Positioning of hard things

In April 2012 I biked 110 miles in 29 hours. It was the hardest, longest ride I’ve ever done. As someone who was (and still is) a wimp on hills, the steep hills of southern Indiana were ever more challenging. But this ride has had a benefit I did not expect: every other short ride I’ve ever taken is a piece of cake in comparison.

Like cereals on the grocery store shelves, this ride positioned my mind into realizing every other shorter ride wasn’t that hard. The next time I biked in a little rain or a little wind or snow or a hail storm I never thought, “Ugh, this is awful.” No, the 78 miles I did in 6 hours was awful.

I learned the other day this country once had a “scourge” of “sports mania”. Not the kind of sports-watching team-rooting mania we have today, but of people actually doing exercise.

Advancements in bicycle technology in 1890 put America into a frenzy:

From Harper’s:

It is true that women heretofore, here and there, have been trying the machines in an apologetic, shamefaced sort of way, but in this year they have boldly come to the front as riders, challenging male competition, and making a fashion of that which before was an eccentricity. …Women may ride in tights, but it is certain that men will never adopt the skirt. It is too dangerous. Man has not courage to risk the complications of an overthrow in a skirt. 

And the L.A. Times:

… In most of the States of the Union and in all the great cities, the bicycle vote has become a thing to be reckoned with. In New York it has bowled out the granite ring completely. Time was when a residence block couldn’t be paved with asphalt, even if the property-owners were agreed on footing the bill.

… Everybody knows what the bicycle is doing for the good-roads problem…. The most radical of recent legislation is the new Connecticut law (statutes of 1895), which pledges the State to pay one-third the cost of one mile of road in each town each year, if the county and the town will each pay one-third… A better device could hardly be imagined for encouraging road improvement in the poorer regions.

And this mania led Americans to more fitness, more college sports, and a healthier lifestyle. This, in turn, led to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech:

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

I try to remember this when I do hard, challenging things. It’s also helpful to remember when I find myself shirking strenuous things — mental and physical — that I know will be good for me. It’s also why I’ve developed less patience and respect for people who continue to wilt at the notion of doing something difficult.

How not to be an asshole, part 1 of 3,536

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I thought I’d take a moment to make a brief public service announcement on how not to be an asshole. This is a 3,536 part series and we’ve got a long way to go, so let’s get started.

For part 1, I’d like to take a moment to address drivers, specifically of the motor vehicle kind: please don’t kill me.

It’s been a year since I’ve started riding my bike around town for most everything and I’ve logged thousands of miles. Yet to this day despite thousands of dollars on public ad campaigns and infrastructure upgrades, people still seemingly don’t know how to drive around a cyclist. Allow me to explain some things from my perspective.

When I ride my bike around Indianapolis, most of the shoulders on the roads look like what you see at above right.

From a car you can’t see that it’s full of crap.

Lesson #1: Don’t litter or drive around with loose trash. Unless you’re a dump truck, why are you even riding around with this much loose trash that can just fall out of your car?

But take a good close look. There’s wood, splinters, weeds, mulch, mud, puddles, plastic, and all sorts of stuff stuck over at the side of the road. All roads. Every road. Every where. I’m convinced this is why shoulders were invented — to give garbage a place to drift to. When the road doesn’t have a shoulder, it just ends up in the grass off to the side of the road. Or, more accurately, the weeds on the side of the road.

I have cycled past, near, and over countless bags of fast food, cups, wrappers, and plastic cutlery. I’ve even cycled around furniture, boxes, what looked like a breast implant, toys, and more dead dogs and cats than I care to. In a car speeding past or around road kill you think, “Aww, that poor kitty.” On a bike you think, “Huuauaauaugh — that, oh my god, that cat.” I once cycled past a dog on south Emerson Avenue that must have been hit at an insane speed because it didn’t just get turned into a greasy spot in the road — it was eviscerated. I cycled past the dog’s head at one point and several yards later found the body, and then several more yards away was the dog’s back right leg. I could go into more detail, but when you’re hunched over the road traveling at about 15 MPH, you tend to have time to notice these things.

Lesson #2: If you have a dog, put it on a leash. It saves the dog’s life when it otherwise runs into the road and prevents it from chasing me down the road, which they do. A lot.
Lesson #3: As you’re driving, slow the heck down or else you’re going to end up with a puppy’s head stuck to your windshield wipers.

The point is, there’s a bunch of stuff in my way and there’s nothing I can do about it, so stop getting testy with me. If you’re driving a car and you see a baby grand piano in the road, you’re going to swerve to avoid it. Guess what I do when I see something in my way?

