Wednesday, March 30, 2011

and finally, a response from hazon

To review: in an earlier post I laid out my concerns about Hazon's programming and the enormous carbon footprint it creates, even as it tries to promote environmental sustainability. Roughly a month later, and after a gentle reminder email that said I was still interested in an answer, I received this response today from Liore Milgron-Elcott at Hazon HQ:

Dear Beth,

Firstly, I apologize that it has taken this long to get back to you - your questions are ones that we struggle with constantly and I appreciate your sincerity. Though we do provide resources on our website, curricula that can be mailed and conference calls, our most significant impact is through our conferences and rides, where people fly, drive and cycle from all over. Yes, that carbon footprint is real, and I will honestly add, not just to get people to the events, but to run them, as well.

I will not go into climate change here - I am pretty sure that you and I are on the same page on the science. But what we do is hard to measure in tons of carbon equivalence.

For instance, as a result of one of our conferences, a young woman chose to become an organic farmer/chef, which inspired her father to do one of our rides, which got him on his bike - not just for fun, but to commute - which decreased the family's need for a car, so they sold it. Then, they took the land next to their family business and turned it into an organic farm, which now feeds the community through CSAs and volunteer opportunities.

There are tangible, environmental benefits that come through our programs, but that, too, is not it. A serious motivation for our work is the establishment and renewal of the Jewish community. All across America, there are pockets of Jews who are engaging seriously with the land - through food and outdoors adventures. For the most part, they function alone, but our conferences provide people with a sense of community, inspiring them to continue on with their work and empowering them to live out a vision that they dared not commit to alone.

Separately, we buy carbon offsets for many of our programs and encourage all participants, especially to the Israel Ride, to offset their flights.

Again, I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond. I would be happy to continue this conversation via email or at the number below.

All the best,


I think this response raises nearly as many questions as it tries to answer, not all of which can be answered by Hazon:

1. How effective are carbon offsets? If the purpose is simply to assuage guilt over the impact of our carbon footprint when we travel, then it definitely works. Lots of people buy shares in wind energy and water reclamation projects as they redeem their frequent-flier miles and travel all over the world. But if we try to measure effectiveness in real time and space, can we ever buy enough carbon offsets to truly correct against the impact of thousands of miles of car and air travel -- before that impact permanently harms the earth? I'm not so sure.

2. If another purpose of Hazon is to foster Jewish community, I understand that. Those who identify as Jews (whether by birth or by choice) are already a far-flung people, spread all over the globe but still making up less than 3% of the world's population. Most of our history as a cohesive people has been spent in Diaspora, meaning we've had to foster a sense of community wherever we find ourselves. I also understand that many who are Jewish, but whom move through circles and communities that are mostly not, experience a sense of isolation. Such gatherings give these Jews an opportunity to connect with others and feel a little less lonely. But Hazon's vision still needs to operate in the larger world, and that world is increasingly dirtier and hotter and under daily attack from the impacts our choices make.

Along with sustainable food, I'd like to see Hazon talk about sustainable travel, sustainable family planning, sustainable transport of food from producers to markets to consumers. Ultimately this will require a larger emphasis on sustainable communities that focus on the truly local connections that we can and must make with each other. Perhaps this can be done in part by making these globe-trotting events happen less often, and by taking the time to examine more deeply the true consequences of global travel. I still maintain that it's becoming a luxury our planet can no longer afford to indulge in so often, and I would welcome a deeper exploration of this theme by the folks at Hazon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

the gym thing, part four: you won't believe this

So Sweetie and I are continuing The Gym Thing. 2 to 3 weight sessions a week and one yoga session right now. Sweetie and I have different plans so we don't do the same things or do things together much; but it's still much nicer going together than each of us going alone.

You won't believe this -- I don't believe it, either -- but I am getting stronger.
My abs don't feels quite so quivery when I do abs exercises; and last week I held a yoga plank for nearly 25 counts.

Also, I've noticed a little -- gasp! -- definition creeping into random places on my body. Sweetie tells me the little quasi-heart is beginning to appear on my calves and my biceps are getting defined and a touch more wiry.

I can't speak much for endurance -- my lungs are still troubled by allergy-based asthma and I find I'm needing my inhaler more often as things begin to bloom around town. But I've added a weekly hill interval into my commuting and will up it to two in April. At some point I will need to figure out if I need to replace one of my weight sessions with a longer weekly interval ride -- not having a coach I'm on my own for this stuff.

