Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pedals hide away

I think I'm missing a pair of pedals. The Shimano clipless ones that I got from Jensonusa. I think bike parts walk around in the darkness of my garage late at night.
Sometimes in the early hours of morning I find myself suddenly awake, trying to listen to that clanging sound emanating from somewhere below the bedroom floor. I could swear I heard something. Heard something. Metal against the concrete wall. A dull thump. Or was it just a dream? And it if was, what the heck was I dreaming about?
I strain to hear more but there is only silence and then the occasional blowing of the wind, and the rustling of the leaves. I try to picture the bent rim that I disentangled from the spokes that held it concentrically to the hub. It lays on the cold and dusty garage floor. It flips up unsteadily at first like it is being pulled up on strings by an invisible puppeteer. Then it begins to roll clumsily, a child learning how to walk (or roll). It bumps up against my work table and it flutters for a moment, a beg-your-pardon gesture before it swirls towards the floor the way a spinning coin settles to stillness, flat on its side.
The work table seems unmindful, yet it seems to be alive. My crescent wrench, the 5mm allen, a tube of grease, dirty rags, nuts and bolts, a whole slew of tiny little bike parts, parts of bike parts perched upon the work table, a hippopotamus with birds on its back.
Suddenly the parts come together as if attracted to the middle of the table by a magnet. A metallic creature emerges from the pile, my Shimano Flight Deck sitting on top of the suspension front fork, crank arms attaching to the steerer tube living up to its anatomical nomenclature. The thing suddenly croaks that he is Steve Inskeep and that this is morning edition. And now I am really awake.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Riding out winter

Riding on ice and snow. It's not as bad as I thought. I mounted knobbies on our mountain bikes and started the season at Tobyhanna State Park. It was a much better season opener than last year.
Bonnie did great too. She said her arms were exhausted from "hanging on to the handlebars for life."

I have been using the rollers all winter and have kept in fairly good shape. The rollers have been great. It has allowed me to test ride different incarnations of my bikes and try out adjustments that I make to the bike.

Keeping up training during winter is tough. During the winter last year we needed to use up a couple months' worth of gym membership. Going to the gym was alright. It was the journey from the car to the gym that was arduous. Funny how a short walk of a mere few seconds through the parking lot could be the deterrent to a workout. But it's really the cold. And going to the gym was no longer fun. We were just going in order to use up the membership. Which was a painful thought. You've paid up, and now you have to pay more by way of time and going through the hassle. Sure, it's all in the name of fitness. I just find the gym atmosphere uncomfortable.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Sun Sets at Six (at the Moosic Mountain Preserve)

Sun sets at 6:12PM. The weather channel said so. Perfect, I think to myself. I should be home by a quarter past five and have enough time to prepare. By 6:30 I would have done the deed and be in my car under a cloak of darkness. It will be dark. It should be dark by then. Perfect, I think again.


I shutdown my laptop, shove it in my bag and start to walk towards the rear exit of the building. I will have to join the rush hour. Shouldn't be too bad. The longer drive time will help me calm my nerves.

Tom greets me at the hallway. He has just stepped out of the men's room and I half-expect him to announce that he has just passed a kidney stone. That’s just the kind of guy he is. Not today it turns out. Today he is spared of such an ordeal. We pick up where we left off in our lunch conversation. Tom and his wife of three months is being harassed in their own home. By a mouse.

He's a nice guy and he's fun to be around. I decide to spare a couple of minutes. I cannot raise any suspicion. I have to act normal and not appear to be in a hurry. I'm just gonna have to drive a little faster in the highway to make up for the lost time.

“Well,” he holds up his index finger, “ I think I got it all covered. I placed mouse traps in the right places and I have this bucket filled with water and I placed a piece of Styrofoam with some peanut butter on it. Mouse goes for the peanut butter and…”

He makes a clicking sound and a twisting motion with his hand, like a tiny boat tipping back and forth.

We carry on with the conversation but I can’t help but wonder if I have everything covered.

The sun hovers just above the valley as I pull out of the office parking lot. Pretty soon it will start to slice into the mountain like a coin disappearing into a piggy bank. Darkness yes, but not too soon.

