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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Busy Busy Busy

So much to blog about, so little time. Since I last had any 'me' time at the computer, I've commenced consolidating households with the Poet Laureate of Lobsterland in earnest, an ordeal greater than either of us realized. Combine that with her latest grant deadline getting moved up a week, contractors converging on her/our house to do thousands of dollars in damage...uh...err...I mean insulation and energy efficiencies, and I don't know what all. Oh, and we got new phones, smart phones. Not a big deal for me, but they had trouble porting Corinna's 180 contacts and she really needed them.

During this span, too, my oldest daughter had a choir concert and my youngest had a play, and these two events were separated by less than 24 hours.

Oh, and our main assistant in moving insists on using twine to secure even the heaviest loads. He makes a spider web of it, but no amount of hemming and hawing will make him consider a more substantial tie-down. In fairness, five loads including appliances, nothing escaped his pickup bed, but my nerves were shot by the time it was over.

Good thing he had moonshine. Or a commercial facsimile thereof, for us to drink from jelly jars.

I don't know why we didn't adopt a couple of new pets, start a new job and schedule an outpatient surgery to complete the week, lest we be bored.

I didn't even realize how out of sync everything had gotten until I finally got to ride home from work Monday and then back to work Tuesday morning. I went to log my miles in the spreadsheet I dorkishly keep, and said, "What? November 30 was the last time I rode? It's half way through December for crying out loud!"

I'd been off the bike so long that 42ºF and rainy didn't bother me, and normally that's weather that makes me crave a millstone.

So anyway, dear readers, if you're still checking in to Lobster Land and wondering what the hell happened, the answer isn't the nothing you've seen lately. And I'll cop to being a bit stressed out at times but it's all going to be worth it.

On my wet ride home tonight, I stumbled across an alleycat race being run by competitors who didn't know the word 'alleycat.' They thought they were on an urban adventure or scavenger hunt or something like that. They were dressed as roadies and their bikes were roadie bikes as far as I could tell (though cyclocross bikes look like roadie bikes to my eyes), but they all had serious lights.

The moving process seemed to stimulate Mo to ramp up her oral destruction of Legos. This is something she's done as long as I can remember, but this week she was building things out of Legos she'd previously gnawed on. The effect is basically a Lego structure as it might appear after the Joplin tornado.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Recovery Happens

I took these pictures at S.I.D.E. when Corinna was dropping off her dog grooming gear. I remember the line in the movie Crazy People about 'I hate art therapy,' but maybe not.

Culturally, we have this notion that mental illness, depression, and so on are one way streets. Knowing that people can and do recover from all manner of mental illness is therapeutic. Probably more useful, in fact, than all the drugs in the pharmacy.

And S.I.D.E. is one of the places people get that knowledge and other tools that make recovery attainable.

Recovery isn't inevitable, but if you want to draw a parallel to substance abuse and addiction recovery, how many junkies and alcoholics would ever recover if they weren't told it was possible?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Temperature of Environment Lowers

Bill Poindexter put up a post about winter cycling, and this is the part cagers* have the hardest time understanding.

This time of year, I get to work and the screen on the Agfa complains about the cold in its badly translated way (I'm told it's Japanese translated to English by Belgians):

I remember leaving work one evening and a coworker saying, 'But it's starting to sprinkle!' It was also around 70ºF, perfectly comfortable weather for a wet ride.

Drop that temperature by 30ºF and comfort leaves the picture, of course. Below 50ºF and rainy is the one condition I really don't enjoy, though I have a rain suit and I do use it for those commutes. It's really only hard right when I'm starting off. Stop at QT for a refill, and I have to start again, stop at Michoacan for Mineragua and chicharrón con carne, start again.

Below freezing it quits being rain and that's fine with me. I sometimes uses chemical warmers in my boots, I have lobster claw mittens (from Mickey's Surplus—a homeless guy told me he wore ones just like it when he was in the Army doing cold weather training), a couple different balaclavas, etc.