Anyway, I've been working out regularly since early December and I am amazed at the subtle changes I am seeing in myself. It's wacky. I really, really hope it translates in overall better results and a feeling of better fitness come June.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

as a matter of fact, i do read. sometimes.

As a child I almost never read novels and other threateningly large books.
It wasn't that I couldn't or anything. I'd always read several grade levels ahead of the crowd in school (at one point school officials wanted to push me ahead from fourth to sixth grade just on the strength of my reading skills, but my mother put her foot down and said no; better to let her daughter hang with her own age-group. Not sure today if that was a wise decision, but there it is). But I had the worst case of shpilkes (in the days before ADD we just called it shpilkes, restlessness) in the world, and I could not sit still long enough to finish a chapter in a book.

So I read magazines and newspapers, and later on I got into short stories. When I discovered Joseph Conrad in junior high school, I thought The Secret Sharer was the best short-story ever written. Then I read Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and suddenly it became a toss-up (though I still thought Conrad was the real genius; he'd written his stories in English, a language which he didn't learn until he was an adult. Top that, Edgar!).
Today, I am married to a professional wordsmith who is also the world's biggest book fiend (she used to be the second-biggest book fiend until my father passed away). And she has occasionally gotten me to read full-length books.
Here's a short list of actual, real, full-length novels I've read --Link
1. The River Why by David James Duncan. Tough to get into but SO worth the effort.
2. The Brothers K by David James Duncan. One of the best stories ever told, by anyone, anywhere. If you love the Pacific Northwest and/or baseball, this book will rip your heart up in the very best possible way.
3. As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg. One of the most powerful historical novels ever, even if you're not Jewish. A story about belief, betrayal and love set in 70 CE.
4. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. Okay, this one's not super-long, more like a novella than a full-length novel. Painfully sweet, absurdist love story.
5. Those Who Love by Irving Stone. In seventh grade, I was deeply unpopular, lonely, and miserable at my suburban, mostly evangelical Christian middle school. To escape, I became engrossed in history, especially anything concerning Colonial America. That led to a fascination with the Adams dynasty, and I read everything I could get my hands on. A sympathetic and kind English teacher bought me this book for ten cents at the used paperback store in downtown Gresham, and gave it to me to read over Christmas vacation. I devoured it, then read it again to go back and see what I'd missed the first time. Not generally a huge fan of Irving Stone but this was one of his better historical novels, probably because he had so much source material to work with (and John and Abigail both knew how to write a damned good letter back in the day).

And here's an even shorter list of novels I tried to read, and simply could not get through --
1. Watership Down by Richard Adams. Everybody was reading this one in junior high school. Except me. I had a serious rodent thing and rabbits were still too close to rodents (you know, like rats) for me to want to read about them, even supremely sentient ones. When I finally tried to read it in tenth grade I just couldn't stay with it. Too damned descriptive; a meadow is often just a freaking meadow. I need plot, tons of plot, to hang with a story. Otherwise I just stop caring. I stopped caring about this one far too late into the book, about two-thirds of the way through, and other things came along that were just way more important. Someone told me the ending later. I didn't feel sorry for having put it down. I'm pretty sure it's the short attention span thing.
2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I tried reading this several years ago, on a sort of dare from a friend for whom this book was deeply life-changing. It did not change my life, all it did was waste a little of it. I managed about sixty pages and just could not keep my head in the fantasy; something about what might have been if the Allies had lost World War II. Wacky stuff, but too thickly written for me.
3. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I tried to take this book seriously, but I just couldn't. It read too much like Young Neo-Cons In Love, and I couldn't stop laughing at Rand's outsized ego. Another hundred and fifty pages of my life I'll never get back.

Not exactly a challenge to my readers, since I assume more of you regularly read big books than I do; but feel free to offer your favorite novel up for consideration.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

off-road recon: gateway green

I had been meaning to go and explore Gateway Green, the area just south of Rocky Butte and just north of the Gateway transit center, for months; but never got around to it until today. Crystal suggested a series of monthly practice rides over there between now and the fall. She's gearing up early for cyclocross (really early, I'd say), and I thought it would be good for me to get my off-road head screwed back on. I hadn't ridden Stompy since USGP back in early December, and I wanted time to ride places where I didn't have to work on speed just yet.

