Friday, August 31, 2012

Roll Call

As most of you are painfully aware, I have an annoying habit of coming over to your Blogs and typing a comment that is usually twice as long as your post and then rambling around and saying stuff that pertains to your topic in only a vague way, while managing to make myself look cooler than I am and all-wise and knowing and nothing if not verbose. It cannot be helped; I was born Excited About Life and interested in everything. While that interest here in our little clique is allegedly centered on bicycles, that is mostly a ruse. Oh, we all ride, as near as I can tell. But it ain't the only thing we do and that is how it should be.

The Secret Life Of Cycling
We also communicate and interrelate and since I started this page I have come to know, if only via the Web, a whole menagerie of new people who share my passion for cycling and we really are members of a vast Secret Society, once you think about it. Chain rings and derailleurs and headsets and carbon and lycra and wattage are our secret code and we know things denied to non-cyclists; we are familiar with the weather and we know where dogs are and we have our elite pantheon of secret gods, with names like Grant and Sheldon and Snob and yes, Lance...I may get into that in a minute but I already wrote my say onTHAT subject a while back.

We are in on a secret that should be shared by everyone but it isn't. Ours is a happy world of pedals and wheels and the sound of the traffic, the sound and smell of country lanes and the song of the surf and ours is a pretty happy world (except for the Lance part) and not all of us wear fancy clothes to go for a ride and so, in my usual errant manner I come to the subject(s) of today's post.

I have a friend and fellow pedalist and sailor who lives somewhere north of here. His name is Doug and he posts over at Life In theSlow Lane. A while back I rather imperiously demanded that he post a post and, like the true-hearted soul that he is, he complied. I was a little abashed at my forwardness but then immediately rewarded by what he had to say. Simple stuff and rather than hash it out here why don't you guys go have a look.

My other buddy Wayward Home posts even less than I do, if that is possible, but each one is a corker and his last effort will break your heart and make you grab the nearest dog, spouse, sibling or friend and hug them and tell them how much they mean to you. Seriously. Do it right now.

Judi, the Mistress of Miles and Madness, is feeling her age and it makes me glad because I am WAY older than her and half as strong, but always glad to hear that I ain't the only one feeling the good pain of our velo ventures. A thing about her is that since I started reading her stuff I have witnessed a lot of ups and downs in her life but she always comes through looking like she planned the whole thing. I know this: if I ever have to go to Hell and get back out, I would want her in my posse.

Once in a while I get in these little moods of wanting to shout out to some of my friends and readers. I remember when there weren't any and it was a cold and desolate place here at the Park. I will have to leave some of you out, because (happily) there are so many of you now that it would look like the Manhattan phone book if I list you all. OK, maybe the Paducah phone book. (I lived there once).

Mission Statement
When I first started writing this Booger I had glorious plans to be the Voice of the Unwashed Cyclists, the Clydesdales and Athenas and homeless riders and the beginners and the mechanically challenged. I still want to do that because I myself am all those things, except an Athena, and I am only marginally homeless, but the Clyde and the mechanically challenged I am. (and unwashed I also am a lot of the time.)

Nicholas the Gypsy by Trade is living this wild life of constant beauty and bicycles. His photography and lean, sinewy posts, combined with his ever diligent search for the elusive Fat Bike Formula of Perfection, is very addictive and I warn all of you to beware: his quest is riveting and told in a style that will one day be required reading in High Schools across the planet. Or it should be. Today's post is in fact, a kind of echo of Nick's most recent publication. He is sending postcards to a long list of friends and readers and I was happy to see myself included. Postcards! That's so cool! Now I want to get a big stack of postcards and send them all over the place.

The Jackson Two
There is this brother and sister out in Texas that somehow seem to have become a kind of surrogate family to me. I don't know why. They never send me postcards. But when I first crossed their trail it was instantly as though I had known them forever. The sister part is Crystal Jackson (coolest girl name ever) and she posts as CryJack over at Fight Stupidization. Not a bicycle to be seen but we cyclists fight stupidization every day so check her out and you'll see what I mean. Her brother, Tohner Jackson, is a fellow woodwright but you can bet I never did any wood stuff like he does. He is an artist and apparently the custodian of a very old soul. Check out One Tree Woodworks and tell him I said hello.