I have TMS** anyway, but having to be prepared for changing weather had my panniers filled to capacity this time of year. A lot happens in the weather between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

It's challenging, but no more extreme or ridiculous than going skiing, ice fishing, or any other winter sport. You notice something's not warm enough, you figure out a fix for that next time.

A commuter I know told me he actually finds it harder to be motivated to ride when the weather's nice, because anyone can ride when it's 80ºF. When it's only 8ºF on the other hand...

*I use the term lightly; I'm often behind the wheel of a car carting my daughters about—more 'car light' than 'car free.' 'Cager' is a term that some bike advocates discourage on the basis that it's alienating, but when I'm sitting in gridlock on I-435 between Antioch and I-35, the car is most assuredly a cage. Or a coffin, a straitjacket, a medieval torture device, take your pick. It is no place a human should be.

**Carrying Too Much Shit on your bike.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Best Name Ever (Wanna Start a Band?)

I read a piece in the paper a couple of days ago about a captive breeding program for an endangered species of salamander. I probably wouldn't have finished the article, really, except I was fascinated by the size and name of the creature. It's called an Ozark Hellbender, and they get to be two feet long (they're the third largest salamander in the world).

Photo by Brian Gratwicke

I've never seen anything like it in the wild, which would stand to reason since I'm slightly outside their range, not that woodsy to begin with, and they're an endangered species. Apparently the soak up a lot of heavy metals and whatnot, making them a 'canary in the mine' for the watersheds they call home.

But it gets better. If I thought 'Hellbender' was a cool name, and thought, isn't there a band by that name? the Kansas City Scar article mentioned an alias they are also known by.

Wait for it...


I can't make this stuff up (they ooze even more slime when they're threatened). Is that a bad-ass name or what? I instantly wanted one of my own as a pet. And what a fantastic band name it would make!

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, one night only, the musical stylings of the Snot Otters!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Deck the Dog

We were putting up Christmas decorations and somehow the dog got all jingle-belled.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Our Thanksgiving Day ride (who brought the falafel to the first Thanksgiving?), we had our actual family time.

It's the sort of thing I took for granted at one time in my life, but something about getting divorced changed that.

I really enjoy my family, and that means getting together to gorge ourselves on too much food at birthdays and holidays.

It's so much fun seeing my nephew develop. My own kids are so much older, I'd kind of forgotten this age, able to walk but not really hold a conversation, curious about everything, fearful of little as long as Mom or Dad is around.

Since it wasn't my rotation to have my own honyocks on the holiday proper, me and Corinna made a bike expedition out of Thursday, went to my Mom's on Friday and my Dad's on Saturday. By Saturday, my Dad and step-Mom reasoned people would be sick of turkey, so they did pizza.

And somehow we ended up playing Scrabble at both my Mom's and my Dad's houses. I thought Monopoly, but Scrabble seemed to win out.

I new Corinna was competitive by nature (you don't make it to the Olympics if you're type-B), but I didn't realize she was really good at Scrabble. Swept three games at Mom's and one two of four at my Dad's, finishing with 'Gendered' — straddling two triple word scores for 128 points on that word alone.

Should have known, since that very game started with 'Judo' as the opening word.

Of course, I was left holding some very awkward letters. I couldn't talk anyone into accepting Esperanto proper nouns or Inuit family names.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Epic

It wasn't my year to have my daughters on Turkey Day proper, and me and Corinna both were jonesing for an epic ride.

I often do thirty miles in a day on my commute, but this was the furthest I've done since Memorial Day, when I hit three states in as many days on an ill-fitting bike loaded with four panniers, and oversized sleeping bag and a CPAP.

It took forever to feel like we were out of town. We rode out State Avenue, which becomes US 24, but it's town for so far, there's almost no telling where the bedroom communities begin.

We stopped for a snack in Tonganoxie. In line at the convenience store, a woman said, 'I saw you out on the highway!'

'Really?' I said. 'Were you the one who honked and swerved out of your lane, onto the shoulder in a big pickup to try and scare me off into the ditch?'

