Day 22 of 30 Days of Biking: Making Headlines

It's Earth Day! It's also Monday, and that's why I rode my bike to work, today. I really had no idea it was Earth Day, but I feel a lot better knowing that I was doing something ecologically responsible as part of my daily grind.

Me, Riding South on 309,
trying to get home before the storm.
Photo credit: Pete G. Wilcox/The Times Leader
Long time readers might remember Chris from this blog post I wrote after I learned that his blue Haro mountain bike was stolen from his garage. I've known Chris through Twitter for a number of years, but I also had the pleasure of writing a column about video games for him when he briefly ran Go Lackawanna. That was like a lifetime ago, so it was great to get a chance to catch up and talk about what's been going on in my life -- namely, road cycling and mountain biking, which, I'm glad to say, has largely replaced the space in my heart that used to be for video games. I'm much happier for it, and that was one of the points that I was hoping to make when he asked to interview me.

The quote used for the headline, "It just feels like freedom," was something I couldn't help but blurt out when Chris asked why I love riding. I was stuck for words and wanted to convey how much I love that I can go at my own pace and enjoy nature. When driving, I feel like I'm trapped. I'm always going too slow for the car behind me and too fast for the car in front of me. That leads to mental fatigue, and pretty soon, I hate driving. I feel worn down and burnt out. When traveling by bike, that simply can't happen. It's easier to get out of traffic and avoid the gridlock when you encounter it. To put it another way, "It just feels like freedom."

I took a picture of the photographer taking my picture.
Aside from that, Chris has been killing it on the biking in NEPA stories.
Here's a story on bike lanes in NEPA - NEPA Lagging in bicyclist-friendly roadways

A story on local bike shops - Shop Owners Help Take the Lead

Finally, a story from Steve Mocarsky on a bikeshare in Wilkes-Barre, PA - BikeShare on roll but needs to pick up speed.
I didn't even know there was a bikeshare in Wilkes-Barre! This is great news!

So, big thanks to Chris and the Times Leader for helping to shed light on the state of biking in North-East Pennsylvania.

Ride on.
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Day 20 of 30 Days of Biking: Vinyl Lunch

My bike, locked up outside the Dragonfly Cafe.
Today has been busy! First of all, it's Record Store Day, so I rushed over to Gallery of Sound to pick up some new vinyl. A copy of Nirvana - "Almost Everything" BBC Sessions (plus the addendum, "...and the rest.") an Elliott Smith EP and whatever free junk they were giving away. There are still a few selections I'll have to wait until next week to buy (lack of funds) but I made sure to get the stuff that I couldn't leave without. Hopefully, I'll get my chance to claim them before someone else does.

After a stormy ride home last night (winds over 30 mph, tornado watch for Luzerne County, blinding sheets of rain, lightning, thunder, plague of locusts) I foolishly allowed the bike to drip dry when I should have attacked the chain with a cloth right away. This morning, I noticed a light touch of rust and immediately regretted it. Time for a healthy dose of TLC!

I degreased and scrubbed the chain until it shined, then I carefully lubed the chain and derailleurs until everything was moving smoothly. It worked! I even got rid of the squeaking that has been steadily increasing in volume with each ride.

Even though it's a bit cooler than yesterday, I just had to get out. I love riding to the Dragonfly for lunch on Saturday. Broad Street is a complete mess, however. Perpetual construction has removed a sidewalk on one side of the street and made the rest of it a 2-lane minefield. Fortunately, the drivers seem to understand and give me plenty of clearance as I do my best to stay out of their way. What else can you do? No one is happy about the mess.

Ride on.
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Day 19 of 30 Days of Biking: Failure to Negotiate Curve

"Failure to negotiate a curve;" that's what they call it when a biker loses control and spills it on a curve. At least, that's how the accident report gets written up when a motorcycle rider, essentially, crashes into himself. I might not have been on a motorbike, but that's the scenario I rode into on my commute to work, this morning.

