Thursday, July 28, 2016

Aging, chronic illness, and the bicycling life revisioned

I've written here a number of times about my life with Crohn's Disease, a chronic, incurable disease that affects the auto-immune system on multiple levels. Symptoms include everything from difficulty in digesting food (classic, textbook Crohn's), vision problems (I'm night-blind) and arthritis to grinding bouts of fatigue and internal damage including fistulas and strictures that impede basic bodily function. In short, Crohn's can happen anywhere from entry to exit (in terms of food and waste) and can be a bitch to live with.

I've been very lucky. For most of my life, my Crohn's symptoms have been mild enough to live with and still function. I've held down a job, paid my bills and lived a pretty satisfying, blessed life.

But things evolve. We get older. Metabolism slows down, sensitivities to environment and other things change and grow, and we all slow down. The constitution you begin life with is not a guarantee that you will always be robust. Things change. And life slows down and eventually comes to its end.

It has been very hard, lately, to live the bicycle life I've been accustomed to for the last four-plus decades.

I no longer have the stamina to wake up at 6am and go on an all-day ride with friends.
I no longer have the strength or joint flexibility to race.
I no longer have the recuperative powers I used to have; it takes me several days to recover from a 20-mile recreational ride now, and most days I'm not able to even finish a ride of that length. Rides f three to five miles are the norm for me now.

And it has become lonely to live this new bicycle life on my terms, with the body I have. Because none of my friends rides this slow or short yet. And I am embarrassed to ask them to join me for a bike ride that is more coffee shop than ride. So I don't ask.

Advertising and marketing in the bicycle world doesn't help. Shops and magazines and web sites are still hung up on the racing image -- and on the young, male energy that helps to sell bikes and gear. Even if you're not wearing lycra, you'd better be young, male and slender to look good in that tweed outfit while riding your $2,000 Pashley.

So I have joined the ranks of the uncool. The older, The overweight, dumpy women who ride at a slug's pace to and from the store and call it a day. That's where I am these days. IF I have the energy to even get on a bike. Many days this past year, I have not had the strength to pull my bike off its hook and ride around the neighborhood. So, in addition to the drugs which have made me gain weight, I haven't been able to stay active enough to hold steady. I've gained fifteen pounds in the last eight months. And no diet will help me lose that weight while I'm on life-sustaining medication with ferocious side-effects.

Crohn's. Perimenopause. Aging. Metabolic changes. Even, perhaps, heredity.
All are playing a part in shaping this new body and its new parameters for living.

Even traffic management and infrastructure development are based on a younger, stronger bicycle rider, someone able to keep up with motorized traffic in the city and nimbly avoid hazards that suddenly appear in the road. For the older and slower, there is little respect and no regard. I suppose that past a certain point I will be expected to hop on an electric bike, or stop riding altogether.

I am ready for neither alternative. Not yet. I cannot afford (nor do I want to own) an electric bike; and I refuse to stop riding entirely. Even if it means my rides are solo and sometimes lonely experiences.

But I DO wish that I could find a convivial group of folks to ride with, without having to create and lead and organize something all by myself.
I tried to do that with Slug Velo, and while it was fun at first, logistical and other considerations meant that I couldn't sustain it for more than a few years. I got burned out on always having to be the leader. I'm tired now, and I don't want to be the leader. I want someone else to take a turn.

That may be asking too much. But since I own the rights to the name, I will gladly share my collection of routes and other tools with anyone who'd like to resurrect this idea and run with the ball. Message me if you're in Portland and you're interested in facilitating socially-paced (9-12 mph average) group rides for older, slower folks.

Slug Velo Fall Colors Ride, October 2003.
Me on my beloved Peugeot Orient Xpress, a bike that was a little too big for me and weighed a ton, but which I still miss to this day.
I have the cue sheet for this ride and may offer it up again in the fall, depending on my health at the time.
It's a very nice route, though the parts that take place along the Springwater Corridor might have to be re-routed now. Because things change.
Slug Velo patch. Since I had to be so organized, with waivers and helmet requirements and everything, I decided it might be fun to earn a patch for completing so many rides. I still have mine. I also had T-shirts made up once upon a time.
I wore mine until it fell apart, then turned it into shop rags.

If Slug Velo takes off again, I'd like to see it be a leaderless affair, adults only and no organization other than picking a coffee stop. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

portland peeps: seeking bicycle donations!

After checking in with the fine folks at Catholic Charities/Refugee Resettlement, I am ready to take in another round of old donated bicycles (adult bikes with 26" wheel or larger, please; I am not working on children's bikes) to refurbish for newly-arrived refugee families. I would like to bang out another dozen or so between now and the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, when the project will go on hiatus for the fall and winter.

