You ever have one of those moments in your life where everything is going smoothly and effortlessly? When you’re where you want to be and know where you’re going next? And then, with all the suddenness of a bear attack, a wrench gets thrown in the works and you find yourself on your ass? No? Well, fortunately Joey here has taken this sensation and manifested it in a way anyone can understand:
Mono sucks. Much like a cyclocross hurdle it is surprising, merciless and utterly unyielding. Throw in a healthy serving of strep throat–which, for the sake of this metaphor would be… I dunno… the dick friend who was laughing at Joey’s broken pride (read “shoulder”)–and you have a pretty debilitated human being. I got mono halfway through May and displayed symptoms for six weeks. Oh, and strep throat. It was Awesometown, USA. After losing 15 pounds and being released from work for an indeterminate amount of time I realized my trip would have to be postponed. The late summer and early fall weather patterns of my route necessitate more protective gear than what I own. I don’t have that kind of scratch, so I am postponing my trip for a year. While this sucks for forever and back, I am trying to be upbeat about it. Conforming to upbeatedness, here are some positive conclusions I came to:
1) I can be made fun of for one year (That is more of a plus for my friends. You’re welcome, guys)
2) I still went to my start point in Seattle around June 15th to visit my sister. The trip showed me I was in no way prepared for mountains, weather or sitting down for long periods of time (32 hours in a Honda Fit was BRUTAL.)
3) I can plan some smaller tours between now and next summer. This way I can get a better feel of how my days are gonna go, weed out some unnecessary equipment and practice stealth camping.
4) I got to meet Jose Merlos, arguably the biggest inspiration for my trip and a purely awesome dude. He has already helped me more than the months of planning I put into my trip and I can’t say how much it has meant to me.
5) ‘Wall Drug’ is the worst fucking tourist destination on the planet. The Jolly Green Giant is by far better. Go the 1200 miles out of the way–it’s worth it.
That’s forced enthusiasm. Notice the ominous black shadow sneaking into the picture? That is Pure Awfulness and is always around Wall Drug.
Scenic perfection, because everything is always awesome when the JGG is around.
So my experience has been humbling and probably for the best. I’m not gonna say I would have died on my trip, but my heart almost certainly wouldn’t have worked by the end of it. So I dodged that one. Further, I can take this time to recuperate and prep myself more appropriately for next summer. Last week was when I first got back on my bike and riding has been rough but fun. I’m riding to ISU to watch my old triathlon club tear it up at Evergreen this weekend. The ride is about 150 miles and I am on the fence as to whether I will make it a two day leisurely stroll or a one day, 12 hour death march. You, my Dear Readers, will be the first to know. Until then, keep riding, keep reading and don’t kiss anyone or anything ever. It isn’t worth the risk.
P.S. I grew up in the Midwest and, from pictures and word of mouth, came to understand it was the most geographically boring place in the world. Wrong. The world looks like this up until Western Montana:
Breath takeningly boring.
So how about we all stop ragging on Illinois, huh? We have corn mazes, and corn mazes are badass.
I have a bone to pick with all of you out there. You so-called “readers,” “supporters” and “people.” The last post was a good one, a lot of viewers heading this way. That’s awesome. It finally seems like you are telling your barbers and grandparents like I suggested some time ago.
Ah, the sweet nectar of shameless self-promotion
But what hasn’t been pleasing to see is voting rates. Don’t you guys remember Vote or Die? The US Government apparently gave P. Diddy the right to kill anyone who didn’t vote. I would have to assume that it extends beyond just presidential elections. It would have to apply to any and all opportunities one has to vote in order to be fair. So that means get out there and vote for your county coroner. But first vote on my polls. Or else P. Diddy’s gonna getchya. So yeah. Rates have been poor at best and, further, some written-in votes have been unhelpful and feeling-hurty:
That hits me right in the self-esteem.
I know how unsettling this may be for you, my faithful Dear Readers–I advertise myself as a man of mettle and unwavering, steely resolve. Surely I would not fold to the trifling displays of cowardice as are afforded by Great Internet’s anonymity? Alas, Readers, truth be told I am but a simple, bear-hating boy in a man’s bear-hating world. And sucking is nothing I wish to do.
In other, actually important news…. I have my trip fully planned. Seattle, Washington to Princeton, New Jersey. I won’t list the cities I will be going through on here as that would be exhausting, but here is the route as per Google Maps:
The route is just the cities, so don’t go looking for directions or anything like that. If you know anyone living in or near these destinations who would be willing to put me up for a night, please tell me! All I need is a place to legally pitch my tent.
So the list thing is gonna keep going. Let’s go on to this weeks list:
Six Answers to Questions Everyone is Thinking But No One Wants to Ask:
1). “You Smell Bad.”
So right out of the box, I gotta call you out here, Dear Readers. “You Smell Bad,” is an observation; a statement. Not a question. And don’t act like that isn’t how you phrased it in your heads. We know each other better than that by now.
But hygiene is a big concern during the trip. That’s why I developed a bulletproof method to stem the legions of bacteria from accumulating on my skin and assure hygienic… courtesy. You’re welcome, world. Here I present my system with the worst picture ever taken:
This bottle gives me the urge to herbal.
As you can see, here we have a water bottle with a puncture in the top. When filled, I can squeeze this item and replicate precisely* the sensation and quality of an in-home shower. Throw in some camp soap and I’ll be cleaner than I have ever been before!** Now, the above image is only a prototype of my shower system. A meager 16.9 fluid ounces of water will hardly constitute a shower. I’ll probably be upgrading to a liter size bottle because I’m a high roller like that and I prefer the opulence of long, water bottle-powered showers over light-weight traveling. With a separate cap this bottle will double as an additional, albeit soapy,drinking water container.