You might recall
a photo I posted about 3 weeks ago, "Here comes the sick drop:"

Well, here's the hill about halfway down, looking back at the curve:

Notice the black stripe, going off road? That's where I lost control and almost ended up in pretty bad shape.

Here's what happened: Usually, I take it pretty easy down this hill. The first drop is extremely steep and ends abruptly as it dumps you into a nearly 90 degree curve to the left. I've done it about a dozen times, and it's scary as hell every single time I do it. Today, though, I let my confidence get the better of me.

Long before going into the curve, I could already tell I was going too fast. I pulled on the brakes, but it wasn't slowing me down enough to safely get through the curve. That's when I hit a patch of gravel and locked up the rear wheel. The situation was quickly going from bad to worse.

If mountain biking in the muck and mud has taught me anything, it's how to stay upright when the rear wheel decides to go rogue. I felt the rear sliding and loosened up, but the line I was riding was too tight. A better rider might have been able to drift through the curve, and I'm sure it would have made for a great YouTube video, followed by a group of fixie riders blowing through red lights and running down pedestrians while some indie/hipster anthem blares in the background. I'm not that rider, though. The best I could hope for was to keep from grating my face across the pavement.

As much as I wanted to avoid sliding off the road and crashing into big rocks and tree branches, I couldn't. I gripped the brakes for all my worth, just hoping I wouldn't go over my handlebars when I eventually hit something solid enough. And then... I stopped. No Superman impression, no pain, no breakage. I threw down a foot to keep myself from falling over sideways and counted my blessings. Everything went better than I expected.

So, how was your morning commute?

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Day 9 of 30 Days of Biking: Return of the Sorting Hat

So, if you haven't been keeping up with the ongoing saga of the Sorting Hat, it showed up on Day 5 in a drunken stupor and attempted to take up residence in this hole in the road.

On Saturday, Day 6, the Sorting Hat went missing. I really have no idea what happened to it or where it went, but this morning, on my ride to work, I noticed that it was back, and it found a mate!

I'm not sure if the Sorting Hat is staging some kind Occupy protest or if it just really likes living in a hole in the middle of an intersection, but there it is.

I fully expect to see some little hats running around by the end of the week. Perhaps this is some "Sorting Hat nesting ground" and they'll all leave once they've mated and have a brood to raise? I'll provide updates as they come in. We'll see what the situation is after I ride home tonight.

In the meantime, once again, it is absolutely beautiful out. I didn't even bother layering with "cold-weather" clothing -- just a high-vis vest and some regular biking clothes. I really hope this is it -- no more cold snaps. So far, I've ridden to work 2 days in a row and I'm shooting for number 3 tomorrow. Ride on!
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Day 8 of 30 Days of Biking: Filling My Senses

Over the winter, I've discovered that I certainly can ride in the cold, but I can only pretend to like it; I could never love it. After my ride today, my conviction on that matter is stronger than ever.

My ride to work in the morning was warmer than usual, but still chilly. I felt a warm breeze for the first time in weeks, and as the day wore on, it only got better. My ride home, however, was absolutely magical.

As I approached "quitting time," I was actually more excited about the prospect of riding my bike in the comfortable 70 degree air than I was about punching out and going home for the day. That's the difference between commuting by car and commuting by bike -- I don't look forward to driving my car, I only look forward to the places I'm going to. On my bike, however, the destination is secondary. It's the riding that I love. And another thing: I've never experienced a fight to stay awake on my bike.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me how long it takes to ride to work. I told them it takes an hour and a half for me to complete the 18 mile trip. And, obviously, it takes just as long to get back. They were stunned, but then I explained it like this: I don't get up at 6 am just to get to work by 9, I get up at 6 am so that I can ride my bike for an hour and a half before work. Add in the evening ride home, and that's a total of 3 hours out of every day that I get to do the thing I love more than anything else.