South of the Whispering Pines is a land called Hanalea, I mean Australia and I have my friend Dee there. She is a bicycle advocate and horticulturalist and model, an epicure and who knows what else, a racing cyclist and cartographer. Cartographer.  Plus she was mentioned at the Snob's, which is, well a kind of pinnacle of achievement.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I'm a cartographer.”

"No way"


I think she is in her old home of Nova Scotia right now. That's right. The land of the Trailer Park Boys. Dee, if you're reading this, tell Ricky and Julian I said hello.  And Bubbles, who is also a kind of cartographer.

Art VandeLay and One Scary Chick
See what I mean? Because of bicycles I know these cool-ass people. Wayward drives a locomotive, a real-life locomotive; Swampboy Steve at Hey Look At me is an architect, (as well as a trail-builder and cycling advocate) and the list goes on. Angie the Bikinator is one to keep your eye on, I am certain she will one day be a cycling journalist of note and reading about her efforts as an amateur racer always leaves me slightly exhausted.

Old World Craftsman
There is a place to go when it is time to work on your bicycle, or if you want to see a craftsman do wondrous things to crusty old bikes. His name is Hugh and he once was a mason by trade. If the work he does restoring old bicycles is any evidence, he must have been a hell of a builder. He meticulously takes apart and rebuilds bicycles that were fairly run-of-the-mill before he got hold of them, but after he puts the Hugh wang-dang-doodle on them they are two wheeled works of art. You won't believe your eyes but what makes his place special is his friendly, down home writing style. Go there and read about changing out a head set or bottom bracket or wet sanding a frame and you will leave with a warm feeling that as long as we have guys like Hugh, everything will be OK.

The Land That Time Forgot
As soon as you leave Hugh's it is a natural thing to stop by Cameron's Old Ten Speed Gallery. That's where I go hang out with my fellow fans of the Old School and really, after a visit there you will wonder why anyone would ever buy a new bicycle, when there is so much excellence, beauty and grace in all things old.

I realize that it wasn't that long ago that I wrote a similar post, extolling the virtues of my friends. Please bear with me. While I have a knack for spinning a yarn and sometimes making you smile, I have a mandate from myself to make damn sure that those around me know that they count and are appreciated. 

Meanwhile, Back In Manhattan
 Here's another one:  His name is George and he seems to be tackling two worthy challenges at once:  Style and cycling.  George Hahn is a city boy, as are many of my friends.  But he is, without a doubt, one Sharp Dressed Man.  He has recently signed on as a cycling writer and while I don't know if it will work out for him, it will not be for lack of support from the Whispering Pines.  My own "style" has been cause for concern in recent years and if you guys go by and give him an encouraging word it will be appreciated, I am sure.  In particular, read his tribute to his father.  Any  writer this straight up and honest is worth watching.

"Every Body Say Hey!  Put Your Hands Up and Say Yeah, Yeah Yeah!" (john lennon, et al)
All of you. My soul-brother KAZ, Roadie Ryan, Bill Hopp the Anonymous Hoosier, Jason in Colorado, Jim Bangs, Jonathan, my other brother Matt in my old stomping grounds in California,  Dan in Las Vegas, The noble Bloke on a Bike, Brian the Boss in Old Virginia, all of you, on and on...

Uncle Ed Is Watching
When my Uncle Ed Comstock passed away in 1970 the funeral procession was unexpectedly long; so long that police had to come work traffic and the crowd at the cemetery was huge. People came from all over the country to attend. There was not a dry eye anywhere and the mayor and some other politician made comments and it took two preachers to get him in the ground. Who was this dignitary? He was a shoe salesman. He sold shoes for forty years at a little store in a small town in southern Indiana. But every person who got fitted for shoes by my Uncle Ed walked out of that store with a smile on their face and feeling better about themselves and never even thought of going anywhere else for their next pair of shoes. I'm pretty sure that some people got shoes they did not need just to get another dose of Ed Comstock.