So We met at the transit center a little before 10 am, and proceeded to explore the place. Gateway Green is basically a greenspace that is under development, by a non-profit group in partnership with the city of Portland. Plans include a network of hiker-biker trails and very possibly a mountain bike skills park at one end. Right now, it's all pretty open and there's a gravel road running through it. Lots of opportunities for off-camber work, a couple of big run-ups, bumpy-chunky-hard grassy terrain and several good places to put down some barriers make this a promising cyclocross course later in the year. There's relatively little singletrack to speak of, but there was enough for me to have some fun -- a couple of up-and-overs through the trees and a fun little tabletop were challenging enough in the mud that I took several runs at this section until I could clean every feature at least five times in succession. About half an hour into our playtime, Crystal's friend Christine showed up and rode around with us awhile.

It was cold and rainy the entire time we were out there, and while we were having fun we all had other places to be later in the day, so we all took off around 11:15 or so, and promised to meet somewhere again next month for some more off-road fun. Maybe some of my teammates will join us.

gateway green

Short-track season begins in exactly three months.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

having faith in change

I've been in a funk on and off for some time, marked mostly by the length and dampness of this particular Oregon winter. It has affected everything, especially my patience, my perspective and my sense of faith.

Last night I came home from an exhausting and extra-challenging day at work, and somewhere in between a cup of tea, the end of a book, and a long, thoughtful discussion about food with Sweetie, I found time to have myself a good cry. That, and Sweetie's many hugs and words of calm encouragement, helped immensely.

This morning, although I was dead tired and arrived rather late for a morning meeting at the shop, I recognized that the weather had warmed up noticeably. I wore knickers and a sweater and rode to work in a light rain that felt warmer. At lunch, I rode over to my favorite teriyaki joint and felt that the raindrops had gotten even warmer. I saw crocuses and daffodils blooming in sidewalk strips, saw tall native grasses wave in the newly-built bioswales along Couch Street, and watched squirrels creep along telephone wires over my head. And the warm rain gently splashed across my face and made me smile a little.

Nothing miraculous or earth-shaking here; I'm still very tired and will probably sleep early and well tonight. But the fact once again hit me over the head that Things Change All The Time. When I feel stuck, I forget that. Riding my bike today helped me to remember it again, and renewed my faith in the return of Spring.

May you find your own path to Spring very soon, wherever you are.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

warning! getting my grump on

WARNING! I'm about to get my grump on around subjects where I take a contrarian view.
If you choose to flame me, I'll probably just stay grumpy for a little while longer. No big deal.
You've been warned.

Grump #1: Cycling Bags made for People Who Live Somewhere Else. I see pictures of other peoples' bikes on the internet (particularly at Flickr groups). An awful lot of those bikes, and their owners, do not live in the Pacific Northwest, and it shows. Lots of un-coated thin cotton and old, cracking leather bags are out there. Seriously, who in Portland would be silly enough to run a full-leather pannier or saddlebag on a bike? The time required to maintain a full-leather bag through Portland's rainy winters would be too much time spent off my bike. Waxed cotton or rubberized fabrics (like those used to make Vaude and Ortlieb bags) is a much safer bet here in Damplandia. (For those on a budget there are waterproof slipcovers for your panniers, or plastic bags you can use as liner sacks inside your panniers. Not as pretty, but they work.)

Really, I think that what is feeding this particular grump is that I am really burning out on the cold, wet winter. I have been riding to work in it for months and my knees are creaking from riding in the cold and damp. I am ready for the temperatures to warm up a little and for things to begin to dry out. I'm probably just envious of everyone who lives south of the 45th parallel this week, and I'm more than willing to admit it.

Grump #2: Tweed rides. Yeah, I know, pissing on this is like pissing on the third rail or something. But there's so much unreality and denial going on beneath the surface of these events that it makes my head spin. I'm all for bike rides that are fun and bring lots of people together; but a ride that presents a bygone era as a mere costume opportunity without exploring the socio-economic realities behind it so unfortunate. The time and place these rides are attempting to evoke -- late Industrial Age Britain -- had a lot more darkness going on than anyone running these rides would care to discuss.

While riding a bike was probably a safer bet in the 1890's, when there were far fewer cars on the roads, bicyclists still took a lot of heat from these new motorists and also from the wealthy who still went about in horse-drawn carriages, both of whom wanted those damned "scorchers" off the roads. Today's Tweed rides pretend at a relative quietude on the roads that hasn't existed since just before the Great War.

