Fox on the Run

“That’s what people do when they find a special place that wild and full of life, they trample it to death.”
― Carl Hiaasen, Flush

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

I have taken to riding my Cannondale vintage touring bike at sunset. The killer Texas sun is down, the heat is bearable, the wind dies, and it is in general – a nice time to be outside. I ride about an hour, about ten miles. I’m trying to do this every evening. I have a new, nice bike light I bought with a gift certificate I won in a local contest – so I don’t have a problem if I stay out a little longer in the dark.

Yesterday I had just crossed Plano and Arapaho roads and was angling down into the creek bottom on the new Duck Creek Trail extension. I try to ride this little bit as much as I can with my Strava on to help make the new trail (which I really like) show up brighter on the Strava heatmap. One of the cool things about riding at this time of day is I get to see some urban wildlife – mostly bunnies – but a few coyotes, a beaver or two, snakes…. Bobcats are out there, though I haven’t seen one yet.

I looked across the creek and saw a red fox looking at me. As I approached he turned and ran into a copse of trees farther back from the creek. It was so cool to see a fox in the middle of the city like that.

My son bought a GoPro Hero 7 Black and didn’t like it so he loaned it to me. I had it on my handlebars and hoped that the fox would show up in the footage. Unfortunately, he was off to the side on the wide-angle lens and only visible as a little dot. Shame.

My Bike on the Bridge

“People will pay any price for motion. They will even work for it. Look at bicycles.”
― William Faulkner, The Reivers

My bike – Vintage 1987 Cannondale ST600 Touring Bike.

On the Margaret McDermott bridge bike/pedestrian path, over the Trinity River, Dallas, Texas

Cannondale 1987 brochure

Margaret McDermott Bridge

“It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.
What it’s going to be, I don’t know.
Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
And maybe knowing isn’t the point.
Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Let me check the date on this photo – sometime mid 2015… six years ago. It actually seems like longer than that. They had already been working on the bridge/highway complex for three years, they started in 2012. This was the base of one arch, down in the Trinity River bottoms, near downtown Dallas. I was down there on my bicycle, riding the muddy gravel paths. The other half of the arch was further along – reaching up into the sky.

The arches of a second Calatrava designed bridge rise in the river bottoms. The Horseshoe, Dallas, Texas

These massive arches, designed by Santiago Calatrava were never intended to support the roadway. That would be too expensive and unnecessary – a simple concrete causeway was all that was needed. The immense, soaring arches would cost 125 million dollars and support a bicycle/pedestrian bridge – and look good.

As a cycling advocate I had very mixed feelings about this. Of course, another route across the river was welcome – but 125 million dollars was way too much – that money could do a lot of good in man other places. Well, nobody asked me – and they went ahead and built the Margaret McDermott Bridge – way behind schedule and way, way over budget.

And then things went from bad to worse. When the thing was finished, it was discovered that corners had been cut, the bridge cable fasteners were not properly tested, and the thing was in danger of falling down in high winds.

I had resigned myself to never having the bridge opened… after all these years, but I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago I received in invitation to ride my bike across the bridge during a grand opening ceremony. Now, truth be told, most of my cycling friends had already rode around the safety barricades and crossed the bridge over the last couple of years – but I never did. So I was excited to go down there and ride across.

I rode up right when a news camera was running.

There were about a dozen bike riders – we picked up our… what do you call them? The things that you pin to your shirt at an event? Running bibs? Yeah, that must be it – it says “Printed by Boulder Bibs.”

And off we rode. It was fun – I’ll be back. There are steep spots – especially on the north (pedestrian) side. I need to look at moonrise – the bridge will be fun at night – the view of the downtown skyline is spectacular.

Folks at the ribbon-cutting. The arches are spectacular from the bike/pedestrian lanes – maybe they are worth the money.

View of downtown from the bike lane on the bridge.

The ceremony made all the news shows. Here’s a good one – you can see me from behind riding my bike near the end, at the 1:56 mark.

Bicycle Parking

“Ever bike? Now that’s something that makes life worth living!…Oh, to just grip your handlebars and lay down to it, and go ripping and tearing through streets and road, over railroad tracks and bridges, threading crowds, avoiding collisions, at twenty miles or more an hour, and wondering all the time when you’re going to smash up. Well, now, that’s something! And then go home again after three hours of it…and then to think that tomorrow I can do it all over again!”
― Jack London

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

So, May was bike month and in honor of the times the City of Richardson, where I live, sponsored a bicycle parking scavenger hunt. The idea was to track down bike parking (bicycle racks) throughout the city and report them on an interactive digital online map. Despite the possibilities of actual prizes, I sort of ignored the thing.

Until our quarterly meeting with the city on transportation alternatives – where we were reminded of the event and encouraged to participate. There was only a week or so left in the month, but that included a three-day weekend and I decided to give it a whirl.

I became sort of obsessed. I planned out bike routes through the city – guided by searches I made on Google Maps. My eyes became accustomed to the tell-tale shapes of the various types of bike racks. I’d stop and take a photo with my phone, then post them on the web site.