He is looking over my shoulder as I type this and I hope I did it right.

Yer pal, tj

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Feel-Good Factory

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Simple Act

Stopping By Stream
Here on the Mosquito Lagoon an algae bloom is at full growth and totally obscures the water. There is no clarity and I sit here sipping a beer and wondering about my lungs and not caring but I also wonder about the seabirds. They are sight fishermen and this water is an ill-looking tone of greenish-brown and there is no clarity; these pelicans and osprey and cormorants and herons must be starving here in this late summer that refuses to end.

There have been record high temperatures all over the place all summer and as I sit here in the middle of the MosquitoLagoon I notice I am sniffling and yeah, it is hitting my nostrils, I can't smell it but it is there and the dolphins I usually see here are absent today.

Get the Vote Out
 Today is an election day here in our little corner of Paradise Lost. The various local movers and shakers and go-getters are up for re-election. My vote is this: we round up the whole sorry lot of them and bring them down here to the Lagoon and throw them all into this murky mess caused by ambition and tax-bases and too-rapid growth with too little concern for long term effects on the ones who are not political, the fishes and dolphins and seabirds and yea and verily, the old cyclist sitting here on a long pier in the middle of what is normally a crystal clear aquarium of rare natural wonder.

It Could Be Worse
Not twenty miles from where I sit in this recently primordial area they plan to soon enough build 23,000 new homes and schools and the inevitable strip malls and doctor's offices and chain restaurants and so on. The local leaders are excited about all the revenue but I am reminded of the old story about the fish that swam into a discarded bottle to get at an elusive bit of food, ate it and found itself too big to get back out. That is the message in the bottle, I fear, but politicos and developers are deaf to any sound other than the ring of the cash register and yeah, even I may reap some small reward off this disastrous project once it gets rolling. My hypocrisy is an honest one.

And Now...Bicycles!
But what of that? I rode a bicycle to get here, at least. And that poor old steed suffers from a bottom bracket so creaky and groaning that it was a dangerous act indeed to ride this far, this fifteen miles or so from the Whispering Pines trailer park and Nature Conservatory.

A Simple Act
But not for long. My loyal reader Roadie Ryan was kind enough to send me a barely used Shimano UN54 replacement BB, a sealed bearing beauty that will long outlast me and my bike both, I think. In fact, I am certain of it. Because, in typical Trailer Park Bike Shop Fashion, I just assumed the correct size I would need. I was wrong. When the replacement arrived from the country called Seattle, I played with it and fondled it and then sat it next to the computer to admire. Ryan also sent a finely crafted Bottom Bracket tool to help with the installation. After a full day of professional -level procrastination, I casually wandered over to where the old Schwinn was resting daintily in the work stand. I fiddled with the pedals and wiped the worst of the road grit from the cranks and then I put a socket wrench on the nut that held the crank on and gave it a turn. I learned a while back about lefty-loosey and righty-tighty but with bicycles, ya never know. They can be tricky. But off came the nut (with surprising ease) and then I got out my trusty Park crank remover tool and removed the crank. Nothin' to it. But right away, I noticed something was wrong.

“This old bracket has threaded male ends on it,” I said. “That ain't right.”

“And yet there they are,” said the Voice. I went over to the table and picked up the new unit, shiny and glistening from my absent-minded polishing of the night before, polished like so many rosary beads while I watched multiple video clips about how to change a bottom bracket. ( as a side note, some of those videos are pretty slick and some of them are so unintentionally bad and hilarious that one must assume Ed Wood has returned from the Great Beyond to do instructional videos.)

Nowhere in those damnable videos was there any mention of threaded male bolts on the end of the bracket and I stood there staring foolishly at yet another detour on my trail to Cycling Nirvana.

Where Am I ?
“Hey! Wake up!”, said the Voice.

“Huh?” I had been drifting off to a High Country that I sometimes visit, a place of cool winds and no insects and laughing cyclists whose wheels never quite touch the ground. There are coffee trees with taps hammered into the side and smiling scantily-clad barristas handing out cups of steaming delight at no charge. Elsewhere there are the twinkling wine streams and not too far off, always a perfect bike ride away, is the Beer River...

