Sweat Up the Hills and Coast Down Them

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Fullmoon Bicycle Ride, Dallas, Texas

The line of bicycles behind me, heading down the Trinity Skyline Trail, heading for a certain spot and waiting for the moon to rise.

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Cycling Through a Blast Furnace

“Just as the Mediterranean separated France from the country Algiers, so did the Mississippi separate New Orleans proper from Algiers Point. The neighborhood had a strange mix. It looked seedier and more laid-back all at the same time. Many artists lived on the peninsula, with greenery everywhere and the most beautiful and exotic plants. The French influence was heavy in Algiers, as if the air above the water had carried as much ambience as it could across to the little neighborhood. There were more dilapidated buildings in the community, but Jackson and Buddy passed homes with completely manicured properties, too, and wild ferns growing out of baskets on the porches, as if they were a part of the architecture. Many of the buildings had rich, ornamental detail, wood trim hand-carved by craftsmen and artisans years ago. The community almost had the look of an ailing beach town on some forgotten coast.”
― Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans

Every year during the New Orleans Writing Marathon I make a point of crossing the Mississippi River on the Algiers Ferry. This year a group of poets decided to walk through the French Quarter and make the crossing. I’m no poet, but the rules aren’t too strict, so I tagged along.

I love riding the Ferry, though I have done it more than a few times. The Algiers Ferry moves cars, pedestrians, and cyclists from the dock at the foot of Canal Street across to the town of Algiers on the West Bank. Even though you are going from the Eastern half United States to the West, due to the twisting river the boat actually goes sort of in another direction. There is something about crossing the Mississippi, though I always think of the ferry as the spot where John Goodman’s character committed suicide in the series Treme. If you’ve ever seen the film Déjà Vu this is the ferry the terrorists attack.

The day was incredibly hot and humid and we maneuvered our route to the ferry to use as much shade as possible. The trip across is two dollars, cash only, no change – I always take a stack of ones and quarters with me when I go to New Orleans for the ferry and the streetcar.

Saint Louis Cathedral from across the Mississippi River at Algiers Point

Two women and a dog In the middle of the river on the Algiers Ferry.

On the Algiers side we went to a trio of spots to write. First was breakfast at Tout de Suite Cafe, which was very good. Right next door was the excellent cafe/coffee shop Two Birds, One Stone – they had a back room full of pinball machines and big tables, a perfect place to write. The young owners were very accommodating to our group – I want to visit again and recommend you do too. I wrote snippets of text at both, then we walked on to Congregation Coffee Roasters for a third stop. I decided to churn out a poem, since that was what everybody else was doing.

Rented Furniture

A worshipped monolith
made of translucent plastic
red and stained
a machine of fire and water

A cylinder, a totem
raised on a dias of wood
life that needs washing
escape and revelation

We didn’t make the payments
and they took the furniture
when we were gone
and returned to find
an empty room, with
only a bong on a wooden
wire spool table

It was still fairly early, but some of the others had to get back to do a radio broadcast – everybody piled back on the ferry for the trip back.I was distracted by two bike share rental bikes at the ferry terminal and, checking the map on my phone, discovered there was a bike trail on the top of the river levee on the Algiers side – so I opened the app on my phone and unlocked a bike – deciding to go for a ride.

New Orleans Bike Share Bike

The New Orleans bike share bikes are built like a tank, and as heavy as one – but the city is flat so that doesn’t cause too much of a problem. It took me a minute to find the control and downshift so I could climb onto the Levee and the swept handlebars took some getting used to. But soon enough I had it all in control and was moving down the smooth levee trail.

I rode south (or more exactly, downriver – the Mississippi curves) for a few miles, down past the Naval station. It was fun – the view of the river and giant ships and barges on one side – the picturesque streets of Algiers on the other. The path sort of petered out and I rode back, past the ferry station and upriver to the giant double bridge… the Crescent City Connector. That was about seven miles and about all I felt up to, so I rode back to the ferry and parked my rented bike.

It was a lot of fun, but there was one problem. It was so hot. It was like riding through a blast furnace. There was no breeze at all – no cooling relief coming off of the river. The top of the Levee is very exposed, not a bit of shade. The burning sun, the boiling air, and the famous New Orleans summer humidity made for a sweaty, exhausting ride.

I was so worn out that when I made it back across the river I was lazy and took a streetcar through the French Quarter (still had a dollar bill and a quarter) back to where we were meeting. A long day, a hot day, but a nice time.

Can’t wait to go back.

Racing a Rat

“Likewise—now don’t laugh—cars and trucks should view the bike lanes as if they are sacrosanct. A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way. You wouldn’t park your car or pull over for a stop on the sidewalk, would you? Well then, don’t park in the bike lanes either—that forces cyclists into traffic where poor little meat puppets don’t stand a chance.”
― David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

My 1986 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park. From an early part of the October Full Moon Ride.

The other night I had trouble getting to sleep.

I have learned to keep a bike (one of them, at least) down from the storage rack in the garage, tires pumped up, batteries for the running lights charged, and a helmet hanging from a handlebar. Better yet, keep it pointed towards the garage door.

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

That way, if the mood strikes, I can open the garage door, hop on the bike, and go for a short, quick ride. There is something about riding at night, going nowhere, at any speed, and for an unknown (and uncared about) distance. It is so stress free… it’s like flying.

The moon rising over cyclists and the Dallas skyline. From the October Full Moon Ride. Click to enlarge.

So I found myself on the trail that runs behind my house on up to Huffhines Park, with its lakes shining in the full moonlight. I veered to the right, went around the softball diamonds, and back to the lakes. As I entered the parking lot, I saw movement.

