You Can’t Get There From Here

Though I am a ridiculous old fat man on a bicycle, I have been working on increasing my mileage and exploring how to integrate cycling into my daily activities better. My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bike. I knew I would start out behind (the weather in the winter is too often simply too nasty to ride) but I try to get as many miles in as possible.

Saturday was a gray post-misty day, cool but not cold – usually considered depressing winter weather – but without a breath of wind, perfect for a bicycle ride. I cruised all over Richardson and North Dallas, getting in about thirty-four miles of city riding, which is a lot for me. I was pretty well worn out.

Sunday was more of the same, a little warmer and a little windier and I wanted to ride somewhere and get a few more miles in – somewhere more or less useful.

About eight miles away (as the bike rolls) is White Rock Coffee, one of my favorite independent coffee spots. There are a number of Starbucks within walking distance of my home, and a couple of bubble teas/smoothie emporiums, but White Rock is the closest non-national-chain coffee spot. There is a new branch of The Pearl Cup, under construction in Richardson, and when it is done it will be a nice bicycle destination. But they are still working on it – so until it’s done it’s White Rock Coffee.

The problem is, I can’t find a good route to White Rock Coffee. The biggest choke point is LBJ/635 Interstate Highway loop. The best crossing between my house and the coffee place is the pedestrian bridge next to the Skillman DART station.

The pedestrian bridge over LBJ at the Skillman Dart station - photo from Googlemaps.

The pedestrian bridge over LBJ at the Skillman Dart station – photo from Googlemaps.

Once you start looking at that crossing you realize a nefarious little bit of nasty city planning. The bridge is useful, mostly because it connects a couple of neighborhoods of rundown apartments (on either side of the freeway) with the train station and each other. The problem is that it is almost impossible to get into or out of those neighborhoods on foot or on bicycle.

I don’t think this is an accident. Streets running up to these areas lose their sidewalks – some residential streets are cut and blockaded. It is obvious that the powers-that-be don’t want folks walking out of their rundown apartment complexes into the more upscale areas of housing.

So I have been working on finding the best route. I came up with one and it’s not that great – there are several nasty road crossings (Yale and Walnut, Leisure and Forest,  and Adleta and Skillman are the some of the worst), four places where I have to walk my bike, and some heavy traffic. A long stretch of narrow, crowded residential street with parked cars filling both sides – the door zone fills the whole street. It’s especially tough because I’m riding my road bike right now – I’m rebuilding my commuter/bad weather bike. The narrow tires are pickier about terrain.

I decided to give it a go today – stuffed my laptop and an extra shirt into my backpack and set off. I know eight miles isn’t very far, but it’s a tough eight miles. The backpack was heavy and I was always riding into the wind (how does that work?). It’s all crowded urban stop-and-go riding.

That’s the thing about riding a bicycle in the city – you see things you never do from a car (or on foot, really, because you can’t travel that far). You see beauty, notice hills you never would otherwise, connect with the weather in an intimate, organic way… but you see a lot of nasty, brutish, and ugly stuff too. A lot of trash, homeless people, and neglect.

I hadn’t anticipated the amount of broken glass on the streets and sidewalks in some of these neighborhoods. Sure enough, crossing 635 on the pedestrian bridge I put a sliver of shattered malt liquor bottle through my rear tire and had to patch it in a nasty little parking lot covered in antifreeze and oil that had been dumped there, keeping an eye on the crack dealers that were keeping an eye on me.

Life in the big city in this best of all possible worlds.

I had better finish this up and drink the rest of my coffee and get home – I don’t want to do that ride in the dark.

Here and There – Chihuly and Winfrey Point

A photo I took a while back of the Chihuly Exhibit in the Arboretum, with White Rock Lake’s Winfrey Point in the distance across an arm of the lake. This huge glass sculpture is called “The Sun.”

Chihuly with Winfrey Point in the background, across the water.

Chihuly with Winfrey Point in the background, across the water.

A shot I took from a bicycle ride on Winfrey Point, with the Arboretum and the Chihuly Sun in the background.

Arboretum from Winfrey Point, a peloton of cyclists going by on the road.

Arboretum from Winfrey Point, a peloton of cyclists going by on the road.

Messing about in boats

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”

Spoken by Ratty to Mole in Wind in the Willows a children’s book by Kenneth Grahame

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

(Click for a larger and more detailed version on Flickr)

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea…”

– Antoine de Saint Exupery

All the Way Around

I have been working hard, riding my bicycle every day. I’m out of shape and too big and too old, but still I try.

