Pooh Sticks on bikes

pooh_sticks_begin

Pooh sticks is a game you play on a bridge over running water. Not like poo on a bridge:

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but Pooh on a bridge.

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No backpacking trip I’ve ever been on is complete without a rousing game; bottles of Peppermint Schnapps were won and lost all over the Weminuche Wilderness. We used to drop our sticks and then run across to the other side of the road with full backpacks on, but nothing is quite the same as trying to run this way with cycling shoes on.

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Here in Trinity Alps the stick selection is awesome, and the river is punishing.
But the water is so clear even from far away the winner is obvious.

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Along the river we found the house where Pooh lives.

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The only access is a rickety wooden foot bridge that spans the river, and to move your shit back and forth there’s a wire cable telpher that reaches all the way to the road. We were walking up and down the side of the road trying to get a good photo of the house, and some locals drove by with the look on their faces that they knew exactly what we were trying to do.

poohs_house

Which is: Move in! Move in! The price of Pooh’s cabin is high so the dogs will have to rough it for awhile.

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But we’re moving in as soon as we can test out that foot bridge, and maybe after we kick out some squatters. Meanwhile back at the cabin we’re staying at we are trying out a new bear bag technique. We haven’t seen any bears yet, just some wild turkeys, a roving pack of wild rottweilers and a dog named Toby whose owner screams, “Don’t worry he won’t bite. Toby NO! Toby NO!” as Toby gives the bicycles chase. Never can be too careful.

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Thomas Pynchon asks us “You guys want to share a joint?”

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Last week we packed up dogs and bikes and headed to Trinity Alps. Apparently Trinity Alps is where you want to go in the off season for total isolation. Hello no one, can I ride in the middle of the road now?

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Living in Los Angeles it’s pretty darn easy to forget what no-one-around feels like. Your head goes through all the usual stuff: Are my dentals records current? What does bear poop look like again? What do all these people do without cell reception? Does the Audi make us look like Obama supporters? And yes, what if I just collapse here and die, and no one finds me until the spring. Guess that’d be OK.

trinity_alps_sun

trinity_alps_fall_leaves

The leaves are turning yellow with the occasional brilliance of red. Lots of moss climbing over weeping spruces, foxtail pines, sugar pines, dogwood maples, and black oaks.

Riding up a one lane road that wound its way into the mountains we came across black-tailed deer and no cars. Zero. The roads were smooth as silk, and the trees were pumping out as much oxygen as we needed. We didn’t have to worry about potholes and polluted air but we did get chased by dogs near a sign that said “please drive slow, pets live here.”

At a boat put-in on the Trinity River we took a break, dipping only fingers into the cold and grumbly water.

trinity_river_bikes

It’s salmon season, and upriver from us were two fishermen, casting from the water with bare legs. As we got ready to leave, a truck stopped next to us and a man dressed in beige camouflage rolled down the window. “Do those guys seem sketchy?” he asked.

We told him we didn’t think so, they were just fishing.

He pointed to a flat area a little further up the river. “What goes on over there?”

We shrugged, and told him it seemed like it was just a parking area, even though there were no cars. But, we said, the weird thing about this whole place is that all we’ve ever seen since we arrived are boat hitches. Not a single boat. Weird huh?

He opened his door and braced it with his foot. “You guys want to share a joint?”

We declined.

He licked his rolling paper and said those guys were probably marijuana growers disguised as fishermen. He was a writer, and that meant they would probably be good fodder for him. He lit his joint.

He said he liked to dress as a hunter because that way everyone gave him “maximum respect,” and then he said something incomprehensible about when the fire came through the area a few years ago and the cops came and one in eight of them weren’t real cops, just dressed as them. “Or scrubs,” he added. “Camo or scrubs will do it.”

Then he hit on a grand idea and said we should ride our bikes dressed not all brightly pink and yellow but as hunters in camo, and instead of having the bike pump attached to our frames to carry a shotgun. David said that would be perfect, so if he fell on the bike he could also shoot himself in the foot. Our friend, whom we decided had to be Thomas Pynchon, said that wouldn’t be a big deal, since the people here shoot themselves up all the time.