“Hey!” The Voice was a little louder this time. “Stay with me, here. Threaded bolts...”

“Oh yeah. Where was I? I must have drifted off. Threaded bolts...” As I usually do at times of high crisis I went to the fridge, cracked a beer and sat down at the computer. I dashed off an e-mail to Ryan, explaining my dilemma. This was when we both figured out that since the old bracket was born a male and the new UN54 was female, I would need crank bolts.  Those 8th grade sex-ed classes were finally paying off.

This set off a chain of events that defies explanation. Let me explain: In order to not lose any loose parts, (which I can do in my sleep) I re-assembled the old bracket, cranking down the old nut really tight. I still needed my bike operable for quick neighborhood trips. I then set out on just such a trip, (a quick dash to the beer store, of course) and right away I realized something was very wrong. Gone was the squeaking and groaning and sense of imminent disaster. The bike had become as smooth and quiet and easy to pedal as if, well, as if it had a new bottom bracket. All this time the crank had been loose and I am such a reluctant mechanic that I had naturally figured it to be the bottom bracket. 

Meanwhile, without saying anything, Ryan, in another burst of philanthropic benevolence, had arranged to drop-ship to me a set of Sugino's Finest crank bolts. Imagine my surprise when the postman handed me an unexpected package. Imagine my further surprise when I tore it open to find only one (1) bolt. A flurry of e-mails ensued as Ryan sorted things out. But that same day Bear Dye dropped by to pay me off for the recent work I had done and that was all she wrote.

The Sailor In Port Cyclist
Armed with a fat pocket and an un-crippled bicycle I was once again the good ol' Trailer Park Cyclist, pedaling madly and with great relief all over the place. I did daily rides of thirty and fifty miles. Nights were spent in happy torment sweating over a hot computer making decisions. Bicycle parts were ordered. Tires and brakes and a new front wheel and pedals. Old debts were caught up and some rum got drunk (drinked, drunken, partook of?) Tequila also. There was gladness in the kingdom and more bicycle riding and the other crank bolt came in.

Fix-it Man
I took out the old bottom bracket and laid it up on the bench to compare with the new one. The new BB was too small, of course, but I didn't care. I zipped off yet another order for the right size and I will send the much-travelled gift unit back to Ryan in the land of coffee and ferns. But I will keep the crank bolts as a token of his good-hearted help and wherever that UN 54 ultimately ends up, it will have stories to tell  about that time it went to Florida and got all polished up by that crazy guy.

The Moral
Last week, while in one of those dark nights of resentment and loathing and general misery from which I sometimes suffer, I complained to a friend who knows a little something about dark nights her ownself. She said to do something for somebody else, a simple act of kindness and it would take me outside of myself and brighten my world.

I ain't done it yet but I'm working on it. Right now I sit here surrounded by bike parts both old and new and my Little Darlin' is in the stand, all her parts removed; a stripped frame sanded down almost to bare metal and over the next few days she will get new paint, the Trailer Park Matte Black I have been wanting; she will get her parts polished and tuned and re-installed with loving care and she will, if all goes well, carry her Rider to new places and more-better stories; she will carry him to far places farther away; places  of new faces and sights and sounds and where hopefully he will get a chance to do some simple thing for someone else, a thing like Ryan did for me.

“And a place with espresso trees and wine streams and a beer river?” asked the Voice.

“Maybe Voice. Who knows? The High Country is for dreaming.”

This algae bloom here in the Mosquito Lagoon won't be going away until the first cold snap of Autumn arrives. That will be quite awhile from now. I don't know what will become of the sea birds that hunt these waters for sustenance.   I really don't know.  Meanwhile the summer rains continue to fall and wash fertilizer from lawns into the lagoon and road slime and all the harmful by-product of human existence. We can't help it, it would seem, we are only human. We are getting better at it, I think, but if we don't find a way to do a simple act of kindness for the place we live and the creatures we live with I fear we may find ourselves receiving a message in a bottle that we won't like.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Soap Box