I will gladly take department-store bikes as long as they are complete: frame, wheels, brakes, gears, etc.) I can replace inner tubes, cables and housing; and also hand grips if they're really gross (or missing). If it's almost all there I can work with it; but my budget is extremely limited for this sort of thing and so I'd prefer to refurbish rather than replace outright.

I will also gladly accept donations of U-locks (with working key!), headlights, rear fenders and even baskets.

If you can donate anything like this, or whole bikes, PLEASE let me know asap. Thanks!

(Below: A refurbished bike donated earlier this spring, tuned and outfitted with fenders, a lock, and lights. It now has a home somewhere in Milwaukie, being used as daily transportation to and from a recently-landed job.)


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

sunday parkways northeast

I signed up for double shifts as a Mobile Mechanic. It turned out to be harder than I thought.
Sunday was sunny and very warm, with highs in the upper 80s. The day began nicely enough, with cool morning air and fresh coffee in my thermos. I enjoyed seeing friends along the route.
And I was happy to be asked to help out with several repairs that were not the usual flat fixes I generally see at this event: a front derailleur adjustment, a spot truing of a wheel and straightening a rear wheel in the dropouts to stop "that awful rubbing noise" were on the menu.

I finished one loop with an hour left in my first shift. I went a little farther so I could stop at my house to get more cold water and grab a bite to eat before going out again. (My house is a block off the route.)

I got home, refilled my bottle with ice water, sat in the shade and suddenly felt really, really tired. So I took a half hour to cool off. Then I went out again. My only repairs during the second round were a flat fix and straightening a bent rear dropout on a very cheap bike (soft metal), so the rider could re-install the rear wheel. The metal was so thin and soft that I could almost bend it with my bare hand; it straightened easily with adjustable wrench flats.

I lasted till half an hour before the end of my second shift (and also the end of Parkways). Then, I absolutely HAD to go home and get out of the sun. I was really cooked.

Sweetie chalked it up to Crohn's-related fatigue and arthritis; and the fact that my new meds require that I spend less time in the sun. I locked up my bike, drank some more water, and fell into bed for two full hours.

Still, I'm glad I did a double shift, because the Mechanic spots for the August Parkways are already taken; and the October parkways falls on erev Rosh Hashanah (yeah, I know; look at a freaking calendar, people). So I guess that's it for my volunteering at parkways this year. I'm fine with that. I have plenty to do this summer as it is, including gathering another round of donor bicycles to fix up for newly-arrived refugees and practicing music for High Holy Days.

Portland peeps: I am now accepting donations of adult-sized bicycles tat I will tune up and outfit with fenders, lights and a lock. I will then hand them off to Catholic Chatiries, who will distribute them to newly-arrived refugee families who need affordable transportation. Simply send me a message here and let me know if you can help out. Thanks, and happy riding!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Springwater Corridor homeless camp sweep: UPDATE

Apparently, Charlie Hales has given a drop-dead date of August 1 -- by which time all the homeless encampments currently placed alongside (and sometimes blocking) the Springwater Corridor path will be forcibly removed by law enforcement.

But because this is Portland, there has to be an action. After all, that's how our fair city got its nickname "Little Beirut" once upon a time. The name has stuck, and confrontational stuff -- like the WTO protests, random anarcho-punk muckraking and now this -- is why.

So a group of folks calling themselves Serve The People-PDX is gathering their resources in order to stage some kind of counter-action against law enforcement when they begin to sweep out the homeless people from the Springwater.  For those of you who don't use Facebook, the word Disrupt figures prominently in their advance PR, which doesn't bode well for anyone wanting to avoid a scene that will already be -- well -- a scene. Kick out almost FIVE HUNDRED people from the place where they've been living, because they have nowhere else to go -- and then tell them that the City doesn't have anywhere for them to go, either -- see what happens.

Either way, this isn't going to to end well.

I haven't been on the Springwater since my May Sunday Parkways shift, and I don't intend to go back for quite awhile. Things are just too tense and I admit that I'd prefer not to find myself in the middle of something potentially dangerous.

I admit that even when I was younger, confrontation always scared me. I am, in my heart of hearts, a rather timid soul when it comes to challenging authority; I prefer to do it with words rather than with laying my body (or housing, or job) on the line. Sorry. Call me a chickensh!t if you must, but there's something to be said for common sense.
So don't look for me out on the Springwater anytime soon.
If you choose to venture out there between now and Labor Day, leave the kids home. It's just not a good place for them to be right now. Ride with [adult] friends, carry your cell phone and go home before dinnertime.

Wherever you go in our fair city, ride safely!