Here’s the final map (I’m not sure how long it will stay up, hopefully, it will be a permanent reference and we can add useful bike parking outside the city). The various participants logged 250 or so bike racks during the month.

It was fun and a good excuse to explore the city on my bike.

Here’s a few that I found:

Loop racks next to a bench. I found a bunch of these in an area where a lot of new apartments are going up. That’s my Xootr folding bike.
New racks at the middle school near my house.
A unique rack at a fire station. That’s my vintage Cannondale (1987) that I ride as my everyday bike.
A gas station. There is a good taqueria inside – worth a bike ride.

Northaven Trail Pedestrian Bridge

“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 Xootr Swift bicycle next to the Secret Mural, Dallas, Texas

I have not been out riding my bike nearly enough – not enough miles and not enough riding with people. So when I read that some folks were riding from the Forrest Lane DART station over to the end of the Northaven Trail for the groundbreaking of the planned bridge over Highway 75 I thought I’d go. I did cheat and drive down to the station with my bike in the back of my car – so it was going to be a short ride.

A city like Dallas has a lot of bike trails and dedicated lanes – but a lot of them were put in as recreational opportunities – for the neighborhood to walk their dogs or get in a few miles of exercise – not as transportation corridors. That lead to what I call “choke points” – barriers to car-less transportation. The most common are highways, which can be impossible to cross without a car.

And the worst of these highways is 75, which slashes Dallas in half north to south.

Highway 75 at Sunset (click to enlarge)

The Northaven trail is a fairly new trail that runs through north Dallas all the way from 75 in the east almost to Love Field in the west. On the other side of 75 is the White Rock creek trail, which connects through miles of East Dallas trails – but it isolated by the highway.

For the last few years, work has been going on to connect these two with a bridge over the highway. Finally, funding has been established, a design has been finished and approved, and work is about to start. Two years from now, we should have our bridge.

And today was the groundbreaking ceremony. The mayor of Dallas was there, Dallas county officials, City Council Members, Park Board Members and more – they all wanted their turn to pontificate about how hard they have been working and how much credit they deserve. It went on for way too long for anyone in the audience – but that’s fine – if their egos and political careers need some service, so be it, as long as we get our bridge.

Groundbreaking ceremony at the Northaven Trail Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge.

I had a good time. I was able to meet a good number of friends that I had not talked to since before COVID. That was nice.

And best of all, I learned a new route back under Highway 75 that joins up with the White Rock Creek Trail, Cottonwood Trail, and Forest Lane DART station where I parked my car. There is a little known footpath through a tunnel under the highway. You have to ride on a sidewalk along the frontage road for a few hundred feet, but it’s a good way to get across. Not the best looking path, but it works.

Bike/Pedestrian path under Highway 75, Dallas, Texas

So why do we need the bridge? A path like this doesn’t give any opportunities for politicians to shovel sand.

We Can Only Scratch Away

“The worse the country, the more tortured it is by water and wind, the more broken and carved, the more it attracts fossil hunters, who depend on the planet to open itself to us. We can only scratch away at what natural forces have brought to the surface.”
Jack Horner, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

The bicycle bones are exposed yet slowly sinking into the muck along the flowing creek. Like a fossil from the recent explosion of eighteen thousand dockless shared rentals the bright yellow steel attests to the (possibly) well-intentioned  insanity that swept suddenly then faded even faster. No mastodon skeleton could be a better representative of the once-swarming extinct than this pile of tattered metal.

Giant Cherry Bomb

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

My Giant cargo/commuter/ex-mountain bike and Cherry Bomb, sculpture, by Nic Noblique, Uptown, Dallas, Texas

Art: Cherry Bomb

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part Six – Cycling Goals For the New Year

You should ride for meditation for 1 hour per day – if you’re too busy, then ride for 2 hours

—- Old Zen Saying

My 1987 Cannondale road bike at Trammell Crow Park.

 

I have read that one thing that I can do to help achieve my goals is to share them. This isn’t easy – important goals are, by nature, personal and can be embarrasing. Plus, there’s the problem that nobody else really gives a damn and they (you) will be terribly bored. But by sharing them, against my better judgement, I hope to:

  1. Gain Clarity – I have come to the conclusion that I write primarily not to communicate my ideas but to discover and develop them.
  2. Accountability – Other people, even mysterious eyes on the internet, adds motivation.
  3. Feedback – Someone (you) might have some ideas or suggestions.

A primary goal I had this year is related to fitness – and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that it is a cycling mileage goal. The basic goal is ten miles a day. That works out to, what? Three thousand six hundred and sixty (leap year, remember?) miles for the year. That sounds like a long way. I used to have a spreadsheet to track my mileage, but now I use Mapmyride.com.

I do cheat in two ways. I know that sometimes the weather is simply too awful to ride. If I ride my spin bike at home I count one hour as ten miles. That seems fair – ten miles per hour is pretty much how fast I usually ride (though I average a lot less – in the big evil city I spend as much as a third of my time waiting on traffic) plus on the spin bike I never coast. The other cheat is a little more controversial (in my own mind). When I take the bus to work, I have to transfer, usually at the Spring Valley DART station. It’s about 1.3 miles from my office – which I can walk in thirty minutes (if I walk fast). If I do that – walk instead of taking the second bus route – I give myself five miles biking credit. It feels about right, the mile plus walk is about as tiring as five miles on the bike – it takes thirty minutes, so I’m sticking with an hour or so of exercise a day.