The highway traffic flows in an easy pace. I try to relax by going over the details of what I am about to do. All the tools I need should be in the garage. It should be an easy 10 minute hike up the trail to the spot. It should be there. It should still be there. If it isn’t there… I can’t have any doubts. Going over it in my head just tenses me up.

I shake my head and abruptly change lanes to get to my exit. The loud blaring of the horn startles me. I look up at the rearview mirror and I see a guy in a big truck and he is spreading the love by holding up his hand and making a gesture that does not involve four fingers.

“So eat me alright?” I say dryly. That’s right. I’m tough, I assure myself meekly.

I make it to my house without further incident. As the garage door closes behind me I find my hands stuck to the steering wheel. The drone of the automatic garage door comes to a stop. The silence is complete except for the ticking of the engine as it begins to cool down. I should take heed what the engine knows. I need to cool it. I need to calm down.

There are other ways. I do not have to do this. Maybe I can do it tomorrow or some other day. Or maybe never. It feels good to decide to just stay home and watch reruns of Raymond, and Two and a Half Men. Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. If it feels good it’s the right thing, right?

I step out of the car and begin to collect the things that I need. I am not thinking. As long as I am doing something then I do not have to think. The motions clear my head. I grab the ropes and cut off only as much as I need. I decide against bringing a knife. It would raise suspicion if I ever have to explain to anybody. I will have to use some rocks, or my bare hands if it comes to that. I just need to tie her up and fashion a sling around her so I can hike back down easily with the added load.

I change into black sweatpants and a dark-colored jacket and step into my old dirty sneakers. With all my stuff tucked away in my pockets I am just another guy taking a walk in the trail.

The drive to the trailhead takes less than ten minutes. As I maneuver the Subaru Legacy Wagon into the parking lot, a white Cadillac Escalade pulls out. I try not to look at the vehicle and be as inconspicuous as possible. In the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the occupants. A couple who had just taken their dog for a walk. They do not give me a second look.

The Subaru should have enough space in the back. I fold down the rear seats and pull the front passenger seat forward. There. It’s all ready for it’s cargo. I lock up the car and begin to walk up the trail. There are no other cars in the lot so the trail should be empty. I do not entertain any other possibilities. I walk on in a brisk pace. Behind me in the horizon there is only a faint glow in the mountains.

A rustling in the bush to my left. I turn my head quickly towards the direction of the noise and I see a rabbit scurry away. The trail begins to climb and I walk a little faster. The turn should be in view in a few minutes.

I can still turn around and just go home, I begin to think again. It would just be a nice walk. Just to keep my body in shape. Yes, that’s what I should do. I should just turn around.

I shake off the silly thoughts out of my head. I’m already here. I’m not gonna turn around now. Just a few yards into the turn, that’s all there is and I should find it.

And yes indeed, there she was. On the side of the abandoned trail, ensconced in a small heap of an old stove and bent pipes. Ten feet of 10-inch diameter aluminum duct, in perfect shape. It will carry the hot air from the wood stove in the garage into the house.

It remained untouched since last weekend when I discovered it. I was exploring the trails on my mountain bike and chanced upon it. What an eyesore I had exclaimed. Yet I saw it for what it was. A usable piece of solid duct.

I allow myself a few seconds to behold the sight. Then I get down to work. I pull out the rope from my pocket and tie a loop on each side of the duct then hooked up a sling that I use for my computer bag to the loops. The length of rope is just right. I do not have to resort to cutting it by pounding it with rocks. I pull the sling over my shoulder and lift the load. Nicely balanced. Not heavy at all.

I begin to retrace my steps back towards the parking lot. I did it. Yes. I just have to make it back to the car, load it up and go. What else can go wrong now? Just a few minutes walk to the car, it is almost totally dark. There would not be anybody else there. Any passing car would just be that, a passing car.