But take a closer look at what’s on the side of the road. It’s everywhere, and impossible to avoid:

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See it? There’s a big piece in front, but all through there are tiny bits of glass. I have no clue where this much glass comes from considering no one drinks out of clear glass bottles anymore, and beer bottles are tinted. My best guess is that this is glass that comes from people’s cars — headlights, windshields, mirrors, and tail lights. People get into a wreck and the glass is swept to the side, or, people drive around with cars that are falling apart and it decomposes right there on the road. Why the city doesn’t dispatch a street sweeper at accident sites is beyond me.

Lesson #4: I can’t ride over broken bits of glass anymore than you can ride over glass or nails (of which, there are plenty of on the road — who are these people dropping nails everywhere?). Stop honking at me for riding my bike in the driving lane. I know there’s a shoulder there, but I can’t use it.

The same goes for designated bike lanes. The bike lanes are, in effect, a generous shoulder with some fancy markings and signs spruced out along the way. I can rarely ride in the lanes as a result of your crappy car’s inability to stay in one piece.

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Lesson #5: If your car is in such piss poor shape it’s falling apart, that’s not only against the law, it’s dangerous. It’s time to get rid of the car.

Not to mention the ridiculous amount of potholes that litter the roads. A pothole that’s relatively small to a car means a flat tire or a bent bike tube to me. The above shot is from an actual bike lane.

This also forces me out for the shoulder and into the driving lane again. This is such a common thing for me that I’ve given up on riding on the shoulder or bike lane in most every place but the newest of paved roads. I’m going to ride in the driving lane because it’s the safest place for me and I’m relying on you not to be an asshole about it. I have a legal right to it under Indiana law. I understand that when the only thing that separates you from being an asshole and not being an asshole is the angle to which you hold your ankle to the accelerator, that it’s really hard to not be an asshole.

Lesson #6: You’re encased in a two ton car that burns money, gas, and emissions and is probably empty with exception of you and your latte, and I’m wearing a foam hat with no heat or air conditioning. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate who the bigger man is here.

And you can’t tell me to ride my bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalks in Indianapolis are even worse, so much so in most places it’s against city code to ride your bike on the sidewalk anyway. The sidewalks have a bunch of problems. They start and stop at odd angles or just stop at curbs with no access ramp. It’s like riding along the highway at 60 MPH only to find that the road just drops off and ends 10 feet in front of you.

Plus, people are too lazy to take care of their portion of the sidewalk, like this guy:

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When his trash cans aren’t just sitting in the sidewalk, his bush is. Low-hanging tree limbs are just as bad. Plus, you can see here that the sidewalk is uneven, too, which can hurt when you just plop down a few inches randomly.

Lesson #7: Keep your sidewalks clear. It’s the law. It’s also a nice thing to do.
Bonus Lesson for this guy: The city won’t accept trash not in their designated trash cans. It’s been like that for a year. And four days after trash day your trash is still sitting outside, probably because you’re an asshole.

I go to great lengths not to piss off motorists. I really do. Twice this week I have gone far and away out of my way, miles out of my way, just to avoid some roads with narrow lanes that make it difficult for motorists to pass me. That’s right. I’ve pedaled in 100 degree heat for an extra 4.5 miles just so I can take roads that are just as crappy for a cyclist, but have fewer motorists.

I signal with my hands, I pull over sometimes if there’s not much room to get around me, I wear bright clothing, I signal and wave and say “thanks” when I can. I motion for people to come around me in right turn lanes if it’s safe for them to do so, just so they don’t have to wait for me.

And people still honk at me, sometimes (I think), to say, “Hey, excuse me. I’m behind you and coming up on your left.” Except car horns are really fucking loud. All I hear is, “HEY I’M IN A BIG CAR AND I’M SPEEDING BY YOU 10 MILES PER HOUR OVER THE SPEED LIMIT SO BEEP BEEP BEEP OUTTA MY WAY HERE I AM WEEEEEE!”

Lesson #8: Do not honk at people on bikes. It startles us and can cause us to swerve or become too distracted.

Roads with very low curbs or that sit an inch lower than the surrounding driveways and entryways pose another challenge, which is that if my tire hits the side of the very, very, low curb, I’m going to lose control. I have zero room for error and your honking, swerving, or speeding by me as if I can move is wrong. I can’t move. I’m stuck. I have literal inches of space to keep my tire lined up with and god forbid I stare down at a pothole. You’re the one that has all three other lanes, you have to move.

