Saturday, May 17, 2008

April in Paris or Wherever Happen to Be Biking When

If you spent the first part of your life in other places and came lately to the Pacific Northwest, you soon realize that you can’t tell the seasons by the calendar. One year it was 53 on Christmas and only 50 on the Fourth of July. So I have other ways of marking the seasons. For instance, the first day I put on my bike shorts is the first day of summer. I see lots of young male cyclists with bare knees toughing the November rain, but not me. It has to be summer.

This year the first day of summer was this past Thursday, May 14. That was when I tossed my long polypropylene bike pants in the laundry and donned my shorts. Then I headed for downtown shopping via the west sidewalk of Rainier Avenue S. Because it was summer, that gave me an excuse to stop at Baskin Robbins for a “small vanilla milk shake.” Well at least I asked for a small one. But never mind, the proprietor filled a half gallon blender jar better half full of ice cream. Then he charged me five bucks.

I sat at the little cafĂ© table in front of the big Baskin Robins window wall sipping the lovely thing while the CD player filled the shop with a jazz piano/vocal arrangement of “April in Paris.” It used to be that whenever I heard that tune, I immediately started dreaming of Paris with its baroque architecture along the Seine and side walk cafes beneath chestnut trees and started feeling nostalgic and wander lusty. But this time I stopped myself. Because suddenly I realized that no matter how beautiful it was whenever I was in Paris, I wasn’t any happier then than I was at that moment on Thursday in Baskin Robbins on Rainier Avenue South. That’s because ever since I broke my hip and thought I’d never ride again, I know how lucky I am just to be alive and riding my bike.

Mind you the scene outside the Baskin Robbins window wall on Rainier was a far cry from Paris. It was mostly crumbling concrete and chain link fencing with barbed wire. Many of the tumble down commercial establishments were being demolished for hopefully better days to come with the nearby McClellan Light Rail Station. In fact dominating the scene was a giant bull dozer across the street looking like some tyrannosaurus rex gobbling up big mouthful of old concrete.
But it was beautiful. It was warm and sunny. I was perfectly comfortable in bike shorts. What more could I ask?

This morning my husband and I rode our tandem down around the Seward Park Peninsula and on up Lake Washington Boulevard. Everybody was out in force, sitting on grassy slopes, picnicking beside the Lake, walking the paths, riding their bikes. The Cascade Range lined its snowy peaks up along the horizon and Mt. Rainier floated in the haze above it all majestically surveying her realm. Paris has no beauty to rival this, our home.

We stopped in Leschi at Pert’s Deli, an old tradition of ours, and arguably the most popular bicycling destination in Seattle. We sat at one of the umbrella tables on the side walk pretending we were in Paris. Who would know the difference?
The tables were all full of cyclists, young and old from many walks of life. There were rich cyclists with those brightly colored helmets that have lots of air holes and are swept way back like duck’s butts. And there were poor cyclists making do with round dumpy helmets carried over from other sports. One guy wearing a construction hard hat leaned over to lovingly help his young wife or girl friend adjust the strap of her Mickey Mouse back pack. Rich or poor, young or old, everyone was happy. That was because they were alive and bicycling, and it was summer.
I just heard they’re calling off summer tomorrow. Clouds are moving in already. That’s okay. There’s still lots of life and bicycling miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Seeing the World by Bikes and Books

The only way to really see the world is on foot. That’s the way Jesus and Buddha traveled. Because to really be someplace, you have to move very slowly, observe everything, talk to everybody. On the other hand, the world is a rather large place so you might not have enough time left to see it all the right way. By car, it’s a waste of time to even try. Confining yourself to a little motorized wheel cage, you’re bound to miss almost everything. Your best bet is to use a bike. It’s faster than walking and there are no walls to cut you off from anything. You have free access to the world and vice versa.

Although we have barely scratched the surface of the globe on our Bike Friday tandem Project Q, my husband, Dick Burkhart and I have made a few stabs at it and hope to do more. In the spring of 2003, while George Bush was busy wreaking havoc in Iraq, we biked along the east coast of the United States from Miami, Florida to Bar Harbor, Maine. We discovered the Southern peace movement, learned a lot about our nation’s history, experienced amazing little pockets of civilization like the Gullah culture, the grace of Savannah, the southern coastal islands and much more. We jolly well took our time doing that, sitting around camp fires and sharing stories way into the night.

In subsequent adventures we biked along the sunny east coast of Brazil from Curitiba to Porto Allegre ending up at the World Social forum of 2005. Later that year we biked from Toronto to Montreal, then from Paris to the Hague where we toured the Peace Palace and the Chambers of the World Court. Once we even biked across my home state using the Kady bike trail that follows Lewis and Clark’s route along the wide Missouri.

Our most interesting adventure was the trip from Agra to Mumbai, India ending at the 2004 World Social Forum. By choice, if not necessity, we bike alone with no support vehicle nor guide other than Dick’s magical map reading powers. I wrote a book about the India trip. It’s called “Humbler than Dust; A Retired Couple Visits the Real India by Tandem Bicycle (available through as well as Barnes&

The pace of our global circumnavigation was curtailed last December when I fell and broke my hip. The ball joint broke completely off my left femur and had to be replaced by a fake metal one. To assess the progress of my rehabilitation, we’ll be back in the saddle again next winter (2008-2009) for a tamer expedition from Tampa, Florida to Key West. Besides orthopedic assessment, that trip will serve as prevention plan for my Seasonal Affective Disorder. That affliction hit hard this past winter when my convalescence forbad biking from December 5 through February 25. Imagine trying to survive a dismal Seattle winter with darkness descending at 4:30PM without being allowed to ride your bike! Now that’s depression!

Every bicycle traveler has a unique system. Ours is the Bike Friday Project Q made in Eugene, Oregon. It’s a tandem bike that can be disassembled, packed in one suitcase and checked on a plane or train. When you’re biking, the suit case serves as a trailer to haul your stuff. We don’t take much, maybe a change of clothes, a small back packing tent, a sleeping bag, and rain gear. My most essential article of clothing is a pair of neoprene rain booties. Cold, wet feet can completely spoil the fun! We don’t carry cooking utensils, just stop for food at grocery stores, restaurants, and deli’s all of which are great venues for chatting with the locals.

Maybe it’s frivolous to spend weeks on end just “infotaining” ourselves by bike travel. But we have a cause. We call it “Bike for Global Democracy.” Dick and I have a strong belief that what the world needs most is a global democratic government elected by the peoples of the world. So we hand out leaflets and give talks along the way, another excuse to meet the locals.

Before “Humbler than Dust” I had published another book, a novel called “Alien Child” which visions toward global democratic governance. It’s also available through In case you think I chose the topic of this blog entry as a shameless excuse to plug my books, you may be right. I think you might enjoy these timeless adventure stories sprung from the imagination and real life experiences of an old lady on a bike.