One helpful thing is that I have done this before. I was a lot younger then, which makes it a lot harder now, but I know it can be done because it has been.

When I first moved to Dallas I was young and full of pee and vinegar, but I began to give in to my slothful and dissipative nature and started eating out too much and lounging around watching too much television. So I fixed my bike up and started to go our riding on a regular basis… at least four times a week. Now there are bicycle trails everywhere, but back then, in the early eighties, there was only one in Dallas, the White Rock Lake Trail. When I started, I lived on Lower Greenville… then I moved a little north to Lover’s Lane and Northwest Highway – and both gave access to White Rock Lake.

I remember the first few times I rode – I couldn’t make it all the way around. This can be problematic, because once you are on the other side of the lake, you have no choice but to ride back. Again, I was young then and the mileage started to increase quickly and before long, around I would go (it’s about nine miles around the lake).

Two memories stand out from those early circuits. Once, I was plugging up an uphill spot when a young woman passed me, standing on her pedals, and shot up the same hill like it wasn’t there. I thought this was the most beautiful thing I had seen – her power, her technique. It wasn’t long though, before I could do the same thing – without even thinking about it. That was a moment of pride.

One problem with riding back then was that it was a nice little downhill jaunt to get to the lake. That meant the last part of my ride, from the lake to my apartment was uphill. I had to be careful and make sure I had enough energy left to get up the hill. One day I miscalculated and had to use up every last bit of willpower I had to get back home. The problem was, I lived in a second story apartment, and there was no way I could make it up the stairs, especially carrying my bike. I had to lie down in the yard, next to my bicycle, for almost an hour, until I was rested enough to trudge up the stairs. I was surprised that nobody came out to see what was wrong with me (not that the people there were helpful – they were very nosy).

So now I’m at it again. The other day I made a list of the rides I wanted to do over my few days off around the fourth, and one was a circumnavigation of White Rock Lake – something I hadn’t done in decades. It brought back a lot of memories, mostly of when I was starting out. I’m riding an inefficient mountain bike, so it is good exercise. I carry plenty of water and my Kindle, and stop whenever I feel like it to read a few pages.

That’s a good time for me. Riding my bike in a nice spot, with memories flooding back, and stopping in bits of shade now and then… reading a bit, riding a bit. It doesn’t get much better than that.

My old Raleigh is hanging out in the garage. Maybe I’ll work on it, see if I can bring it back to life. It’s old, but it’s light and might still go faster and easier than my mountain bike. We’ll see.

I may be old, but I’ve done it before.

Where I started. I think this is the “runners’ lot” – the “cyclists’ lot” is a bit farther down the road. So sue me.

Near the north end of the lake there is a long pedestrian/bike bridge they built to get across an arm of the lake. Back in the day we had to ride on a narrow sidewalk along Mockingbird Lane – a very busy road. If someone was coming the other way… you could pass, but with no more than an inch to spare. It was frightening.

I stopped and visited with the folks at White Rock Paddle Company. I think I’ll go back there soon and rent a canoe. There’s some swampy backwaters I want to explore. It looks like fun.

The old art-deco bath house is now the Bath House Cultural Center and it has a nice sculpture and butterfly garden out front. It’s one of my favorite spots around the lake so I stopped there and read a couple short stories on my Kindle.

A view of the dam across the lake with the towers of Downtown Dallas poking up in the background.

The trail runs between the lake and the Dallas Arboretum. Here’s a bit of Chihuly visible through the trees. That sculpture is about thirty feet tall and is called “Yellow Icicle Tower.” I took a picture of it at night here.

This bench is one of my favorite spots on the West side of the lake. It’s a quiet shady spot. I remember sitting here years ago, taking it easy, though the area looked different back then. The plaque on the bench said that it was dedicated in 1998, so I must have sat there when it was new. These benches have bicycle racks built in to them, a very useful design.

What I learned this week, April 6, 2012

Next to my table at one of my favorite coffee places was this 3D photograph with a pair of glasses attached by a piece of brown twine. Pretty cool (though the twine was a little too short and it was hard to see the full effect). I liked it better than Avatar.


Work hard and sacrifice and you can send your children to an elite private university. That’s my son, Lee, in the following video. He’s the one in the Red Suit. I always wondered who did stuff like that.

Hey, whatever gets you into the final four.


Sometimes, I dream of a life led like this:

Unfortunately, this is only a dream, my real life is like this:

“Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?”