Mr. P asked us if we were from the bay area, and we said, no, southern California. His face puckered into a state of maximum confusion. We told him we didn’t bike all that way, and he seemed relieved.

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Getting crafty at the velodrome

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After getting certified at the velodrome, the next thing to do is to get a bike. After scoring a perfectly “mini me” black track bike the best way to make it real is to go Italian.

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cannondale_italian_flag

After that (and because the certificate says I have “acceptable knowledge of track etiquette”), it’s good to be prepared in the pit with tools. Plus it’s nice to help others out in case they forgot their wrenches. Track people are nice. There’s a self-filtering thing that seem to happen at the track where the dicks show up for awhile, then go back to hammering on the road. I’ve got a theory, but it’s not exactly formed so I’ll hold back for now.

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Take “shelfies” not “selfies”

My mother does not want a photo taken of her. Not now, not even ten years ago. She doesn’t even want me to know her age, which I think is around 75 plus minus two or three. Either she’s gotten to the age or I’ve gotten to the age where my friends and I reserve entire evenings to discuss MOM stories.

I’ve always thought it was a better choice to make art than write stories, because when all else fails you can always give your art to your mom. The problem with this is that when she’s trying to sell her house and clean up and toss shit out she won’t let you throw the art out. Yes, Mom I drew that, but come on, it’s got to go.

mexico

My mom doesn’t make it easy to visit her, even though she still does nice things like leave the hall light on for me if I go out at night, or places a clean cup under the coffee maker for me to use in the morning. The problem with Mom is, well, it’s not entirely clear what the problem is.

When I visit her in New Mexico I can stay home, keep her inside, jump up and down with her when exciting points are made on the tennis channel, and re-watch the entire collection of Thin Man movies. But things get confusing because she keeps root vegetable chips inside of a sea salt potato chip bag (and maintains it that way), she has two pepper grinders, one she puts ground pepper in and the other whole peppercorns, refuses to give me the code to the house alarm, and leaves half apples, half bananas, half peaches, and I swear half blueberries everywhere, nested inside a half paper towel.

The alternative is to take Mom out into public. There she’ll clip her nails at the restaurant while gawking at the man who walks in with a prosthetic leg. She’ll refuse to use the pepper grinder the restaurant has placed on each table, choosing instead to sit there and not eat, constantly making a pepper grinding motion and saying “I’ll wait for them to bring out the fresh pepper.” She’ll go to the Apple store in Albuquerque with me, and after she decides to buy the iPad and before she hands over her credit card, she will cozy up to the 18 year old genius and point at me suspiciously, asking him to double verify what I told her, that she will indeed be able to use the iPad in Santa Fe.

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At Mom’s house there’s always a barometer. There was a barometer in our house when my parents were married too. One friend who had been to both my dad’s and my mom’s house remarked how interesting it was that my parents were both into barometers. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it was really all Mom. She bought the one at the old house, didn’t take it with her when she left my dad, and bought herself a new one after moving into her new home.

Mom and Dad were scientists but it’s always funny for me to say it was my mom who designed explosives. She had something to do with the explosive that is set off when a car’s air bag is released. I always toss that one out when people get that look on their face after hearing that I grew up in Los Alamos.

Going to help Mom this past week, I feared the closet full of coffee makers, the eternal bag of bags, the bamboo baskets of matches. But she’s done a lot of work, “clearing the junks” as she likes to say, and only a few things made me pause to think they survived the purge. A framed jigsaw puzzle of an autumn pumpkin harvest, all my old art, a horrific carved ivory piece which I have never seen during my childhood and a jar of Carmex from way back in the past when I used to be addicted to Carmex, or at least said shit like that.

ivory

She doesn’t have many books, once you take away my brother’s sci-fi paperbacks and my random books from college and my Beatles phase. Looking at her “shelfie” is a little like looking at her through her Oakley sunglasses. She’s lost one of the nose pieces so she just replaced it with one that’s a different height. Doesn’t bother her though.

