Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Biking to Hood Canal; Mission: Lower Stress

When I go alone by bike to Hood Canal, my mission is to reduce stress. But lately my trips over there have had their stressful moments. For instance, last time when I was riding up to the ferry pay booth, I was assaulted, yes intentionally assaulted, by a large pick up truck. The truck crashed into the side of my bike as an enormous tire rolled over the side of my foot. A gray baseball capped head protruded from the window frame of the truck.

“Don’t cut in line!” Pretty high stress.

His accusation was correct. But there were extenuating circumstances. There were two semis in line behind the pick up and no place else to go but out on the street.

This trip I got a gentler start. I took the Link light rail and got off at the International District/China Town Station. When I arrived at the ferry terminal there was no one in line, so I pulled right up to the booth and paid without incident. I spent the fifteen minute wait for the boat basking in the sun as though it were July. On board, I began reading the novel Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, a frivolous old fashioned example of British humor. Very low stress.

When I got off the ferry in Bremerton, there was a stress free perfect connection. Kitsap County Bus #14 was waiting to take me to the Silverdale Mall. But my polymyalgia rheumatica was acting up so it was a slap stick skit getting the bike onto the bus. I dropped the bike on the pavement while slamming the carrier arm down on my front wheel. Moderate stress. .But no matter. I got on the bus and entertained myself with the novel until we got to Silverdale.

Now for the biking part of the trip. It’s only seven miles from Silverdale to our family cabin in the village of Old Bangor on Hood Canal. It’s a bit hilly but not bad. Basically it’s a matter of climbing up over the ridge and down between Dyes Inlet and Hood Canal. I headed up Old Frontier Road just as I have been doing for more than thirty years.

Old Frontier had always been a fairly gentle up hill slope so I started steadfastly pedaling in the sunshine enjoying the warmth and familiarity of it all. But something began to feel different. The slope became steeper than it had ever been before. Maybe I was getting old? I looked up hill ahead of me and saw that the world had changed. Although I had been biking straight ahead and had not to my knowledge made a turn, I was no longer on friendly, easy Old Frontier Road but was traveling on an entirely new road that was headed steeply up over the ridge off in a different direction. To get back onto Old Frontier I had to make a sharp left turn that had never been there before. A new road had been built since I had come this way only a few months earlier. Moderate stress.

From then on I relaxed under blue skies, the roads deep in shade as they took me through forested suburbia. There were pleasant roller coaster ups and downs, a soft wind whistling in my hearing aids, lots of nostalgia feelings. I had raised my children in this neck of the woods, and it was old home week. Stress very low.

Our family cabin sits in a meadow overlooking Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains right next door to the Trident submarine base. As the years have gone by we have learned not to notice the twelve foot chain length fence (barbed wire on top) on two sides of the property. Most of the time I come here to the whisper of wind and total peace. But this time neighbors were standing outside to greet me as I came up the road.

“We’ve had a little excitement. Someone cut a hole in the fence last night and broke into the Base. Not to worry, it wasn’t terrorists, just some protestors.”

Not to worry. That was fine to say, but when they showed me where the hole had been, it was on our land only a few feet from our driveway. Stress way up.

I had just barely turned on the heat in the house and started to stuff in lunch when there was a knock at the door. Two lovely ladies wanted to talk with me about the hole in the fence. Assuming that they wanted to question me as a possible witness, I explained that I had not, of course, seen anything because this was a vacation house and I had only just arrived a few moments before. But I invited them in. sat them down, and offered tea or coffee.

No, they didn’t want tea or coffee.

“Are you police?’ I asked.

They handed me a business card that read, “U.S. Navy Criminal Investigative Service.” Stress going up.

It became evident from their polite line of questioning that they had come to check me out, not so much as a witness, but possibly as some sort of accomplice. Maybe they thought I had given the protestors permission to use my driveway?

That was a silly thought because someone planning to commit a federal offense probably wouldn’t ask permission.

Their implied suspicion was reasonable however. I am well known in the neighborhood as a peace activist as evidenced by my published novel, Alien Child, and my former participation in a number of demonstrations at the Bangor gate. The two women fixed their lovely bright eyes upon me and asked about the comings and goings of my family and friends, what church I attended, the names of some of my peace activist friends. Because I am an old lady and not much good at recalling names, I asked them to read me a list, and I would tell them if I remembered anyone.

