Sunday, January 3, 2016

Icycle Bicycle 2016

Friday 1 January 2016

Every New Year's Day, the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen organizes a bike ride around the city. No matter what the weather, be it pouring rain or snow so deep we have to get off and push the bikes, we ride. Today we lucked out. It was cold enough to snow but only a couple rare flakes were seen. Easily 100 of us left from REI in South Side Works to head down East Carson Street. No unicycles, but at least two tandems and two recumbents.

My ride there was pleasant enough, though I had not been on the bike at all for 10 days, due to a combination of a troublesome series of flats, the Christmas holidays, and working from home. But you never forget how to ride a bike, right? Not that 10 days is much of a lapse. But back to the trip. My route was Perry Highway to Perrysville Avenue to Federal Street, across the Allegheny River on the 7th Street Bridge, 6th Avenue, Grant Street, and out the Jail Trail. I made the trip in just over an hour, which I thought was making pretty good time, but just as I arrived, someone asked "Did I just see you on Perry Highway?" We crossed paths at Rochester Road, but she went via Rochester, Babcock, and through Millvale. So that can't be any slower. The only stop I made was to rescue a broken bus stop sign from the middle of the street and lean it against a tree.

To me, the main point of riding Icycle Bicycle this time is to make sure I am ready for winter. Winter has not really arrived in Pittsburgh yet this year; more it's an extended autumn, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Until today, that is.  29 and a stiff breeze out of the west. I donned the longjohns and double gloves and socks, which served me well. One pesky finger turned white, but otherwise my body core and extremities were fine. If anything, I got too warm.

After signing in and looking for a few familiar faces to trade stories of how we were faring so far this year, all 11 hours of it to that point, we lined up in the street, a gaggle of lycra and jackets and wheels. Someone counted down from 10, we yelled Happy New Year! and we were off. By South 10th Street, the strong, fast cyclists had sped out ahead. I was at the rear of this front section, but opted to drift back after the Smithfield Street Bridge. Sarah Quesen was riding her recumbent trike without a flag, so was hard to see. I rode behind her, taking the lane assertively. Normally I ride at about the "40 line", 40% of the way between the left and right lane lines, or where a line would be if they'd painted one. I was a bit more aggressive here, riding at about the 25 line. Any more to the left and I would be getting too close to passing cars in the adjacent lane, but by being here, that gave her some wiggle room. Her slower pace on the hill under the Fort Pitt Bridge also allowed the next group of cyclists to catch up and pass. I controlled traffic coming off the bridge so she could get by. There was none, but I was ready to run interference if there was. This continued onto the West End Bridge, a very busy, high speed highway bridge. Once off the bridge, she could get up to cruising speed, but as she explained, since she cannot stand out of the seat to gain an advantage in torque, the only oomph she has is what's in her legs, and in that she is limited by both vehicle weight and her own, once in a low gear.

I made a restroom stop at the Carnegie Science Center, only to find myself in the middle of its annual Mess Fest: dozens of 7 to 15 year-olds decorated in chocolate pudding (and other flavors). So it wasn't enough to walk through a crowded room, I had to do so with half the people present coated in goop from nose to knees -- not totally, but common.

Once back on the road, I rode with another group back to REI, mainly friends from the cycling community.

As on many rides, I took notice of race, gender, and age distribution. Nobody teenage; everyone appeared to be an adult. Maybe 1 in 5 female, 1 in 15 non-white. At least half over 40. Why is cycling so Caucasian? Or do black riders simply not join group rides? And why so few women? This was not a difficult ride, and the weather was not a major factor -- a tad chilly and breezy, but not distressingly so. If there was going to be a ride for newbies, this was it. I don't know how to get more people to bike all year. It can't be that only middle-aged white guys are stupid enough to bike all through the winter, but that's sure what it looked like.

Post-ride, I retired to a coffee shop where I penned the first draft of this, plus scratched down a few other ideas of what I'd like to do this year. That accomplished, I biked the rest of the way home, too. All told, it was about 30 miles. Not bad for the first day.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Coffeeneuring #7, Just Getting Home

This was an odd trip, the shortest so far at 3.9 miles, and the only one of the seven that employed the use of my car. Also the cheapest trip at a paltry $3.50, and the only one where I did not have the luxury of a chair to sit in.

 My wife wanted me to drop her off at church, run an errand requiring the car, then either pick her up after the service or leave her the car so she could drive home. We employed the latter approach. I stopped at home following the errand, long enough to load the bike.

 Arriving at church, I unloaded the bike, strapped on my cameras, and biked home. It's just that out in the suburbs, there are not many places you _can_ find coffee on a Sunday afternoon between church and home in a sparsely populated residential area. My first stop was a Bruster's ice cream shop. No coffee; not even coffee ice cream. Or hot cocoa either. OK, with Plan A a failure, we move to Plan B. I suppose I could have inquired at the one of the two smoky bars along there, but I simply don't go in those places, ever. I'm not even sure they were open. I also did not figure the community college's snack bar would be open.

 I was too early for the public library to be open, and didn't feel like waiting outside for 45 minutes, so the only place left was a gas station about a mile from home. I got a simple 12-ounce cup plus a package of bread sticks with Nutella, then walked around the side of the place next to the air compressor, sat on the curb, and took this picture.