Late 19th-century London was filled with filthy slums inhabited by folks wearing torn and tattered clothes and riding bikes or walking because that was all they could afford. Many were out of work. Those who tried to organize for better working conditions were beaten and jailed and sometimes killed. Children were abandoned at the doors of orphanages and workhouses by parents who already had too many mouths to feed. People who got too deep into debt were thrown into prison and had little hope of getting out alive. (Some far-thinking people did try to design housing and working conditions that were more human, and humane, in scale but these efforts took a very long time to take hold in a city teeming with so many poor.)
So the idea of throwing a costume party focusing on this time and place, and having everyone show up well-fed, clean and happily oblivious on their lovely retro bikes just seems wacky to me.

Throw a Tweed ride and require people to come in worn and patched clothing -- none of it with tags from Bespoke, Outlier or Rapha -- and with their cheeks blackened by soot, their bellies slightly distended with constant gnawing hunger for want of a proper diet, and their lungs hacking from the filth pouring from the smokestacks. Then I'll be a believer.

My tongue is only a little bit in my cheek as I type this.

Seriously, I strain and struggle between the states of having food to eat, clothes to wear and being able to ride a nice bike to work every day, and watching the growing number of men and women with cardboard signs at every freeway on-ramp and overpass begging for change. I cannot escape this tension, this discomfort, and there are days it makes me absolutely crazy just to be in the world. So when a bike event that encourages a high level of denial becomes wildly popular I find myself wanting to lie on the floor and thrash about wildly because I simply don't know what else to do.

It's 38 degrees outside as I type this. I am in my [relatively] warm little house, while outside a man dressed in rags is riding past on a mountain bike with a slightly bent front wheel, towing behind him a shopping cart loaded up with cans and bottles to take to Safeway. He and I stand on opposite sides of a growing gap. Some days it makes me want to scream, because it's so damned big that it is beyond repair at this point and I can't stand the schizophrenia of it all. So yeah, the cold weather sucks for me and way more for him; and the blatant denial, the gigantic historical gloss-over inherent in something like the Tweed Rides doesn't help matters one bit. I'd rather see a Critical Mass where every able-bodied cyclist in the city with skills and knowledge gathers together and creates a rolling Aid Party to help the poor -- with tools, food, clothing and job leads -- and rolls up to government buildings and riots for socio-economic change and equality. But no one -- including me -- has the time, energy, strength or guts to plan that kind of Critical Mass ride. Throwing a costume party is cheaper in the long run, and far easier.

Friday, March 4, 2011

presenting the circulus

The Circulus in action. 3/14/2011

Yes, I know. It's been all over the internet. But it's in my town, and I HAD to go and see it. Dan and Kevin of Portland Design Works were kind enough to show me the thing and Kevin was more than happy to give a short demo.
I am equal parts impressed and incredulous. Sadly, I do not carry enough life insurance to ride around it myself. (I will admit, though, that the tiny "ramp room" -- a leftover feature from the indoor skateboard park that used to occupy this building -- was dangerously tempting. Good thing there wasn't a spare skateboard lying about.)
This could create a new benchmark for what constitutes "sick and wrong". (I do hope they pad those poles soon, and get an insurance rider while they're at it.)

All in all, it's pretty damned cool, and if I were twenty years younger I'd give it a go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

rainwear follow-up and wrap-up

First of all, thanks to all who responded. The responses, as you can see, are sort of all over the place. Some of you don't bother with rain pants at all. Some of you expect waterproof to mean sweaty and awful, while others expect waterproof to be expensive and are willing to accept a certain amount of personal sweat.

Most (but not all) of you fall into two camps:

a. You spend as much as it takes to stay reasonably dry and don't grouse about the cost. Quality costs more. Most in this camp are using Gore-Tex and other uber-zoot fabrics that make a rain jacket retail for well over $175.

b. You don't ride in the rain long enough or often enough to justify buying the high-zoot gear. You spend far less and have lowered expectations. You live with getting wet because you're not getting wet every freaking day for six months.

As with so many things in life, it's about location, location, location.

Yesterday, My friendly B-Line delivery driver stopped by with our weekly shipment from Cyclone Bicycle Supply. Clad in B-line's company-issue Showers Pass Elite jacket, and the most stunning rain pants I had ever seen. I learned the pants are also from Showers Pass and are a prototype in the testing phase. They're made of the same E-Vent fabric their very expensive Elite jacket is made of. And what thrilled me no end is that the tester pants are a bright, screaming neon green-yellow. Even with road dirt and a few splotches of chain grease, they still shone like a beacon. I imagined wearing these on a dark, rainy day. And I found myself wanting them. At least half of it was the color.