*Absolutely, 100% nope.
**Distressingly, this is probably true.
2). How/Where Will You Be Sleeping? …Eh? Eh? Probably the best and most essential gift I was given for this trip was my OR Alpine Bivy Shelter. I plan on pitching that sucker under the stars for the majority of my evenings. I have also been told that a polite couple words around municipalities (town halls, fire/police departments, churches etc.) often result in a lawn to sleep on and some food and water. These are my two primary plans for sleeping. Additionally, I will be relying on the good nature of the locals throughout my trip. Couchsurfing.org and Warmshowers.org are two excellent resources for travelers. They help world-wanderers meet with sympathetic souls to exchange stories, get some food and, most often, find a place to stay for an evening. I am on both so you should look me up and friend me.
Again, if any of you Dear Readers out there have a place or know someone with a place where I could be put up for an evening, please let me know. This could be your living room:
This could be YOUR living room/lawn/basement/car/roof/local jail/etc! Possibilities are limitless
What’s more, with some pillows, blankets and cushions I could throw a pretty sick addition onto that. Swimming pool, loft, a full bath–you name it. Refer to my parents Jan and Gary for reviews. My pillow fort handiwork is years in the making and completely unmatched by any of my loser neighbors who are just jealous anyway.
3). What About When Nature Calls? The inevitable dilemma of finding a way to relieve oneself while out in Nature. Let’s be honest here, Dear Readers. We have all been there, done that. That precarious moment when you wake up in the morning only to find your roommate is just stepping into the shower, those long runs that were just… a bit… too… long, or when when you’re at Wrigley Field and you conclude it is more hygienic and convenient to leave the stadium, improve the community of Wrigleyville by adding some of your bodily fluids to the sidewalk and then buy another ticket to get back in and watch the Cubs lose. Or just go home. Because you already know how the game is going to end.* The only difference between these situations and myself is that I will toss a trowel and a generous supply of tp into the equation. Because I am classy.**
* If it’s any consolation, Cubs fans, the Sox are terrible, too.
**Refer to Question #1 and/or #4.
4). Nick, How Will You Keep Your Clothes Fresh and Crisp?! For any of you out there who use synthetic clothing for athletics, you probably know that once they start to smell, they smell forever. No matter what. Well, unless you buy that special, expensive synthetic material detergent, but let’s not kid ourselves here: I won’t be rolling with the Win Sport detergent train until I’m eating caviar for breakfast everyday and paying someone to open doors for me. And if I could afford that, I’d also be paying people to run ahead of my bike and pull me along. I’m just not there yet, guys.
My entire wardrobe for Disaster March is synthetic. The material breathes, is warm if necessary, dries quickly and is extremely lightweight. It will also be stinky as sin. But I have yet another airtight method to combat olfactory offensiveness:
Set washing specifications…
Let that baby fill with water and add some–any kind–of soap
Shake that baby! SHAKE IT LIKE A NANNY POSSESSED!
So you see it all on the bag: Just add some soap, set the sucker to Large Load, Cold Cold water and Regular Wash Cycle and you’re ready to go. Fortunately my clothes will dry quickly in the sun so I won’t have to lug a dryer around.
5). How Will You Not Starve To Death?
Another excellent gift I was given for this trip is a portable camp stove. So I will have hot “food” throughout the adventure. The only concern there is whether I will be able to cook anything worth eating. I’ll be burning thousands of calories everyday so it’ll be important to pack something in whenever I have the opportunity. Therefore lightweight, calorie-dense foods with little or zero prep time are the name of the game. I have a few recipes for the stove which will come later, but in the meantime I will outline my eating strategy for when I am on-the-go and don’t have time to cook. Eating Strategy, Disaster March 2012:
-Eat Peanut Butter
Relatively lightweight, enormously calorie-dense, nutritionally sufficient and, of course, delicious. Peanut butter is awesome and I am considering setting up a church in tribute to it. The know-it-all reader might pipe up here with an asinine comment along the lines of “But Nick, a diet of pure peanut butter won’t satiate you or keep your body functioning properly!” or maybe, “Nick, peanut butter can’t possibly be the focus of an entire religious movement!” Regarding the latter: Good point. The inherent dissent between rival peanut butter factions (Crunchy, Smooth, Honey Roasted etc.) would bring the world to the brink of destruction. And regarding the former: Right. Like you would know, kid. Who is doing the blogging here? Look:
Peanut butter is all you need to survive.
Where did you just read that last sentence? Oh… Was it on the goddamn Internet?! Then that makes it right, doesn’t it? Thought so. Internet is never wrong. Besides, all touring bikes come set up for easy peanut butter consumption:
I finally figured it out!
What the hell else would these things be used for? And, as an added bonus, this diet might entirely eliminate the problem presented by Question #3. Win-win? You’re goddamn right it is. Peanut Butter for life! (Pounds heart with fist)
6). What About the Elephant in the Room? Or, Well, the Elephant that Would be in the Room if Bears Hadn’t Already Eaten It?
I taste delicious. I know this because every summer mosquitoes flock to me and because I might have… you know… tested the waters once or twice myself. (What? Yeah, that’s some Edgar Allen Poe, Fall of the House of Usher shit right there. Dark stuff.) So bears have been a concern for me from the get-go. With my pure peanut butter diet I can only imagine I’m doubly delicious. Every murderous bear in the country is going to be on my trail as I gallivant my nougaty-outside, peanut buttery-inside across the US. So I need to be prepared. Prepared to defend my candy bar-esque self.