As I round up the bend down the trail the parking lot comes into sight. I see the outline of the Subaru in the near darkness, a light sand color in a dark background. Only it seems to have a different shape. Wait, there is a car beside it. My heart begins to thump. Are those flashers on its roof. They’re not flashing but they looks like flashers. And they are, I begin to realize as I get closer. A police car. The officer probably drove by and saw the car and just had to check it out.

This does not look good. I continue to walk in what I hope to be an assured gait, as if there was nothing abnormal about me lugging a ten-foot piece of duct, in the trail. I can’t stop now. Where am I supposed to go?

I should have listened to the tiny little voice in my head. I should have just stayed home had a few laughs watching some sitcom. Instead I’m walking towards an interrogation. This is not stealing, I could argue. This is not public property. It’s somebody’s trash in a public trail. It’s not stealing, right? In fact, I am doing my part in cleaning up the trails.

I’m close enough that I can see a figure beside the car. The officer will be shining a flashlight into my face. I see the police car now. Only it’s not really a police car. On it’s roof is a bike, not flashers. Standing beside the car are two guys in riding gear. I say hello as soon as I am within earshot.

“What you got there?” one of them asks.

“Somebody dumped a wood stove and some pipes back there.” I reply in a surprisingly calm voice. The relief, or guilt, thankfully did not show.

“We thought you were carrying a cannon or something.” the other one chuckles.

I laugh a little staccato laugh. “You guys doing some riding at night?”

“Yeah, that was the plan,” I hear a reply. By now I’m just speaking to outlines of figures. “He forgot to charge his batteries.”

“Oh man,” I say. It occurs to me that these guys are really hardcore riders to be riding at night. I rode the single-track last weekend and it was not easy, in daylight. And then a thought. “Are you part of the group that built up the trails?”

“Yup,” came the reply.

“The trails are awesome. I can really see the work you guys put in there.” It feels good to be able to express my gratitude to them.

He gives me a printed copy of the map of the trails. A better one. With more detail than the one I pulled off the web. I tell him about how we ended up in Casey Highway the first time we tried out the trails.

After a few more exchange of pleasantries I shove the duct into the Subaru and drive away. Now I can stay home and watch my sitcoms.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jim Thorpe can't get no satisfaction

Bonnie loves to tell the story of how one Friday afternoon, on our way home from work, we decided to go to Cooper's Seafood Restaurant to take them up on their free lobster birthday dinner (show up with your driver's license to prove you're a year older and they'll give you a free lobster dinner to make you feel better). Instead, through a series of wrong turns, we ended up spending a wonderful weekend in Jim Thorpe .

Nestled within a steep valley through which runs the Lehigh River, the town of Jim Thorpe feels like the spot between a mattress and a pillow. It's a nice little town steeped in its rich history, peppered with art galleries and little shops. Little seems to be an adjective that easily attaches itself to the words I use in describing the town: nice litte town, quaint little shops, little facades of coffee shops and art galleries along Race Street. Perhaps in my mind I wish the town to be small enough that one can put it in one's own pocket, to be pulled out and once in a while to be gazed upon. Like a snow globe, which you can probably purchase in one of those quaint, little shops.

Jim Thorpe also happens to be an excellent mountain biking town. Lots of trails in the area. Last year, my brother Uly, coming out from another 6-month stint as crew doctor for a cruise ship that sailed around the world, spent a couple of months visiting us in Scranton. Bonnie and I took him out to Jim Thorpe to bike the Lehigh Gorge Trail. He did pretty well for a smoker who alternates between a stick of cigarette and his asthma inhaler.

We had the entire two months planned, capped by a major road trip from PA to Florida with several stops in between. After the second week, before we could hit the first mile of the trip, we were sitting around in the kitchen, drinking an assortment of beer that we rounded out from the store, he says to me, "Tol, about this trip,... there's kind of a snag." His voice had turned one level in earnest and it seemed a coincidence that he chose the moment when Bonnie stepped out of the kitchen. He then proceeded to tell me that his girlfriend had called him from the UK to tell him that she was pregnant. I don't know why but my reaction to this piece of information was an incredulous, "You schmuck!" Meanwhile his face was a painting of happiness, he all but went Costanza on me, a-la "My boys can swim!"