I’m not a huge fan of Titanic (even though I did like it more than I thought I would) and have no intention of seeing the 3D version. However, I am amused at the one change they made in the movie. Apparantly after (spoiler alert) the boat sinks, they had the wrong starfield – plus it was reversed for the second half of the sky. An astronomer was enough of a pest to get it changed in the 3D version.



From Maybe Mousse

The Google Art Project


I am hard at work on the cover for my book of short stories. I shouldn’t care, nobody looks at the cover of Kindle books anyway – but fear based procrastination is rampant. At any rate, here’s a nice TED talk on designing book covers.


What a great idea! From Library Scenester –

sips card

Sips Card brings independent fiction and local coffee shop/bar venues together. Customers can find Sips Cards at participating coffee shop-like venues. Each card contains a QR code, loaded with a short story from an independent writer meant to last as long as their drink. The cards are venue specific and include their business information as well as that issue’s author, story title, and website.


For my own reasons (which some of you may know) I have always wondered what a severed head in a shopping bag might look like. Thanks to Helen Taylor, now I know.

I bet it’s heavier than you would think.

A head in a shopping bag


Finally, a French Scopitone. It’s another odd France Gall offering and has three creepy male dancers with even creepier sideburns… like her classic Bebe Requin.

Bonked on the Santa Fe

I wanted to go on a bike ride on Saturday. After thinking about it I came up with a plan – get up and drive down to White Rock Lake with my bicycle in my trunk, then ride the Santa Fe Trail from there to Deep Ellum, eat breakfast at Cafe Brazil, then ride back.

Unfortunately, when my alarm went off and I dragged myself out of the sack I felt like crap. Tired, sick, and achy – the last thing I wanted to do was go out and put forth physical effort. So I shuffled around the house and felt sorry for myself. By eleven I was feeling a little better –  took some deep breaths, and went ahead and set out. I filled the water bladder on my new pack and drove down to White Rock.

I worked on my bike in the parking lot for a bit. The old thing needs some serious work, and I didn’t have the parts, tools, or mechanical knowledge. The worst part is that the seat is crapped out. The front plastic part has broken off and the rest of the seat simply is sitting on the rails. Against my better judgement, I set off on the trip downtown. It isn’t that far, really, and I decided to simply gut it out.

The Santa Fe trail is very cool. It follows the abandoned rail bed of the old Santa Fe railroad and runs from a connection with the White Rock Lake Trail down to Deep Ellum near downtown Dallas. Near the lake, the trail winds through some thick woods but as it emerges into East Dallas it runs straight through some neighborhoods

And that is what makes it so cool and unique. It has a real urban feel to it – although it is straight, smooths and away from traffic. The mostly Hispanic neighborhood, full of brightly colored car repair spots, small churches, and Mexican Restaurants seems to have embraced the trail that cuts through their midst – a lot of the houses along the trail have been cleaned up and repainted and the folks sitting out on their porches smile and wave to people riding by. Music pours out of open windows and bass beats from passing cars.

El Paisano

El Paisano Restaurant along the Santa Fe Trail in Dallas. Menudo!

The trail has a long, slow, uphill climb before it drops down into Deep Ellum and I could tell that I was not feeling very well. I toughed it out, though and did pretty well until I left the trail and was wandering on the streets, cutting over to the restaurant. The seat fell off my bicycle and the best I could do was to jam it back in place. It would slip back off every couple blocks, which made riding uncomfortable and difficult.

I locked my bike to a meter in front and went in and ate. I took a table where I could see my bike – though I can’t imagine anyone stealing that piece of crap. Instead of breakfast, I had a late lunch, and then headed back.

On the trip back up the Santa Fe Trail to White Rock I had a full scale bonk. Bonking is where your blood sugar gets so low that you lose your strength, energy, and will to live. I had eaten a lunch but it wasn’t designed for quick digestion and was actually making me sick. I was having to stop every few minutes to try and find some way to keep the bicycle seat in place – that didn’t help much either. It is pretty exhausting to ride a mountain bike without a seat on it.

But I made it back. It’s humiliating to have so much trouble on such a short bicycle ride, but I’m working on it. I’ve done this before – but I was a lot younger then. I remember the difficulty of getting back into the habit of riding regularly and riding hard – it is the bonk days that do you good. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

Actually, I’m complaining too much. It was a nice day out (a little warm – our cool spell is already fading) but I enjoyed riding around Deep Ellum, taking some pictures, and cruising through the ‘hood.