I recognized one name.

“How long have you known her?” they asked.

I thought back. Although I did have some distant fond memories of this person, I had not seen nor heard from her for a couple of years. “Thirty years or more.”

Early next morning my husband phoned me from Seattle to say he had seen a press release saying there had been a “plough share action.” Not only had the protestors cut a hole in the fence by our drive way, they had done the same to a couple more fences. Ultimately they had gained access to a nuclear weapons storage facility, made a trail of their blood, and put up banners claiming the weapons were against international law and the law of God. The woman I had remembered was one of them. The others were strangers from out of town. The press release said they had all been hand cuffed and required to lie on the damp, cold ground for four hours. They had already been released, but, of course, will eventually be put on trial and sent to prison.

I thought about that. But like so many of my fellow world citizens, I snuggled back down in my warm comforter and sipped my morning coffee, trying to fulfill my mission: lower stress.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cross Training: Of Bikes and Biochar

Having just returned home with my panniers full of groceries is proof that, despite my lapse of blogging, I haven’t quit biking. But for the last few weeks my biking distances have barely exceeded my swimming and walking. No, I’m not training for a triathlon, not that I know of anyway. In fact, my physical prowess has slowed down to where I can almost hear the grim reaper swishing the air around me with his scythe. In fact I swear I can feel him hacking away at my right arm now trying to chop it off.

Well, maybe it isn’t that bad, but it is now with difficulty that I put on my coat and sling my pack over my back, let alone load my bike on a metro bus. That’s because of a flare up of my polymyalgia rheumatica resulting in a huge increase in pain and stiffness. The doctor suggested that I go back on prednisone which is a steroid. I have refused to do that. Instead I’m trying everything from massage to castor oil to Chinese herbal medicine, but what seems to be helping most is my new triathletic cross training.

I can’t believe my good fortune that, as a senior citizen and Group Health member, I am eligible for free membership in the YMCA which has a swimming pool and hot tub. Getting there and back requires a couple of miles walking to and from the light rail station. Why don’t I bike the two miles? I would except that Cherry Street between the Pioneer Square Station and the Y is a virtual cliff.

Partly to keep my mind off such petty woes, I have also been sitting around in classrooms lately doing some cross training of the brain, getting myself boned up on weightier matters like climate change (the planet’s pain). Previously I had thought bicycling instead of motoring would make the greatest possible individual impact on reducing climate change. But this past weekend I rode Amtrak with my husband down to Portland and attended a four day conference called Ecoconvergence. There I learned so much my brain hurt almost as bad as my other muscles. I attended one panel on climate solutions expecting someone to at least mention alternative transportation, i.e., bicycling. Instead they were pushing something I had never heard of: biochar. I have just discovered my spell checker hasn’t heard of it either. Have you?

Jerry Adams, the guy touting biochar, said that all human activity combined emits substantially less CO2 than does the plant matter rotting in the world’s farms, forests, and compost piles. That includes the ones in your back yard and mine. To make biochar they take dry, dead plant matter and burn it in a contraption that doesn’t let the smoke and fumes out but rather uses them to keep the plant matter smoldering. The type of burning is called pryolysis. There are elaborate machines designed to make biochar, but Jerry said you could make a simple device in your back yard out of a covered barbecue pit.

By making biochar instead of letting plant matter rot, you prevent CO2 from getting into the air and warming the planet. What’s left after you burn the plant matter is biochar which is an extremely rich fertilizer that could enhance the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. Jerry said the Pre-Columbian Amazonian natives used to make biochar to enhance soil productivity by smoldering agricultural waste. My explanation here is, of course oversimplified, but if you want to learn more go to:

No, I’m not going to stop biking and start cutting down the jungle of blackberries and knockweed in my back yard to make biochar. Instead I’m going to bike and blog around talking about it. I hope to help promote WECHAR, the Harvesting and Restoration Act of 2009 which has been introduced into the US Senate. Maybe I could even convince the City of Seattle to use its yard waste collection to make biochar. That way they would not only cut CO2 emissions in the City air, they could even sell their extra biochar for profit. Maybe that would boost the City budget enough that the wouldn’t have to cut any bike lanes or trails.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ClumsyCycling and the Health Care Hullabaloo