Wouldn't you welcome an opportunity like that? Wouldn't you take the chance to do something you love for 3 hours out of each day?

I hear from a lot of people who wish they had more time to do what they love to do. Well, the saying is true; if you love something, you make the time. Some people golf, some people write, others paint or play an instrument... For me, riding a bike is more than just a way to save money on gas and lose weight, it's a soul rejuvenation.

For the first time in months, I was able to get away with wearing a shirt with an open jacket. I rolled up the sleeves and even rolled up the legs of my sweatpants so that I could soak in the sun and let the warm air rush across my bare skin. I admit, it was fun to pretend I was a tough guy who didn't mind the cold back in March, but a small part of me dreaded it. I felt good that I was riding my bike, but I was tired of suffering for it. This ride, however, was so much different. It reminded me of why I started doing this in the first place. The feeling of absolute freedom was astounding. I pedaled effortlessly up each hill, coasting down the other side. There was no suffering, like days before. There was only bliss. I felt as though I could burst out in song at any moment.

On my way home, I could hear frogs croaking. I could feel the damp air that lingered about in areas where water flowed and collected. I could smell the clean, oxygenated air that gently blew through densely forested fields. And the sun, though mostly obscured by clouds, was a blazing red orb, painting the sky in the most dazzling array of pink and blue. Why can't every day be like this? My only wish, at this moment in time, is to do it again, tomorrow.

Note: There is no Day 7 post as I decided to give my legs a rest, yesterday. I'm well aware of the healing factor of a recovery ride, but I really just needed some time off. My apologies.
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Day 6 of 30 Days of Biking: Sorting Hats, Punctured Tubes and Losing Weight (without losing your mind)

First, an update on Day 5. The Sorting Hat has gone. Sometime between 8 pm last night and 8 am this morning, he up and buggered off. There were other Sorting Hats up and down the street, and the hole in the road is certainly still there, but the Sorting Hat is gone. Much luck to him! I sure hope some crafty teenagers haven't stolen him and turned him into some kind of bong, or something.

Meanwhile, I've been having a lot of bad luck with flats, lately. I noticed that my back tube had developed a small leak on Thursday, and after attempts at patching it up, it was still leaking. There seemed to be a string of cracks around the section of tube -- as though it were rotting apart -- so I just went ahead and replaced it with a brand new tube. Of course, on my way home last night, I swerved to avoid a ruby red piece of someone's brake light but still managed to clip it with the rear tire. Inevitably, the brand new tube now had a sizable puncture. My leisurely ride home suddenly became a race to see how far I could go before I'd have to stop and pump the tube back up. In all, I had to stop about 4 or 5 times in 7 miles. I think my arms got as much of a workout as my legs did. (I had a spare tube, but decided to gamble riding home versus patching/changing at the side of the road.)

Taking a break to pump the rear tube up.
I like the crazy way this road bends as you reach the summit.
The good news is, the patch I applied when I got home is still holding, some 10 hours later. I made sure to go over every inch of the tire, pulling out tiny slivers of glass and sharp gravel stones, just to be sure.
The bad news is, I decided not to ride in to work, today. Nature has gone back to playing cruel tricks, and this morning was particularly bitter and cold. Since my boss has the day off and asked me to come in on a Saturday, I figured I'd just drive in and get the day over with. I can always go for a short spin, later on. Well, we'll see if I actually do.

On a more personal level, I've dropped about 2 pounds since last week. I haven't made any major changes to my diet, aside from eating fewer carbs on days when I don't ride to work, so I'm feeling quite satisfied instead of starving at the end of the day. If this keeps up, I should be at my goal weight in about a month, successfully burning off the weight I put on over the Winter.

