Saturday, November 2, 2019

Humans and Systems Are More Fragile Than We Know

        This realization often occurs to me in the Autumn. The hubbub of Spring and Summer keeps me from thinking too deeply about the world around me, but damn, what we like to call Fall usually ushers in the bad news...fires flare, people die, friends commit suicide and the nation threatens to get flushed down another rat hole. November especially, how is it that there is never good news in November? I'm guessing that this is why Thanksgiving is in November.
         My life has been one of good fortune...psychologically and physically, I have been one lucky boy. I'm often heard saying, "What's everyone whining about? We are still taking oxygen in and exhaling carbon dioxide... and there is always ample food in the grocery stores." I'm a type "B" personality. I often say that my life is going "swimmingly"...I progress forward by back-stroking and breast-stroking...I'm not fast and I suck at forward crawl (freestyle). I'm seldom in a hurry, which somewhat frustrates my lifelong partner. She's an excellent straight ahead swimmer. I am not a big worrier, in fact I am sometimes accused of being insensitive to the worry and troubles suffered by those around me. 'Get over it' is likely to come out of my mouth before I've thought deeper about it.
        As a "mom and pop" retailer I encounter hundreds of needy people every week. I have dozens of casual conversations with people who "just want to talk" to someone. My early training in the 'social sciences' and 'special education' come in handy in my line of work. I can usually figure out which bicycle, bicycle accessory or repair a person needs within minutes of their arrival in my bicycle store. I don't irritate people and I'm good at knowing when I'm approaching the "thin ice". Every once in awhile I perceive that someone is in need of more thoughtful advise...I usually start with, "Ahhh, what do I know, but have you tried such an such?" This is not a good counseling technique but what do expect from an uncertified bicycle mechanic?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bicycles Evolving Into Motorcycles, Again

        It began happening one hundred and twenty years ago and then, right after WWI each machine went it's own quiet path and one noisy path. Sixty years later, when the Mountain Bike came storming out of the seventies into the eighties, little did we was happening again. Upright handlebars, fatter tires, suspension forks, soft-tails, hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifting and now electric assist motors and here we are...another generation of fossil fuel-powered cycles.
        There is something irresistible in society about letting the machine do the hard work.  I have wavered a few times over the last five decades from nutrition-powered machines to fossil fuel-powered contraptions (driving Ducatis and Hondas) but, my first love has always been the leg-powered bicycle. I'm not saying they can't co-exist, however nothing satisfies me more thoroughly than earning my own way by leg-spinning up a long hill, followed by the sensation of soaring silently down the other side and repeating same, for hours, day after day.
         I'm in a position now where I am encouraging customers to utilize both modes of transport. I can't help but think the electric bicycle people are really cheating themselves out the euphoric pleasure that comes with climbing and descending under your own power. The endorphins just don't get "cranking" when you are twisting a throttle or setting your handlebar-mounted monitor to Turbo mode. The adrenalin can still be there but... that is a drug that can only get you into trouble somewhere down the road.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

You Know You've Been Ripped Off When...

       I have a couple of customers who slide into Bodfish Bicycles and Quiet Mountain Sports every few years wanting me to get riled-up over bicycle tour guide writers who have duplicated/ lifted a handful of my historic ride suggestions from columns and books I've published over the last fifty years. I explain that California bicycle guide writers are a family and this information really is community property (who has the funds to enforce copyright law?). I started drawing maps of my two wheel expeditions when I was living in Bodfish, California in 1973.
       One writer in particular, who puts ride information on a website named Jack's Essential Rides really gets my people going, "He uses almost all of the rides from your books, California Dream Cycling and Cycling In The Shadow of Shasta!" I checked it out and retorted that hey, these are all public roads and cyclists (even cyclists who write) are always looking for the best roads. Besides, he missed a couple of the 99 rides I published.
      "He could at least acknowledge where he hi-jacked the information." shouted the most recent loyal complainer. I, again...appreciating her allegiance, pointed out that no one was ever going to become rich or famous for depicting or reporting the best roads to ride in California. The audience is small and a sense of adventure is rare these days.  I have broken-even on my publishing adventures within the world of California cycling enthusiasts. I still have a couple hundred copies of the last two; California Dream Cycling and Cycling The California Outback with Bodfish (in fact, there has been a resurgence of interest in this's now called 'gravel grinding'. I occasionally hand them out as gifts or take donations for them. No big deal.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How Could I Have Been So Wrong?