Some people have made comments to the effect that I am over-hyping the bear problem. That aggressive encounters with the creatures are few and far between and, further, they are usually a result of human error rather than the animals’ nature. I wish I could believe that, Dear Readers, but these are just lies promulgated by those masquerading bears Stephen Colbert mentioned in the above link. We have to be ready. I have to be ready. Because bears have been reading this blog. And they are getting ready for me:
This image rattles me to the bone. It was terrifying (though not surprising)enough that their murderous tendencies drove bears to learn to read for the sake of following my blog. But this? This is a combination of motor skills and cognitive understanding hitherto unseen in bearity (bearitude?). Now, what we have here is a standard steel frame, quill stem comfort bicycle. Dated, but certainly functional. Even more unsettling is the fender/rear rack combination. Clearly bears wish to look presentable during and after riding. This indicates self-awareness and self-respect–two telltale signs of cultural development. And culture means organization. So, where are they riding as an organized group? I can’t be sure, but that rack should allow them to haul their precious cargoes of (I can only assume) human flesh and honey quite a good distance. My guess is bears are assembling an armada of elite assassin bicycle-bears for the sake of getting me. I know what they are and what they are becoming, and they don’t want me telling the rest of the world.
So how do I fight this Elite Assassin Bicycle-Bear Armada? Well, frankly, I can’t. Even the US army allows these machines of mayhem and carnage to roam freely. Why? Complete and utter stalemate. You thought the Cold War was a terrifying arms race? Open your eyes, man! Since I can’t fight back against these creatures, I’ve decided to take myself out of the equation should it ever come to that. I’ll always keep a cyanide capsule on my person and a cliff nearby. I might go down, but I won’t give the bears the satisfaction of taking me down themselves.
That’s all this time, Dear Readers. I’ll talk to you all soon.
Found this on the Internet. Figured it should be shared.
First and foremost, I want to point out that the ISU Triathlon Club is at Collegiate Nationals in Tuscaloosa, Alabama this weekend. Before they start raining down a hellacious ass-whooping on all the other teams, I just want to congratulate them for making it that far, wish them luck and, once again, warn them about water snakes. Seriously, guys, we saw a huge one in the river last year.
You all are street-walking cheetahs with hearts full of napalm, the runaway sons of the nuclear A-bomb. And, I wish I was racing with you this weekend
In other news, Rocinante is almost completely decked out for the tour. He may need a few more tweaks, but I added a Tubus Logo Evo steel rack, a handlebar rack (not pictured), some Racktime panniers and a set of Planet Bike Cascadia fenders since last time you’ve seen him. Handsome devil, isn’t he? Better mug than that other putz, if I do say so myself. I want to give a special thanks to Main Street Bicycles over in Carpentersville, Illinois for their support and advice in getting this and other equipment. Couldn’t have done it without you guys. (Thanks, Pete)
No better place for a bike than a living room
In double other news, I have decided to do a series of lists. Between getting a job at MOX Multisport in Chicago and riding my bike back to the burbs every few days to work there, I don’t have too much time to blag. Now, it’s common knowledge that montages are the fastest way to convey information. Further, we all know that lists are the written-equivalent of montages. Therefore lists are the time-efficient’ist, information dischargin’ist way to write a blarg. So guess what I’m gonna be doing for the next few posts…? And the best part? You can suggest what you want listed! Isn’t that fun?! Feel free to suggest a theme for next week on the polls below. This week’s list is an answer to a question I’ve been hearing a lot. Here it goes:
Eight Things I Have Been Doing To Prepare For This Trip
I know what you’re thinking. “Golly, I’m supposin’ riding ‘cross the country with little to no prior touring experience is a synch! I’d bet my bippy there’s little logistics, training, mapping, communication, learning, prepatory work, investing, withering setbacks, consulting, research or labor involved with that!”
Oh, my Dear, Dear Readers… as it turns out there is a lot of thought that goes in to this, and planning has been a big priority for the last few months. Primarily I’ve been sticking to books and speaking to experienced friends and acquaintances. Slowly but surely I am wrangling out a means of survival despite the ever-present threat of starvation, exposure, and bears.
Good ol' sensual stress
2). Training to Murder Bears
Bears don’t kill people. Bears murder people. And yes. It is always premeditated. I say, why let those honey-slurping, picnic basket-swiping abominations get away with that? Well, I know Dale C. Peterson would have something to say to bears, and I will, too, if one attacks me on the ride. Training has been tough, but it will be worth it.
The most dangerous prey
3). Routine Bicycle Maintenance and Upgrading
It is critical to know how to swap out a busted spoke or reattach a blown handlebar streamer when out riding. Otherwise you’ll be high, dry and bear-bait. Fortunately, bears are terrible planners and I’m getting ahead of the game with all this maintenance (and hand-to-paw combat) practice.
"I guess this uh... thingamabob goes in the whatsit here."
4). Blogging, Blagging, Blargging, Balrogging
Seriously, these posts take a lot of work and time (thanks, Jenna). Now I know how Morgoth felt. What? No? Too much? Whelp, bear’s outta the bag, now. I’m a nerd.
A look into the creative process
(Besides bears,) I am concerned about mountains. We have a couple here in Chicago and I have been working on hitting them on the bike and on runs. Even still I am worried that I won’t be prepared for, you know, some of the tallest peaks in this hemisphere. To get ready for these I have been lifting. I am shedding fat and building muscle, so I am on the right track. Lifting will also be good since it helps ward off injuries. I need this since my skeleton is primarily glass and compressed talcum powder. Ronnie Coleman got nothin’ on me.