'So you saw me too!' she exclaimed.

It was a joke, nobody did quite that. But riding out State Avenue, there's no doubt about how you're not in Brookside. I don't know if the car dealerships give a special discount to assholes on crew cab pickup trucks, but it's hard to account for these machines any other way. If you get buzzed, crowded, honked at or tailgated, it's almost always a grossly over-sized pickup.

But most of US 24 has a nice, wide shoulder and while some people (I suspect assholes driving crew cab trucks but I can't prove it) have confused this shoulder with a Ripple dumpster, spiking beer and liquor bottles in between the shattered headlights.

We had a pretty stiff headwind all the way to Lawrence, and I really hoped the wind would keep up. I felt like the wind owed me a debt, and I feared that with the sun going down before we returned, we'd get stiffed, becalmed or worse, face a headwind out of the north and east as some weather system moved in on the night.

Tonganoxie also provided an interesting rest stop from a graffiti standpoint. Looked to be the same marker, and about the same age of tag, but apparently someone marked the path in the park as the 'Path to Rightousness,' edited the sign warning that the path was not for nighttime use to be 'Not for Nighttime Masturbation Use' and put an upside down cross and 'Burn the Church' on an adopt-the-road sign.

It's the sort of tagging I would have done when I was thirteen or so. Especially if there was nothing on TV and I lived in a small town.

We crossed a creek called 'Stranger Creek,' but I didn't see any strangers in it. It also didn't seem unusual, certainly no stranger than any other creek in Kansas, so I'm not sure where the name came from.

Corinna had a flat by a farm called 'Chix n Stix' where she was barked at endlessly by a mostly friendly looking black lab who kept trying to sneak up behind her while she worked on her bike. I have issues with farm dogs, and two enormous German Shepherds had given me pause in Reno a few miles before this. They were off leash and ready to chase me, though I spotted them first and dismounted, keeping the bike between me and them and getting my pepper spray handy.

Wouldn't have been such an issue except it's the exact breed I saw maul a friend when I was maybe seven years old. They stayed about twenty feet from the road, and after I'd walked the bike past what they'd likely consider their property, I was able to mount up without inspiring them to chase.

The black lab, though, he thought it was game-on when Corinna saddled up. She hollered at him and spooked him back into his yard, whereupon he ran behind the tree line, pinned his ears back and ran balls-out to try and close on her at the other end of the property. I was right behind her, watching the chase, and could see that he wouldn't be able to catch up to either of us as we went downhill at upwards of 20 mph. I guess he had to go back to counting cars after that.

Once in Lawrence, we wanted to eat. I thought maybe Free State would be open, but it was Thanksgiving and most of downtown was closed. There was one really expensive looking joint, an ice cream parlor and the Aladdin Cafe, a Mediterranean joint I ate at back when I bought my Accord.

I ordered the Aladdin's Feast and Corinna got the seafood kabob, and we shared, so we got a wide sampling of the excellent food. Falafel, hummus, pita bread and dolmas for appetizers, then shrimp, salmon, beef, lamb, chicken and veggie kabobs on safron rice, followed by halva for dessert.

It's not exactly a cheap joint to eat at, but it is fantastic food for bar & grill prices.

On the way back, the wind repaid at least some of the debt. It wasn't as strong a wind, but it was a tail wind most of the time. And considering that the traffic there was on K-32 (the highway we returned on) was probably overfed, boozed-up people exhausted by their relatives, we didn't get buzzed by or honked at much. The car that startled me the most, actually, wasn't even a truck, it was a Honda Civic, and it appeared to me that he was in zombie mode. He didn't move over to crowd me, he was riding in a relatively straight line at a very high speed and I doubt he even noticed me on the shoulder.

It was really the perfect trip, gorgeous weather, the headwind/tailwind front-loaded, great food, interesting sights, fewer than average traffic and canine hazards, only sullied by one and a half flat tires (I had a slow leak on my rear tire coming home, but by the time I knew it, we were so close I just pumped it up with the hand pump and topped it off at a gas station to get home).

