Thursday, February 28, 2008

Driving is not an Olympic sport

There was one thing that came up during my vacation that I wanted to pass along. We journeyed to another state (California). Somehow, the driving down there seemed so much more stressful than in our home state of Washington. It finally dawned on me that the drivers around me were viewing it as some sort of competition. I can't tell you how many times I would leave a small gap ahead of me on the freeway, only to have the driver behind me pull around and jump into it.

Expressways were another eye-opener. The lights were thoughtfully timed to allow traffic traveling at the speed limit to hit all of them on the green. But everyone was so consumed with getting to the light first that there was inevitably a backup of 5-10 cars at every light, waiting for it to change. Which it did, usually just as I rolled up having driven at the posted speed limit from the previous light.

I guess I'm used to viewing traffic as a cooperative venture. We're all trying to get somewhere and if we cooperate, we might get there a little faster. These guys were all out to grab whatever fleeting advantage they could, even if it meant that all of us (including them) ended up spending even more time on the road.


No posts in a couple of weeks, but I have a note from my mother (work, vacation, catching up at work after vacation). Purely in the interest of keeping this blog alive, I'm stealing content from another site. The Bamboo Bike Project is a joint venture of Columbia University and Craig Calfee (of Calfee Design) to empower Africans to build bicycles out of local materials, bamboo in this case.

I've donated several bikes over the years and the cost of shipping frequently overwhelms organizations trying to get the bikes over there. This sort of project sounds like a much more effective solution, along the lines of: "
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

From the site:
The Bamboo Bike Project is a collaboration between Scientists and Engineers at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and a bicycle builder at Calfee Design. The project aims to examine the feasibility of implementing cargo bikes made of bamboo as a sustainable form of transportation in Africa. The ultimate goals of the project are:
To build a better bike for poor Africans in rural areas.
To stimulate a bicycle building industry in Africa to satisfy local needs.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I don't like being honked at, but it's not because I find it irritating or intimidating. It's because honking is such an ineffective form of communication. Why did you honk? Did I intrude on your space? Am I going too slow? Maybe you just object to my being on the road at all. Maybe you thought I didn't hear you coming up behind me. Perhaps you like my jersey/bike/backpack? Maybe you just bought the car and wanted to hear how the horn sounds.

Frustrating. I'd like to have a meaningful conversation to find out why you honked, but your tinted windows are rolled up tight and you've floored the accelerator.

Full Disclosure

I have not always been kind to the planet. There was one very dark period of my life, referred to as the "mid-life crisis" where I succumbed to the siren call of Detroit and purchased an SUV. I regretted signing the lease almost immediately, but I was stuck. I compensated by driving it as little as possible (the leasing manager was surprised when I turned it back in, well under the lease limit).

I mention this as a word of warning, and present a possible solution. Detroit used everything in its power to convince me that I absolutely needed a vehicle that could take me anywhere on the planet under any conditions. And the vehicle needed to produce 250 horsepower while consuming vast quantities of fuel. That thesis is absurd, of course. I don't need to cross the Sahara Desert. And if I do, there are other ways of accomplishing it.

But the desire remains. I bought a cyclocross bike last Fall, so I could commute through the winter without ruining one of my pricier bikes. I immediately swapped out the knobby tires for something a little more road-friendly. Winter followed Fall, and I put the knobbies back on for the occasional snowy commute. And a strange thing happened: I discovered I could go practically anywhere! I found myself seeking out unpaved roads, trails; snow, and mud. It satisfied the desire Detroit had implanted to "conquer the planet". Except I'm no longer "conquering", I'm "communing". Has a much nicer feel to it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Nice Ride

Mount Si elements, originally uploaded by vsz.

Went on a nice little ride yesterday. This loop includes a little of everything: paved roads, paved trails, fireroads, singletrack, and a section that's steep enough to make me dismount and run down.

The best part is right when I hit the Lake Alice road. A farm with two standard-size poodles, waiting behind the fence. I like to think of them as brothers. As I approach, you can see the energy begin to coil within them. I have to unclip to get around the jersey barrier. I give them a wave and call out, "Ready, boys?" And we're off, charging down the hill. Me coasting, building up speed; the poodles in full flight. I round the corner and am gone. The dogs head back up the hill to do it all again.