Three Bicycling Stories

A Photograph Doesn’t Do Justice 

I like taking photographs, though it is ultimately a frustrating and futile exercise. I see an image in my mind and I want to commit it to pixels, but I never can. What ends up on the screen is a poor echo, a warped ghost, of what was in my head. Still, I keep trying.

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, "Is your husband a professional photographer?"Candy answered, "He thinks he is."

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?”
Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

Sometimes, there are images, real images that appear in the eye, of such subtle and ephemeral beauty that a camera can never come close to capturing.

The other morning I was riding my bike to work. I had left before dawn and was moving west on Summit Drive just after Grove Road. It’s a quiet little residential street, perfect for bike riding. Going West, it’s a slight downhill, just right – steep enough to coast but not so much to require brakes – a nice little rest in the middle of my commute.

Behind me, the sun was breaking the horizon, the orange globe peeking out throwing a sudden bright warm light down the street. All along the street were thousands of black birds (grackles, I think) covering the yards, wires, and trees.

The birds did not like me or my bike. Maybe my flashing headlight helped spook them, but they all took off and began to fly away from me. As I moved down the street a massive wave of birds formed in front of me, a cacophony of squawking and flapping wings as they fled in formation.

It was like a giant, solid, noisy, black moving thing, this wave of birds, contrasted with the bare trees and piles of autumn leaves, all bathed in the coral light from the sunrise. A living shape, a rolling cloud, lasting only a few seconds until I reached the turn at the bottom of the hill when they scattered, the wave dissolving into the dawn air, the flock dissipating as quickly as it formed.

As surely as this scene could never be photographed… too evanescent and ethereal for a lens – words fail me. Trust me, it was beautiful – I smiled all the way to work and even for a few minutes in the land of the cubicals until the daily grind ground the moment out.

Still, it is there, in my memory. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but sometimes it’s nice to get up in time to see what the rising sun brings.

My First Fall 

At my age, I’m really afraid of bicycle accidents. I’m a lot more brittle than I used to be and I don’t heal as fast. Still, I ride slowly and carefully and hadn’t fallen for a long, long time.

Until now.

I was going West on Spring Valley (not far from the story above). There is a rail line that bisects my city north to south and is a surprising barrier to cycling – there are only a couple places where it can be crossed and none of them are very safe. The Spring Valley crossing is one of the best – open, wide, and not too much traffic.

Between the rails there are these rubber pads to fill in the gaps for the cars that cross. Unfortunately, the pads had a gap between them… not too much, maybe an inch. The gap, unfortunately  runs parallel to the curb – along the direction of travel. On a bike, cracks or gaps running across your path are a mere bump, but cracks running in the same direction your are – are a disaster.

I am starting to rebuild my commuter bike – an old mountain bike – so I am riding my road bike around town. The road bike has narrow tires. Narrow enough to fit right into the gap between the thick rubber mats.

So I wasn’t looking closely enough and my tire dropped into the gap. It immediately grabbed the rubber and stopped. Instant endo – a nasty crash where your forward momentum throws you over your front handlebars.

I felt the tire drop and grab so I had a split second to prepare myself. I was able to drop a shoulder and roll when I hit, so I wasn’t hurt. I was worried about my bike, but other than a broken toe clip and a missing bar end plug, not a scratch. Luckily, there weren’t any cars behind me, or that might have been a fatal crash.

All’s well that ends well. Hopefully, I’ll have another run of good luck.

It’s frustrating though. I’m sure the city thinks that railroad crossing is fine and doesn’t need any work even though it contains a hidden disaster to anyone riding a bike through there. I don’t have any choice, I’ll have to ride over the crossing at least twice a day when I’m riding to work and most other rides – it’s the only good way to get the the southwest part of town from where I live. I’ll have to be careful and not forget what happened – look out for that gap.

Of course, flying over the handlebars isn’t something you forget anytime soon.

My road bike - an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My road bike – an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My commuter bicycle - I'm now taking it apart for a rebuild.

My commuter bicycle – I’m now taking it apart for a rebuild.

Riding in the Rain 

My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bicycle. Not too hard, that’s only a bit under ten miles per day (my work commute is ten miles round trip). Still, it will require consistent riding, under less than ideal conditions. Texas winters are cold, spring is wet, and summers… well, they can be fatal.

Rain was predicted for today, but when I woke up in the morning, I checked out the internet weather and the radar maps and it looked like I had a couple hours before the thunderstorms arrived. So I decided to get going and get in twenty miles or so. Never trust anything you read on the ‘net.

The fog was thick as I headed out and withing a couple miles it started to mist and sprinkle. It was fairly warm, so the light rain actually felt nice. I decided to ignore the weather and kept heading out on the route I had in mind.

Over the next few miles the rain slowly increased. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I kept going. Once you are soaked… you can’t get any wetter, so I didn’t want to give up. My phone rang and it was Candy, offering to pick me up, but I said I was doing fine. By this time I was around Galatyn Parkway along Highway 75 and I wanted to go north into Spring Creek and the trails up there.

Then the sky opened up.

I’ve been thinking about rigging my commuter bike for riding in the rain and reading up about bicycle fenders. One article I read had this nice quote:

I’ve cycled through thunderstorms in the U.S. Midwest and Texas and even a typhoon or two in Tokyo. For the Californians on the list, fill a bucket with water, toss in a tray of ice cubes (for the hail) and have a friend throw the contents on you — that approximates about half a second of a typical Midwestern spring storm.

That’s what it felt like – someone dumping a five gallon bucket of iced water on my head twice a second. It’s true that once you are soaked, more water doesn’t make you wetter… but I couldn’t even see. Luckily, a few feet up ahead the trail scooted underneath Highway 75, so I was able to take shelter until the tempest subsided.

It was amazing, waiting there, dripping, under the highway, watching the trickle of a creek rising quickly to become a raging torrent. I was safe on the elevated trail, leaning up against a guardrail halfway between the stream and the roadway above. The various drainpipes associated with the highway all began spewing vast cascades of roaring water, some falling in brown cataracts and others splashing against trees and logs into great sprays of foam. I never noticed, but the roadway is drilled with a pattern of drainage holes and all these began to spew a grid of falling fountains from the bridge far above.

The scene was unexpected and beautiful and it made me laugh to look at my private spectacular water display.

The rain was falling so hard I knew it couldn’t last too long and once the storm subsided to a mere rainstorm I bundled up my wet clothes and headed home. I couldn’t ride the trail all the way because the low-water crossings along Duck Creek were submerged. The waterfowl were all lined up along their swollen eponymous waterway watching the flotsam and jetsam closely, picking out any edible particle that came floating by.

I did manage to get my twenty miles in, and all my stuff is hanging in the house trying to dry out. I’m not sure if I’ll go out in a thunderstorm like that again… but it was kind of fun.