My take on the power squat
6). Spending Dollah Billz
All I will say is that this is an expensive hobby. It can be done on the cheap, like I am doing it, but that just means it was slightly less expensive. In order to disassociate myself with the debilitating pain I feel while spending enormous sums of money, I have begun bastardizing money’s name. Rather than “exchanging currency,” I “make it rain.” I think this is my mind’s feeble attempt to protect itself from emotional duress.
Brain: “If I don’t call it money, it won’t feel so bad when I spend ALL OF IT…”
This is a trend we see a lot in rappers and other popular musicians. Nice try, Brain. We’re on to you. On to you with math.
True insanity resultant from over-spending
7). Gradually Getting Accustomed To People Fundamentally Struggling To Understand What I Am Doing And Why
Try as I might, some explanations just don’t seem to do it for some people. It’s cool, I don’t hold any grudges or anything; I am weird for doing this. Just stop telling me it’s stupid or pointless. I’m getting pretty tired of hearing that. And no, I don’t have a picture for this one. How about you chill the shit out?
8). Developing An Environmental Initiative
I have recently begun making large strides in associating my trip with environmental awareness. I want to use it as a means to advertise sustainable lifestyles and, more specifically, to raise money and interest in local wildlife preservation in my hometown. Hooray for legitimacy!
See what I did there?
Well, that’s it for this week, Dear Readers. Hope you liked it.
(Note the above poll has no bearing on whether I decide to continue lists)
No. Don’t speak. I know how long it has been. I know I made promises that I didn’t keep and I know I broke your collective hearts. I hope that you can find it withing yourselves to forgive me. I won’t say that I’ll never do it again since I probably will, but maybe we can just get through this post and then you’ll forget about how I mistreated you? What do you say?
I take it that you say “Hell yes, Nick. How could I possibly stay mad at those calves?” Well said, Dear Reader; a question I ask myself every day. Then I realize I’m not mad, and that all is good in the world. Speaking of the world, this is whats going on in mine:
1). I am redirecting this blog. As the launch date approaches (June 15th), I will have more and more to talk about that is trip-related. Previously I was just writing inane, sardonic posts that didn’t relate to anything. The sarcasm will continue, the inanity (I am PRETTY happy that’s a word) should taper off.
Fo Srzly. ANYONE.
2). I have my route planned, more or less. It is an amalgamation of several group routes and some suggestions made by some friends (Thanks, Conor). Below I highlighted all the states I plan on going through. Hopefully by next week I will post a city list so all my Dear Readers will have a better idea of exactly where I will be. Of course all this is tentative and, subsequently, subject to change. You all will be the first to hear if it does. Also, if you know ANYONE who would put me up for a night, please give me a heads up. I plan on doing a lot of camping and sleeping in churches, but I would prefer to avoid that as much as possible. Hell, these people don’t even have to welcome me. Just a lawn to sleep on would be boss.
3). Rocinante and I have been doing a lot of riding lately. Bicycling, Dear Readers, is fucking incredible. I stumbled upon that conclusion yesterday while cruising at 20mph on a path, surrounded by trees and thinking about how I still had 30 miles to go before I got anywhere. It’s rides like that one that make me think I might actually survive this trip. Then I remember reality and the threats that await me.
Bad news... BEARS!
Anyway, Dear Readers, time for a serious turn. I wrote a short essay to explaining my reasoning for taking this trip. It is abridged and doesn’t touch on everything, but I wanted to keep it short so that the person reading it–a potential sponsor–didn’t lose interest. I feel it’s about time you all got an explanation, too. I was gonna rework it so it was kinda funny, but I have to go to work soon. So, here you go. I hope you hate laughing.
‘…I preferred reading the American landscape. Every bump, rise and stretch in it mystified my longing.’
I have heard countless descriptions of America’s immeasurable beauty and of Nature resplendent and untouched by humanity. Invariably, these descriptions were accompanied with words like “awesome,” “majestic” or “sublime.” Words which, by virtue of their definitions, failed to convey that which they described. To me, experiencing the world is an intimate event—one which calls upon all our senses. The human imagination, albeit impressive in its scope and ability, cannot possibly replicate the unyielding vastness of the Rocky Mountains or the incomprehensible power of Niagra Falls. Stories and descriptions are always insufficient when discussing the jewels of this nation. Rather we must visit these places ourselves and, through total sensual immersion, truly appreciate America, one piece at a time.
Several months ago I decided that I would experience this nation. Initially it was an undeveloped and sophomoric idea; the result of too much free time and wanderlust. I knew that I could never afford to drive across America, and further I did not trust my aging Honda to make the trip. Unconfident and uninspired, my initiative dwindled. Around this time, my father gave me some literature by John Francis. This man immediately rekindled my interest and, further, offered justification and direction. Emotionally ravaged by the 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay and his own implicit contributions as a driver, John Francis decided to change his lifestyle. He renounced motorized vehicles and, once he tired of explaining this choice, he abjured speaking as well. 22 years of walking and 17 years of silence took Francis across both the North and South American continents—a pilgrimage to wisdom made by a walking monument to the environmental sins of mankind. Francis’ story is remarkable, and it made me reevaluate my own options. I, too, decided to spurn motorized vehicles and to determine a way to celebrate this country’s natural beauty.
As a child growing up in the suburbs, it was up to me to make my own fun. I did so on a bicycle, exploring without end. As the winding ribbons of road and trail passed beneath my wheels, I learned to feel the bike as an extension of myself rather than a separate machine. Every noise and nuance became familiar to me and I began to learn how to keep it maintained. I always got back late on those warm summer evenings, hair wind-tossed, face sunburned and hands covered in blisters from the long day in the saddle. As my parents berated me, I would reflect on the perfectness of the day while the feelings of liberty and adventuring in my chest slowed to an ebb. Tomorrow, I always knew, those sensations would be reignited. Recently, while reflecting on those halcyon days and missing the sensations that came with them, I realized I would traverse America by bike.
