to a bike path along the side of Rte 202, which was new and smooth and just a bit too close to the traffic noise.  She kept me mostly on shady country roads and off heavily trafficked commercial routes.  She slipped a bit at the end, I thought, dumping me onto Bethlehem Pike for the last 7 miles into Philadelphia.  This isn’t quite as awful as it sounds, because this stretch of the Pike is parallelled by Rte 309, a limited-access highway that relieves most of the fast, long-distance traffic.  Nevertheless, it was less fun than the rest of the trip.

 Approaching Philadelphia, the Pike climbs 300 ft straight up to the city line, with buses and cars too close for comfort as I’m hyperventilating up the hill.  G-Nav offered Montgomery Ave as an alternative, but by that time I knew where I was, I knew the straight route through Chestnut Hill, and I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t be taken far out of my way.  Now, consulting the map, I see that it looks like a less-traveled road that I didn’t know about.  Next time, I’ll try it.

I’ve been a big fan of GPS navigation since it was first offered in my Verizon dumb-phone 6 years ago.  Unless you’re a programmer, you probably don’t realize how much harder it is to find the best bike route than to find the best car route.  For cars, the algorithm is to steer you from wherever you are to a major road that goes in the right direction, then to get you off the highway at the nearest exit, and to guide you on smaller roads to your destination.  There are many more options to choose from if the goal is to use the smallest possible roads rather than the largest.  In fact (even more esoteric), it’s a famous unsolved problem from theoretical computer science to find an efficient routing algorithm for the general case.

I made it home in under two hours, a slightly longer route because of the car ride into Doylestown.  It was not as fast as the morning trip, but still quite respectable, especially since I had no competition to egg me on, and there was a steady headwind as I went south.  (Funny - I never noticed a tailwind in the morning leg.  I won’t attempt to make that into an aphorism.)

I think my idea of enlightened bliss is a little more rooted in my body and my mind than the one that has been presented to me.  I figure I’m on this planet, incarnated in this form for a reason, and there will be plenty of time for the more abstracted version of samadhi when I’m dead. But maybe that’s just the male ego talking.

I wrote to Jeff and asked if he ever puts out his poetry as poetry, and sent him the most relevant expression from my own slim poetic output, a piece that was written 3 summers ago with advice and very helpful suggestions from BY.

This is the moment for which all your life has been a preparation

Shed fear. Sprout wings. Leap out from arbitrary time.
Transmute the ordinary; prospect the sublime.
Twirl till you collapse, exhausted;
Taste ambrosia; scale the frosted
Himalayan peaks, where fingers tingle,
Senses sparkle, shutters from their hinges fly.
Invite the icy wind to ravage every single
Nerve and singe the savage soul that yearns to cry
Out with a fierce intensity
I’m free!

– JJM August ’10

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My New Toy

            I remember my first time. It felt a little risky, but then I gave in to the burst of joy and thought: I’m gonna keep doing this! No, not that…I’m talking about riding my bike with earphones, letting upbeat music help me sail along the path, time flying by with the miles. And so, for several years now I’ve used music as a biking companion – first the playlists on my I-phone and then the happy discovery of Pandora. Even though I always keep the volume low enough to remain aware of other sounds, I’ve had a nagging feeling that it’s not really safe to ride with earphones.

            So I was excited to try out the Tigra bikeconsole, especially since I got it free of charge from bike2power to review. (There, full disclosure.) I requested the I-phone 4 case and here’s what I found. The waterproof case slides easily on and off the compact handlebar mount, although I had to take the mount to a bike shop because I couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the handlebars. I confess I have zero mechanical ability, confirmed when the friendly young cashier at Big Wheel Bikes in Arlington looked at it, puzzled for a moment, and then proceeded to attach it in about 60 seconds – no charge.

            On Tuesday I biked to work, I-phone securely encased in the bikeconsole. My initial concern was whether it would go flying off when I hit one of the many bumps on the Custis or Mount Vernon trails (those pesky tree roots!!) But it held steady – no worries. The sound volume, however, was a challenge. Once the case is closed completely, it muffles quite a bit of the sound, and I had to set the I-phone to its maximum volume. It was adequate for quieter parts of my commute, but much of my ride is near busy roads – and then I really couldn’t hear a thing.

            Even though I know my way to work, I decided to try out the bike navigations apps I have on my phone. First I tried BikeNav, and – so long as I wasn’t in direct sunlight – I could easily read the turn-by-turn directions while the phone was held in the mount. Also, the phone’s touch screen operated perfectly through the case. But, to my annoyance, a message quickly appeared on the screen asking whether I wanted to “cancel keystrokes.” I switched to the BikeRoute app: same problem. Apparently the little bit of jiggle while the phone is in the case upsets the sensitive feelings of these apps. Still, if I was in a situation where I really needed directions, I would keep “canceling” the message and appreciate having the phone mounted where I could read the directions.

            For the last third of my ride, I turned to Strava – an app that calculates time, speed, and distance. Although I’ve had the app on my phone for several months, this was the first time I’d used it. I’m now in danger of turning into a stats geek – as I delighted in watching my speed, mileage, and time on the display.