 Once back on the road, I was back in my own house in five minutes, and at that, my wife got home first. Hey, it would have been nice to work in a long ride on a fabulous 60-degree sunny afternoon, but I'll take what I can get. Seven rides in the books! Yay, 2015 Coffeeneuring Mission Accomplished!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Storytelling thoughts, 2 Nov 2015

I regularly participate in StorySwap, a monthly gathering of local storytellers at Northland Library, and have been attending regional events such as the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival for years. It's a wonderful art form, often overlooked in the daily deluge of electrons and photons vying for our attention. My whole family has been in on this, too, having told stories onstage or written material for others to perform. Many local tellers know us. All of this is good.

When I go to the monthly meetings, I often feel like a square peg in a round hole, though. There is a rhythm to the types of stories at these events, but there are other rhythms that can be played at a storytelling concert as well, just as there are many different styles of music you might hear at a musical concert. StorySwap is different from The Moth which are both different from TED talks which are all different from the type of story you might develop from the Toastmasters storytelling manual. You will hear a sax solo at a jazz or rock concert, less likely at a symphony concert. There's nothing wrong with sax solos or saxophones in general, nor with certain styles of oral storytelling.

My own style is to work from historical accuracy rather than a fictional or folk tale. Sometimes it's something I experienced myself, or an event that happened within my own memory. Sometimes I am working from an event long ago or far away, but typically holding to the facts. There's nothing wrong with this, or with doing the opposite. I would use my craft to guide others to interpret historical events differently, and to look at current events in a different light based on what may have been passed over in the past. Just one example: Most people have heard of Paul Revere's 1775 ride through the countryside, but fewer know about Sybil Ludington, who rode farther, and did a better job. Those stories need a teller, and I would be that teller, if I could.

A week or so ago, I had the idea for a story and started to write some notes outlining how to approach it. Last night, despite the absence of either rehearsal or polish, I told it. Rough as it was, it definitely had the effect I wanted, as the tone of conversation shifted along the lines of where I was going with the tale. I wanted to get people wistful. But it wasn't a fable, and while fables are what experienced StorySwap tellers do best, and what works best at such meetings, I am not a fable-teller. I have no plans to become one, any more than I want to become a jazz saxophonist.

I did get some good tips for how to structure a story better. That's really useful. I should take that, work with my prior notes, and develop a more cohesive tale. Toastmasters meetings also give me a great opportunity to practice in front of a live audience, with constructive feedback. I think I need both arenas. Fables are great, but it's the ability to craft a story that matters more than the ability to fit a style.

My goal is to get good enough at this to be invited onstage at one of these events and do well. I have the stories, and I think my aims for the audience are good, too. I just need to practice.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Coffeeneuring #6, Dio de los Muertos

November 1 in Mexican culture is the day to celebrate Day of the Dead, on which to commemorate those who have passed in the prior year. Today, "412 Flock", the unifying group for Pittsburgh cycling community, at the urging of Lucia, who was born in Mexico, held a Dio de Muertos Ride.

Sadly or ironically, all our rides now start directly across Forbes Avenue from the new memorial ghost bike for Susan Hicks, Ph.D., who lost her life just over a week ago through no fault of her own while waiting for a light to change at Forbes and Bellefield, mere feet away from Dippy the dinosaur.

I rode the 11 miles, almost identically to last Saturday's ride. This ride started on the west side of the same building Ms. Hicks's vigil was held at, only that was on its north side.

Our ride was fairly small, maybe 20 riders, but only 17 bikes. Ben brought all three daughters on his family train bike: a tandem plus a whateveryoucallit plus a trailer. His eldest now has enough size to her to be able to actually help.

The ride would have been seven miles but I peeled off before the end to stop for coffee. I splurged, getting a big piece of Black Widow cake, which seemed appropriate, plus a pumpkin latté. I like pumpkin everything, not just in autumn. The place was another Crazy Mocha, same chain as my first coffeeneuring adventure, but a different shop. This one is in the Bloomfield neighborhood, at Liberty Ave and Taylor Street.

My total miles today will likely be a bit over 20: 11 to get there, about five on the ride, three to get Downtown, then a mile and a half from the bus I will catch.

Being also now November, I am again going to try to write a blog post daily, for NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. I have plenty I could write about, if I could just park my butt in a chair, write it and post it. That said, this is now mainly written -- in Notes on an iPhone, no less -- so I need to follow through and get it published.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Coffeeneuring #5: Death is a rotten reason for a bike ride

There is no point in pulling punches, sugar coating it, or vaguebooking about it. This ride was to a candelight vigil for a cyclist who got killed on a busy Pittsburgh street through no fault of her own, only 24 hours before. The gruesome details are available elsewhere, so I'll keep it brief. I rode the 11-ish miles from home to Oakland to join the 250 others who came out in a steady drizzle to honor this young woman. Following that and signing a memorial book for her, I joined another cyclist for a cup of coffee to consider what we can do to make the streets safer.

