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Sunday, January 30, 2011


Okay, I replaced my chain at Corinna's house on Thursday night. It only took me a couple of hours, what with it being my first time and me being a ninny and all.

Being as it was midnight when I got the sucker halfway figured out and it was a school night, I waived my practice ride at the time. Then, one thing and another, my plans to test it out on Friday evening or Saturday morning failed to materialize.

By the time I got downtown, it seemed I'd missed my chance and so I figured I'd find out soon enough. This was faulty thinking because it assumed the test would be positive. That I'd managed to over-shorten a chain, push a rivet completely out, figure out how to push a rivet back in, re-lengthen the chain, loosen an over-tight link and not fuck everything up is, well, this is me we're talking about.

The TV news guy got there about when I did, which is to say he was on time. Or early, as the 'three o'clock ride' doesn't as far as I know ever leave before 3:20.

Anyway, I got all my gear together and ready to go except for that pesky test ride. Including the balaclava I didn't think I'd need (but did) and the lobster claws I actually didn't end up wearing at the top of a pannier so I could access them quickly.

The TV news guy asked which way we'd depart, the idea being that the 3:00 ride crew would ride Corinna and Brian out towards Independence, which depended on a couple of things that didn't turn out to be true: one was that group wanting to ride toward Independence instead of Midtown, the other being me not being a ninny.

Corinna and Brian are on their way to Jefferson City for Bicycle and Pedestrian Day at the Capitol. This was a trip I'd seriously considered joining before deciding against making a winter tour with an extreme weather forecast (ice followed by a blizzard last I heard) my maiden voyage at riding such distances with no SAG support.

So as we set out to give the guy good footage, I promptly snapped my newly installed chain.

Luckily, Brian Gallmeyer is whip smart about roadside repairs, and even luckier the multi-tool that has lain dormant and unused in my Camelbak for almost two years has a chain break that was much more accessible than Corinna's or Brian's.

I got some good shots of Brian fixing my chain, but by then the TV guy was gone and the 3:00 ride people had decided to go up to Midtown to meet another rider. And, of course, the whole incident underscored how not ready I am for winter touring. The kinds of mistakes I make are ones better learned from when frostbite and hypothermia are not among the consequences of ignorance.

And even once Brian fixed me up, I had to be careful shifting. Try to go 'big to big' where my chain would be on my biggest chain ring and the biggest gear on my cassette and it'd lock up. Also, the chain kept slipping.

Which could mean the chain is the wrong length, has a stiff link or that my cassette or some other part of the drive train is ready for the transplant waiting list.

I learned a lot installing that chain, and while it would be possible to see some of the things I did as mistakes, a wise man I once worked for told me, 'If you learn from it, it's just tuition.'

When just the three of us were underway I did get to finally see the Nine Blue Sheep in the secret concrete canyon Corinna refers to in her '816' poem.

I rode note quite to I-435. Originally I'd planned to get at least into Independence with them, but what with the chain problems and my Mom wanting to watch the KU game, I had to turn around Truman & Manchester.

As I rode back, my chain was slipping. I had opportunities, because of this, to pause and take pics of downtown in the magic hour.


After last weekend's debacle of getting to Crown Center after the last Kaleidoscope session, I couldn't refuse Mo's request for Moon Marble. But I didn't get my shit halfway together any quicker than I did last week, and what with needing to get the girls to my Mom's so I could get downtown and see Corinna and Brian off to Jeff City, we had to leave almost as soon as we got there.

I did remember, for a change, to offer Mo her camera. She took 723 shots in her inimitable style. I offer them to you here in the form of a video.

In fact, I brought my riding boots in with me so I could change out of my running shoes during the marble demo and be that much closer to ready to ride.

I'd egged my friend Jill to check out Moon Marble sometime, but then I've done that before. Several times. So imagine my surprise when I heard her voice ask, 'Where's the rest of you?'

It was a great surprise to see Jill, first time since around Halloween, not long after I went under the knife for my busted birdfinger and about the time the Trek group started wimping out on Monday nights due to weather.

The only thing that would have been more fantastic is if I could have hung around longer. I trust that she found everything she doesn't need, as Bruce put it, in the shop. I think she might have been leaning toward buying Farkel of some variety or other.

But I had other fish to fry. Which is to say I had to get scooting to park Mo and Em at my Mom's so I could get downtown to see Corinna and Brian off on another epic adventure.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Grease Monkeying

Corinna was readying her bike for another epic adventure, riding to Jefferson City at the end of January, no matter the weather, for Bike/Ped day.

I told her if she really wanted to make an impression, she should hike to the event.

But no, she and Brian are going to pump legs instead of unleaded, but they'll do it on steel frame touring bikes.

For my part, I had a flat front tire, knew I needed to change a tube there before I could ride around the block. I'm painfully slow at this task, she can do it in ten minutes or less. I routinely take a half hour and once, on my birthday, I took over an hour with the help of a worn out mini pump.

