Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 4, A New Backpack

“I’ve got my full rucksack pack and it’s spring, I’m going to go Southwest to the dry land, to the long lone land of Texas and Chihuahua and the gay streets of Mexico night, music coming out of doors, girls, wine, weed, wild hats, viva! What does it matter? Like the ants that have nothing to do but dig all day, I have nothing to do but what I want and be kind and remain nevertheless uninfluenced by imaginary judgments and pray for the light.”

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Osprey Talon 22, in red

I have never liked wearing a pack while I ride my bike. In the summer I sweat too much anyway and a pack makes that so much worse. Plus, they are uncomfortable – I rode home from work one day with my laptop in the backpack the company gave me to carry it and by the time I made it home my shoulders were killing me. I had to stop every hundred yards or so, get off, remove the pack, and stretch – the pain was unbearable.

But commuting every day without a pack proved impossible. I have panniers on my bike but they don’t always cut it. I have to carry my stuff from my bike to my office. Plus, it’s not only about capacity, it’s about organization, and a backpack can be kept loaded… simply grab and go.

I began to realize my problem wasn’t with small backpacks per se – but with the shitty packs that I had. There was the pack the company gave me – which was designed to carry a laptop from a car to a desk. The other packs I had (and I had more than a few) were all giveaways from various conferences or cheap sacks I found at Goodwill. I had some Christmas money left over after I bought my hi-viz cycling jacket – so I started to research small backpacks/daypacks.

And research I did. I started online with searches like “best backpacks for bike commuters” or “best cycling daypacks.” I made lists, winnowed them down then bulked them up. I wrote down pros and cons and quoted review after review. I watched youtube videos until I was sick.

Actually the selection narrowed down pretty quickly. The most popular pack was the Osprey Radial – which was specifically designed for bike commuters. I talked to a cyclist friend that worked at REI and carried an Osprey Tempest 20 with her everywhere she went. She explained the philosophy between different types of packs (hiking, biking, travel,etc.), the importance of proper compression straps,  and where each type would be found in the store.  So I went down to REI and poured over the wide and deep selection that they offered.

I did look at pack brands other than Osprey – but it didn’t take me long to figure out that they seemed to know what they were doing. I liked the Radial – it was designed for the exact purpose that I needed a pack for. But it was very technical – it was complicated with a lot of bells and whistles. It had a laptop sleeve but no slot for a hydration bladder. It seemed perfect for what I wanted, but wouldn’t be very useful for anything else.

But over in the hiking section I found the Osprey Talon 22 and realized that it was exactly what I wanted.

For me, the biggest thing was comfort. I didn’t want a pack that caused me pain like that horrible laptop bag.

The Osprey Talon (and the Radial) had an innovative design with mesh suspension and die-cut foam back panel and curved straps. Plus the Talon had a wide, contoured hipbelt – and I know from years of backpacking that suspending a load on your hips feels a lot better than hanging it off your shoulders. Though it does have a few do-dads (water bottle pockets, large front stretch pocket, trekking pole attachment, ice ax loop, helmet keeper thing, external hydration bladder sleeve, slots for blinking light) basically, the pack itself is one big panel-loading compartment – which is what I wanted. The helmet keeper might even be useful sometime.

So it was the Osprey Talon 20. I chose one in red (for road visibility).

And I love the damn thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy with a purchase, especially one that I researched and agonized over so much.

The suspension actually works. No matter how heavy it’s loaded I can barely feel it on my back. We’ll see how cool it is when summer gets here – but they obviously put a lot of thought into the way it fits. It is customizable (there’s this weird Velcro panel inside the back that goes up and down to adjust to how long your back is) and after some fiddling I have it fitting me perfectly.

I was a little worried that at 20 liters it would be too small but since it is one big flexible space – it holds more than it looks like it does (I’ve even been able to fit a full-size photo tripod in there -which won’t go in anything else). I really have no negative thoughts about it at all. I take it to work every day – rode to the grocery store today and filled it along with both panniers. I even dug out an old hydration bladder and on one not-so-cold day rode around sipping water (it worked great).

I never thought I’d be so tickled pink over something as simple as a day pack – but it makes me very happy.

 

 

Short Story (novella) of the day, The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic,with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage,animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Some-times, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt.