The choice to ride a bicycle rather than drive a car is multifaceted. Initially I was excited to revisit the reckless adventuring so prominent in my youth. This, coupled with my infatuation with bicycles made cycling the obvious choice. Upon deeper reflection, I realized a car is both a detriment and barrier to seeing this country. I am loath to dilute my experience by viewing America through a metal bubble and, besides, a bicycle pays better tribute to John Francis’ own achievements. Finally, riding is a testament to my own resolve. Outside of my own family and friends, most of whom are adventure-seeking and in constant pursuit of their own self-improvement, many people have decried this trip. They are confident I will fail. I plan on proving these people wrong, showing that this is not impossible or irresponsible. Showing that there is value in what I am doing beyond espousing Nature and entertaining a wanderlust. The trip is an achievement itself.
I have gone through the steps of our modernized education system and, although I did well in my pursuits, I am the same product as many of my peers: a competent, educated college graduate who achieved his limited measures of success through the exact same avenues as everyone else. I feel America’s present afflictions are due in part to the lack of creative challenges presented to our youth. There needs to be a more substantive way to differentiate between people—a way to measure not their skills or knowledge, but their commitment, their integrity and their character. Presently, it is the burden of the individual to convey his own candor. This has been my dilemma for several years but as research and no small amount of help from friends assuaged my inhibitions, I realized that touring across the country completely unsupported could fulfill this role. The trip will be a testament to my tenacity as it shows how I was able to take an idea few people encouraged and turn it into an actuality. It will show how I faced adversity for the sake of personal growth and learning. Like when I was a kid, it is my job to find adventure and make it valuable to myself and others.
That’s all for this week, Dear Readers. I’ll be writing again soon.
Firstly, my computer died last week. Thus, no post. Sorry about that. (Ok, I guess this part was bad news)
Secondly, my computer is partially back in commission. With some substantial finegaling I managed to coax the sucker into taking a charge which means your intellectual deprivationis over. Never again will I deny you the condescension and rhetorical majesty upon which you have become so dependent. [Until my computer bites it for real(sies)]
You’re welcome, Dear Readers.
In other positive news, Chicago’s weather isn’t terrible. Around this time last year, Chicago looked something like this:
We lost a lot of good people that winter...
This time last year Chicago was crippled by an enormous storm. The historic magnitude of the storm prompted a lot of ridiculous names: “Snowpocalypse…” “Snowmegeddon…” but truly, no words or amalgamation of words couldaptly or entirely capture that hellatious week. And while this time last year Snowzilla kept most of us inside, debating if “food” qualified as a “valid reason to leave the apartment,” this year we are basking outside in balmy 75 degree heat. Temperature index records aregetting curb-stompedand the memory of those tragic events from 2011 are waning in the minds of my compatriots. While I’m certainly enjoying the weather as well, experience warns me to brace myself for the inevitable. Somewhere in the shadowy depths of Lake Michigan lurks Mechasnowzillasaurus Rex the Destroyer. And he is just biding his time, waiting for that golden opportunity to bitch slap this whole city into oblivion. Hold fast, Chicagoans, and please pray for us, Dear Readers.
Doomy future aside, this weather has allowed some serious and enjoyable riding. The Lakeshore Path is alive and bustling with people as I ride its length several times over. Now, for those of you who have never done any type of indoor spinning, it can be misleading. I felt I was doing well in the cold months… Putting on the miles, strengthening the legs and girding the mind and the… ah… gooch-region (Perineum? Nope.) for the long miles I knew were ahead of me.
Apparently, I have been doing nothing of the sort. Indoor spinning eliminates so many of the variables inherent to riding. A measure of climate control, complete lack of headwinds, no bumps to ride over, no pedestrians to ride over, no glaring sunlight etc. make for a pretty cushy ride. I’m not discrediting the merits of spinning–it is invaluable to any cyclist looking to emerge from the winter months as an immediately competitive rider. It is just slightly demoralizing when you come home beaten and tired from a ride you had expected to be rejuvenating. Which just goes to show, even great Chicago weather is terrible weather.
An illustration of IT Band Syndrome taken from Grey's Anatomy.
Injuries are actually a pressing concern for me and this trip. While a sore butt and/or lower back after a long ride is not too serious (fixed by riding more and simple lifting, respectively) I am worried about my knee. Several years ago I damaged my iliotibial (IT) band pretty drastically and opted for the natural healing process. IT band syndrome, as it is often called, is an injury that plagues runners. It is manifested in swelling and severe pain on the outside of the knee, just in line with the patella. Basically, the rubbing of your IT ligament against the knee as it reaches toward the tibia causes inflammation and hobbling pain. I, in all my stubbornness and stupidity (the pride and bane of all runners), worked with this injury and exacerbated it. Now, though ‘healed,’ my knee pops whenever I flex it and the inflammation will occasionally flare up whenever it feels like being an ass.
So far riding has gone pretty well for me. Even back in the triathlon days when I was doing long rides several times week my knee held up nicely. Considering the tens of thousands of rotations a leg completes over the course of 50+ miles, that is pretty encouraging. I’m banking on this luck holding for… like 2,000+ miles.
Yup, certainly no pain or discomfort seen here.
Riding outdoors has been good to me, as well. Fortify your minds here, Dear Readers, lest they be blown away, as I am about to be positive. Firstly, being outside does wonderful things for a person’s happiness (it’s says so in the Bible AND Science!). And ever since I watched Laim Neeson simultaneously glass-bottle punch Winter and wolves out of Chicago, ever since that first sliver of sunlight broke though, I have been feeling pretty good. Secondly, being outside has allowed me to get to know my new bike better than ever.