Plus, I had the rack I got for Christmas. It's an Axiom Journey, and while it is rated for 150lbs of hauling (my girlfriend actually hauls payloads like this), the reason I bought it is in the vain hope that it would allow me to sport the Gay Panniers. And if not, that it would at least keep me from having to stuff the bags to hold their shape.

The problem is the regular panniers want to dive into my spokes if they're not stretched out with a stuff. Fine if you're stuffing them with what you need when you get to your destination, but makes it tricky to use the panniers to go get stuff. Such as a grocery run.

The Basil Twigs still hit my feet, this rack isn't that much longer than the one Corinna fronted me. So much for being 'hip and 'trendy.'

But the shape of this rack lets the boring panniers function just fine because it has a big swoosh of aluminum tube that hangs back where the panniers want to toe in when they're empty. It's a subtle design difference, you wouldn't notice it until you were stuffing books and giant mugs into your saddlebags to keep them from biting into your wheels.

While we had my bike on the rack*, though, Corinna took the opportunity to teach me some basic maintenance. She draws the line at bearings and such, but she showed me how to clean and inspect my frame, lube the cables, adjust the derailleur and so on. And replace the chain we just measured to be shot.

This is tricky stuff. Well, maybe it's not, but I was new to it and we had eight-speed chains to put on seven speed bikes. Which meant taking out some links. How many?

Three, she thought. I suggested counting the chain I took off, and while she agreed this was a smarter option than guessing, it neglected to consider I was in the room. I have a lot more Monkey Wrench Gang than Grease Monkey in me.

Corinna's friend Christy, on the subject of robust bikes and gear that will take abuse, told Corinna she could break a crowbar in a sandbox. Fine with me, but don't be looking to me to repair any crowbars, right?

We counted, we held the old chain and the new chain up against each other. And counted three or four more times. Then, on my maiden voyage with the chain break, I fucked up.

The chain break is a screw-ish thing that you put the chain into and push the rivet that holds the chain's plates together almost all the way out to open (break) the chain.

That is tricky. You screw it in and back up and test, screw it in again, back up and test. I did okay with my first try, broke the chain right where I meant to to remove links, and successfully drove the stuff back together.

But the bike wouldn't shift into its biggest chain ring and it's biggest rear gear. Time to break the chain, put another link or two in and try again.

This time, I wasn't so lucky, and I popped the rivet clean out. Of the new chain.

Thing is, besides being told I was pretty much screwed, the first thing I had noticed about this chain break thing was it had two teeth when it appeared to only need one.

I experimented, and whether this was designed or accidental (take your pick†), you can put another piece of chain in the second track and push a rivet from it into its neighbor. This is a three hand job, and it wasn't a quick process figuring it out, but it worked. I choose to believe the chain break manufacturer designed the tool with lunkheads like me in mind.†

The other thing that's tricky with the tool is seating the rivet so the joint in the chain turns easily. You can bend the plates of a link in so it'll never turn freely enough, and at that point you get to swap links out again. I should probably have more mastery of the process given that I started in on this whole thing at 8:30 and didn't have my bike down off the rope until midnight.

I didn't get the mandatory test ride in because it was so late, but I learned a ton of stuff about general bike maintenance. Stuff I've paid the Trek store mechanics to do, stuff that never occurred to me, stuff that matters if you hook up wit a girlfriend who gets you riding on salty city streets in the winter.

*My Bro has a rack in his basement just like what the guys in the Trek store put my bike on. They're nice, they offer a greater level of control by clamping onto a body tube and all that. If you have a couple hundred bucks to throw at the problem of how to hold your bike while you work on it, I can't say they're a bad idea. And if you get into repacking bearings and whatnot, like my Bro has, it may be even more helpful than I realize. But if you're just cleaning, inspecting, lubing and maybe installing a rack and changing a flat, Corinna's system of ropes and dog leashes tied to nails in the rafters is fantastic and it doesn't cost anything if you already have a dog. The ropes is also lighter, and if you so desire you can leave it up to garrote careless burglars.

†My atheist friends probably struggle to keep their composure when I say God talked to me about meeting Corinna. It was such a bizarre and uncharacteristic experience for me I haven't even blogged about it, even in a footnote, but true story: I walked into church a couple months ago and it wasn't a voice, exactly. More like the memory of a conversation already had, and it was the memory of a patient if slightly exasperated teacher saying, "You read books about intelligent design and then like to split hairs about what designer, whether the designer is still around, was intelligent enough, maybe didn't give a shit about his designs, or might already be dead of Designer's Disease and so on. Check it out, I designed someone who's a match for you. Not generically for you the male of the species, but so specifically it gives you the creeps sometimes. Deal with it."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I got this Gorillapod for my camera, in part because it fits in a pocket, unlike my bulkier but not that stable tripod, and because I could wrap it around the handlebars of my bike.

That way, when I go out riding at night, I don't have to one-hand the bike in order to shoot pictures and video, as I've done a few times.