He had to go to fly out to the UK the following week. Nine months later, out came Gabriel, shown here growling out System of a Down's Toxicity.

This spring, Bonnie and I went back to Jim Thorpe to ride the entire length of the Lehigh Gorge out and back. It was a nice Saturday to get in some miles on a flat terrain. After the ride, we checked into a hotel, hit the showers and took a little nap.

In the evening we met up with our friends Sam and Carl. Sam is one of the nicest persons I've ever met. She went to our Haloween partly last year as a nun. Those last two statements are not necessarily related. Carl came in with a huge screw through his head and won funniest costume. He's also a big Rolling Stones fan.

We walked around town, downed a few drinks at the bar at Antonio's, then had a dinner in the same place. Antonio's is my favorite italian restaurant.

We then headed up to the Mauch Chunk Opera House to see the Rolling Stone live!

Well not quite the Rolling Stones, but it's next to the real thing. The band's name is Satisfaction, a Stones tribute band. When the band members walked onto the dimly-lit, smoke-filled stage, if you allow yourself to be deceived you can almost swear it was Mick and Keith and the rest of them. Mick had all the moves down and he never went out of character for even a second. Keith had the signature throwing his picking hand up in the air. And they sounded just as close to the real thing.
It wasn't the Rolling Stones. But we didn't have to pay an arm and a leg.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Anchor

My google searches indicated that the IT-band syndrome is common at the start of cycling season since the knees, and the body, need to get used to the physical exertions again. Suggestions included starting with easy rides and ramping it up within a 2-3 week period, stretching exercises, bike fit adjustments, and some medication.

Bonnie and I decided to do a section of the Lackawanna Heritage Trail in Dickson City. The actual trail begins in Olyphant and stretches along the river and goes up to Mayfield. The main trail is flat, no climbs, a good hardpack surface (mostly). This probably should have been our first ride. It was, in fact, my very first mountain bike ride.

I had bought my first mountain bike, a Jamis Durango Sport, from Cedar Bike in Dickson City. Cedar Bike is located at the corner of Main St and Lackawanna Ave. This corner is referred to as the Blakely Corner. Or, "the anchor." There is a real anchor, taken from the U.S. Navy Destroyer Johnston Blakely, that serves as a memorial. The anchor serves as a virtual anchor too. If you ask for directions to a place around the vicinity, the anchor almost invariably is used as a reference point. "If you see the anchor, you've gone too far."

I used to live a couple of blocks from the anchor, in a rundown 3-story apartment building along Main St. It was an old building. I rented a unit at the 3rd floor. My apartment unit consisted of four rooms lined-up in one straight row. Bathroom/kitchen, room, living room, and then the master's bedroom. The master's bedroom faced the street, right next to the traffic light.

On summers when my windows were open, the thunderous revving of motorcycles filled the room. The kitchen was a little warped. It seemed to defy the laws of physics and geometry. When I placed a ball on the floor it would roll off towards a wall. The kitchen cabinets always seemed crooked. But the location was alright. I was ten minutes from Walmart, and a couple of blocks from the bike trail.

So I walked into Cedar Bike one day and purchased a bike. As it turns out, Dave, the owner of the shop, used to be in the military and he was once stationed in Clark Air Base, a former US Air Force Base in the Philippines. His father, who was also in the shop, also happened to have been stationed there.

After I paid for the bike, Kenny, the mechanic, told me that they have Tuesday night rides and that I was welcome to join. They could show me where the bike trail was. He assured me that nobody would be dogged. Perfect.

So I showed up that Tuesday night. It was early April then and the temperature hovered around 45 to 50 degrees. I wore sweats and sneakers, and a helmet that I bought from Dick's Sporting Goods. We started off from the shop, right at the anchor, then down Lackawanna Ave.

There were five of us. One of the guys had a flashlight strapped on his helmet. There was still a good amount of daylight but it was beginning to fade. We rode behind the CVS and then along a couple of backyards and then we were on a trail that was right beside the river. Already I was falling behind and was out of breath. Kenny fell back to give me some pointers. He told me to ride along the more solid sections of the trail so the bike rolled easier. That helped. I looked ahead and the rest of the guys were no longer in sight.