I bought the Long Haul Trucker some time ago. I can’t measure the time accurately since time stops during Chicago winter, but its been… like… at least 100 years. That whole time I have been trying to get a feel for it. You see, riding a bike is an immersive experience. You don’t just pedal and go. The bike becomes an extension of yourself and your senses. Every bike has its own quirks and nuances that make it unique and endearing and until you are familiar with all these you are never fully comfortable riding it.
The Surly is a testament to this. It is stiffer than my fixie and makes noises which are foreign to me. I see more of the road since I am in an upright position and I smell… well… I don’t know how to tie that sense (or taste) into it, but just give me the benefit of the doubt on the immersion thing here, alright? (Shut up, Dear Readers) Now, personally, I believe that anything you hold dear (like my readers) and depend on should be named (hence “Dear Readers”). My car has a name, my other bikes have names (except the fixie, because I don’t love it.) my kids will probably have names etc. That being said, you can’t just name something. It has to be earned, and the process is usually epiphanic.
Well, the name I had been leaning towards for the Surly was Shadowfax. But I had my reservations. I feel like naming my bike after the Chief of the Mearas, the kings of the horses capable of understanding human speech in Lord of the Rings, might have betrayed exactly how nerdy (read “awesome”) I am. Contemplating this quandary while riding one day, my mind drifted to other famous horses in literature and the obvious choice rose up from some of my high school readings. Cervantes granted Don Quixote the decrepit and emaciated nag Rocinante as his primary means of conveyance throughout his various misadventures. And while the horse’s outward appearance lacked the glamour and loftiness of other stallions in the story, Rocinante proved a faithful and dependable companion throughout Quixote’s delusional escapades. In my weeks of thinking there is nothing that comes close to describing my relationship to this bike better than that. And further, I can seem cultured and intelligent when asked what my bikes name is. Look out, ladies; an infinitesimally less nerdy (awesome) me is coming your way.
Speaking of attraction and outdoor riding … Anyone in the cycling community knows that when putting these two together you only ever get one result:
Left Shaved, Right Hairful
That’s right. It’s leg-shaving season. I am ending my post today with this because I wanted to dispel some rumors. Firstly, shaving your legs as a man does not make you gay, although some gay men probably shave their legs. You see? Leg shaving and sexual preference are not interdependent, so grow up ( seemingly everyone in Chicago who notices my legs). Secondly, cyclists don’t shave their legs for speed (unless they’re elite, where it might make a difference), it is actually much more legitimate than that. Removing leg hair makes wounds like road rash much easier to care for and allows them to heal more quickly. Without hair to host bacteria and lock in debris the damage is easier to mend. Further, kinesio-tape grips much more securely without hair. And finally, it feels good. Damn good.
As I wrap up this post I will leave you, the (dear) reader, with some more media from other sources. It goes nicely with the last post’s theme, I just wish I had found it earlier:
Check it out, vote in the poll below, and comment on the blog. And don’t forget to tell your friends, call your family, mail your extended family, fax coworkers, whisper to your pets, build monuments, raze other peoples’ shitty monuments which pale in comparison, and contemplate quietly to yourself over a stiff drink about this blog. Or don’t… You’re the one who has to live with yourself.
This quiz goes out to a special someone who has been consistently reading and commenting. I appreciate that and I, therefore, will appease her, even though this has nothing to do with anything ever.
Despite all my haranguing, I consider the city of Chicago to be my favorite place of all time. Of course, even great loves can be easy to forget while struggling to survive. Personally, my memory has been slightly sketchy throughout the past few months. I forgot how much I loved this city as my survival instincts doggedly attempted to keep pace with the Chicago Triad: murderous cold, stabbing winds and the wolves. Actually, it was mostly the wolves. Those little pisses are getting smart.
But the dawn inevitably did break and spring is now beginning to take hold of the city. Don’t get me wrong… it was still a cold and pretty wolf-ful dawn, but after an eternity of fending off those savage marauders, Chicagoans handled the remnants of the packs handily. Especially with our newest weapon: “Bottle Fingas” Neeson.
"Dags? Ohh... 'dogs.' Sure. I like 'dags.'"
Seriously, wolves. Did you even see “Taken?” Liam didn’t seem to mind wrecking all those punkasses toting Kalshnikovs, so I doubt very much your teeth and non-retractable claws are gonna be much of a hurdle. Oh, pack tactics? As former captain of the K-19 Widowmaker, I’m pretty sure he knows how to work with a team. That is assuming he doesn’t use the Force and go totally Qui-Gon Jinn on all your asses first.
Anyway, with winter and wolves fleeing the city of Chicago, it has become safe to venture from our hovels once again. The first steps into the outside world have been tentative ones–some catastrophe surely awaits us–but for now we are content to remember the feeling of sunlight kissing our cheeks, to feel the sensation of coal smoke-infused air filling our lungs and to rest reassured in seeing other human beings again. Humanity has held.
As one rides around the city in this burgeoning spring it is easy to see why someone like me is so in love with Chicago. It really is a gorgeous place to experience from a bike. Drivers (though far from courteous) are generally attentive and aware of cyclists. Also, people smile and get out of your way when you’re running, cars aren’t always parked in the bike lane (ahem, New York) and then every once and a while you stumble upon something like this:
Imagine if this was taken with a good camera and if I knew something-just one thing-about photography!
