Car-less year completed

Life’s been a bit busy recently with leaving a job, traveling to Alaska for a friend’s wedding, moving from Boise to Seattle, buying a house, looking for a job, all while watching Avery and, of course, not driving. Well, things are starting to settle back into order now and my year of going car-free has come to an end.

In August of last year, I traded in my car and promised to not drive for a year in exchange for a nice bike. The ceremonial trade-off was at Tour de Fat, an amazing biking and beer event. My last driving trip before surrendering Lizzy, my car, was to the start of a Sunday morning trail run. I took my dog and two other runners and made my way to Dry Creek trail head, a few miles up Bogus Basin road. Since then, a lot has changed but many similarities and symmetries remain.

When the year ended, I felt no need to drive as soon as the clock ran out. Instead, I continued with my schedule until not driving would prevent me from doing something I wanted to do. It happened a few days later when it was time for kayak polo. By the time I passed off Avery, I didn’t have enough time to bike to Kirkland before the game, so I jumped in the car. It felt a bit weird to be behind the wheel again, but not as weird as I expected. Made it to the game on time and had loads of fun on the water.

Reflecting on just the bookend drives of my car-less year, I love that both trips were to go places to spend time outside with others doing physical activities. That seemed to reflect in many of the trips I took while biking over the last year. The bike gave me plenty of opportunities to get outside with others and took me to many more places. I can’t wait to see where my bike gets me over the next year.

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Quad Bike

About the same time I gave up driving for a year, the school where I work was offered the pieces of an old quad bike. This beauty was designed with four wheels and four seats. The front two riders had pedals while the back two were just along for the ride. One of the front riders even had a steering wheel with gear shifters for both people and control of the brakes. That’s at least how it appeared to be designed. That’s not how we got it.

First, none of the wheels were attached and all were missing bushings or bearings. Next, the chains were heavily rusted and not attached. Also, both derailleurs were broken and all the cables for shifters and brake were bad. It was a perfect project for my high school students to tackle.

One group got started shortly after we moved into our building. They pulled off the chains and cleaned them up. One was salvageable but the other had to be replaced. Next, they wanted to get the wheels on so it could at least roll. After realizing the holes in the center of the wheels was much too large for the axle they were supposed to attach to, the students learned all about bearing and where to get them in Boise.

Excited about getting the quad bike moving, four of them went to the bearing shop in town. Once there, they were much more interested in the free hot chocolate, but eventually found someone to help them. Totaling up all the parts they needed, they were about $4 short. Luckily, the guys at the shop were so impressed with their enthusiasm, they called the rest a donation.

They came back so excited and quickly got three of the wheels on. Unfortunately, one of the wheel had a slight lip inside and the bushings didn’t fit. They tried many different ways of making it fit, but nothing worked. They got discouraged. Then the snow of our epic winter arrived and no one wanted to bike anywhere.

As the snow melted, another group of students picked up the task. They too tried to make the bushing fit into the wheel. Rather than continue to sand it down or buy a new one, they took a different approach. They decided to use PVC pipe. They found a scrap piece in the shop that was close to the right size and much easier to sand. Within an hour, the quad bike was rolling. They fixed up the chains and were able to pedal. Then (and only then) they realized the brakes didn’t work.

Luckily, they never built up enough speed for the lack of brakes to be too dangerous. With a new cable and housing, they were able to get that working too. Now there’s talk of adding a shell to it or taking out the back seats to make it a flatbed for hauling stuff or adding underglow and spinners or… or… or…

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This text intentionally left teeny-tiny: Also, many thanks to Elise for her hard work on this and because if I don’t thank her, she’ll get upset. 😉

I’m excited to see where they take it from here and happy to see so many of them excited about a bike.

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Opera Exchange

Biking everywhere gives you many opportunities to meet the people around you while commuting. Friday was a perfect example.

Our yard backs up to Hill Road (a busy residential street in North Boise), which gives us opportunities to hear many interesting snippets of conversation while sitting on our porch as people walk by on the other side of the fence. We even started recording the best ones, such as “I don’t know why, I haven’t had any narcotics since Friday” or “Do you guys have bike… thing to raise the seat?” or even “While I’m not a huge proponent of child abuse, I don’t…” which I must admit, I’m extremely curious how that sentence ended. But not curious enough to follow them down the street to find out.

One of our favorite things overheard on Hill Road is Opera Guy. A few summers ago, we were in the habit of sitting on the back porch when we got home from work. A few times a week, we would hear a car driving down Hill with the music cranked up. Oddly, it wasn’t rap or metal, it was opera blasting out the open windows at levels I’m used to hearing only jet planes. We thoroughly enjoyed this and loved the expression on our friends’ faces when they heard it for the first time. Unfortunately, we were never quick enough to see who this was.