Friday, July 15, 2016

charlie hales throws his hands up in yet another direction (homelessness in portland, again)

So today Mayor Hales announced that his six-month experiment of allowing the homeless to camp along the Springwater Corridor path is over. He will once again empower law enforcement to sweep homeless encampments from the entire length of the path that runs within Portland city limits (all the way east to about 174th Avenue).

Where will the hundreds of homeless people go after the police have kicked them off the Springwater? Well, no one really knows.
And when the sweep is done, how many will simply return to the Springwater and rebuild their encampments? No one knows that, either.
Because the reality is that there really isn't anywhere else for hundreds of homeless people to go in Portland.
Most of the other popular campsites (under bridges and along sidewalks in inner Southeast Portland) are already filled beyond capacity; officers will simply sweep any campsites that block the sidewalks there.
In effect, there remains no long-term solution. Thanks to a long tradition of progressive policies on homelessness and a mild (if somewhat soggy) climate, Portland remains the easiest city in the country in which to remain homeless.

Lots of indignation from commenters at Bikeportland on this one, including posts that demand "something be done to house and feed all these people."

Something? Like what?

So far, City Council cannot compel developers to build affordable housing, anymore than it can require employers to pay a real living wage or even compel citizens to pay unilaterally-levied taxes (see Arts Tax). In short, our municipal government is powerless to enact any meaningful, long-term solutions to homelessness without the support of citizens and the business community. And this is a microcosm of what is happening — or will eventually happen — in other cites as they grow more popular and attract more people.

Portland is the tip of a national iceberg of the rapidly-widening chasm between the homeless and everyone else. Unless every single person with a stable home and a secure job took it upon themselves to house one homeless person privately… well, I don’t see that happening, do you?
This is a NATIONAL problem. It requires National solutions including legislation; re-directing of funds (from global wars for oil to national and state job-training and home-building efforts on a par with the old WPA); restoration of adequate mental health care resources; and a massive educational undertaking in every school to grow a generation of young people who may someday stop seeing the homeless as the Other.

Al these little band-aids, like periodic sweeps, only exacerbate the problem.
And based on what happening with our election cycle this year, I don’t see anything to hope for on the national horizon.

Is anyone here ready to take on their fair share of personal responsibility for this? What would it look like?
Are any of us really in a position to take in a homeless person, or a homeless family, into our own homes? Are we ready to take on the risk inherent in bringing in someone with no job, no job prospects, no family support and very real mental health issues that might pose a danger to us?
If not, what's left?
Well, based on what I see around me, a lot of Portland residents locking their doors and closing up their social circles and joining the ranks of those who demand that the homeless population be dispersed, removed, made to go away and never come back.

I have not ridden the Springwater Corridor path for my own pleasure in over a year and a half. The only two times I've ridden it at all have been during volunteer shifts for Sunday Parkways-East, when a significant section of the path becomes part of the designated route. This year Parkways-East was held in May. I was shocked at the number of encampments I saw along the route, and slightly horrified at the two unleashed dogs that nipped at my heels as I rode past and truly scared by the filthy, bedraggled men who were having a knock-down, drag-out in the middle of the path while I and others tried to get past them. A far cry from several years ago when the Springwater was just a nice place to walk or ride a bike, away from motorized traffic. Now you couldn't pay me to ride it.
Will it be any safer after the sweeps are completed in August? and for how long, before people begin to camp there again?

I wish I had a solution. I don't. At least, not one that anyone with power and money will actually listen to.
A. Under the West end of the Burnside Bridge, along SW Naito Parkway.
B. Under the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge near Water Avenue. In both cass, tents have been there for months, and police have simply let them be.

C. Tent encampment along the Springwater Corridor. Homeless Portlanders living here are often struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse. Some turn threatening or outright violent when encountering housed Portlanders using the path. Two weeks ago, a friend of mine was threatened when Homeless campers completely blocked his route home from work on the Springwater, ordering him to go another route and surrounding him menacingly until he agreed to turn around and leave. Police were called but nothing was done.

This will only get worse in Portland and everywhere else until a NATIONAL solution is put into place.
For that to happen, our priorities need to change.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Riv-style cheapskate alert: hickory ("railroad stripe") work shirt

Rivendell sold, for awhile, some very nice, US-made hickory work shirts. They weren't quite as thick or heavy as the standard-issue work shirts you could find at some old-style hardware stores and construction supply shops; but they did the trick if you needed a heavier-shirt to do yard work (or, in my case, bicycle repair) in that would hold up a little longer than your average button-down shirt from Goodwill.
I was given one as a gift, and wore it regularly fall to spring until the collar and cuffs began to fray off (about eight years later). Finally, I passed it along to someone else who turned it into pieces for a quilting project. A fitting end for a shirt that cost me nothing.
But if I had wanted to buy it at the time, I couldn't. Because it retailed for close to $100 and no matter how nicely or where a shirt is made, I and my wallet have limits.