Is that fair? It seems OK to me and gives me another option and a little flexibility.

So… Accountability… how did I do in January.

My total in January was 314.02 miles – so I beat my goal by four miles. Good enough.

The breakdown:
31 Bike Rides – 199.02 miles
9 Spin Rides – 90 miles (eight episodes of The Witcher and one hour of watching music videos)
5 Walks – 25 miles

Looking at my Calendar – I had 7 days that I did nothing. That would be another goal – reduce those days.

January Map My Ride, Calendar – Click to Enlarge

One other interesting fact. I thought about a goal of, for the year, riding my bike more miles than driving my car (excluding long trips). I didn’t decide on that goal because it seemed impossible, especially in Dallas.

Well, as I think about January – I drove a car three times, twice to Love Field (once for work, once to pick Candy up) and once to Home Depot (to buy something too big for my bicycle). That’s a total of what? Maybe fifty miles? Everywhere else I went I either cycled, took DART (one other goal of mine for this year was to utilize the bus system – which I have been doing), or rode with someone else driving. I never drove myself to work (not always by choice). So I rode my bike two hundred miles and drove fifty. I didn’t think that was possible, and it probably won’t be for the rest of the year… but there it is.

My bike commute – the bike riding itself – is getting really easy. I told someone that, unless the weather is horrible, usually my bike ride to/from work is the best part of my day. They said, “How many people can say that their commute is the best part of their day.” I nodded, although I thought to myself that a big part of that is how unpleasant the rest of my day is. Unfortunately, changing clothes and such at work is the worst part of my day. My employer blathers on a lot about work/life balance – but it is all bullshit. They make it as difficult as they can to commute without a car.

Also, I have to be careful – when you don’t drive very much and live in a car-obsessed city like Dallas – on a tiny bicycle dodging giant killer hunks of steel that spew toxic fumes in your face even if they miss you or standing by the road waiting for a bus as the traffic roars by inches away –  you begin to hate cars. You begin to hate the people that drive them, especially people that drive fast/aggressively, yak on their phones, and honk their horns. It’s a good opportunity to practice mindfulness and forgiveness.

So, sorry to bore you with my stupid little story – one month down, eleven to go.

Better finish this off and go for a bike ride – get my ten miles in. Don’t want to start February off behind.

Upping My Bicycle Commuting Game – Part 5, Gonex Garment Folder

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

My 30 year old touring bike in The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

 

It didn’t take long and now the actual bicycling part of my bicycle commute is the easiest part. As a matter of fact, on most days the bike ride to and from work is the high point of my day. The low part is having to change clothes at my work. We don’t have showers or a locker room (Some runners and I have been lobbying for lockers and showers – work/life balance and all – and everybody agrees it would be a great idea but the budget keeps getting cut at the last minute) and I have to change in the handicap stall. No fun at all. The ride is five miles each way which is too far to ride in my work clothes (sweat, rain, grease, heat, cold…) so I have to carry my clothes and change each way.

I’ve tried taking a week’s worth of clothes in on the weekend and that didn’t work. It takes up too much room and I still have to change – plus there’s a lot of unnecessary walking around (bike area to clothes storage area to desk to bathroom to clothes storage… back and forth).

So I have to carry each day’s work clothes with me. But I have never been a good clothes folder and my shirt and pants were always terribly wrinkled. A lot of bike commuting sites recommend rolling your clothes – but that doesn’t work. They still come out wrinkled.

I kept on doing research until I came across something that I had never heard of before. Something that turned out to be an amazing, perfect solution.

A Pack-It Garment Packing Folder.

It’s like a big nylon envelope with a plastic board printed with folding instructions. I ordered one and, after messing with it for awhile, learned to fold a shirt and pair of pants and store them away.

The most common brand of these things are Eagle Creek. I ordered one of those first, and bought the smaller size (thinking that I only had one shirt and one pair of pants). It turned out that was too small – my shirt and britches are pretty big.

At that point I discovered that less expensive knock-offs were starting to appear so I bought one from Gonex – a Gonex Garment Folder in Red to be exact.

Next I had to figure out how best to carry the thing. I was surprised to find it actually fit inside my new backpack. It takes up a lot of room in there though, and is an inconvenient shape – so that if I had to carry a big lunch or laptop – it was pretty awkward. I worked out a secure way to bungee the thing onto the top of my rear rack with a piece of elastic and a couple of carabiners.

The thing works like a charm. It only takes a minute to fold and pack and it keeps my clothes wrinkle-free. Take a good look at these things, even if you don’t commute on a bicycle. They are great when you travel – you can get a few days’ worth of clothes in a small space – in a carry-on. It’s always a good thing when a weird gadget works like it is supposed to and actually helps in some odd way.

I still hate changing clothes at work though.

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.