On December 5, 2007 I fell and broke the little hip ball-joint off the top of my leg. My bike had been pointed up a steep concrete ramp from the parking basement of an office building in downtown Seattle. When I started to dismount and walk up the ramp, my foot got caught on the high bar of my bike and over backwards I went. I was immediately wrapped in a cocoon of nice people wanting to help, so I gave them my Group Health Coop number. Someone immediately phoned an ambulance which, within minutes, delivered me to Virginia Mason Hospital.

“I’ve heard that old ladies die of broken hips, I said to one of the nurses while I lay on the gurney waiting to be X-rayed.

“Yes, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure,” she said. “You won’t.”

I knew without asking that this positive prognosis was based on two facts:
1) I am a bicyclist and therefore in better than average health for an old lady and
2) I am privileged to be a member of Group Health, one of the finest medical programs south of Canada.

The day after I fell, a competent human body mechanic/orthopedic surgeon made a tidy ten inch incision in my leg, tossed out the useless ball joint, and replaced it with an artificial one. The day after that a physical therapist came to my room, showed me how to use a walker, and began teaching me to climb stairs with it. The day after that, I went home and independently ascended the two flights of stairs into my house. On February 24, 2008, less than three months later, I went back into business as an old lady on a bike, doing my shopping, errands, going where I need to go.

Group Health’s total invoice to me was $330. I didn’t have to pay anything for the operation or physical therapy, but there was a $100 per day co-pay for each of my three days in the hospital totaling $300. The $30 was for the walker. It was all very simple, no red tape, no paper work. For a normal office visit I pay $10 at the counter, no questions asked. Confusing invoices rarely come in the mail.

So why can’t every poor cyclist who falls off a bike in this country have such complete and hassle free medical care? Nearly every industrialized nation in the world provides that for all their citizens.

The answer is that in America health care is corporate business. So if you can’t pay, you can’t have it. Wealthy insurance companies have plenty advertising dollars to make sure we won’t get a public option, let alone a good single payer system to compete with their money making racket. In the days of Hilary Clinton’s sincere efforts to fix health care, these companies spent millions to scare people with the propaganda that allowed them to take over.

By the time President Obama came on the scene, a lot of people had awakened to the obvious truth as fewer and fewer people could afford health care. Lots of people had figured out we were not going to get affordable health care as long as we were confined the mercy of the corporate insurance system But back came the insurance industry with more scare propaganda, telling people that with a new universal system that includes a public option, they will lose what they have.. Actually these companies are the ones afraid that they will lose what they have, namely a corner on the market wherein they can name their price. Lately we’re hearing that the answer lies, not in the public sector, but in private coops like Group Health. I’m sorry, but Group Health, though wonderful, is by no means affordable for everyone. It costs a sizeable portion of my pension.

Republican protesters interrupting town hall meetings don’t care about the millions of Americans who can’t afford health care. They only want to prevent Democrats from accomplishing anything so vitally necessary and therefore popular as quality, affordable health care for all, something that would bring this nation up to par with so many others. That would strengthen the Democrats whom that see purely as opponents, not as co-workers in the effort to govern. But maybe the donkeys will thumb their noses at the elephants and pull it off on their own. That would be reassuring because all this hullabaloo makes our system of government look as clumsy as an old lady falling backwards from her bike down a concrete ramp.

Friday, July 31, 2009

New Easy Way to Bike up Beacon Hill

A long high ridge towers over Interstate 5 for several miles before that clogged freeway intersects I- 90 and enters down town Seattle. The ridge is known to us a Beacon Hill.

If you are not on the smoggy freeway but rather standing above with your bike in the charming Beacon Hill business district there are wonderful places to go. It’s basically a coast from there down 12th Street past magnificent mountain and cityscapes to the International District along Jackson Street. Or before crossing a great bridge over a spacious ravine, you could hang right onto the I-90 bike path that will take you past parks and green space all the way to Lake Washington and on across the mighty Lake to Bellevue depending upon how far you want to go.