We crossed a wooden bridge that led to a parking lot. The rest of the guys were already there waiting. We proceeded to take side streets for a couple of blocks and then we were on the trail again. I did my best to keep up with them but I was slowing them down. And then we got off the main trail to go up a hill. The trail became rocky and my chest was hurting from breathing in the cold air. When I finally made it to the top I told them to go ahead without me. I said I was going to turn around and be on my way and I thanked them for showing me the trail. They were nice about it. They moved on.

I turned around and made my shaky descent, and got back to the main trail. The main trail was mainly flat and I went a little bit farther before I turned around and pedalled home. I would go back to the trail countless times after that.

That was six years ago. And now I was back right on the very same trail. Bonnie and I had ridden up to Mayfield and were on our way back. We passed the turn along the trail that led up the hill. We stayed on the main trail and I stole a glance up toward the hill. At the top was
a guy standing beside his bike. I got the impression that he was trying to catch his breath. Or maybe I just imagined it.

We were close now to where we parked the car. I started to go faster and Bonnie matched my pace and then we started to race. Not an all out masher, but neither of us wanted to be the first one to let up. After only a few moments we fell back to normal pace and laughed at ourselves.

Then the parking lot came into view and just like that the ride was over.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Start of the riding season

Bonnie and I did our first ride of the 2008 season at the end of March. We had been anticipating a significant rise in temperature as the end of the month approached. It got warm, not by much, but it spiked to about 50 degrees, and we figured the season had to start some time. The Sunday was sunny enough. It was warmer than it had been in the last three weeks, so we set out to Tobyhanna.

The Tobyhanna State Park has a 5-mile hiking/biking trail that goes around the Tobyhanna Lake. The trail itself is a mix of hardpack gravel and dirt which is a nice surface for the mountain bike. The terrain gently rolls up and down and winds through the woods. You don't see any vehicles until you get back to the starting point which is the parking lot and picnic area. It's an easy trail. A beginner can do it. An intermediate rider can do laps and go faster and won't be bored. An expert, well, is an expert, and probably could not be bothered. It's a nice, fun trail and was perfect for an easy start-of-season ride.

It was cold but we figured we'd warm up after a couple of miles. After the first mile I felt the familiar dull ache on the outside of my left knee, as if a cartilage was rubbing against my knee joint as I pedalled. My excitement turned to dismay and I fought to quell a mild surge of panic. The first time I felt this knee pain was near the end of last season, in the middle of a century ride. I found out later that it was the iliotibial (IT) band syndrome (the IT band becomes irritated from overuse). I had thought that an entire winter of rest off the saddle would get rid of it.

But it was back. Barely a few minutes into the season and I found myself half-seriously thinking of an outdoor activity to replace biking. Hiking maybe? I'd enjoy a hike but it just would not be the same. Too slow a pace. I'd miss tinkering with bike parts. There's really not much to maintain on a pair of hiking shoes.

I guess it doesn't have to be outdoors. I can get a video game console, get a biking game and ride like an expert and never have injuries. I can't get saddle sores from a couch.

It was an amusing thought. And it lasted for a few seconds. The trail had begun to climb and I had to concentrate on spinning. I looked over at Bonnie. She was wearing layers to keep warm, and she had a scarf wrapped around her neck. She hates being cold. She looked at me and we both gave each other a look that said, "Yeah, we're out of shape. I'm feeling it too."

Funny how a look could transmit a thought even though it wasn't what you had in mind. Well, not entirely. I was out of shape and I was feeling it alright. But... the trail had begun to descend. We swooshed down along the twisty path. It was colder with the wind blowing against us. My thighs were burning on the next ascent. My breathing was heavy, fast and shallow. The dull pain on my knee had begun to flare.

We reached the parking lot, completing the loop. I asked Bonnie if she wanted to do another lap. To my relief she replied with an out-of-breath "No." I wasn't up for another lap either. Then I told her about the knee pain.

And just like that, the ride was over.