And as a final note, don’t ever tell me this is my fault. That somehow I asked for this because if I’d just have a car like everyone else I wouldn’t have this problem. No, that’s not the case. If I had a car I’d have to worry about assholes that might steal my car. Or assholes that might ding it in the parking lot, or ticket it because I parked on some magic painted line I didn’t know existed, or have to pay a bunch of interest to an asshole bank.

Lesson #9: Don’t steal or damage people’s things.

Cyclists are the ones who are able to save money like people are supposed to, who don’t pollute, who actually do something about protesting the gas pump. You “dump the pump” when you get mad on some random Thursday in May because gas went up that one time. We really dumped it. We’re the ones who pay property taxes to fund roads we can barely use. We’re the ones making a go at truly sustainable living. Just slow down.

Just stop being an asshole.

Un-driving the car, Part 3

My experiment with not driving continues, and I’ve been consciously thinking about lifestyle choices this week that I thought I’d share. First, if you missed Part 1 or Part 2, go, read them now. I’ll wait.

This week has continued winter’s long slow ascent into our part of the hemisphere here in Indiana. Temperatures have been chilly, but not uncomfortable, in the upper 20s to mid 30s.

Monday, I needed to go downtown to a speaking engagement. This meant I needed to be dressed nicely. I had intended to ride my bike downtown, and it was dark and raining, but I didn’t for two reasons — I actually drove. One, I would have ordinarily taken the motorbike, but since I’m still not allowed to ride at night until I get my full endorsement (and after the obligatory waiting period), I couldn’t. Also, I had taken the Rav out that afternoon to get it appraised at a few places and ended up not having enough time to get from where I was, to home, then to downtown. So I just drove straight downtown. But I was prepared to ride the bike and have spare clothes handy.

On Tuesday, I rode to Lowe’s to pickup some lightbulbs. They didn’t have what I needed, so I left empty handed and wasted my time. It was, however, chilly enough that my hands were cold. The rest of me was fine, but my hands were cold so I need better gloves. I kinda already expected that — they’re $6 things from the Gap after all.

Today, Wednesday, I recognize I still need lightbulbs, and may just order them online at this point since I don’t know where else to go for the bulbs I need. I don’t want to go traversing around the city from hardware store to hardware store. I also need to visit the bank to cash a check, go to the library to pick up a book and swing by somewhere to look for gloves and rain/snow shoes.

It occurs to me now that, ordinarily, I would have hopped in the car and went. Went to Lowe’s yesterday, go again today. Go to the bank today, go again tomorrow because I know another check is on the way. Go to the library today, go again tomorrow, because I know another hold request is on the way and will probably arrive tomorrow.

So, instead, I’m exercising some prudent patience and waiting. I’ll cash both checks tomorrow, pick up both books tomorrow and visit Lowe’s again for bulbs. If they don’t have them in yet, I’ll order online. Then I’ll go right next door to check out some cheap snow shoes and gloves at Wal-Mart.

They’re several things at work here, all good, I think:

  1. I’m saving fumes. By not driving 3 miles to Lowe’s today, another 3 to the library and 1.5 to the bank and instead saving them for tomorrow, I’m not wasting (albeit a little) gas or polluting (what little I do with the motorbike). I’m cutting my mileage by half. My carbon footprint on the bicycle is already very, very low, but now it’s even lower.
  2. I’m saving time. By just waiting and exercising a little patience (that I absolutely would not have thought about before), I’m able to stay here at home and keep on working.
  3. I’m saving some money. By not adding any wear to either bike (and I’d take the motorbike because it’s windy — I hate pedaling in the wind), I’m saving a tiny bit of money.
  4. I feel a lot calmer. Forcing myself into not rushing around to be “busy” all the time is very satisfying.

“Well, Justin, you could have always done that and saved yourself the time.” Yes, I probably could have, but I didn’t nor would I have even thought about it. You probably don’t think about that much either unless you actively have something else that needs your attention. We think we need something, we hop in the car and go and our time can be much better used elsewhere or consolidated.

At this point, my driving looks like this assuming I know I have to go somewhere:

  • Is it under 10 miles one-way and is the wind calm? Yes? Then ride the bicycle.
    • If it’s windy or longer than 10 miles one-way, I take the motorbike.
  • Is it raining? Yes? Then take the motorbike. It keeps my drier.
  • Is it dark or will it be dark soon? Yes? Then take the bicycle if it’s under 6 or 7 miles one way and turn on the lights.
    • If it’s dark and further away or windy or raining, then I’ll take the Rav. Until the BMV allows me to take my skills test, I can’t legally drive the motorbike at night.

The experiment continues…