Or you could go in the opposite direction from the Beacon Hill Business District south on Beacon Ave. and take the Chief Sealth Trail with its skyline views of the Cascades and Olymppic mountain ranges. That Trail angles down the other side of Beacon Hill to Rainier Valley, a narrow stretch of city between the Hill and Lake Washington. That’s my neighborhood, a colorful feisty, international place where lots of
people know each other and have heated differences of opinion on every imaginable subject, in short, a great place to live! It’s called Rainier Valley.

From the perspective of an old lady biker down in the Rainier Valley, it used to be a long, hard sweaty slog to the top of Beacon Hill. No longer. As of, July 18, 2009, Seattle’s birth date as a true city, there’s a new way. From anywhere in the Rainier Valley it takes only a few effortless minutes to get to the top of Beacon Hill these days. No, I haven’t taken up driving a car, heaven forbid! But after winning a long hard fight, with many boisterous, angry, and sadly misguided factions, in the Rainier Valley, we finally have our first fourteen mile segment of light rail.

All you have to do is put your bike on the train at any one of the lovely stations which have so improved the looks of the Valley by means of their gracious architecture enhanced with amazing public art. Depending on where you get on, it will be only a stop or two before you enter Beacon Hill via tunnel and a few seconds later arrive at the Beacon Hill Station

Push your bike off and pause a few seconds to appreciate the Station’s artistic simulation of evening sky and deep blue sense of outer space. Walk under bright creations that look like sea monsters or giant bacteria suspended in the sky and into one of the four big elevators each spacious enough to turn a couple of bikes around at once.

With breath taking speed the elevator rises 160 feet. The doors open. Step out. And Voila! Find yourself on a beautiful new plaza with attractive plantings and paving stones. Red Apple Market appears like magic in front of you, a familiar land mark to get your bearings in the heart of the Beacon Hill business district. No slog. No sweat. A few short minutes of comfort, ease, and beauty have brought you to a height that used to take the better part of an hour to achieve.

Now for a gorgeous downhill ride in any direction!

P.S. I want to put in a shameless campaign plug here for Mayor Greg Nickels who is up for reelection. If it were not for his indomitable persistence, Seattle would not yet be born as a real city.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Right to Ride a Bike

Recently Chuck Ayers, Executive Director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, gave a great speech as part of an alternative transportation panel at Seattle City Hall. He talked about society’s unquestioned presumption that everyone has the right to drive a car. Most people have likely never thought about this before because this right is as much a given part of our world as the CO2 emissions that choke the air we breathe. Our rite of passage into adulthood occurred at age 16 when we were handed the keys to the family car. That was when we started to make our own decisions, go where we wanted to go. The world was our oyster.

This assumption of the right of everyone to drive a car has shaped the building of our world. Roads go everywhere, through everything, over everything. If there isn’t ample parking everywhere, we have the right to complain bitterly. Conservatives shudder at the thought of socialized medicine, but never blanch at the notion of socialized highways, many of which are built with no room for pedestrian or other forms of transportation.

People look at me in wonder when I show up someplace on my bike. Many claim it would be impossible to ride a bike anyplace from where they live. They say it’s too dangerous. Car traffic is fast and heavy. The roads have no shoulders.

But what if the tables were turned? What would the world be like if we didn’t have the right to drive a car? What if driving a car were a unique privilege but instead everyone had the right to ride a bike? It’s hard to imagine because that world would look so different from ours. Certainly there would be fewer cars and many more bikes. Probably there would be many toll booths where cars would have to stop and pay for the privilege of using the roads. All major arterial would have bike lanes, or maybe we wouldn’t even need lanes because cars would drive slower and look out for cyclists. Everyone would move slower, and life would be more leisurely.