Lately, the time I have spent riding to work has been a lot more enjoyable. The weather on Tuesday and Wednesday this week was incredible (despite some intense wind) so I added on a couple miles and rode out to the Lakeshore path. It was pleasant and relaxing and I look forward to doing that more often. Especially once I trust the weather enough to take the Surly out. My commuter bike is exactly that, and leaves something to be desired…
All this being said, Chicago can also be a pretty shitty place to ride. You have to be careful on where you go and the people you’re around while riding. Now, Western Ave south of Chicago Ave? Prooobably not the best place. Humboldt Park and Englewood are also slightly sketchy. But high crime rates aside, the most dangerous place to ride a bike in Chicago is, undoubtedly, Wicker Park.
Gentrification and liberal arts degrees (I have one, so it’s ok when I say this) have not been good to Wicker Park. Since the 1980’s the neighborhood has been undergoing a large cultural shift wherein its indigenous Puerto Rican residents have been displaced by white-collar, college-educated “workers.” Students and recent graduates continue to flow into the area in hopes of finding “work,” cheap rent, a safe community and the culture of Chicago. That is to say, they move there so they can exhaust their parents bank accounts and say they’re “urban” when they are nothing of the sort. Oh, and so they can fucking spit on my handlebars (who does that?!). How dare I ride my fixed gear in their part of town.
Yes, telltale signs of hipsters. While crime rates have plummeted in the area throughout the past several decades, snobbery has been steadily on the rise. Where once humans compared their self-worth through skills, knowledge and personality, now the inhabitants of Wicker Park are measured only through their faux-nerdy fashion and, of course, fixed gear bicycles. This leads us to two possible conclusions about those inundating Wicker Park with assitude: 1) These “people” are not actually human beings or 2) They’re just dickheads. (Click on that link)
Some of you Dear Readers might be wondering “But Nick, you ride a fixed-gear bicycle!” Very astute observation, Dear Reader. My commuter bike is indeed a fixie, and a humble one at that. Between it’s the ancient chromoly Schwinn Continental frame, mistmatched Tektro caliper brakeset, FSA crankset with a Surly secondary chainring (thanks, Pete), mountain bike bottom bracket or Redline 9-2-5 wheelset (thanks, Pete) this bike is an amalgamation of parts and components which should never have been put (forced) together. But that’s ok, because the bike is a workhorse and shouldn’t be looked upon as a thing of beauty or a representation of me. This attitude, however, does not fly in Wicker Park. There these bikes have become status symbols-representations of people’s worth, style and soul. Apparently mine isn’t up to snuff.
It's doing its best... but neglect and Chicago's salts are killing it.
Recently, fixie’s have become hugely popular. Something about their mechanical simplicity, perhaps? They are vintage and they are pure and both of these appeals coincide nicely with hipster style (not to say that only hipsters ride fixies). Fixie popularity, coupled with websites like The Fixed Gear Gallery have turned these incredibly simple and cheap bicycles into representations of status. This, to me, seems ludicrous. It also seems to have been the impetus for someone to fucking spit on my handlebars (seriously, who does that?!). Some of you might be skeptical, unwilling to imagine that people would be motivated to be assholes about something so trivial as bicycles. But, as with any culture, there will inevitably be elitists. And no one will like them.
I am going to entertain some speculations here, Dear Readers, for the sake of (maybe) explaining why someone would fucking spit on my handlebars (What I am about to suggest is still no reason to do that!). Firstly, my bike doesnt look like this:
For those of you who don’t know, fixed gear bicycles originated as racing bikes. Athletes competed in all out, short-distance sprints on indoor tracks with banked turns called velodromes. To facilitate speed, these bikes were stripped of all non-essential componentry. This included brakes and gearing. These are races of explosive power-athletes couldn’t wait for their legs to warm up… They just go. And they go really, really fast (sometimes in excess of 40mph). Therefore a direct drivetrain (where you can’t shift or coast) is advantageous. There isn’t time to fiddle around with shifting, so it was eliminated.
Fixie’s later found another niche in urban commuting because they are by far the simplest bike to work on and to keep from breaking. Of course, the sensible urban riders decided to add things like brakes so they don’t get hit by cars-something that wasn’t a concern on the velodrome. Some urban fixie elitists seem to think that is sacrilegious, however, and look down on people who choose to use brakes or less than satisfactory components. These people prefer to stop by skidding (locking up their pedals thereby locking up the rear wheel) or by being hit by cars. Since I refuse to knowingly subscribe to being this stupid, apparently someone decided to fucking spit on my handlebars (Why?! There are much better things to be mad about, dude!). Consider the bike shown above. The frame is old and probably steel so I think it is safe to assume this person isn’t a velo racer but just a commuter. A purist commuter. The opted for no brakes (for extra speed), a Mavic trispoke front wheel (for extra speed) and cards in the rear spokes (to make a bunch of noise). Wind resistance is a small price to pay for cred.
The tri spoke is what really kills me here. Mavic makes good products and I would guess that wheel costs at least $700. Consider some of the used prices out there. Tri spoke wheels are for RACING. Not for commuting. This takes us to the whole status argument. Tri and aero spoke wheels have no business on commuter fixies. It’s stupid. Once, when discussing this point with a tri-spoke, commuter fixie-riding, hispter-elitist, I was told that these wheels are used because they don’t bend or warp like their alloy counterparts. Yeah, you’re right. They don’t bend. Let me break this down for you:
Wait for it...
A wild POTHOLE appeared!
And now you're out a grand. Nice one, ass.