So when I decided it was time to go looking for another hickory shirt, I looked at other sources.
Found this one at Goodwill last week, from Key (an actual work clothing brand). I paid a whopping six dollars for it.

The fabric is slightly thicker and heavier than the fabric of the MUSA shirt, which hopefully translates into a longer-wearing garment. And this shirt was in almost-new shape, so I am happy.

Nothing fancy here. Just a really sturdy work shirt.

Loose fit so I can layer underneath in the winter.

Yes, it's made in China.
There is nothing you or I can do about that and still be able to pay our bills and keep a roof overhead and our families fed and clothed.
True cheapskates (those of us who live cheaply because we have to, rather than as a fashion statement) generally cannot afford to worry about country-of-origin.
So I kindly invite you to join me in Getting Over It.

Other brands of hickory shirt to look for, new or used, include Carhartt, Dickies, and Five Brothers, all of which cost far less and are quite sturdy.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

the art of the useful hack: light mount

My Rivendell All-Rounder came with fork eyelets (for attaching a front rack of some sort).
Since I don't use a front rack, I ignore them for years, until I installed a front basket and needed to move my headlight. I got a little "stub" mount (made in taiwain and sold under many brand names, mine's labeled Origin-8) and screwed it into the left-side fork eyelet. (Stock photo here shows it positioned at the dropout; mine was mounted higher-up at just above mid-blade, where it easily screwed in.)

It worked pretty well. Until it didn't. It kept getting bumped and when I tried to use the rack on the front of the Trimet bus, I had to remove the headlight to carefully fit the rack's hook over the front wheel.
So I decided I had to move it. I chose to re-install it higher up and under the basket proper to protect it from bumps and also to make it easier to negotiate Trimet's bus rack.

WALD makes very sturdy baskets, and even stronger basket struts. So it was simple to drill a hole into the left strut and affix the stub mount on the inside of the strut, shielding the light and aiming the beam slightly higher on the road.

To negotiate the curve of the strut, I added a leather washer inside the curve, then topped it with a couple of thick, flat metal washers that extend just beyond the width of the strut. The result is a light that sits perfectly perpendicular to the strut and aims the beam where I want it.

It also looks pretty neat.


The same fix could work for certain generator headlights, providing you route the cable carefully to avoid snags. And as you can see, there's plenty of room behind the light to slip in the bus rack wheel hook without fuss.

Happy riding!

Friday, July 8, 2016

kickstands: actually a good idea

There was a period of time when I did not have a kickstand on my bicycle.

The bike was usually a lighter-weight model dedicated to either touring or racing.
Racing bikes, of course, shouldn't have kickstands.
Touring bikes didn't have them for years. They were seen as an unnecessary add-on, an anchor in terms of weight in an ear when weight mattered almost as much as covering as many miles per day as possible.
Today, Touring bikes have evolved. And so has bicycle touring.
With the ride of interest in shorter overnight and weekend trips,and the desire to ride the bike you have rather than buy the bike you think you need, kickstands are appearing on a number of bikes that would not have had them a decade ago.
Today, both of my bikes have kickstands. Both center-mount, so I can haul my old Burley trailer.
My All-Rounder has a pretty standard Esge kickstand (see also Greenfield, they're nearly the same).
The frame was made during a time (1999) when the folks at Rivendell didn't yet see the need for a kickstand, so they didn't bother to braze on a kickstand plate.
(I am amused to note that now all of their bikes come with one.)

My Bridgestone has something MUCH more heavy-duty. It's a kickstand-on-steroids.

I mean, LOOK at this thing. It's monstrously huge.
I can't tell you who made it. I found it at the Bike Farm earlier this spring, and decided to give it a try. Because of how large this bike's front pasket is, I decided I needed something that would give me a really stable third contact point on the ground.

This did the trick.

In fact, I was so impressed by it that I rode back to the Bike Farm a week later to see if I could find any more. And I did. So I bought it.

It fits anywhere a standard center-mount kickstand might. Only thing is you'll want to file down a little groove for your derailleur cable to run through, like so:

I could've done a better job of this but I was rushed and it seems to work fine.

The other nice thing about this kickstand is that, besides being beefy as hell, it's also adjustable.

The black extension has a small allen bolt that allows you to set the length after you've figured things out.

So far, it's been a great addition. I'm hanging onto the second one in case I need parts or something. If you recognize the brand, give a shout.

Happy riding!