In no particular order:

What and How of Chinese Painting
America’s Hidden Corners
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Monet’s Years at Giverny
The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui
Cooking with Rosemary
Zen To Go
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self Care (take care of yourself)
The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair
The Complete Guide to Antiques
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare
Intermediate Readings in Chemical German
Italian for Travelers
French for Beginners
Explosives, third edition

Paying it forward

scared_mo

When we first got MO we took her to dog obedience class in the hopes of getting rid of some of her fears. Fear of walking down the street, fear of loud bangs, other dogs, other people, other dogs, fear of strangers touching her (you win some you lose some).
She went from a dog in complete panic all the time to an ace student (damn you Keeshonds for always beating her on the fastest down contest, and damn you “Stand For Examination test” on the Novice course), thanks to our fabulous teachers (obedience AND agility, yes all of you), and NO THANKS to this guy, aka “Crazy Soccer Man.”

crazy_soccer_man

Our obedience classes were held at Rancho Park, where CSM held soccer lessons for girls. He was loud and energetic and the girls were good. Week after week they smashed ball after ball after ball into the chain link fence that separated dog class from soccer madness. Every time the fence took one in the gut the people winced and the dogs began developing issues. Finally David went over to CSM and offered to buy him a net. CSM said he wasn’t technically allowed to have a net on the field because he wasn’t technically officially supposed to be there.

After many painful months we managed to get away from CSM by moving up to higher level class held in a different part of the park. But today at lunch David and I spotted him and a lady friend dining al fresco.

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He had on his soccer shorts, and there was some wooing going on and large glasses of wine. Both of us suddenly had the same idea: let’s get the dogs and park them in front of the couple and give the first command MO ever learned and has never failed to perform on demand (and off).

“SPEAK!”

pups_woofing

Thanks kicksoccermom for the drawing of how to use a soccer ball as a fork.

Awakening the inner chile

The world outside New Mexico has finally discovered Hatch Chiles. Not that they’ll stop spelling “chile” as “chili” but at least they’ll stop using those damn Ortega’s.
Like ice cream being the new cupcake or paleo being the new Zone diet, there is nothing hotter than being in the know about Hatch chiles in August. Used to be I’d have to pack them in a cooler for the 16-hour drive from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, or stash them frozen in my luggage for the flight. Friends that knew I was packing the green stuff prepared for my arrival by buying posole, orange cheese, Negro Modelo and cubed pork butt. The short harvest season (six weeks) makes timing super important.

chile_temp

Now it seems globalization has hit Hatch. 18-wheelers that have driven all night from New Mexico to California set up in school parking lots filled with burlap bags of chile, and if you’re really in the know you will ask for “Chavez” to roast your stash. Now that Bristol Farms has fully embraced this “the roast is on” fad, in the cake and cookie department the signs say “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”

In the cheese department, “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”
In the meat department, where at least there you can get tenderloin marinated with HATCH CHILES! or sausage made with HATCH CHILES!, but yes, by the pickles and the beers: “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”

hatch-header

So I bought some. Why not? They’ve come all this way, and they smelled, even un-roasted, incredible.
I made my way to the checkout aisle, where a lady wearing a t-shirt with a green man-chile and the phrase “Ask me about Hatch Chiles” on it asked me if I found everything I needed. I nodded. She scanned my groceries quickly, slowing down only to count the snack bars that I buy by the box because Bristol Farms is the only place that carries them. But then she got to my bag of chiles. She frowned. I looked up, just about to swipe my card. She turned one of the chiles over and then slid the bag on the scale, pressing with both hands to keep the chiles from falling out of the plastic bag. She looked up at her monitor and then she pulled out the book to look up the code for… what ARE these?”

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PS. The one sign that didn’t mention Hatch said “Now serving coffee in our café.”

Space time continuum at the Velodrome

velodrome
At my second lesson to get certified riding the track at the Velodrome things got weird. Not like some law of physics failed to keep me from sliding down from the balustrade, which I did manage to claw my way up to, for around four laps, but weird like one of us (there were four of us riding together) fell into a space time warp.