UPDATE: I made good on my promise to go for a ride today. Took a 16 mile turn down into Drums and then across the valley in Conyngham. It was a beautiful ride; I felt better than I have in weeks.
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Day 5 of 30 Days of Biking: Wasting Your Time

Aww, man. Where am I going to come up with at least 300 words to describe this morning's ride into the office? Should I recount almost being killed by a yellow Volkswagen (It was one of the new, extra d-bag looking ones) It came pretty close, and was definitely going faster than 25 mph. Perhaps you would like to hear about the fuzzy squirrel who flipped out and went jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk as I rode past? That was pretty funny. Also, it was pretty cold, this morning, so there's always that... as if I haven't complained about that enough.

Here's something I can talk about! I don't always take pictures on my rides, but when I do, I take pictures of wayward Sorting Hats that have found their way into holes in the road. Here's one I shot yesterday; 
a lost, drunken Sorting Hat that doesn't know where it is, and no longer cares.
Go home, Sorting Hat. You're drunk!
These things are kind of a menace, and you should really see the chaos it was causing for people driving down the hill. Folks trying to make a left turn didn't know if they should go around the cone or cut to the inside and nearly clip cars waiting at the stop sign. Damn Sorting Hats. And they always manage to end up in construction zones. Maybe that's why it takes so long to fix the roads around here? Perhaps we can appoint some kind of Sorting Hat catching service to round up all these Sorting Hats and keep them in no-kill shelters. At the very least, I wish they would send a street sweeper out to get rid of all this gravel.

Now, if that were where the story ends, this would be a pretty pointless blog post, wouldn't it?
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Day 4 of 30 Days of Biking: Making Adjustments. Also, I'm Doing A Charity Bikey Thing

Listen, let's not ever talk about yesterday, ok? It was lousy. It stunk like last week's garbage and it thoroughly destroyed any shred of dignity I had left. It's not like I didn't want to ride my bike, I'm just tired of punishing myself with this non-Spring we've been having so far. Besides, today was better.

Note: I'm trying to write some decent content for this blog post, but my brain has turned to mush, so here's the gist of it:

I took the cushiony seat off and replaced it with the original saddle that came stock on my bike. It's easier to pedal while perched and allows me to shift around a bit instead of being stuck in an upright position. I confirmed this by *ahem* riding my bike today. That's right; I'm back on the wagon. I also gave the drive train a good scrub down and made a few other adjustments just to keep everything running smoothly.

The weather was beautiful, today. I did about 4.5 miles wearing just a t-shirt with a jacket and some tights under a pair of sweat pants. I also did without the bandana/face mask and didn't feel like my face was going to freeze into a visage of pleasure mixed with pain.

I am so looking forward to the day I can get away with shorts and a t-shirt.

Note: The brain mush is now leaking out of my ears, so let's wrap this up...

I registered for the Spencer Martin Memorial Bike Ride for Habitat 2013 ride, which takes place in May.

It's a 30 mile ride which will wind its way through the scenic Back Mountain. Proceeds from the memorial ride will be used by Wyoming Valley Habitat for Humanity to help provide simple, decent, affordable housing for qualified families within Wyoming Valley.

It looks like it should be a lot of fun, and I can't wait to do it!

Note: At this point, my brain is now thoroughly mushed and I can no longer find the... um, words... something something... flowery language, purple prose... insert closing paragraph here. It's been a long day.
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Day 3 of 30 Days of Biking: Failure to Launch

I stirred from my slumber at about 5:45 am., reached for my phone to see what the forecast would be for the next few hours and groaned. Before I even looked at my phone, however, the sound of the wind slamming against my windows told me everything I needed to know: it would be another cold start, 25 degrees Fahrenheit battling against fierce winds. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

It's true, what they say: exercise is mostly a mental game. If you decide you can't do something, you won't. Usually, it starts more as a quiet, subconscious thought that works its way forward, whispering in your brain and telling you not to move. In my case, it was screaming loud and clear, "No one is forcing you to do this... why not just take a day off? It's far too cold and the office is so far away. Why suffer needlessly?" And I listened.

I probably shouldn't be so hard on myself, but I failed to keep my commitment. I talked a pretty big game, but when it came time to play, I didn't show up.