        I just don't get it. Forty-five years ago I figured out that bicycles and bicycling is good for you...the healthiest and most efficient form of locomotion ever invented. Simple and beautiful and increases your awareness of the world around you like nothing else. When cycling is performed and practiced on a regular basis it keeps you young, supple and smiling. It's easier on your feet, your knees, your back and your pocketbook than any other activity that you attempt in the out-of-doors.
        So, why doesn't everyone I know and especially the ones I love, partake in bicycling? "It's too hard"...doesn't have to be. "It's too dangerous"...don't ride where it's dangerous. "It's too expensive"...doesn't cost as much as most of your bad habits or mindless entertainments. Spend $500 on a new bicycle and you are likely to use it for twenty years with inner tubes and chain lube as your only expenses. "It's too much work" yet, they realize that doing work leads to rewards...some that you expect and others that surprise you.
        I really thought that bicycles and cycling would be an easy sell. Now that I've owned a bicycle shop for over twenty-five years I must's not always easy to convince the public that bicycle riding is a good idea. It appears to be so much easier to hop in your car to go to the grocery store, even though you spend as much as a fifth of your annual income keeping the car (or truck) fed, housed and operating reliably. I can't even sell my own family on the idea of regular cycling activity for the sake of health, the environment or extending their lives by a couple of years.
        How could I have been so wrong? I actually imagined that by the year 2020 America would be rivaling Denmark or The Netherlands for percentages of travelers choosing to ride bicycles to complete their errands. I imagined huge bicycle parking facilities in America's downtown spaces. As a teenager with a fertile imagination I was often called "a dreamer"...some things never change.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Back To The Rust Belt and My Working Class Roots

        We have remained "working class warriors". My wife and I worked our way through college. We labored at bakeries, breweries, dairies and in gardens and yards. We worked for Uncle Sam and we continue to pay Uncle Sam. I grew up in a "union family", in the "rust belt" where nearly everyone I knew worked in a factory or were destined for factory work. We paid into Social Security for decades and we want Social Security now that we are into our sixties.
        In a few days we are hopping on a train for a return to Michigan....legitimate hopping...Amtrak.  We'll be rolling through "fly-over" by coastal dwelling Americans. I signed up for this trip twice in the Spring but "fly-over " country was flooded throughout most of March.
        Now, two weeks later, the trip to Michigan was a wonderful success. It necessitated a three hour drive to the train station in Reno, a 48 hour train ride on the California Zephyr and a three hour bus trip from Chicago to Kalamazoo...and then a twenty minute car ride from one of my sisters at 3am to a bed where would could get horizontal for the first time in three days...we traveled as coach passengers on Amtrak saving us approximately $600. Like I said, we are working class people.
        We built our own house from scratch thirty years ago and we still labor to fix the problems that come with an aging abode. My mother, who bought the house we grew up in 60 years ago, has moved into an apartment in a "seniors complex" and I can report that she is doing very well in spite of being mostly blind, while now in her late 80's. She'll be leaving no inheritance to any of her six children. She just hopes to stretch her life savings long enough to cover the rest of her life.
       Our feet are planted firmly on the ground. We are exceedingly thankful for everything we have and the people we have left to hug. ..and hug we did.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Investing An Hour Each Day

       It's my morning habit...a dog walk, a bike ride or a session in the TheraSauna. Moderate exercise for sure, but usually followed up by ten thousand steps at work putting bicycles on display and then putting them all away before five pm. The sauna fools the body... you are sweating so, you must be exercising. I sweat more in the sauna than I do on the dog walk or bike ride.
       Sauna time is precious for so many other reasons...solo in the sauna provides time to get back to the basics; stretch, breathe and encourage the toxins to flow. The more you practice the better you get at flowing freely through the pores. When sharing the corner cabinet TheraSauna space with friends or family,  conversations also become free-flowing...the naked truth is the only truth....resulting in reflections on the time we've shared and forward looking discussions on the days ahead.
       I've read that in Finland and other Scandinavian countries this friend and family "sauna time" is treasured and considered just as important as mealtime for folks to counsel and be counseled, therefore  revealing the emotional state of each family member. This closeness and honesty between family members is something Americans abandoned long ago. There is no room for criticisms and judgements when you sharing the hot box, we all have our flaws and our shortcomings but when we're this close (and naked) we definitely feel more compassion and tolerance for friends and family.
        Regular sauna sessions result in deeper revelations and confidence in the mental states than any other therapies could.  So, come on America, invest in home saunas and share them with friends and family. Get to know those around you, those you care about, better than you ever could any other way.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

For My Nineteenth Birthday I Moved To Hawaii

        Fifty years ago this week I was scrubbing pots, mopping floors and wrapping silverware for United Airlines on the night shift at the Honolulu Airport. Two months earlier I hadn't been west of Chicago. My escape from the Midwest was a decisive one. I needed a challenge and I wanted out from under the constant scrutiny that comes with living close to hundreds of relatives. I was allergic to Michigan air, freshly cut grass, ragweed and my stepfather (who I think was a descendant of ragweed). Ocean air, Desert air and Mountain air have all been very good to me since I left behind the humid, pollen-filled Midwestern air.
        Don't get me wrong, I love visiting Michigan and all of the hub-bub that goes with such trips...but no, I wouldn't want to move back there. I can breathe in the West. I can be a little different (liberal). I don't own air conditioning or a land line, I still commute to work on a bicycle. I survived thirteen years without owning a car. I didn't decide to have offspring until I was thirty-nine. I was a "strange duck"... a big kid who had no interest in playing football, shooting guns or snagging fish.
        I was the first in my family to graduate from high school or college. I took no scholarships or financial aid packages and I didn't go to college to avoid going to Asia to shoot at "Communist sympathizers". My number in the first Draft Lottery was 366...last, beyond pressure to stay in college. I went to Grad School, got an advanced degree in Education while working several part time jobs. I don't think I would have been given the space to do that had I remained in working class Michigan...there would have been too much pressure to get a "real job".