The following summer, I was walking home from a coffee shop in Hyde Park. On the half mile walk, I was in my own little world until I heard, in the distance, opera. I stopped and spun round, looking for the source. I don’t remember what type of car or driver I was expecting, probably a BMW or Lexus with the driver in an Italian suit (I’d be able to notice that as he drove by). What I do remember was being shocked at source, once I spotted it. It was a large silver-gray pickup truck with a trailer and stickers indicating the owner was in construction. I love it when my expectations are completely wrong. It implies there’s a much more interesting story than the one I constructed in my head.

Over the years, I’ve seen this truck and Opera Guy several more times. Each time, I’m curious to know more about him, but he’s driving and I don’t have anything to open the conversation with.

Friday morning, I was biking into work. I got to the intersection of 13th and Fort where I had to wait for the light to change. As I stood there, thinking about my schedule for the day to come, I heard familiar music. It was Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders in the Sky. My head nodded to the music as the car approached. I turned to see it was Opera Guy driving. I had my in.

“What, no opera today?” I asked through the open window.

“What?” he replied as he turned down the music.

“No opera today?”

He laughed. “No, not today. Hey, you like opera?”

“Sure, who doesn’t?” I admit, this was more to keep the conversation going. I don’t listen to it much but I enjoyed the two operas I’ve seen.

“You just made my day. Here” He reaches out the window to hand me a CD of Kathleen Battle recordings.

Then the light changes and we go our separate directions. It was a short interaction, but reminded me of two things. First, I love the oddness of Boise’s North End where something like that could happen and the cars behind us didn’t seem to notice or care that we were delaying traffic a little. The second thing is how wonderful it is to bike everywhere. This would never have happened if I’d been in a car. Conversations like this (although usually without the exchange of opera) happen all the time when I’m biking. It helps me feel like I’m connected with the people around me and could talk to any of them. Also, it kind of made me want to put speakers on my bike and blast my audio selection to the world. I’m just not sure everyone would appreciate hearing a podcast about design. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

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One Event

The rib is starting to heal and the ice is finally melting. Many of my friends who enjoy biking but did not make a deal to only bike during one of the worst winters on record, are starting to get back on the road. It’s great to see other bikers out again.

I’m starting to adventure out again to friends’ homes and to run errands I’ve been putting off until the roads improve. What I’ve noticed is that my legs are not used to riding far or fast anymore and it’s taking a bit of time to get them back to where they were before Boise’s Snow-pocalypse. This was brought clearly into view a week ago at the One Event.

The non-profit school I’m working at holds its annual fund-raising event in February every year. This is my first year with them and my first time seeing the event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As details trickled in, I started wondering if biking to the event was the best idea or if I should look at other options (car-pooling or ???). It turns out that they hold the event at the Idaho Fair Grounds. This is a little over five miles away and during the summer, a pleasant ride along the Greenbelt. At the time of the event, the river-side Greenbelt was covered in a 1-2″ thick sheet of ice. The only other route I new required a lot of biking on busy roads. I was not looking forward to it.

As the event approached, I was asked if I could help with set up the day before the event. I started looking at different routes and a co-worker offered to pick me up on his way out since he was driving right past my house. I thanked him for the offer and said I’d let him know. The night before setup, I found an alternate route (it should have been obvious, but I was looking for a route on the other side of the river). The next morning, I was ready early and he was running late, so I opted to ride out to the fair grounds. It was cold but sunny. It turned out to be longer than I was used to at this point and one of the best rides I’d had in two months. It felt great.

As we continued hanging banners and tucking extension cords out of sight in the rafters, I kept looking at my watch. This was a school day and despite helping with a school event, I still had to teach coding in the afternoon. Assuming it would take 30 minutes to get back, I tried to finish my task with enough time to not be late. That never happens and I got away from the fair grounds with only 24 minutes until the start of my class. I haven’t peddled so hard since November. My legs burned. I hit every light just as it was turning yellow pushing me a little faster. I made it back to school in 23 minutes… and found that the school day was running behind schedule. I sat down, caught my breath and marveled at the fun of biking fast.

After coding, I planned to work with students at school then go home. Another staffer asked if I could attend a meeting with her and some of the VIPs in town for the event. It would be two hours after school so I decided to stay there rather than go home and come back… Then I got a text asking me to get back out at the event setup to help with one more thing, so I jumped back on the bike and rode. This time slower than the last ride but still with an eye on the time. I didn’t want to be late for the other meeting.