—-Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

 

The Situation, by Jeff VanderMeer

from Wired Magazine

About a year ago I started going to book club meetings at The Wild Detectives – a bookstore in Bishop Arts that features beer and coffee… a great place. Even though I don’t have much in common with the other readers and it’s really tough to get across town after work, I like to go. Actually, now that I think about it, the fact I don’t have much in common with the other readers is the best thing about going.

The book we will discuss the first Monday in February is The Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. I’m cranking through the book and haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s very imaginative and well written but exceedingly weird. I like weird – but only if, at the end, there’s a point… some emotional connection. I’m not a big fan of weird for weird’s sake. I have a feeling that I will be a Jeff VanderMeer fan at the end.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s always good to find a new author isn’t it? Even though I have a ways to go on my Zola reading project and enough other books to… well, to fill up my rapidly declining lineup of years left.

Looking at other Jeff VanderMeer works there’s the Southern Reach Trilogy (I’ve seen the interesting movie Annihilation which was adapted from the first book in the trilogy) and I think those books will get added. Also there is the Borne novel which is set in the same insane world as The Dead Astronauts. That’s four more books to read. So little time, so many books.

As I was looking around for info (The Dead Astronauts is difficult enough I’m not worried about spoilers) on The Dead Astronauts and the Borne world I discovered an online short novella called The Situation. It is billed as a proto-Borne story – set in a preliminary version of that universe (are we reading about the origin of the giant bear named Mord?). So I sat down and read it.

And liked it. It is a sort-of comedy about the difficulty of surviving sane inside an evil bureaucracy. Quite a harrowing story. And well-worth the time and effort.

Shit. That means I’ll eventually have to read all those books. So many books, so little time.

If You Believe In Me, I’ll Believe In You

“I always thought they were fabulous monsters!” said the Unicorn. “Is it alive?”
“It can talk,” said Haigha, solemnly.
The Unicorn looked dreamily at Alice, and said, “Talk, child.”
Alice could not help her lips curling up into a smile as she began: “Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too! I never saw one alive before!”
“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Winged Unicorn, Grapevine, Texas

The Dreams Of Spirits, Dwelling In the Distant Spheres

“I think our lives are surely but the dreams
Of spirits, dwelling in the distant spheres,
Who as we die, do one by one awake.”
Edgar Saltus, Poppies and Mandragora

Traffic Barriers, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Afternoon at the Brewery

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Four Corners Brewery, Dallas, Texas

Four Corners

Short Story (flash fiction) of the Day, The Jungle Banshee by Jim Gibson

The oven was thick with grot and whenever you opened it to get your food, it would flood the room with smoke. I’d long ago taken the battery out of the fire alarm to stop that fucker going off whenever I made anything. And then it was back up to my room, to my games.

—-Jim Gibson, the jungle banshee

Old School Video game inspired graffiti, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Today’s bit of flash fiction is the jungle banshee (not sure if it should be capitalized or not – I like how it looks without caps) by Jim Gibson at 3AM Magazine

the jungle banshee

In the last thirty-odd years I’ve only had two jobs. I only remember once going on an interview and not being offered a job (it turned out they were interviewing me simply to gain information on the company I was working for). But, then again, I never spent that much time shut in playing video games. Of course, Pong showed up my freshman year of college and it cost a quarter and a quarter was a lot of money then. I remember you could get a pint of milk from the dorm vending machine machine for a quarter – I remember that because it was faulty and thought nickles were quarters – for a nickle you’d get a milk and a dime back (which you could take to the front desk and get two nickles for two more milks and two dimes… in theory you could be rich, especially if you could find someone to buy all that milk)… but I digress. I guess my point it that it was tough to get addicted to video games if all you could do was play Pong for a quarter. Pong was fun and in 1974 it was pretty amazing – but it wasn’t exactly addicting.

By the time video games became addicting I was grown and old and had kids and my memory was fading and my fast-twitch abilities were shot. I guess I was lucky.

When I was young people played Poker, Monopoly, or Chess. I did play a lot of chess, but I would get a headache if I played too much – it was never what I’d think of as fun – it was too serious. As I became more than a fairly good chess player I had to quit because it was stressing me too much. I never had enough money to play poker. And Monopoly – well, you couldn’t get addicted to that – that’s like getting addicted to watching paint dry.

The guy in the story has a video game problem. Or maybe it’s something else and the video gaming just falls into the hole.

It’s surprisingly affecting – I really feel sorry for the guy and wish him well. Probably more than I would if I knew him in real life. And I guess that’s a sign of a good story – if you care more about the character than you would if he was actually a real person.