Now, I’m thinking of getting my old Raleigh road bike out and fixing it into riding shape. It’s not as good of an urban bomber as my mountain bike, but it is a much more efficient trail machine. I can start stringing rides together – Preston Ridge, Cottonwood, then White Rock Creek, then White Rock Lake, then Santa Fe Trail. I could ride from the Collin County Border all the way to Downtown Dallas, hang out in Deep Ellum and then ride back. No way could I manage that right now… but maybe… A good goal.

Building Materials

A sliver of a vacant lot along Elm Street was piled with recovered building materials. Cool stuff.

Water Tower

An old water tower rises above Deep Ellum.

Boyd Hotel

An old sign for the Boyd Hotel

The Boyd Hotel is one of many historic buildings in Deep Ellum. Built in 1916, it is one of the oldest hotels still standing in Dallas. This building is one of the few remaining cast iron front buildings. Bonnie and Clyde and many of Deep Ellum’s Blues musicians stayed at the Boyd. Now it’s the home of some upscale offices and a fancy restaurant.

Deep Ellum Street

Elm Street

Walls

A lot of interesting stuff is painted on the walls.

Club Clearview

Club Clearview and Blind Lemon - in the heart of Deep Ellum. The entertainment district has seen better days (several times over the last century) but it is hanging in there. So are we all.

White Rock Creek Trail

White Rock Creek Trail

A DART train crossing over the White Rock Creek trail a mile or so north of the lake.

Whenever I can, I want to try and ride my bike after work – at least while there is a bit of light and the weather is bearable. On Wednesday I was only able to get a quick trip up the Preston Ridge trail, but on Friday, I had a little more time so I drove from work over to a little park at Hillcrest and LBJ. I was going to ride the White Rock Creek Trail.

Living in one city for a long time means that whenever you go somewhere you not only see what is in front of you, but also layers of memories and nostalgia of things that have happened before. The White Rock Creek trail certainly has decades of memories for me.

But today, I had to get my bike working, the seat is falling apart, the gears are out of adjustment and, of course the engine is all gone to crap. I pedalled around in the parking lot adjusting things – watching the front dérailleur while I pedaled, I rode smack into a steep curb and fell on my ass. Not a good start.

I thought about bailing, but went ahead and barreled on down the trail. The trail runs from north of LBJ on down to join up with the trail that circumnavigates White Rock Lake. The lake trail is the first real major trail in Dallas, and the creek the second (as far as I know).

I was living near the lake when it was built… maybe ’83? – at any rate I rode it right after it was built. That was almost thirty years ago. Though my bike riding has some huge gaps in it – only now am I getting serious about getting back again – there are a lot of memories of riding that trail. I’ve been down it hundreds of times.

The trail is about seven and a half miles long and flat as a pancake. There is a lot of construction where it crosses Northwest Highway near the south end – so I wouldn’t ride quite the whole thing – I’d leave out the southern mile or so.

What’s nice about this trail is that even though it cuts through the heart of the city, the wooded creekbottom land it is built on gives the feeling of being out in the country. The trail has been widened and improved over the decades and now is very smooth and easy with well-done crossings under roads and over water.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to ride the whole 13 mile round trip before it was too dark but I made it without any trouble – even though it was pretty dark when I reached my car. I even took the time to stop under a DART bridge to get a couple pictures of the train going by. That spot is usually swampy with a large lake under the bridge and water flowing across the trail. There isn’t anything left except a wide puddle and a lot of dried, cracked, ex-mud.

Back near the north end is the spot where a favorite sculpture of mine used to be – I wrote about it a while back. Now there is a megachurch sprawling out from the office buildings. I wonder what they did with the sculpture?

Mystery Sculpture

This is the mystery sculpture that stood for years in a vacant lot along LBJ freeway. The White Rock Creek trail runs under the bridge in the background.

Megachurch

Here's the same spot today, from the other side. A Megachurch is growing, sprawling out across the weedy fields.

Cottonwood Trail

I remember in the mid eighties when the White Rock Creek trail was built here in Dallas. The city was installing a new massive water line along the creek and they decided to construct a concrete trail along the top of the pipe. This was a new idea at the time – the trail was too narrow and poorly designed in many parts – but it was wonderful. I lived near the lake and after work I would ride my bike to the lake, around it on the White Rock Lake Trail, then up and back on the creek trail – a total of about twenty five miles – almost every day.

I was young and in good shape and the ride was a blast. I still remember the thrill of flying across the city without the worry of being hit broadside by a pickup truck. I loved riding after work because I could speed past the packed up and stopped rush-hour commuters on their crowded freeways. It was the best of times.