Like before, setup took longer than expected and I had to race back. Again I pushed myself much harder than my legs wanted to go and again I made it back in about 23 minutes… and again, the other people were late. I should have assumed that a group of VIPs getting a tour of Boise would be late for a meeting. I’d much rather be outside in Boise than in a meeting and I think most of them felt the same way.

Once the meeting wrapped up, I took my tired legs and slowly peddled home. My longest ride in the previous two months had been four or five miles of slow, steady riding. On this day, I’d done almost 25 and about half of it was as fast as I could go.

The next morning, I woke up a little sore. Still excited to be able to do more biking again, I got ready for the One Event and jumped back on the bike. The ride to the fair grounds was the slowest so far, but it still felt great to be riding longer distances.

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One of the centerpieces the students
and I made for the event.

The event was amazing. The students presented the whole thing. There wasn’t a single adult who stood up on stage the entire night. Their speeches were inspiring and their dedication shined.

As the guests left, we started cleaning up and celebrating a successful event. By the time we were all done, it was nearly midnight and I still had the five mile ride home. I was exhausted. I got on the bike, tuned out everything except what was ahead of me and started to ride.

A block and a half from home, I saw one of the few cars still on the road. I had a stop sign but as I slowed, so did they. I put my foot down to show they had the right of way and I wasn’t going to take that. They completely stopped and flashed their high beams. “It’s the middle of the night. Don’t be nice, just follow the rules of the road!” I muttered under my breath. They weren’t going anywhere so I started into the intersection. Then I heard, “IT’S WOODY!!!” I turned to see the car was full of One Stone students. As they approached the intersection, the driver thought, “What sort of crazy person would be out biking at this hour of the night. They’d have to be as weird as Woody… oh wait…” They were all still very excited from the event and were headed for celebratory waffles. I wished them well and went home to collapse.

One of my hopes about this year of biking is that these student, who I work with every day, see that even when you have places to be in a hurry or need to get somewhere in the middle of the night, you don’t have to drive. A bike is still a great option. This event reminded me of that and I hope it convinced some of them as well.

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Asphalt Strikes Again

A few years ago, I was starting to get back into running and looking for a group in town to run with. I’ve often found it easier to find the motivation to go on a run if there are other people there who expect to see me. The first group I found was the Boise Hash House Harriers. They were a fun group and great for getting me back into running. After a few months, I decided I was more interested in running and less interested in drinking, hazing and singing so the Hash was probably not the place for me. This was not before I got my Hash Name.

When you run with the Hash, you rarely use your real name. After they’ve known you for a while you get a Hash Name which is the only name most of them know each other by and almost always offensive in some way. I got my name biking home from a run. As I was leaving the parking lot on my bike, I moved my hand from the top of the handlebars to the drop bar. At this exact moment, I hit a small pothole and the wheel twisted away from me. My hand missed the drop bar, throwing me further off balance and causing the wheel to twist to a full 90°. I was only going about 5 mph but it was enough to launch me over the handlebars and slam me onto the parking lot. Beaten and bloody, I eventually got up and biked home.

The following week, I attended the Hash again. Still moving slowly, but happy to get out on another run. When the closing ceremony started (the final and largest hazing session of the evening), it was announced that I had a new name. Henceforth, I would be know as “Asphalt”. It turns out this was not only because of what I landed on, but rather they felt my injury was my own “dumb-ass fault” (or perhaps “dumb ass-fault“).

This winter has been particularly snowy and icy in Boise. We’ve had more snow accumulation than ever before and the snow has stayed longer than I ever remember. As such, it’s been a tough time to bike. I had been fortunate enough to not crash my bike in any serious manor, despite very slick conditions. That was until Tuesday.

As I was riding home, I was happy to see how clear the roads were. We’d had some rain which had broken up most of the snow and ice that was still left on the major roads. I was riding up 11th approaching Myrtle and hadn’t seen any ice for over a block. The light was green and, thinking mainly of safety, I kept an eye on it to ensure it didn’t change as I approached. Once I was certain I’d make it through before it changed, I looked back down at the road. Directly ahead of me was an ice island several inches tall. As cars drive down the road, they move back and forth in their lane breaking up the large piles of ice. When they come to a stop light, they tend to line up in the same spot as the car ahead which leaves an island of ice between the two sets of tires.

I saw the looming ice just a few feet before I hit it. I turned to avoid the center of it and caught just the edge. It was enough to send the bike flying out from underneath me and me flying through the air like Superman. I slammed into the asphalt with enough speed to knock my wind out. Realizing that I was flat on the ground, in the middle of the road, at night with my bike lights several feet away, I jumped up as quickly as I could so any approaching car would see my silhouette before they hit me. Luckily there were no cars coming.