Well, tomorrow is a new day with another chance to ride again. Hopefully, it'll be warmer, or at least I'll be a little more motivated. It's too late for me to make all 30 days, but at least I have a chance to keep going for the rest of the month. One day at a time.
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Day 2 of 30 Days of Biking 2013

This morning, I woke up to a nasty surprise, as temperatures hovered in the mid 20s. Although, it could have been worse. This Instagram photo is what it looked like in other parts of North-East PA, courtesy of +Michelle Hryvnak Davies.

Yeah, no thanks. Where is Spring? I was just beginning to entertain the thought of not bundling up like Randy in "A Christmas Story" when this kick in the feels came along.

Yup. Just another beautiful April day in North-East PA.

High of 34? What about highs in the 60s? When can we see that? Oh, but the wind! I mean, having the winds is one thing, getting blown sideways by an icy blast is another. Still, it was only Day 2 of 30 Days of Biking, and I had stuff to get done.

My only real task to complete today was getting to the bank to deposit some money in my checking account. It's just .4 miles shy of a 10 mile round trip, but the motivation required was monumental. Since it was my day off, I figured I'd wait until after noon to get in on that peak warmth and sunshine action. It didn't help.

I told myself it wouldn't take that long. I told myself it wasn't that windy. I told myself that, once I got started, I wouldn't even notice the cold. "Just pedal harder, you'll get warmer!" All lies. But, I'm a very good liar, so I did what I had to do.

Day 2, in the can. Old Man Winter tried to strike back, but he just struck out. I win again!

As a side note, one thing I am loath to admit is that I decided to swap the hard, stock seat on my road bike for the puffy, springy seat from my hybrid. I just couldn't do it, anymore.

After hundreds of miles of pounding, I needed a break. I've ridden over 200 miles in the last month, and I really just assumed that my backside would eventually toughen up and get over it, but I started to feel like I might be doing some major damage to myself. Also, I don't have a pair of shorts or tights with a chamois or any kind of padding built in, so I bought some that should be coming in the next week or so. In the meantime, I'm riding granny's saddle on my main commuter. I won't lie -- it was an utter relief on this trip. My scranus thanks me.
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30 Days of Biking: Day 1

It's the first day of 30 Days of Biking, and I've kicked things off with a bang. A soggy, wet bang, but a bang nonetheless.

Thanks to intermittent rain showers, my morning work commute was a bit wet and sloppy. 18 miles of wheel spray threw a nice layer of gravel and dirt all over the place, leading to some embarrassing marks on my backside and leaving me to wonder why I wasted my time cleaning my gear and laundering my cycling clothes over the weekend. Fortunately, I have a very understanding boss and a shower at work, where I can rinse the gravel out of my hair (seriously, it gets everywhere) and the grime off my body to make myself presentable. I should probably look into installing some fenders...

As I've mentioned, I have my reasons for committing to 30 Days of Biking -- plus a few I haven't shared, yet -- but the bottom line comes down to getting out there and being seen on a bicycle. At the risk of taking myself a little too seriously, I like the idea that if people see me using a bicycle to commute to work and go on short trips to the store, rather than using a car, maybe they'll be inspired to do the same.

Or maybe not. Maybe they'll see the tremendous effort and discipline required and be completely turned off? I sure hope not, which is why I try to place a great deal of emphasis on the fun and freedom that comes with this activity. Even a short trip to the store can lead to some rare photo opportunities, if you're the type who loves taking pictures; or at least a good story for your blog post. Again, if that's the kind of thing you're into as a bloggy-blog type of person.

In addition to whatever other reasons I have, mostly, I just love riding my bike. Honestly, I'd be riding as much as possible regardless. As I've said to a lot of people recently, I don't get up at 6 am just to be at work by 9, I get up at 6 so I can have 1 1/2 hours of pure, blissful riding all to myself. And then, I get to do it again on the way home! That, to me, has been all the reason I need.
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