Saturday, September 27, 2014

The tao of the hill


If you want to be given everything, give everything up.
 -Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 

Today I was lucky to ride with someone who is relatively new to cycling. The Zen Buddhists go to great lengths to attain what they call "beginner's mind". I went for a ride.

This was a hilly route. As Martin from relatively flat Sweden found out this summer, our part of California is so not flat. Everywhere you go there are hills. Small, medium, large. Legions of hills.

It is not evident from a car but climbing a hill on a bicycle is just about the hardest physical thing a human can do. You are lifting your own weight and the bike against gravity, at a certain pace. When you reach the top it doesn't feel like an ego triumph, it feels like an unlikely victory.

And the whole process takes every bit of strength and effort and attention you can muster. While climbing, you can think of nothing else. It hollows you out, whittles your thoughts down to nothing, and you can only hope there will be a chance to recoup down the road.

Ironically, the only way to train mind and body to do this, climb hills, is to actually climb a lot of hills. It's a Catch-22. So if you're a beginner, you don't really have that ability yet.

And if you have that ability, you don't remember what it's like to be a beginner.

At the end (we all survived the ride, the hills, and each other) the story is about how when you think you have nothing left, when you think what's in front of you is impossible, just put your head down and push. Don't look at what it looks like, what's up there, just give what you've got.

Legs and lungs find a rhythm, a flow. They work together and there's discomfort. First your mind tries to know everything and be a hero. Then it gets disgusted and tries to give up. You keep going, driving toward something in the middle. Eventually you reach the top and think - wow.

It's possible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Safe passage

One of the workers in the hair salon brought up the new 3-foot passing bill. I didn't even mention it. Surprising how much buzz it's generating.

As of today, in California, cars have to give bicycles at least 3 feet of clearance when they pass.

They're buzzing about it at the hair salon because I'm the one who rides a bike to get her hair cut. And everywhere in my neighborhood: groceries, the farmer's market, library, etc. Local trips=bike.

Interesting reactions:

  • Lots of people know about it. Because humans in cars are in a protective shell and normally we don't communicate on the road, most of the time I feel invisible. Funny (and hopeful) that my community is actually aware.
  • The hair salon people seem puzzled that anyone would actually need a law for this. They're puzzled because most drivers already know what to do - leave plenty of space when passing... 
  • A few drivers make a big deal out of not being able to measure out 3 feet. Look people, this is a fake problem. Try asking someone in one of the 21 other states that have enacted a similar law. Y'know, or look at a yardstick.

For people who don't think this will make a difference in how drivers treat humans on bikes, good news. This week I've noticed a difference. Maybe this is already good drivers doing more of the right thing. But they're leading the way so it becomes the norm.

Now, the penalties for not leaving 3 feet? They are laughable. That has to be fixed. No one should be able to kill a cyclist, then just write a check for the amount of the ticket. What was Governor Brown thinking?

But it's a start.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Magic paste

When I'm really frustrated and mad and don't feel like riding a bike, I reach for a white tube.

Our pans are old but they're stainless steel, solid and good underneath. Put a lot of energy into polishing and they start to look a lot better. Much improved.

Beyond the pot rack and kitchen, that feeling's elusive. Real life is full of things headed in the wrong direction.

State agencies that put their head in a dark place and refuse to take it out. Peet's Coffee, now with long lines and high prices and crappy treats, slouching toward Starbucks. The Bay Area, full of smart successful types who can't figure out the whole housing thing so that humans can live here.

The city where I'm lucky enough to live, claiming to be bike-friendly but at the same time thwarting all attempts at infrastructure. Green bike lanes? Green paint is really expensive.

Friends on bikes feeling threatened and marginalized. The people and politics of bike coalitions, disorganized, ineffective, accountable for nothing. Daily clashes with other trail and road users on my commute. The whole thing about jockeying for space.

Gluten. The world is full of gluten. It's lurking in tortilla chips, even. The past two weeks, not being able to think or feel normally.

The noise of social media. Having killed investigative journalism and replaced it with, let's be honest, mostly personal drivel on Facebook and Twitter.

Trying to do really well in the chaos of work, without knowing exactly what that looks like or what I can deliver.

(Oh, sorry...the paste!)

It comes from Switzerland, where life is orderly. Lives in a white tube and lasts for years and works like toothpaste for stainless steel. First you rinse the pan in hot water. Then just put a dab of grey paste somewhere on the outside. Doesn't really matter where or how much. Rub it in with a paper towel. Work in all the grey stuff until there's none left and the pan is shining. More gunk on the pan? Add more paste and repeat.

All the little marks and scuffs and particles that accumulate with daily use, they come off on the paper towel. Voila!

Shiny pans don't make all the other stuff OK. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to have visible evidence that a little effort can turn things around.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Big guy

Just want to say that I'm not riding all the way to the right side of the road. Nope. I'm more like somewhere on the right half of Mount Hamilton Ave. in Los Altos, rocking out to Robbie Robertson. Trying to ride fast-ish. Trying to get to Foothill and Arastradero by 7am.

That's when the big-ass truck passes me on the left. Plenty of room but the driver's making noise, yelling something out the window. Makes him look like an idiot. It's too late to move further to the right and anyway now I don't feel like it. The headphones make a handy buffer; can't hear a thing. Just that he's angry.

Might have flipped him the bird; I don't recall.

In front of me now, the brake lights go red. Big guy wants to tango. I move over to the left edge of the road and pass the truck, no hesitation. Singing along in my head. Going fast-ish.


It's totally different, this album; an acquired taste. Highly recommend.

The moment passes; the guy seems to give up the fight. Rolls the truck in an orderly fashion right up to the stop sign. Maybe he's figured out I can see his license plate clearly from here. Maybe he realizes I can't hear him and don't care, and it's not worth yelling if no one's on the other end.

Or maybe he's figured out his truck is plastered with the name of a business, Vojvoda Pest Control. That getting arrested for deadly assault and a variety of traffic violations might not be good for his livelihood. He might have trouble wriggling out, might lose the truck...

Whatever.

It's not like he's the first irate idiot who's ever tried this. It's kinda early to be pissed off though. Probably all those chemicals affecting his brain. Or maybe he's just a bully who mistook me for a victim. Maybe he thinks I wouldn't beat him senseless in self-defense.

I have a good ride. With Alex and Scott, up-sa-daisy up Page Mill to the water fountain, then back down into the valley. Shower and change at home, then ride to work. In a good mood all day long.