We could dream on, but I doubt the world will look like that anytime soon. However, Seattle has taken a small step in the direction of becoming a city that provides more rights for cyclists. Seattle hired Toole Design Group of Maryland to help draft the Seattle Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan which, over the coming decade may assure everyone a reasonable right to ride a bike where ever they want to go. Chances are you may even be able to send your child to the grocery store on her bike to buy a loaf of bread. Likewise, I recently saw a man with a lower mobility disability riding his hand operated bike around the three mile Seward Park loop and then on up the long steep hill of Seward Park Blvd. Within a decade, this gentleman and many others should be seen riding peacefully anywhere in the City.

The Seattle Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan will be implemented gradually, but over the course of a decade many visible changes will make their marks upon the City. Lots of streets will be repainted to accommodate bike lanes, sharrows, and wide curb lanes. When all the planned changes are finished, there will be a well connected bicycle network to link existing bike routes, schools, parks, neighborhood business districts, etc. At important intersections there will be more bicycle parking and other improvements. Employment centers like downtown will have showers, changing facilities, repair shops, and bicycle storage lockers. There will be signage to help cyclists find their way through the City. Seattle Department of Transportation will be in charge of maintaining all this just as it now does with all the automobile amenities that assure you the right to drive a car.

Imagine your grandchildren growing up in a world where everyone presumes the inalienable right to ride a bike!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Will Become of Us?

I haven’t felt like doing this bike blog lately. I bike almost as much as ever. I have to get where I’m going. But the bike muse doesn’t sit on my handle bars like she used to. Instead my mind has been trying to muck its way through this thing called “the economy.” Like many of you, no doubt, I’m wondering intently what will become of us.

Like practically everyone else, my husband and I found out we’re going to be a bit poorer than we planned in our advancing years. We’ll have to cut out our frivolous travel hobby. We’ll have to stay home more and lead an even simpler life than we already do. Meanwhile every night after I park my bike in the basement and head upstairs, I will keep breathing a prayer of thanks that none of our kids has yet joined the teaming multitudes of the unemployed.

But the big concern for me now is Othello, not the Shakespearean play. It’s the neighborhood where I live. I’m pretty invested in the place, heart and soul. Some people have jokingly dubbed me “unofficial mayor” of Othello. Actually, I think of myself more as the wife of Othello. I’m married to the place. So maybe they should call me Desdemona.

What I have invested in Othello is about a dozen years of neighborhood organizing trying to make sure we get a pedestrian friendly town center built around our new light rail station. Up until October 2008 our neighborhood dreams appeared to be coming true with bravado. Riding the wave of the great real estate bubble, new urbanist developers who had also fallen in love with Othello were planning mixed use commercial and residential buildings around the station. Their beautiful drawings and models exceeded our hopes and dreams. Then in October 2008, the economic bubble burst. The now familiar phrase is that development is, for the most part, “on hold.”

Not the light rail. That appears to be moving along. Sleek modern cars run up and down the street every few minutes cheerfully ringing their little test train bells as they pass in and out of the pretty wrought iron station. I throw them kisses as they pass and picture how in July when they start picking up passengers, my bike and I will be among their most loyal customers. But to attract enough ridership to really keeps it going we’ll need more people and shops and stores. That’s where this thing called “the economy” comes in.

I’m not one of those gullible types that sit around watching the news and waiting for the economy to start “growing” and get back to “normal” again. I don’t believe in that. This isn’t “Econ for Dummies Made Easy.” What it looks like is that past economic booms were just big Wall Street casinos where rich people gambled with our future using paper monopoly money. This notion that we should praise the god of “economic growth” makes no sense in terms of the real world. Economic growth depletes the world of its non-renewable resources, most notably oil. Besides, there are already six billion people on a planet that was probably built for about two billion, and it was the abundance of cheap oil that made possible the population bubble in the first place.

So I see these hard economic times as not just a cycling down that will swing back up again. I believe capitalism as we know it (meaning the big stock market casino) is over. What I imagine taking its place will be a poorer, simpler time. There will be fewer people, more of whom will be riding bikes and trains. Instead of eating packaged supermarket food shipped from California, they’ll be growing food in places like (my favorite fantasy) the power line green belt along the Chief Sealth Trail right in my neighborhood, Othello. Instead of living in big houses on great polluting lawns sprawling out into infinity, they’ll be living in small apartments in places like the Othello town center, chatting with their neighbors and walking in Othello Park. They’ll use trains and bikes for transportation, not cars. That I hope is what will become of folks like us who have invested our hopes and dreams in a simpler form of city life.