Since then I’ve been an advocate for hike and bike trails – and the city has come a long way. Now, I’m more of a spectator than anything else… but I do what I can.

For years I have been following the building of the Cottonwood Trail – a hike and bike trail that runs from Richardson down under the High Five Interchange at Highway 75 and LBJ 635, then south through Hamilton Park until it connects up with the White Rock Creek Trail. This is an important connector trail, enabling bicycle commuters to pierce a large part of the DFW metroplex by connecting long existing trails through areas of heavy traffic that are otherwise impassible by bicycle or on foot.

I attended a lot of meetings when the High Five was being constructed, because it was affecting the commute to work of thousands of employees at my work site. During the presentations of the enormous, expensive, and complicated plans for ramps, frontage roads, and levels of access I noticed a thin green line snaking down along the creekbed in the maps and diagrams. The legend said the green line was a “hike and bike” trail.

In true government fashion, when I would ask about the green line, they would stare at the diagram and say, “I have no idea what that is, we’ll check it out and get back to you.” I never heard from anyone. I had to wait years until the thing was finished and then park my car and walk down there.

Sure enough, beneath the massive construction, there was a hike and bike trail. A beautiful trail, wide, landscaped, lit, and carefully designed and built to all the newest specifications. There was only one problem with this trail. It went nowhere. It dead ended at each end of the massive interchange – truly a road to nowhere. They weren’t able to get the cities that bordered the interchange to commit to connect up with the trail.

For years this strip of pavement was the best homeless shelter you could imagine. I would visit it every now and then and the number of tents, campfires, and piles of sleeping bags near the broken-out lighting fixtures in the shelter underneath the ramps grew and grew.

Finally, the wheels of progress turned and after half a decade or so the trail began to reach out from either end of the High Five. Videos – Going South, and Going North.  I checked up on the progress, encouraged that the trail finally gave a safe bicycle route to the campus where I work.

There was one piece missing, though. The final little bit that connected the trail with the White Rock Creek Trail (the main spine of the trail system that runs through this part of Dallas – the one I enjoyed so much a quarter century ago) was missing. They were taking forever to finish the thing.

Now it is done. And today I had a couple hours to pack up my bicycle and try to ride along the thing.

I packed my crappy old bicycle into the trunk of my car and drove down to the Forest Lane DART station to hop on the final part of the trail. I bought this bike used for ninety dollars almost twenty years ago, so it’s not surprising that I’m having some trouble with it.

The engine, of course, is the worst. It’s old, worn out, and generally gone to shit, but I’m stuck with that. Otherwise, the seat is breaking apart and the derailleurs don’t shift very well any more. I did some work on the front shift levers, moving the adjustment knob to try and get the shifting to improve, but it didn’t seem to help.

I hopped on and headed off. The heat is a little less toxic than it has been, though it is still horribly dry here. Right away I was having trouble. It was a struggle to pedal and my legs were aching and my breathing a chore. I was beginning to feel a little spark of panic – it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Then I realized that I had been turning the wrong adjustment knob when I was working on the front derailleur. I had been tightening the front brake by mistake, and it was dragging the bike to a stop.

Fixing that helped a lot – though for the rest of the day I was panicked and tired.

At any rate, I had a good time. The little bit of trail seemed anti-climatic after all the years of anticipation, but that’s that. I wish the thing was there when I was riding all those years ago… or, really, I wish that I could ride like that again.

Old End

This is where the Cottonwood Trail ended the last time I rode it. This is in Hamilton Park, just south of the High Five Interchange.

Now

Here is the same spot now. Those "Trail Subject to Flooding" signs are everywhere, though I can't imagine a drop of water right now.

A little farther.

A little farther down the trail, where it crosses under Forest Lane. One reason the construction took so long is that there was a lot of work involved in this road crossing and the creek bridge.

Forest Lane DART station

The entry to the trail at the Forest Lane DART station.

Bicycle Lockers

Cool looking bicycle lockers at the DART station.

Creek Bridge

The bridge over Cottonwood Creek. Another "Trail Subject to Flooding" sign. Wishful thinking. I don't know where the trickle of water still in the creek comes from.

Rest Area

The trail runs through some thick woods between the train line and the creek south of Forest Lane. There is a nice rest area built there. This homeless guy was sitting in the rest area, reading and writing in his notebook. We talked about the weather and I helped him find a lost sock.

White Rock Creek

The southern terminus of the Cottonwood Creek trail, where it connects with the White Rock Creek Trail. The DART train is crossing White Rock Creek over the trail.