Saturday, June 30, 2018

Refugee Bikes are back in [non]-business

Before I left for Kansas I had announced that, due to falling off of donations and my heading out of town for a month, I'd be closing down my Refugee Bikes operation.

Then I came home to Portlanders surrounding the local ICE detention center;
reports of Federal agents infiltrating the #OccupyICE camp illegally to get dirt on protestors, lawyers and journalists;
and three offers of donor bikes and some parts.

So for the time being, I'm back in [non]-business.
Since I'm not really up for protesting these days, I figure fixing bikes is something I can do to help out.
I am home all summer, preparing for High Holy Days and working with private students and riding my bike.
So if you have adult-sized bicycles that need a new home, let me know.
Contact me at

And thanks!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

six junes in kansas

Six summers ago, I spent a month living in the basement of the mother of my employer.
It was my first year working at a Jewish day camp in Kansas, and this homestay arrangement gave me privacy, a place to decompress after a long day herding other people's kids, and a nice riding distance from the camp venue.
That first June, the synagogue arranged to borrow a bicycle and trailer for me to use, to tow my guitar and books back and forth. The very first morning of Staff Week, I saw the darkening sky and big drops of rain, and pulled out my rain jacket. Judy, my host, demanded to know where I thought I was going in this weather. "It's only rain," I replied breezily. "I ride in it all the time in Portland."

(below: the loaner bike and trailer in 2013, after I'd replaced the seatpost and fixed the brakes.)

Just then, we saw the entire sky light up an eerie white, and fingers of lightning reached down to the ground. Judy counted the seconds -- one for each mile -- and when the thunder boomed shortly after she surmised that the lightning had struck only four miles away.

"You're not going anywhere in this weather, except in my car," She ordered me. "Unload the trailer and I'll go put on my shoes." And with that, she drove me to the synagogue, where she informed her daughter (the camp director) that her house guest was some kind of nut with a death wish.
Judy, a smart and highly opinionated lady who was recently retired from her day job and was volunteering with the local Jewish historical archive, then had to explain to me why riding in the rain in the Midwest was a bad idea. I nodded and and promised not to attempt it again.

We got along just fine after that.
The following Saturday, after I came home from Shabbat services, I rode to the store to restock for the week's coming sack lunches. By the time I rode home again, the clouds had turned an odd shade of almost yellow and the air was sticky with humidity. I went home, put my groceries away and took a nap. Two hours later, I was awakened by the loudest clap of thunder I'd ever heard. I sat bolt upright in bed, listened, and when I heard wind and heavy rain, I went upstairs, where Judy was waiting for me. She'd set out two glasses of iced tea at the kitchen table, with two chairs facing outward and the shades open. "You can see the storms best from this side of the house," she smiled. For the next half hour we sat in near silence together, watching the thunderstorm come and go.
It's my favorite memory of her.

That June, while I was there, the loaner bike had some mechanical issues, so I rode it to the nearest bike shop I could fine (some five miles away), bought some oil, a multi-wrench and new brake pads, and repaired the bike in the garage. When I was done, I left the wrench in a little plastic toolbox in the garage, in case I needed a tool again during my stay.

But there were hints of difficulties to come. A door left unlocked, a forgotten pot on the burner which  boiled the water completely away until the bottom was blackened and smoking. I caught those, and a few other near mishaps that told me something was wrong. Before I went home, I shared my concerns with her daughter, who thanked me for the information and told me they'd suspected something for awhile. Now that a stranger noticed, it was time to see the doctor.

The next time I talked to the camp director a couple of months later, she told me that her mother had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Over the next three summers, I'd visit each June and make sure I could see Judy, even briefly. Each year, she got smaller and more frail. By my fourth summer, she could no longer remember who I was. Last year, I was advised that Judy would only be seeing family, and I understood.

When camp ended in June of 2017, I let it be known that I would come and work the whole camp session for just one more year, and after 2018 they'd need to find someone else. I was tired; my Crohn's and other issues had taken a toll and I no longer had the same energy I'd enjoyed when I started working at the camp. I shipped my bike home and anticipated staying somewhere a little farther away from the camp because of changes in available homestay options.

This year, Judy finally moved out of her house and into a Memory Care facility in the next town over. The camp director had been promoted to education director for the entire synagogue, and this year her responsibility was to pick me up each morning and bring me to camp. This morning, on the way to camp, we stopped at her mother's house. I was surprised how much of it I remembered, even after a fresh coat of paint and some changes to the window dressings.

In the garage, I found the plastic toolbox. And inside, I found the dumbbell wrench I'd bought and then left there. The box, now mostly empty except for that wrench, the four worn brake pads I'd replaced and some bent nails, was in a pile of things bound for the dump. So I quietly took back the wrench, pocketed it and tonight I tucked it into my suitcase.

I'm not sure why, exactly. I don't actually need it at home. But it felt like another piece of the final lap of this journey, my final year at a camp that might not survive after this year due to bigger transitions beyond my control or understanding.
(After all, I don't live here. I'm always Just Visiting.)