But what will become of I-5 and other big freeways in the USA? Maybe poor street vendors will spread out their wares for sale on them like in India. As for the big houses way out in the suburbs, new urbanist, James Howard Kunstler projects they’ll be slum tenements housing several families who cultivate the lawns for food. Bleak as this sounds, it’s better than more big phony economic bubbles pumped up by greedy capitalists and waiting to burst again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Being Futurewise: Transit Oriented Communities

I once had a history buff for a coworker. The walls of Henry’s (not his real name) office were plastered with his treasures, namely laminated newspaper clippings from before WW2. Henry was an oldie like me. Like me, he could remember a world without freeways, car oriented commercial strips, or suburban sprawl. Like me, he did not drive to work. But instead of biking he took the bus from the north end of the city and transferred downtown to another south bound bus. His commute took over an hour each way but that gave Henry plenty of time to read history books.

When we were first becoming acquainted Henry asked me if I was interested in history. I had to think about this. I read history only as it relates to other interests like creating a global democratic government, replacing the automobile with bikes and transit, etc. “Actually, I’m more of a futurist than a historian,” I said.

I told him about how I was working with a neighborhood planning group to make sure a pedestrian friendly town center would be built around a future light rail station in my neighborhood. I described how our ugly piece of commercial strip with its acres of parking lots would one day resemble a transit village like the many that line rail systems in major transit cities like Copenhagen and Singapore. There would be lots of bikes parked at the station. People would leave their cars at home and walk to the trains stopping at coffee houses and park benches to chat or read newspapers.

“Like in the old days,” sighed Henry. (So much for my claim to being a futurist.)

Our long awaited light rail system in the Seattle/Puget Sound region is scheduled to begin running in July of this year, 2009. My neighborhood has a plan and design guidelines which have attracted developers who want to replace our yawning parking lots with attractive mixed use residential and commercial buildings with stores along the sidewalks and housing above__like in Copenhagen and Singapore,

Like Henry you have to look at history to see why so many US cities like Seattle have been uglified with parking lots, strip malls, big box stores, and CO2 emissions that create global warming. New Urbanist, James Howard Kunstler summed it up in one phrase, “zoning laws.” After World War II our cities created zoning to make everything convenient for the automobile. They made it illegal to build pedestrian friendly places like the old main streets of America’s small towns or the transit villages of Copenhagen. For miles our major arterials had to be built wide to accommodate fast moving traffic and zoned “C1” (one story commercial with acres of parking required) Sorry no residences. Who would want to live there anyway?

In the past decade, some neighborhood planning in Seattle has been directed toward reversing this trend. The plans allow zoning “overlays” for denser pedestrian oriented places. The idea is that people will want to live near light rail stations with community gardens, public parks, stores along the street.

A Washington organization called “Futurewise” has proposed a state law, HB1490 Transit Oriented Communities which embodies a complete reversal of post World War II zoning regulations. Motivated by Futurewises’ mission to reduce urban sprawl, the proposed bill requires neighborhoods within a half mile of light rail stations to build denser town centers like the one planned for my neighborhood. It would require 50 dwelling units per acre in larger urban growth centers like downtown and the University District. Other station areas have to adopt plans with similar effects, namely the building of denser, mixed use residential and commercial town centers. There will be no minimum parking requirements in the future town centers. HB1490 is therefore the complete antithesis of zoning ordinances that created “car world,” and urban sprawl. If this new zoning law succeeds half as well as the old ordinances that have so uglified the American landscape, we will be living in a futuristic world that will be more like the good old days.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Always Warm There and Other Myths about Bicycling in Florida

Myth # 1: It’s Always Warm There

Well, most of the time. But on our first day at my brother’s condo in Indian Shores near Tampa, Mother Nature sent the Pacific Northwest weather gods down after us. It poured rain as the palm trees bent low in the wind. Then two big cold fronts chased each other down from the north. On the coldest nights temperatures dipped down into the thirties. Luckily we were snug in our Hilleburg four season tent made in Sweden. But days were mostly nice. The coldest reached into the fifties with clear sunny skies, but by the time we reached Miami, our bare limbs were browning in warm sunlight.