Ah man, this rant got out of hand. As most rants do. In fact, I think that is indicative of a rant. Next week I’ll talk about my trip, I promise. Anyway, in conclusion… chill out people. Ride bikes because you love riding bikes, not because you can do it with more style or more expensively than other people. And never look down on a fellow rider. No matter their story, reason for riding or the quality of their rig. Just appreciate the camaraderie the two of you share. Whether you’re on a $100 Next or a $10,000 Look 596 Mondrian you’re still a person on a bike. And that, Dear Readers, is a beautiful thing.
Go, Dear Readers! Take the world in a whirlwind of bike-loving kinship and self-respect. Go and spit no more.
I am off to a late start today. After working into the wee hours of last night I treated myself to a little R&R this morning. I am just now curling up on my couch with a bowl of cereal, my computer (for both writing and watching Horse stock fluctuations over on Wall Street) and my best friends, the Maximals.
"Nick is awesome." -Optimus Primal
Besides over-indulging on the insurmountable childhood vices of sugary cereal and cartoons my week has gone pretty normally. There was a dabbling of cycling, an unexpected run… and I was blown off my bicycle going to work on Wednesday. Yeah.
I find it interesting that while the remainder of the Rust Belt has no particular notoriety when windiness is concerned, Chicago seems indignant that other regions of the country may boast shittier weather than it (we’re looking at you, Tornado Alley). Fueled by its chagrin at this fact, Chicago stepped up its game this week and transitioned immediately from the severe cold/snow warnings of winter to the cyclist-tossing zephyrs of spring. Right here the incredulous reader would probably be thinking “Ok, Nick… While surviving in Chicago might require a steel resolve and bulletproof constitution, I doubt that the weather is that bad.”
And that is where you would be wrong, my very young, naive and dear Reader. Take, for example, the tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz. Impressed by the special effects, right? Wrong. Not special effects. The scene was actually shot in Chicago. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, Dear Readers:
Nice bike, hipster.
Ostensibly, this is just Dorthy awakening within yet another (Chicago) tornado. Proof that Dorthy is so used to this crap is that she doesn’t even get out of bed (kids these days!). Miss Almira Gulch is even less shaken as she is riding her bicycle right through the storm (I could learn from her). But do you see what’s in the red square? No? Allow me to enhance that for you:
"I eat tornadoes." -Derrick Rose
What?! Chicago basketball sensation Derrick Rose!? I believe that the fact that he is in the midst of the storm, juking so bad he’s about to break the tornado’s ankles, proves that the Wizard of Oz was shot in Chicago. And please, Dear Reader, don’t spout some nonsense about the Wizard of Oz being filmed over half a century ago. We all know Derrick Rose transcends space-time.
I feel better now that I have gotten the obligatory weather complaint out of the way. Stay tuned for more of those. Not much has gone on in the seven days since we have last spoke and, because of that, I am going to keep this short and sweet. Now, as we all know, montages are the most time-efficient means of conveying ideas and achieving goals. Unfortunately, I am in no position to be filming those right now, so, for the sake of short-and-sweetness I am going to round this off with montages’ blog-equivalent; lists.
1). Some people have given me some great suggestions. One among them was to develop a sort of glossary for the items and components I discuss. For example, some of you may not know what a rear derailleur is. So, in the future, if I were to use that term I would do so like this:
“I totally smashed the hell out of my rear derailleur. I regret trying to use my bicycle as a sword.”
So the glossary will be constructed as the blog goes on. Additions will be made and organized alphabetically so all you have to do is click on the link and look it up! This whole trip that I am planning is meant to be a learning experience for me. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the same for all of you who have been so supportive. Hopefully we can all come out with some newfound knowledge (you’re welcome.). Oh, also, I hope to apply the glossary retroactively. That means updated old posts! (But not now, so don’t go snooping just yet).
2). Some people seem to think this trip is impossible. Now, I am pretty inexperienced and not the strongest cyclist, so it will be difficult for me. But self-supported long distance touring has been going on for ages and I am planning on making it pretty plush. What I am getting at, Dear Readers, is the fact that there are some real badasses out there who push this sort of thing to the limit, and I want to recognize one in particular:
This man is all class.
1500km across New Zealand is going to be taxing no matter how you cut it. David Wilson decided to up the ante by doing it self-supported on a penny-farthing. And no, he isn’t the first man to do long hauling on a big wheeler, but he is the first badass to make it look as good as he does. Besides the (probably) 130 year-old bicycle and a bumpin’ beard, Wilson decided to do the whole thing in his Sunday-best and with a sharp pannier set. Oh, and that smile? Is that the kind of smile you see on a man who just completed several hundred miles on a contraption that was considered outdated before the abominable horseless carriages existed? Generally no. But Wilson doesn’t care. His life is one of constant luxury because he knows how awesome he is. Here’s to you, David Wilson.
3). And, finally, technology is ridiculous. How heavy is your bike? Some people would argue–and rightfully so–that the weight doesn’t matter. It’s the performance and the feel that you get out of it. Ok, fair, I definitely subscribe to that belief. But I have to admit, when I got on my Scott Speedster S20 for the first time it was like riding a Ferrari. And tipping the scales at a little over 19lbs, that is saying something. She certainly isn’t the lightest girl out there. So what if the bike weighed half that? 9.5lbs? That would be insane! Well, Jason Woznick pulled it off. Except 9.5 was a little heavy sounding to him so he just took it down to an even 6lbs. I present to you the lightest bike ever made (and at approximately $45,000 it had damn well better be):
Ok gang, I think I have mustered up enough resolve to go for a run, so I’m gonna head out for today. Onward to withering headwinds and endorphin addictions! (No joke, it just started raining. Outrageous.)
So I really appreciate all suggestions for this blog and my trip. The glossary one is a good example. Any others? Feel free to write them in the comment section!