Monday, April 21, 2008

Rain, Dogwoods, and Frogs

Yesterday was a wet day on my commute! It rained the whole way in, and the majority of the way home, making me grateful that I only have to go about 6 miles each way. Funny thing is, in spite of it all, I really enjoyed the ride. I generally find that once I get out there, and turning the pedals, rolling along, I just relax and relish being on the bike. The rain just becomes a part of the whole experience and doesn't really bother me. I wish it were so easy to shed other annoyances in day to day life... being on the bike just seems to help with that. And honestly, I've always kinda liked rain.

And it didn't hurt that the dogwood trees are in bloom now! Gorgeous, lovely trees. The house where I grew up had a bunch of dogwoods at the edge of the woods behind it, and I always found it so beautiful in spring. There's just something wonderful in the simplicity of the blossoms, and fact that they come early enough to stand out against a mix of bare branches and the very beginnings of green leaves. They even look lovely in rain. The picture to the right was taken with a flash on my way home.

As was the one on the left here, showing a little fella I saw hopping along the trail as darkness was falling. Some species of frog, I couldn't tell you which. Back when I was a kid, and collected amphibians and kept them in a small pool in the woods behind my parents' house, I could have told you perhaps, but nowadays, I can recognize and name only the obvious ones. I still find it a delight to come across them though, and to hear them singing along the trail on my ride home in the evening. A wonderful sound of spring.

All in all, a great pair of rides... the kind of pleasure that most folks who don't ride, or who are only fair weather riders, don't know. One of the reasons I have fenders and lights on most of my (many) bikes is exactly that... I can go out and be comfortable and enjoy my ride in a much wider range of conditions than most people. Part of the trick is proper equipment, like rain gear, fenders, and good lighting. Some of it is attitude, and truth be told, some days that just doesn't cut it. But more often than not, you're likely to see me smiling as I ride in the rain or on a moonlit night.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Re-visiting a pasttime

Today, for the first time in a long time, my best pal Steve and I got together and tossed a Frisbee around. Back when we were in college together at Towson State University near Baltimore, we spent a LOT of time engaged in this activity... especially, it seemed, when an exam was looming! I have fond memories of many, many sessions, often late at night, out on the field in front of our dorm, throwing, running, and catching. I was never much good at any sort of fancy catching, but I did get pretty good at a wide variety of throws.

You never would have known that for the first few minutes today... passerby might even have wondered if either of us had EVER thrown a Frisbee in our lives. My first tosses were spectacularly bad, in both distance and accuracy. Even the basic back hand flip throw, I couldn't do straight and far. It was kind of stunning, and showed just how rusty I'd gotten since the last time I played Frisbee.

It only took a few minutes, however, to get the hang of it again. Before long, both Steve and I were throwing more good throws than bad, and even making a few darned good catches. And while I'm sure I wasn't chasing the disc with the grace and speed of my youth, I generally managed to run down most of the stray throws, and snag them from the air.

Now, let's see how sore my arm is tomorrow!

Friday, April 18, 2008

That Mockingbird Just Ain't Right...

The one that's sitting in a tree next door, singing his lungs out right now... at half past midnight! What the heck? I didn't think they sang at night, but there he is, going through a whole medley of calls, as if it were broad daylight. Very odd.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Happy Bike Reunion!

Yesterday I got to reunite another owner with the bke of their younger days, and witness the smiles that come with that. This time it was a '72 or '73 Peugeot, a PR-10 model for those who are into Peugeots. Funny thing is, there's never any identifying label on their bikes... you just have to know what a PR-10 or PX-10 or PY-10 or whatever is and how it's equipped.

The bike was ridden a lot for 5 years, back when it was new, then life, as so often happens, took the owner away from riding for one reason or another. Now, thirty years later, he brought it to me to rejuvenate it so he can start riding again. Just the kind of project I love... first because of the happiness it brings to the owner, and second because I get to work on a kind of bike that just resonates with me... classic older road bikes.