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We started riding happy as can be (a “warm up” is 40 laps!) in proper order, white, black, red (that’s me), and teal. All the way to lap 32 teal was right behind me, but then he must have taken a turn into the pit of nylon teeth because as we rounded the turn all of sudden there he was, in front of us.

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Teal swears he never stopped riding, and the three of us riding in front know he never passed us. He came out of nowhere. He blipped. Maybe the three of us were going so close to the speed of light we were tossed into a space-time warp. Maybe if I stop worrying about whether I’m going fast enough, and why the tires against the wooden boards sound like fingernails on a chalkboard I might be able to pay attention to where the other riders are. All I know is that if all you’ve ever done on a bike is road cycling, having someone that you know is behind you end up in front of you without them ever passing you is a sign you need to pull over and eat something.

There’s a story Sam Spade tells in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon often called the Flitcraft parable. It’s about a man who almost dies from a falling beam and completely walks away from his life, only to pick up a few months later in a different city with a different wife, doing the same thing he was doing before the beam fell. The last sentence in Spade’s telling of the story is: “I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

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Just floss the ones you want to keep (ode to Dennis Oppenheim)

I remember being in high school and sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet my friend Ellen. She’d pick me up at the end of the cul de sac, having rolled all the way down my street with the engine completely shut off. We were sneaky. But this being White Rock, New Mexico, there was nowhere to go. The fun was climbing out the window and seeing if all the stars were still there. OK, sometimes we’d light firecrackers. It was also before gas stations took credit cards, so if we didn’t have any gas we were stuck, and Ellen often had no gas.
One night we were in my room and Ellen had to pee. In the darkness she went to the bathroom which I shared with my grandparents, who were sleeping in the next room, and since she thought we were good at nighttime maneuvers she didn’t turn the light on.
I heard her scream, and then she called out “Abby!”
I wondered why the hell she would call me “Abby.” Ellen and I had been friends forever, and we didn’t even know an Abby. I went into the hall, stopped for a few breaths to listen for rumblings of my grandparents, and ran into Ellen carrying a glass jar on her head, with my grandmother’s full set of dentures submerged in water, rat-tat-tatting. The moonlight sparkled off the metal, and the water gave the dentures a magnified look, causing the pink simulated gum to actually look like flesh. Bubbles rose to the surface and popped. It was alive.
Ellen danced the jar back to my room, saying something about how that Polident shit was weird looking.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ll need this!” she said, tapping on the jar. “It’s Abby Normal!”

**********************
Also back in high school my teeth didn’t respond well to orthodontic manuevering so I had to have several teeth pulled and a bridge put in. The doctor who put my bridge in told me I’d probably get twenty years out of it, and by then some new technology would be invented to solve my problem. Well that time has come.

teeth_imprint_before

teeth_imprint_after

Here is what’s been helping me eat for the past 25+ years. It’s like having your personal fork taken away.
teeth

Cycling D.I.Y and how not to be a drag

In cycling there are a lot of nicknames, for the person who always has chain grease on his calf, for the guy who passes you at the red light only to slow down or the dude wearing shorts that are too old and too sheer, but one of the worst has got to be reserved for the person that doesn’t carry their own tool kit. (OK, it’s a toss up—no tool kit or the guy who always assumes a woman riding alone wants company. Now that Strava’s got what they’re calling “fly-by activity” I can see exactly who it was that didn’t, ahem, just “fly by”).

strava_stalker

Like most outdoor activities, a little DIY goes a long way on a bike. So get a tool kit. Learn how to fix a flat tire (they kind of go together), and don’t toss your CO2 canisters into the landscape.
Carry all the food and water you are going to need, plus money for coffee (and if you do forget the $, buy the round the next time) and always take a pull in the front. (This is awful scary the first time. It feels like you’re a little person trying to bust out of the Earth’s atmosphere for a closer look at the moon, and you think everyone is shaming you for something, when all they are is grateful for your effort. It’s kind of like making dinner for a chef. They’re so glad not to be doing the work that all you have to do is make something. But don’t just open a can, you do have to try your best).

