Crossing The Brazos

“During dry spells, the whole river used to dry up into sandy bed, leaving only a faintly damp white trail. Years ago, on my walks I’d trace that trail upstream, searching for where the river had gone”
Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

Crossing the Brazos River alongside Interstate 35, Waco, Texas

One of the cool things you can do with a folding bicycle is to keep it in the trunk or back of the car on long road trips.

I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

That way, if you feel like taking a break – check Googlemaps on the phone and see if there are any bike routes or trails in the area (there usually are) and you can park and go for a little ride. It’s a great break from driving.

With All Their Speed Forward

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls.”
Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

A while back, on July 26, 2012 to be exact, I wrote a blog entry called Bicycle Lanes. In it I wrote a bit about Richardson’s attempts at improving its cycling infrastructure. I praised the bike trails and especially the bike lanes (while noticing some dangerous flaws).

But I also mentioned how dangerous some of the railroad crossings are. For example, at Arapaho (a very busy street that is necessary for me to get to the library and a few other spots) I took this photo:

Rail crossing on Arapaho road – July, 2012.

I wrote:

There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the north for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.

The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.

It’s been almost seven years now, and the city has done something. Here’s what that exact same railroad crossing looks like now:

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

Railroad crossing on Arapaho road, Richardson, Texas

It’s really only a couple of concrete plates, a bit of asphalt, and some sidewalk work – but it makes all the difference. To almost everybody – those that only drive – this is something completely unnoticeable. But to people that cycle for transportation (and for pedestrians) this sort of thing is a game-changer. To think that the city and the transportation departments are actually, finally thinking about people that aren’t in hurtling steel boxes is a breath of fresh air.

I know, by the way, that it isn’t a good idea to ride on the sidewalk – but that is a rule that sometimes, like along fast moving arterial streets – is made to be broken.

They did the same thing on the other side of the road – going the other way. That makes it not only possible, but easy, for me to ride my bike to the library. Little improvements.

Like All the Light In the World

Then out of all the darkness I see Mother’s white hands rising from her lap like they were powered and lit from inside. Like all the light in the world has been poured out to shape those hands. She’s reaching over for the steering wheel, locking onto it with her knuckles tight. The car jumps to the side and skips up onto the sidewalk. She’s trying to take us over the edge. There’s no doubt this time.
—–Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir

Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge

There is the Katy trail – built along the old abandoned railroad bed – crossing the city right north of Downtown Dallas. And there was the new trail system running from Mockingbird to White Rock, with its trail ecosystem noosing the lake and branches running north in two directions and south back to downtown.

The final obstacle in this maze of human-powered transportation system was Mockingbird Lane – eight or so deadly lanes of speeding steel. I mean, you could cross at a light… after walking along a cracked and narrow sidewalk and waiting for the little white-light man – only to still have to dodge left-turners and other blind killers.

But there had to be a better way.

It was way too expensive and took way too long but they finally built this huge, over-engineered cable stay monstrosity right there at Mockingbird station. It took years.

But finally, a bit over a year ago they finished the Mockingbird Pedestrian (and bicycle) bridge. And… I guess it was worth waiting for.

So Long As You Move

“Well, I always know what I want. And when you know what you want–you go toward it. Sometimes you go very fast, and sometimes only an inch a year. Perhaps you feel happier when you go fast. I don’t know. I’ve forgotten the difference long ago, because it really doesn’t matter, so long as you move.”
Ayn Rand, We the Living

It’s been a difficult winter, but spring is here. I’ve struggled since January with allergies, infections, weakness and laziness. The worst of it is that I haven’t been riding my bicycle enough and have lost enough fitness to keep me from riding a long distance.

That’s bad.

The only thing to do is to start all over again. I’m trying to ride a little bit each day… every day, a little bit, and then, maybe, a little bit more. To keep everything going is tough, it’s too tempting to give up. One thing that helps is to try and at least make things interesting and there are a lot of compact places in town that I can drive, or better yet, take the train to – ride around a bit, maybe stop and read or get a coffee or a beer or something to eat. That’s not so hard.

So the other day I took my folder to the Mockingbird DART station and rode around a bit. I met Nick for lunch, then went home. No big deal… but it felt like one. A little bit every day.

My Xootr Swift Folding Bike at Mockingbird Station, Dallas, TX

That blue bag on the back of my bike is a Thomas EMS Emergency bag (I picked up two old ones that weren’t being used anymore) converted into a bike pannier. I removed most of the interior pockets and mount it with some carabiners to the rack. It works great as a small pannier (I have some grocery panniers if I have to carry something larger, like groceries) for daily rides. I have my camera, kindle, and lock inside and those outer zip pockets are exactly the right size for extra water bottles.

Carbine On My Handlebar

“When shoes and clothes and food, when hope is gone we’ll all have the rifle.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

 

Vintage WWII bicycle.

I have worked a lot over the years, worked on ways to carry things on my bicycle. I have never, however, worked on how to carry a carbine on my handlebar.

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.

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.