Bagel Factory, Forbes Avenue at South Craig St, Oakland, Pittsburgh. Coffee and a pumpkin cookie. Followed by a three-mile trip back downtown and a bus ride most of the way home.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Coffeeneuring #4, Carnegie Science Center

As with last Saturday, I had a Toastmasters speech contest to go to. This was the Division D contest, which featured the winners from the five Area contests, each of which in turn featured the winners from each Area's clubs' contests. So, Div D's contest featured the best speakers of 20-some clubs in the city. Really, if you're looking for two hours of free entertainment where you might learn a thing or two, it's hard to beat a division level Toastmasters speech contest. The morning was chilly, with a near frost overnight. Officially the temp was 39°F at dawn, and by 10:30 when I left, it had not changed much. I donned a light coat and gloves for the 10-mile trip, and was glad I did.

The light coat, however, is a light tan in color, which obviated my trip down the trolley trail. On a chilly but nice Saturday morning during archery season, I am going to stick to roads, thankyouverymuch. Too many idiots who can't tell the difference between a buck and a bicycle. I'd rather duke it out with traffic.

Most of the trip was uneventful, though of course not without a few lowlights. Twice in the first 15 minutes, I was verbally harassed. The first was on the uphill climbing into Perrysville from Three Degree Road. Two forward lanes, but the left becomes a left-only lane in 200 yards. Most people figure out that a 25 mph car can get past a 7 mph bicycle in an empty left lane and somehow squeeze back in in the remaining 175 yards; note I said most.

The second occurred at the corner of Perry Highway and West View Park Drive, where I dismount at curbside to head up the staircase. I had the green signal, and a small truck was waiting to make a right-on-red. Note that about half the drivers here take that right-turn-allowed-after-full-stop at 10-15 mph, so having to wait for a cyclist with the legal right of way was apparently too much. Something about being a fucking idiot but I didn't catch the rest. Again, I had the green; he was stopped at the red.

That wasn't all. For the third consecutive trip, I got some grief on or just after the climb past the HOV/Park&Ride entrance. This time, like the last two, the left lane was wide open; hell, both northbound lanes were empty, too. Even so, one guy has to come up behind me, match my speed (about 8 on the climb, 12 as I get over the top) and yell at me for being there. Sheesh.

As to the coffee: Leaving the contest, I ran into another cycling buddy who'd biked 10 miles in from the suburbs, and we headed over the Fort Duquesne Bridge together. He was headed out the Chateau Trail, while I was headed to the Science Center. I knew their snack bar was a good spot to catch a bite. I also got a picture of their excellent bike rack, to accompany an earlier photo of a stupid rack at 1 Smithfield, inspired by a post about a similarly stupid rack at Home Depot.

The coffee was from a push-button machine. I pushed the cappuccino button and got something that resembled it, but was overly bitter. Nothing like the Starbucks brew last Sunday. Oh well, I still stayed somewhere near $5, even with the bowl of soup.

As I type this (so far), I'm still at CSC, so I have yet to see what pleasures await for the trip home.

[continued later]

The trip home was chill, except for the 911 call. I round a bend on Perrysville Avenue to find a couple of cars that had just tangled. Ten seconds sooner, maybe five, I would have witnessed the collision. I called 911 to report it and get police rolling thataway. As I did not actually see what happened and was not involved, I left shortly afterward.

To sum up, the ride in was 10 miles, the ride home would have been at least 10 more miles, plus another two or three to add the side trip to CSC. I'll call it 23 miles, and I hardly broke a sweat because it was so cool out. This is a great time of year to go for a long bike ride!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Coffeeneuring #3, while helping with the 3-2-1 Ride

I knew I would be pressed for time today, so didn't want to do too much exploring. After yesterday's (ahem) fun with the flat tire, followed by an unrelated family activity that had me up well past midnight, I still had a commitment to volunteer to help the Woiner Foundation with its annual 3-2-1 Ride to raise money for pancreatic cancer research. For that, I had to be on the road by 7:30. Short night.

For the event, I had to ride down to Heinz Field, well over nine miles. My assignment would be to man two difficult intersections during the ride. I had done both of these before. I also knew I had about 60 minutes between the last rider clearing the first and the first rider getting to the second. I was pretty sure I could travel from one to the other and still fit in my Coffeeneuring. I was right, but to minimize chance of letting people down, I chose the Starbucks that was right at the second corner, at Penn Avenue at Sixth Street, downtown Pittsburgh. It also had a restroom, so I could take care of that necessity in a modern facility.

Keeping things as simple and rapid as possible, but allowing myself a minor splurge, I got a real cappuccino and a small cookie. This ran just over $5, staying within budget.

Keeping an eye on both the bike, locked to a trash can outside, and my partner assisting with this corner, Joyce Wasser, who was already on site and looking for the first rider, I was able to both fulfill the trip requirements and relax just a little, before getting back to the duties at hand. Success on both counts. The first rider appeared about 10 minutes after I got to my post and we had agreed on how to divide our responsibilities.

This was the third time I helped with the 3-2-1 Ride, and I think only the third year they've had the ride. Here is my shirt collection from helping with each of them. 2013=orange, 2014=yellow, 2015=pink!