Riding a bike at night, you see a lot of critters. This is the Duck Creek neighborhood, and there are, of course, a lot of ducks. Second most common are the rabbits. Also coyotes, possums, armadillos, stray pets, and even an occasional beaver on a bridge over the creek.

This time, though, it was a rat. One of the sleek, grey, tree rats, caught on the ground. He and I had a little race across the parking lot – I caught him near the north end and we ran side by side, me riding off his left shoulder, his little legs a blur in the dimness. At the end of the lot he veered to the right into a drainage opening and I turned to the left to get back on the trail.

I rode home, gone only a few minutes and far fewer miles, but I felt better and was able to collapse into sleep.

Cyclist With Backpack on Royal

New Orleans – an Alternative

Pre-Katrina I biked around New Orleans many times. The city is pretty flat, which makes it easy on the knees. On one trip I discovered a bike path along the top of some of the earthen lebees. It was delightful; one could see the river on one side and the city spread out on the other.

Here there are few of the usual interstates that divide and wound cities. There’s mostly just I-10, on its massive concrete pilings, which snakes into the center of town, desperately trying to stay above most of the funk and humanity below. New Orleans was, and I suspect still is, one of a few large cities across the U.S.A. with character and personality, with its own food, culture, language, and music. It never fails to inspire, though it has clearly flourished despite much neglect and years of abuse that were revealed to the world when the hurricane struck.

I bike along Magazine Street and then on St. Charles where what at first glance appears to be Spanish moss in the trees turns out to be Mardi Gras beads, hanging from the weird branches, block after block – and it’s not even Mardi Gras season.
—- David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries

Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

Bluetooth and Orange Chicken

It is the end of 1982, and I am 38 years old. One day, at noon, I notice that my bike is steering itself. Later, I am sitting on the bay, which is today occupied by the Memorial Garden, facing the Rio de la Plata. With me is Daniel Coifman, a psychotherapist friend who has spent a couple of seasons at the Esalen Institute of Big Sur, travelled several times to India and, to put it briefly, gone exploring the mysteries of consciousness. Our bicycles are leaning against each other.

I tell him that I can remember all the places that we have been: the Planetarium, the level crossing near the airport, the crossroads near the Fishermen’s Club. Also, the wind on my face, the water splashing the railings, the smell of food at the restaurants when he made a detour to avoid the two elderly people who were drinking maté… However, I do not remember the thoughts that I had. I was distracted. I didn’t know where I was. I only knew in that moment that “I am here”.

Daniel jumped up. “No, you were not distracted,” he says. “You were abstracted, but you were not absent. And believe it or not, it is exactly the opposite.”

—-The Bicycle Effect by Juan Carlos Kreimer

A couple of weeks ago, during the time I was doing nothing but work – including going in through the weekends – I took a couple hours off and met Candy at a big fund-raiser garage sale put on by a large, local church. We arrived at the very end (will have to make a note to go early next year – to get the good stuff) and, even though everything was picked-through, they still had a lot of interesting items.

I was looking at a big, old-fashioned overstuffed office chair when the announcement came out, “Only two hours to go, everything is half-off the marked price.” I bought the chair, and found a thin Bluetooth keyboard mounted in an IPad case for, well, almost nothing. I don’t own an IPad, but the keyboard popped out of the case. I pulled up my phone and confirmed that it worked with the keyboard. So I bought it.

I am always looking for an inexpensive, light, small keyboard device that I can carry with me, especially something I can carry on my bicycle. It has to be small and light… and inexpensive, so I don’t have to stress out about losing it, getting it stolen, or breaking it in a crash.

Over the years, I’ve used an Alphasmart Neo Keyboard, a cheap Android Tablet with a folding keyboard, and, most recently, a repurposed Toshiba Netbook running Lubuntu Linux.

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

My Toshiba Netbook – rode my bike to a coffee shop.

The Netbook and the Tablet will still have their uses, but the Bluetooth keyboard is an extra lever of portable. I have to carry my phone anyway, so the keyboard only adds a few ounces. My big, old fingers don’t work very well hammering out a lot of text on a tiny phone screen. The keyboard makes it possible to write at least a few pages at a sitting.

The keyboard is perfect – light and small. It’s very well thought out. I am using it with the case removed from my phone so it can lean up on the slot that runs across the keyboard.

Bluetooth Keyboard and my phone.

I brought along a library book as well as my Kindle Paperwhite. The book is The Bicycle Effect – Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer.

It’s a short book – less than two hundred pages – about the Zen aspects of riding a bicycle. I copied some money quotes from the book into my phone.

The book talks about destinationless riding – a Zen state of pedaling the streets without care for speed, time, distance, or direction. I am rarely able to pull that off – though I understand and crave the state. Today, I was able to leave home on my folder without care for a route or time.

My folding bike, Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage
(click to enlarge)

After a few miles I did notice that I was hungry so I detoured to a favorite Americanized Chinese place in an old Dairy Queen not far from where I found myself. So now I can read a little, type a little, and eat a little.

Before long I’ll be bored and ready to pedal again. Where am I going to go?

Who knows?

Another Shot From the Bicycle Drag Races

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Taken Saturday at the AOT Just Ride Dallas Drag Race on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

Bicycle Drag Races Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Dallas, Texas

Bicycle Drag Races
Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
Dallas, Texas

Without Thought On Anything But the Ride You Are Taking

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Design District Dallas, Texas

Design District
Dallas, Texas

Bicycles lined up outside Community Beer Company, Dallas.