I'll bring it home along with the pannier and spare pedals I left here last year, and eventually they'll find their way to a refugee bike or to the B4H nonprofit shop. (There's nothing like that here in the pristine suburbs of Kansas City, or I'd leave them here.) This morning, I also tossed all my extra guitar instruction sheets and old camp lesson plans into the recycling bin.
It feels as if part of me wants to leave no trace when I go. Or another part of me is taking a series of little Last Looks Backward. I don't know which.

It's been a wonderful experience, and it's time for someone else to take over. I head home Monday, with no regrets and a heart filled with gratitude.

Monday, June 18, 2018

new: 20 days of not biking

So this is my final year teaching at the day camp in the Kansas City area.
I gave my employer notice at the end of camp last year saying I was probably good for one more year of this, and then they needed to find and train my successor.
My employer didn't believe me (or thought he could talk me out of it), until he tripped over my Kansas Bike, boxed and ready to ship back to Portland.

When I came this time, I told him ahead of time I would not be riding to and from every day this year. Because of my health issues, my fatigue and the intense heat and humidity (tomorrow will be the first day the high is below 90F since I arrived), I knew that if I tried to ride every day I'd wipe myself out; and with many changes in the community I was serving, housing near the synagogue could not be guaranteed.

So here I am, not riding.
Even with a year's notice, my employer did not arrange housing for me until the day before I arrived, and, in a case of poor planning on his part, I was foisted off on two different hosts for a week each.
They've been lovely about it, and it's all okay -- my second host is especially nice, and has a ct for me to make googly-eyes at each morning and evening. (It's all fine, even if it feels like my visit this year may have been an afterthought to my employer. After six years it makes sense that on some level I might become taken a little for granted, and I'm a grownup so I can deal with it.)

And while I know my decision was the right one, and so far none of my hosts has minded picking me up or bringing me home, the fact is that not riding has been hard. I miss it, even for short distances; and being without a bike serves to remind me even more intensely how barren a wasteland the suburbs can be. This is especially true in Johnson County, KS, where voters refuse to allow KCMO transit to cross State Line Road for fear of bringing The Wrong Element (read: people of color) into their pristine, Stepfordian suburb.

I will miss the people here. They are lovely, sweet people and some have become cherished friends. But I will not, for one moment, miss the suburban landscape with its gated communities and oversized houses and manicured lawns that are maintained by someone other than the homeowner.
I will be very glad to return home a week from today, to our crappy little bungalow and my Sweetie's loving embrace. And the next day, I'll ride my bike again.

(Old photo, circa 2006: me on the Kogswell prototype behind the Citybikes Annex. Damn, that periwinkle was a pretty color.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Off-Season Coffeeneuring: let's talk gear

Let's discuss coffeeneuring gear for a moment.
Below: my standard setup includes a Klean Kanteen vacuum insulated cup with a sip-thru lid, held securely in a Profile bottle cage on the seat tube.

Really, any double-walled stainless steel thermal cup will keep your coffee hot (or iced coffee cold) for a lot longer than the cafe's paper cup will. If you don't finish it there you can take it to go.

Or you can make some at home (summertime Pro Tip: freeze cooled-off leftover coffee in an ice cube tray for iced coffee; when it melts you won't water down the taste) and take it with you.

Either way, it means paper and plastic cups out of the landfill. Bonus: some shops will take a nickel or dime off the cost if you provide your own cup!

For step-through frames, Velo Orange offers a sturdy metal bracket so you can mount the cage on the handlebar.

I'm on a mission to make single-use cups unfashionable. Feel free to join me!

Image may contain: outdoor   

But wait -- there's more.

So there's this guy who made a semi-career out of testing and reporting on every possible coffee cup, grinder and press, and then he put all the results of his copious research online.

If you really want to geek out, check out the outdated but still very informative and entertaining Bicycle Coffee Systems page:

And if that piques your interest, check out the sub-page about grinding and brewing coffee::

Obviously, Some of the items on these pages are no longer available for sale, but might be found used in thrift shops or on craigslist. Other items have since come into the market since this site was last updated (in 2013), so consider this a starting point for researching your own system for bicycling with coffee.

Pro tip: Many small camp stoves and thermal cups ARE to be found used at thrift shops -- or even in free boxes if those abound where you live. (I scored a thermal water bottle today from a free box near my house.) So if you're like me and you want to support the re-use economy, keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, June 1, 2018

mountain biking comes to the city: gateway green

Starting next week, I'll be working (musically) every single weekend through June 24. So tomorrow, I'm taking a Saturday off to enjoy some bikey fun. I'll be at the Gateway Green Mountain Bike Festival, a celebration of the first completed phase of trails at Gateway Green. I'll take Stompy out and do some careful test-riding on the singletrack (I have work to do next week!) and say hi to the bikey peeps.

If you're in Portland, come on out to Gateway Green tomorrow between 10am and 3pm. Trimet makes it easy: Take MAX to Gateway Transit Center and ride the bike path north about a mile. The entrance to the park is on your right.

(Although Oregon has no helmet law for those 16 and over, it's a good idea to wear one out there in the dirt. Plus there will be a bunch of kids out there and, well, set a good example and all that stuff, right?)

It's going to be nice, so bring sunscreen and shades. See you there!