As I stood there, trying to catch my breath, a self-assessment told me the only injury I had was ribs on the left side. Eventually, I got back on the bike and continued to ride. Other than a tear in my jacket, there are no outward signs of the accident. Overall, I feel fortunate that it wasn’t any worse.

This morning, I tried going on a short run. It still hurts to breathe; coughing and sneezing are torturous. At coffee afterwards, I mentioned why I was running slowly today. One of the other runners commented, “Wilson Creek was yesterday. Didn’t you do the same thing two years ago?” Indeed I did. That was my first DNF all because of the same injured rib from a bike accident the week before the Wilson Creek 50k.

After the first rib injury, I thought I was unlucky. After the second, I thought I might be completely unfortunate. Now, after three… maybe I just need to accept that sometimes asphalt will win and sometimes Ass-Fault will lose.

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First flat

I’ve been riding the bike almost everyday since I got it and it’s been great. I noticed the front tire was loosing air faster than the back tire, but didn’t think much of it… Until the morning I tried to ride into work and it was completely flat. Luckily, it was the last day before we all took time off for Christmas and the schedule was going to be fairly relaxed.

I had only ridden about a block before noticing the flat (with an inch of snow on the roads, I thought that was the reason it was feeling a little squirrelly). I texted the office to let them know I would be late and went home to fix it. First thing I did was pull out my floor pump and found that it was broken as well. Next, I found my small, portable pumps, but it turns out they only work with Schrader valves and the new bike uses Presta. It was clearly not going to be my day.

Now that One Stone has our own building, work is just under 2 miles away and not a bad walk. I set the bike aside with plans to get to it that night. Then family came to town and the snow started falling. By the time I walked to the bike shop a few days later, there was ~6″ of snow on the ground and more falling. It was a slippery walk, but I got the pump and got home without incident.

With the high temperature not getting above freezing recently, I opted to change the tire in my living room. The bike is now fully functional again and I’m back to riding. If only the snow would lighten up a bit so I don’t get pushed around too much, things would be great…

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The Day I Didn’t Bike to Work

I’m a little over three months into my year of not driving and things are going well. As the weather continues to get colder and rain comes more regularly, I’m going to have to modify how I ride, possibly even taking Andy’s suggestion and get fenders. For now, I’m still enjoying the new bike.

A few weeks ago, the school I work at finally got the official go-ahead to move into our new building. When we did, several of the students decided we should have a Spirit Week. For anyone unfamiliar with this tradition, each day of the week (typically leading up to the Homecoming football game) gets a different theme and everyone is encouraged to dress to match the theme. We’re a small school with no football team (we only have 32 students) so moving into our building was as good a reason for Spirit Week as any. Our week was (in order) Crazy Sock day, Twin Day, Aloha Day, Plaid Day and finally PJ Day.

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As you can see, I rocked Plaid Day (I’m second from the left, in the kilt)

As part of Spirit Week, I wanted to do something a little different for my transportation as well. So for one day only, I decided to leave the bike at home and commute to work on my trusty unicycle. It’s been two years since I rode it for any distance farther than about 25m and it’s 2 miles into work. Rather than practice and train, I just decided to go for it. That morning, I pulled it out from the back of the bike barn, inflate the tire and head out. The first half mile went great: no falls, good speed, only a few strange looks from passersby. Unfortunately, I hit a bump and fell off right in the middle of Hyde Park, the spot with the most people to see me fall on the whole ride.

Quick clarification, falling on a bike is a big deal. Your legs are on opposite sides of a large piece of metal, the handlebars mean you can jump off the front and so far, lack of advanced coordination has prevented me from jumping off the back of a moving bike. Unicycles are different. There’s nothing to get in the way when you fall. The vast majority of times you fall off a unicycle, you land on your feet in a standing position. Just pick up the unicycle, hop back on and you’re good to go. Falling isn’t a big concern, but it is annoying to do it in front of your favorite coffee shop.

Anyhow, after three attempts to get back on, I finally got correctly seated again and rode off. Most of the rest of the ride was uneventful, although the people turning to get onto the highway seemed to think I was very off for riding such a strange contraption. The ride home also went well. This time, I was able to ride past the coffee shop without falling in front of it. Overall, it was a fun way to commute. Most importantly, I learned that my legs were able to get me to and from school just fine. I also learned that the saddle for a unicycle is very different and rubs in unusual place… Luckily that only took a few days to get over which means I’m ready for the next time we decided to have Spirit Week.

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