Anyway, I didn't make it very far before a couple of things fouled my plan to get a good night-ride video from the dashboard camera. First, the vibrations of the snow pack made the thing rotate so I was getting a shot of what was beside me instead of in front of me. Then, to make matters worse, I realized how treacherous the riding conditions were and imagined taking a fall that would smash my brand-new camera. I have personal experience with how easily these things are ruined by being dropped on their open lenses, even from eighteen inches or so.

On dry pavement I wouldn't have any heartburn about this trick, and I bet a piece of tape would suffice to prevent unwanted rotation from road vibration. It might end up having more camera shake and road noise than my hand-held shots, but it'd work. Or the pod might even work for making my PowerShot a helmet-cam. It might be tricky with all the tulle up there.

Anyway, I've been playing a lot with shooting the snow. Not really looking for a specific shot as much as experimenting with settings, exposure time, ISO, aperture, etc. I don't always use the tripod to get the long exposure shot, setting the camera on something concrete is usually more convenient and just as good. I also learned a good trick to compensate for the wobbliness of the cheap-ass tripods I have: use the time delay. I don't have a remote shutter release, but I can let the camera have a couple of seconds to settle down before it starts the exposure.

In fact, right before I snapped this night shot with a 15 second exposure, Corinna nodded at the concrete ledge I had set it on and said, 'Found a tripod?'

Crowning Around / Chile de Infierno

We didn't get our act together in time for Kaleidoscope, maybe next weekend, but since we walked around Crown Center a bit before heading to the thrift store. It would be hard to find a more complete opposite, in terms of a retail experience.

I don't know why I'm such a sucker for fountain pens. They're beautiful, but someone with handwriting as godawful as mine really shouldn't even window shop at the pen store. What is the point of coveting something you can barely even use?

Mo asked for chocolate covered marshmallows at Chip's, and since it was my fault, for insisting on getting the chili going before we left, that she'd missed the promised Kaleidoscope session, I caved. Which meant I bought for Em and her friend, too. I've always been glad Mo favored the marshmallows because this joint sells by the pound and air doesn't weigh much.

Even so, I realized after the Salvation Army Thrift Store, that I'd paid less for a silk shirt than for a stick with three marshmallows and a thin coating of chocolate. A snack that costs as much as a silk shirt should at least be substantial enough to spoil your dinner, shouldn't it? Be, perhaps, too big to really eat?

Of course, the Salvation Army doesn't put on a show for you.

And the thrift store lacks a bubble elevator, I guess.

We got back and had tacos and chili for dinner.

My kids won't touch chili, even Wendy's chili, so I had thrown a couple of home grown habaneros into the crock pot along with some crushed kung paos. The heat wasn't nearly as intense as I thought it'd be, and there was something missing from the chili.

It wasn't until the next morning that I realized my omission: oregano. That combination of oregano and cumin is, to me, the essential flavor of chili.

If the chili didn't seem as hot as I anticipated, I made up for it by putting Mrs. Renfro's Ghost Pepper Salsa on a taco. I had it on eggs the other day and it gave me a flash back to my initiation into the Fraternidad del Fanáticos de Chile Infierno.

I'll pause for those who actually have some Spanish to get done laughing at that, no doubt, clumsy product of free online translation software.

We had a rusty looking bottle of Tabasco sauce in the fridge when I was growing up, I thin bought when my Grandpa, who died when I was seven, was still alive. I think he put it on eggs, nobody else in my family seemed to think it was a food product.I would have been ten or eleven years old, I think, when I asked if I could put some on a taco.

My Dad said sure but a little goes a long ways. I promptly drizzled eight or nine drops across a taco, at which point my Dad laughed and told me I didn't have to eat that. This at a table where my finicky brother often evoked the phrase, 'That's going to be the next thing you eat, young man.'

That first bite made me break out in a sweat. My eyes watered. And seeing the amused expression on Dad's face, I took another bite. No way I could admit how much I was suffering, and by the end of the taco, I felt really good.

Tabasco doesn't do it for me anymore, but Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa is a staple in my house (I always have it on hand, sometimes with other varieties to boot). This newest edition, with the infamous Bhut Jokali, is as close to too much heat as you can get without falling in. As with the habanero version, the flavor of the salsa is fantastic, but get a bit of the ghost pepper salsa on your lips (and licking the spoon, as I did, will produce this effect), you can feel it in your spine.

Corinna liked it, put a couple of big spoonfuls into her bowl of chili. I think she found it stimulating.

I called Mrs. Renfro's to ask if they had any information on the Scoville units of the ghost pepper version versus the habanero, and they don't. The girl I got on the phone went and asked the guy who came up with the recipe, and he said it wasn't 'that much hotter' than the habanero salsa because, 'We want you to be able to enjoy the whole jar.'

Which I guess means that there is plenty of room for someone to make a salsa that's even hotter by not showing such restraint with das Bhut. Though I guess if you want it much hotter than this stuff, you might as well use self-defense pepper spray as Binaca.