Myth #2: Bicycling Is Very Popular in Florida

Floridians were aghast when my husband, Dick, and I told them we were cycling Highway 41 (called the Tamiami Trail) from Tampa to Miami. They were even more stunned when we explained that our Bike Friday Project Q tandem (made in Eugene, Oregon) could be disassembled and packed in our trailer which becomes a suit case to be checked on an airplane.

In Seattle the popularity of cycling is manifest in groups of six to twenty bikers groomed in flashy jerseys skimming along Lake Washington Blvd. and headed out for a fifty mile round trip training ride in preparation for the annual summer 10,000 cyclist strong Seattle to Portland mob scene.

We did see a number of bikes in Florida, lots of them racked onto the backs of RV’s. Such bikes tended to carry old ladies like me on evening spins around RV parks. We only saw one other bike traveler. He was loaded up and headed for the Everglades. Bikes weren’t even allowed on the Skyway Bridge crossing Tampa Bay so my brother was kind enough to drive down there in his van and ferry us across.

The most avid cyclists we met were my brother, Tim, and his friend, Barbara who, like us, are no spring chickens. We had to put out some effort keeping up with them on the Pinellas Trial, a 35 mile county bike path. But Barb wore a T shirt that read “I biked the entire Pinellas Trail--and it only took me four years.”

The unpopularity of cycling was expressed in gestures and taunts from passing motorists on a northerly stretch of Highway 41. “Get on the sidewalk, you jerks!” Never mind that the sidewalks in that seemingly endless commercial strip of road weren’t wide enough for our trailer. At regular intervals, phone poles grew out of the so called sidewalks which often deteriorated to muddy foot paths with no curb cuts at intersections. So we biked as inconspicuously as possible on the far right side of the street. Even so, one man jumped out of his car and yelled, “No one can get around you.” Never mind that it was a six lane boulevard.

The popularity of Florida style cycling was best displayed in tourist Mecca’s like Sanibel and Naples where families and elderly couples pedaled leisurely along networks of bike paths through woodlands often headed for nature parks or beaches. We also found some nice wide shoulders for cycling on a six mile stretch of bridges to Sanibel Island. Infinite panoramic views like the ones from that bridge, of the Gulf and coastal islands, are some of the cycling’s greatest thrills. Also farther south through the Everglades there was less traffic and some decent shoulders where we felt safe and unharrassed.

.Myth # 3: There’s Nothin’ Out There

“Where you folks headed?” asked a local hopping out of his pick-up at a gas station.
”We’re taking this road all the way to Miami.”
“There’s nothin’ out there,” he grunted.
“We’ve heard there’s lots of wild life.”
“Oh, I guess you’ll see a few birds.”

That was the understatement of the year. What we actually saw was a bird watcher’s paradise. Great flocks of white egrets would suddenly rise like storm clouds out of grassy wetlands. Ahingas and herons stood on stilts of legs in the marshes, their long graceful necks poised to suddenly dart out and stab a fish. Flocks of wood storks, white with black tipped wings, and pink rosiette spoon bills perched in trees along side the road. Pelicans flew overhead in formation like stunt planes at the fair. Sometimes we stopped for short hikes along board walks where alligators lurked in dark pools of mangrove swamps. Once we saw a great horned owl perched regally on high. I felt so sorry for people charging by in cars. You must move slowly to see things.

Myth # 4: Lodging is Outrageously Expensive in Florida

I suppose there’s some truth in that. But at the beginning of our trip, my dear brother, Tim, and his wife, Linda, put us up for a few free nights in their condo at Indian Shores. Then we avoided hotels, particularly fancy ones in prime tourist traps although a couple of times we had to resort to private camp grounds which could cost up to $65 a night. But we loved the Florida State parks with their stately royal palms and grassy spaces. These places with fellowship, fun, nature hikes, ranger talks, ice cream socials warm showers, continental breakfasts and more can be enjoyed at the reasonable price of $20 per night. Since we had no automobile, we were allowed to stay for free a couple of nights at Collier Seminole Park as guests of another couple. We also lucked out with some free nights camping out in lovely primitive sites beside the road.