That's the "after" picture to the left.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

And STAY Out!

This morning I awoke to the news that Tomas (the cat) had brought a bird in the house. A robin. No, not the one in the picture, that's just a picture I had handy that I took a few weeks ago. Being the guy, and genetically predisposed to solving such problems, I went to the breakfast nook and stood and stared with Annie, perplexed, trying to figure out how to rescue this bird who had taken up residence among some fake greenery on a curtain rod. It finally occurred to us that if we opened the front door, and turned off the lights inside, then used something to "shoo" the bird off his perch, he might find his way out. It worked like a charm! Granted, the poor little guy didn't understand the concept of a ceiling, and whacked into it along the way, but he made it out the door and zoomed away. Success!

Then a few minutes later, back in bed, I heard an odd noise in the living room... and Annie expressing dismay. Next thing I know, she comes in and tells me that the bird is back in the house somehow! Back to the breakfast nook I go, and there he is, perched on a different curtain rod. Apparently, Annie had left the door open, for fresh air and easy cat access... and the robin just zoomed on in! I suppose there's a chance it was a different one, but it sure looked the same. This time, in flying for the door, he panicked and ended up on the floor, huddling in a corner, so I had to gently lift him with a towel, and carried him to the door, giving a gentle toss and a shout of "And stay out!" as he flew away, chirping loudly.

What a morning! And I have to imagine it was even more exciting for that bird.

Monday, April 7, 2008

To be fair...

... little buddy Tybalt tonight demonstrated one of HIS less charming habits... one that's actually more disgusting than anything Tomas does. And he did it just was we were about to start on my birthday dessert! The little guy sat down and scarfed down a sizable amount of canned cat food... and then walked behind my chair and proceeded to bring it all back up again on the floor behind me, accompanied by some really awful sounds. Yeccccchhhhh! It's hard to believe such a tiny creature can produce such a revolting surprise. He's perfectly healthy... he just can't seem to figure out that "enough is enough" thing.

And then there's Tomas...

How do I put into words how different this cat is from Tybalt? Hmmmm... he's twice Tybalt's size and weight, twice his age... you can hear him thump his way from room to room as he walks the house... often on the way to the bathroom, where he can spend amazing amounts of time splashing at the water in the toilet. He has a perpetually startled expression on his face... he is virtually hopeless when it comes to hunting and stalking... birds and small mammals see him long before he's in any sort of effective range. He tends to drool prodigiously when happy, which makes petting him a very odd and often damp experience! And it's not at all unusual for him to let fly with a good fart while you're petting him as well.

For all of that, he's a sweet, funny, utterly charming fella... just in very different ways. Being still new to living with cats, it's been quite the education for me to live with two such different personalities. Where Tybalt is so quiet and small you can't actually hear his purr unless your ear is resting on him, Tomas let's out a purr that sometimes I swear can be heard in the next room (not to mention the saliva and gas!). And he does an impression of William H. Macy that is quite remarkable! Okay, I have to explain that one... remember the scene in Pleasantville where Macy's character comes home to an empty house, and walks from room to room plaintively asking "Where's my dinner? Where's my dinner?"... well, that's Tomas in the evening... or the afternoon... or sometimes in the morning. Yes, he likes his food, which is no doubt part of why he's much bigger than Tybalt. All in all a pretty wonderful cat.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

More Cherry Blossoms

If anyone would like to see more of the pictures I took on my stroll around the cherry blossoms earlier this week, check out the link below.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Great Art

On Tuesday, April 1st, after my walk among the cherry blossoms, I met my best buddy Steve for lunch and a museum stroll. We wandered about the original wing of the National Gallery of Art, where the older works are. It's a wonderful place, feeling very much the quintessential "art museum"... big columns, lots of marble, vaulted ceilings, etc. And some amazing art, of course. We approached it totally randomly, finding ourselves in an area where the French were predominant, then later wandering over to Rembrandt and other Dutch artists. Quite the contrast.