            On the way home, I received a phone call while I was on the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track. I was able to answer my phone call, put the phone on “speaker” and have a short conversation while riding, then returning to my music. I was rather astonished that even in the midst of traffic I was able to hear and be heard.

            I used the bikeconsole again on Friday, this time with headphones. The device has an earphone opening, so I suspect it’s intended to be used this way. I also tracked my ride on Strava, discovering, to my pleasure, that I average about 12.5 miles per hour – even with traffic stops. So I’m not such a slowpoke as I’d thought (though hardly a speed demon). On the way home I decided to try music through my I-phone’s play list, rather than Pandora – wondering whether the volume would be adequate without earphones. Sadly, it wasn’t. Later I looked at the bikeconsole box and, reading the fine print, noticed that one can attach a “nano speaker” to listen to music without headphones. However, when I searched on the Web, I didn’t find anything that looked compatible. I might try a visit to the Apple store or a bike shop, since I expect to use the console regularly.

            The bottom line: bikeconsole is easy to use, holds the I-phone securely, and is a convenient device, both for navigation and music. I probably will continue to use earphones but I may try out a speaker, if I can find one at a decent price.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pedaling a Pooch in a Pannier

            Many life lessons are learned on a bike, and last Friday’s ride reinforced a common theme: you may start out expecting one thing and find that life has something entirely different in store for you.  I’m still in Minneapolis, and accompanied my cousin Miriam to her weekly yoga class – a strength-building vinyasa-based session at the Center for Performing Arts, taught by Arles – a skilled and permission-giving instructor.

            In the late afternoon, her partner, Amy, and I biked to Minnehaha Falls – the area I’d gotten lost in three times on Wednesday. With Amy as my Sherpa, we easily found the falls, following the Minnehaha trail for an easy 5-mile ride. Amy filled me in on the local history: tributes to the poet Longfellow – whose epic Hiawatha was reputedly inspired by the falls and, in turn, was incorporated into Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The steps and stone walls that facilitate viewing of the falls were a 1940 Works ProgressAdministration project – a reminder of the many useful government-funded efforts of days gone by.

            After viewing the falls and some surrounding areas, we were heading home, riding a somewhat deserted section of path along Hiawatha Avenue (also known as I-55) when we spotted a small white dog scampering in the grass. There were a few parked cars, and I assumed the dog’s owner was watching it. But Amy, wiser and more compassionate than I, insisted we investigate. In fact, the cars were empty, the dog had no collar, and there were no people around. The friendly little fellow was only too happy for us to scoop him up and go for a ride in Amy’s pannier.

            But the afternoon was hot and, after a couple miles, the little white dog managed to jump out. We called Miriam and asked her to meet us at a designated point where the bike path intersected the road. For the next mile or so, Amy cradled the pooch in one arm, and impressed me with her ability to ride one handed to the pick-up location. While Miriam drove the lost dog home, Amy and I stopped to pick up some dog food and enjoyed delicious homemade ice cream cones from GrandOle Creamery.

            Back at Miriam and Amy’s, we were quickly besotted by “our” new dog. We tried to figure out if he was a Bichon, or a Malti-Poo, or some other breed. He appeared to be well taken care of, but Miriam’s daughter, Rhea, gave him a bath with Aveda shampoo and we pulled out an assortment of toys left over from their departed dog, Yofi. The plan was that, in the morning, Amy would take the dog to a vet to see if it had a microchip, and call local animal shelters to see if there was a missing dog report that matched his description. However, I think that everyone harbored a secret hope that he would become part of the family, as he was a delightfully charming, affectionate, and well-behaved little fellow.

            I went up to bed around 10:00 but my concern about the dog was nagging at me. I pulled out my I-pad and did an online search: “Minneapolis lost small white dog” – which quickly took me to Craig’s List. Less than 2 hours earlier, a listing for a “multi-poo,” lost near the Minnehaha dog park had been posted. It included a photo of a dog named Cooper, clearly the same little fellow who had so quickly won us over. With some sadness, but knowing it was the right thing, we called the number – which turned out to be the owner’s irresponsible girlfriend who had been caring for the dog. We said it was too late to pick the dog up that night, but arranged for the owner to call early Saturday morning.

            Miriam and I left Saturday morning to take a workshop on “Writing Family” at the Loft Literary Center where she studies. Thus, we missed meeting Cooper’s daddy and the bittersweet goodbye to the little charmer. Amy reported that Cooper went wild with glee when his dad arrived, so we rested assured that we had performed a mitzvah – a good deed – by rescuing Cooper and finding his rightful owner. He turned out to be a Maltese-Shitsu-Poodle mix, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some similar dog eventually makes its way into Miriam and Amy’s home.

            Miriam and I both enjoyed the workshop, ably taught by Laura Flynn and then walked around the neighborhood, in which I saw many people on bikes. Minneapolis is clearly a very bike-friendly community. We went into the new Guthrie Theater and walked out onto the viewing area to see the “endless bridge” which crosses the Mississippi river and is closed to automobiles, making it a lovely crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists.

            This morning the rain has begun, and thus, I may have taken my last bike ride in the Twin Cities, for now. I will enjoy just hanging out with family for the last full day of what has been a wonderful visit. But I look forward to future trips to Minneapolis, and the chance to explore more of the city’s beautiful bicycle infrastructure.