Our final three nights were also cost free thanks to the generosity of our friend, Lucy, in Miami. Her beautiful Spanish style house is located on a park surrounding a lake with a ten mile bike path running around it. Complete with man made white sandy beaches, the place is quite the tropical paradise. Lucy has the house up for sale at $255,400. She wants to move back to cold, rainy Seattle where the average home costs about $150, 000 more than that. Anyone want to cash in their chips and trade them for a winterless life?

Myth # 5: We Biked All the Way from Tampa to Miami

Actually the tow bar of our trailer broke in two outside the Miccosukee Cultural Village on our last day so Lucy drove about 20 miles out and picked us up. Don’t blame the mishap on Bike Friday. That delicate little piece of aluminum tubing has hauled our stuff thousands of miles across many lands. Besides the Company has since replaced the six year old part with a new one at no cost.

Myth # 7: Alligators are Green

Actually they’re black.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Biking Through a Winter Wonderland

Does somebody out there bike in snow? I can’t remember ever trying it, even as a kid growing up in St. Louis, MO. I recall seeing some people doing it in Germany, but I’m unlikely to attempt it now that I’m an old lady with a little ball of metal for a hip joint.

In Missouri we kids mainly biked in summer. In winter we dreamed of sledding through a White Christmas. Every few years our dreams came true, and we had snow for Christmas. Sometime since I came to the Pacific Northwest about 2/3 of a life ago, I gave up dreaming of a White Christmas. Seattle didn’t know much about snow. Maybe once or twice a year some sloppy white globs flew around in the air never reaching the ground. Sometimes it did cover things with that wet gray slush they sacrilegiously dubbed “snow.” Usually by the end of the day, the street gutters were little streams and rain was coming down as usual.

As for me I long since gave up dreaming of a White Christmas where your gloomy mundane winter world is transformed into something mystically white and “scintillating from a million diamond points.” Why wish for something that isn’t going to happen? That’s the surest route to unhappiness. In fact I made up a song:
I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas
Just like the ones I always get
May your days be merry and yet
May all your Christmases be wet.
After all one advantage of rain over snow is that you can put on a layer of Gortex and off you go to do your Christmas shopping by bike.

But this year, the closest to my 70th birthday, Mother Nature gave me a surprise Christmas present. It was a White Christmas exceeding all my childhood dreams. It started snowing in Seattle around the middle of December, and we had snow enchantingly filling the air and mantling the earth until the day after Christmas. A few days before Christmas we went to Lopez Island which is one of the most beautiful places the human species ever inhabited. We walked around peering across shimmering silver inlets through screens of falling snow as this already gorgeous place converted to a world of unimaginable splendor with white garnishing forested islands and blanketing rolling fields. Later we went to our family cabin on Hood Canal, ate Christmas dinner and exchanged gifts while watching snow filling our meadow.

I can hear some of you scoffing, “Bah humbug! Snow’s a nuisance!

I have to admit there were a few minor inconveniences in addition to not being able to ride my bike. Seattle garbage trucks were grounded and trash blew all over the city. The transit system was paralyzed. My husband had to shovel our sidewalks several times and lie down in the snow to put tire chains on and off the car. I was a bit skittish about walking in the snow for fear of falling and throwing out my fake hip, but I used hiking poles and stayed unsteadily erect. I guess the hardest part was that on Lopez the pipes froze for a couple of days, so we had to melt snow for water and use imaginary toilets outside in Winter Wonderland. But I have always found inconvenience to be a side effect of adventure

After Christmas the gift melted like ice cream in August. It was refreshing to get out and safely run some errands on my little black Dahon. But guess what! White feathery looking stuff is falling thickly again outside my window. It’s at least covering the lawn and some of the tree branches if not the street. In the morning we’ll see if it’s really snow or just water running in the gutters.

Anticipate, however, my next blog which, if all goes as planned, will be about our upcoming tandem bike trip later this month in Florida. So much for White Christmases and Winter Wonderlands.

P.S. I would love to hear what you think of snow and whether or not you bike in it.