One thing that struck me, especially while looking at the Monet piece "Woman With a Parasol", was a sense of awe at what amazing things humans can be capable of. It's stunning and humbling, I find, to be face to face with a truly great work of art. It makes me more hopeful and optimistic to see the heights the human soul and mind can rise to. Not that it erases the corresponding depths to which we can sink, but it helps.

The image if the Monet painting, from the National Gallery website:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why a Folding Bike?

I currently own two folding bikes, both made by Dahon, a company celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. I also work for a bicycle shop that specializes in folding bikes, along with recumbents and bikes for special needs. So I know a bit about folding bikes. In addition to the Dahons, I've ridden and worked on Bike Fridays, Birdys, Breezers, and finally got a chance to ride a Brompton a month or so ago. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and all have their advocates and detractors. I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of any one brand or model, but simply want to talk a little about the virtues (and vices) of the breed as a whole.

So what are those virtues? Why the heck would anyone want to ride such a funny-looking bike with tiny wheels? Well, to start with, it's just plain fun. Huh? Yes, that's right, they are fun to ride. Those tiny wheels accelerate really quickly, and once you adjust to the different handling, steer nimbly around things. Yes, it's a different feeling, and for long distance, steady speed, larger wheels have an edge, but for bopping around town, running errands, commuting, these little guys are great. Another feature that I like for around town is the low frame, much like the classic "step through" frames that Americans tend to describe as "lady's bikes", but which much of the world sees as simply practical. Try it sometime, and see how nice it is to just step over the frame, not having to swing your leg up and over the seat. It's pretty handy, especially when carrying a load.

Now, the big thing that sets folders apart is... well... they fold. Different brands and models fold differently, but basically you get a fun-to-ride bike that you can collapse into a smaller package for transporting it by another means. This means you can store it more easily in an out of the way corner, and you can toss it in the trunk or back seat of your car for recreation, or shopping, or even as a sort of "life boat". Think about it... if your car breaks down... and you cell phone melts... and nobody's around to help.... okay, so that's a rare circumstance, but you get the picture. As for other forms of transportation, folders are ideal for going on buses, trains, planes, subways, trolleys, you name it. Some designs lend themselves more to one form of transport than others, so make sure you do your research and ask lots of questions. In general though, any folder will expand your options and add another level of versatility to your cycling life.

Give one a try, and I think you'll like it. Take it for a test ride, see how it handles, and give yourself enough time to get accustomed to the different handling. At first it might feel a little odd, but you'll adapt very quickly. Have the salesperson show you how it folds, several times if needed, and try folding it yourself. Pick it up, carry it around. Check out any carrying bag options. Then, while it's folded, just look at it for a while, and think of all the great places you can bring it and how easy it is to store, and I think you'll better understand the appeal.

(Pictured is my 2005 Dahon Speed P8, with minor modifications from stock, and liberally plastered with militant pro-cycling stickers. My other Dahon is the groovy 2006 limited edition single speed Hon Solo.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cherry Blossom Time

This morning I went for a long walk around the Tidal Basin in DC, at what appears to be the height of Cherry Blossom time. The weather started out grey and a bit blustery, and it was raining lightly when I arrived in the city. It was still a lovely morning, and the weather kept the hordes of tourists away for a while, which was nice for me. Relatively few folks were out, so I had the opportunity to just walk at my own pace, and stop and take photos at will. I took about 150 I think, and got quite a few nice ones. I'll put some on Flickr soon, but for the moment, here's one of the Washington Monument framed by blossoms.

The day warmed up a lot, and turned into one of those glorious, sunny days that makes DC a really pretty city... at least some parts of it. And people are out, walking, jogging, cycling, and generally having a great time. A wonderful day all in all, and one of the reasons I like having days off during the week.