A bit over 78 miles round trip, probably perfect for me since it stretched me on endurance without breaking me. I didn't even want the teleport button once, confirming something I've thought for awhile: while I can do a century, 80 miles is about the limit of what is generally fun. Above that gets to be too much of a good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cranksgiving 2011

Last year's Cranksgiving was my first alleycat race.

It's a great ride, draws some urban cyclists, some cool kids (basically defined as those who ride fixies without a helmet while smoking cigarettes on their way to a coffee shop), some commuters, and unlike any other alleycat I know of, some roadies.

It's a food bank drive for St. Peter's food bank, and it hauled in over a ton of food and other necessities.

One rider managed 469 pounds on a bike with a B.O.B. trailer.

And you see the coolest bikes. I saw this guy last year with is Christmas-lit trailer and I thought it was Brian Gallmeyer giving his Christmas lights a ride.

There's bikes like the Puglsey, with big cushy tires in case you're trying to ride across a scene from Frank Herbert's Dune. I rode this bike in front of the Broadway Cafe, sort of. Jones has SPD pedals, I ride in Brooks running shoes, so there was a definite power disconnect. But I had to look down and check: did he have a suspension fork? The tires are that spongy, it feels like you're on springs.

Surley actually came out with a successor, the Moonlander, with tires almost an inch bigger, in case anyone wants a bike with tires that double as pontoons.

And track bikes built to favor aerodynamics over reality, innocent of brakes. Brakes are for stopping, as one Cool Kid told me. But I'd never, before Cranksgiving 2011, seen anyone riding around with a tiny front wheel to put their head even further down. It was like a short wheelbase recumbent and a fixie had a love child.

If you're unfamiliar, the race consists of a list of ten grocery stores, and a bunch of things the food bank needs. The first one to get to all ten stores and back with an item from each store wins. Fastest male, fastest female, and then there are team categories. And heaviest load, which as I say was 469 lbs by one rider.

Last year Corinna and I did all ten stores but we weren't even in the hunt as far as time. And we got back to the finish line after the kegs were dead soldiers. Boulevard donated a couple of kegs, bless their hearts, and this year I got back in time to consume some complimentary Pale Ale.

Smart promotional thinking, really. Cyclists, as a group, seem to be foodies and booze hounds, and quality beer appeals to both these vices.

I might have had a few too many Boulevard Pales since they were free and I'd ridden hard and relatively long. I only hit two stores because I wanted to get back for the after party (I grabbed nine items at the second store, not to compete but to fulfill the mission for St. Peter's), but I'd ridden over ten miles to the start and had over ten to get home after.

The temperature had been so high when we left the house, I dumped far too much baggage. Rain suit? Not in the forecast. Lobster claw mittens, overkill. But I left myself with only one long-sleeved shirt, jersey gloves and no balaclava.

Mistake. The temperature dropped about thirty degrees in the hour it took me to get home, leaving me with no quarter. 68ºF is a world away from 38ºF.

Joel won the fastest overall, and hammed it up and made the sort of inappropriate jokes that endears him to us all.

I think the girl who won the fastest female, though, was stoker on a tandem captained by a guy, so there might be a smidge of controversy there. Depends on how much stock you put in a Y chromosome, I guess. Personally, the love of my life had to be certifiably female to compete in the Olympics (they do a test, true story), and she's faster than me hands down.

Like I say, you see lots of bikes. Even scooters that must have been ridden by preschoolers.

And it's a bunch of freaks, no matter how you slice it.

I just should have anticipated the possible weather scenarios better.

On the way home, I spotted a bonfire at the Switzer Community Garden and wanted to stop in to socialize. But I was pretty whipped, buzzing with free Boulevard Pale and I'd left far too much warm gear at home to make room for groceries.

Besides the precipitous temperature drop, the wind that had gusted out of the south in the morning was bearing down ferociously out of the northwest, so I had headwind going both ways.