But with previous issues around Showers Pass rain pants, I was hesitant. I asked my delivery guy how they were holding up. "They're excellent!" he replied. "They're two months old, I've been wearing them every day and they still keep me dry."

I expect that when testing is done and the pants are available for sale, they will be dreadfully expensive (which would explain why I haven't sprung for an Elite jacket. Even with my shop discount the jacket costs over a hundred bucks; and I'm not comfortable wearing stuff we can't/won't sell in the shop. (We try to keep cycling affordable, so none of our rainwear exceeds $100 retail. And even $100 is beyond many of our customers.)

Worse, I fear that SP won't make them available in screaming neon lime. That would be a serious bummer. Black rain pants are a silly idea in traffic; why reduce your visibility?

Still, those pants had me excited about rainwear for the first time since Burley Design Co-op did the Dying Cockroach dance in 2007. Stay tuned, this could get interesting.

Meanwhile, here is my new favorite piece of cycling rainwear: The MUSA Splats from Rivendell Bicycle Works.

musa shoe cover

They fit over street shoes, and fit over mens' shoes sized 8 through 11, maybe up to a 12 (my father, z'l, wore a size 13 shoe and I think these would be a stretch to fit over his shoes). The nice part is that, once you break in the stiff waxed cotton (takes two, maybe three rides at most), they fit nicely and do a good job of keeping your feet dry, which is the point.
Open bottoms allow you to use these on almost any kind of pedal -- including platform (flat) pedals, which is also the point (especially at RBW HQ, where devotion to flat pedals is a near-religion).

A couple of quibbles: the giant MUSA patch on the right shoe cover ought to be replaced by a large reflective patch (like the one already found on the left cover), and much smaller patch or tab placed elsewhere. Also, the narrow strap that goes under the middle of the shoe and velcros to the other side is too short by at least an inch -- and I wear a mens' 8. What do bigger-footed folks do? I may fix the second quibble myself. But anyway, they're simple and work well. And at $28 a pair they are as close to a screaming deal as RBW gets, so if you're the least bit intrigued do check them out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

rainwear survey for bicyclists

Dear Readers:

I'm conducting a decidedly UNscientific survey of bicyclists and rainwear. Please feel free to answer the questions below:

1. Would you describe yourself as:
a. Year-round commuter in all weather
b. Year-round commuter in all but snow and ice
c. Year-round commuter in all but snow, ice and really, really cold/heavy rain
d. Fair-weather commuter

2. If you answered a, b or c above, do you ride in a rainy climate at least two months out of the year where you live?

3. If you use bicycle rainwear when you ride, do you prefer:
a. raincape with optional leggings/gaiters/spats
b. rain suit (jacket and pants)

3a. Do you wear waterproof shoe covers?

4. When cycling rainwear is advertised as "waterproof", do you expect your rainwear to keep you:
a. Totally dry; garment should repel the rain AND allow my perspiration to pass through fabric to outside
b. Nearly entirely dry; some condensation from my sweat is just part of the deal
c. Mostly dry; some leakage is to be expected, especially in any garment that offers venting

5. When cycling rainwear is advertised as "waterproof", how long do you expect it to keep you dry?
a. 1-3 years
b. 3-5 years
c. 5-7 years

6. When cycling rainwear is advertised as "waterproo/breathable", how long do you expect it to keep you dry?
a. 1-3 years
b. 3-5 years
c. 5-7 years

7. How often do you launder your bicycle rainwear?
a. never
b. once every 3-5 years
c. every year
d. 3-5 times a year
e. More than 6 times a year

8. Do you launder bicycle rainwear according to manufacturer's instructions, including use of recommended specialty detergents and re-proofers for athletic apparel?

9. How much are you willing to pay for a bicycle rain jacket or pants advertised as "waterproof"?
a. $50-80
b. $80-100
c. $100-150
d. over $150

10. How much are you willing to pay for a bicycle rain jacket or pants advertised as "waterproof/breathable"?
a. $80-100
b. $100-150
c. $150-200
d. over $200

11. (Optional) Favorite and least favorite brands of bicycle rainwear by name:

To save space in your response please just refer to questions by number. Feel free to invite your friends to respond too. I would do this at some survey web site but haven't figured out how to use those yet. Or which one. There seem to be several. Thanks for bearing with me here.