And seriously here’s one of the important ones: if a friend of yours has been collecting Thomson bags for quite some time, and offers them to you, you go all the way and make something totally awesome for him. Who knows, with something like this, maybe he’ll win his next race.

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It helps if part of your company description is “We make cool stuff for cool people.”

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It also helps if you pick a project that matches your cat’s coat on the outside, and her temperament on the inside.

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Don’t forget pockets and adjustable straps. And no gear bag is worth anything unless you can fit two helmets inside.

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Thanks to the Grainline Portside Travel Set pattern (it’s been modified only slightly, we used two buckles instead of D rings, and added the shoulder strap cover), and also to the customers who didn’t take their Thomson seat post bags home with them.

Casualties: 1

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Happy campers: 1

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If sewing an entire bag is too much work, try a simple cycling cap instead. They seem to multiply like bunnies in our neighborhood.

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riding in a centrifuge

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When you dream about riding a slingshot to the moon as a kid, or you think it’s normal for your father to explain centripetal force using an orange, a chopstick and a inclined hard back book, or you do full arm swings holding a mesh-bag-inside-of-a-larger-plastic-bag instead of using a salad spinner, riding in the largest indoor velodrome (The Stubhub) in the country is more than a little awesome.

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First thing to go through my mind was that I had no idea how to get off, much less stop, having never ridden a fixed wheel bike before. That was soon alleviated by my friend Lucie who told me to just get close to the rails and grab it, which seemed reasonable since the rails were large and soft like a stuffed-animal snake (quite different than grasping/bashing into the wooden barricade when I was learning how to ice skate). Her next piece of advice was that when in doubt, pedal harder. As counter intuitive as that may seem, when you are clipped into this thing on wheels and there are no brakes, your adrenaline will actually kick in when the bike begins to feel wobbly and you will actually pedal faster. Or at least it did for me. Although at one point I was reminded of my cat, who once got a back foot tied up in the handle of a plastic bag, and the faster she ran away the more air went into the bag resulting in a much larger evil thing chasing her down, and more drag, causing her to run even faster.

stubhub

I wanted to spend my time on the boards riding either the black or red line as consistently as possible. This is awfully hard, since the best way to stay on the line is not to look at it. Just don’t. If your head is down when you go into the curve, you will see just how banked it is, and your mind screams “Holy crap that’s crazy steep” just before the bike follows your gaze and heads down the slope and then you are screwed. Looking ahead (and you’ll need a little bit of “being in the zone,” or “using the force” type of thing) is something that applies to all sports where the body is supposed to go somewhere, like skiing and track and field, as opposed to tennis where you really should keep an eye on the ball until the last moment, requiring “the zone” or “the force” to come save you in a wholly different way (ask any tennis player who all of sudden can’t serve or any basketball player air-balling free throws). Believing in friction works pretty darn well too.

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(If your eyes glaze over when looking at graphics like the one above, just know it’s the “normal” force that keeps you from flying out of the county. It might help to envision the “normal” force as a string bean, or toothpick. The chopstick was normally used by my dad to represent velocity.)

Riding on the track felt like a completely different sport than riding on the road. There’s no “I’ll just push real hard here and coast for awhile.” There’s no escape from the curved part, after each straightway there’s always another curve. There’s no ‘glory’ from riding indoors, and by ‘glory’ I mean the dirt and pollution plastered all over your face, but there is certainly nothing like the look-Mom-I’m-sideways feeling of whizzing around a banked curve. Holding one’s line is where it’s at, whether on the road or track.

The track is also much more fatiguing on the legs, and the muscle ache will catch up with you as you cruise around forgetting how many laps you’ve done. One of the best techniques for post-rides is to use the foam roller to relax the legs. As with everything sport recovery related, proper technique of the foam roller is critical.

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My visit to the Velodrome was made possible by the Fireflies and Connie Paraskevin from the Connie Cycling Foundation. It’s not every day you get to hang with Olympian athletes, she’s terrific (although I didn’t get to see how big her legs were), and her cause completely worth donating to. She’s the only American woman to ever earn an Olympic medal in track racing, and she’s a four-time world champion, and, she doesn’t have a bike named after her?