Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Bones of An Idol

"We cling to the raft, we are missing by half what we wanted,
But we escaped with the bones of an idol
Escaped with the belt and the title, but our land is gone."

--The New Pornographers, The Bones of an Idol

This is a bit of a post-script to the previous post regarding the closing of "The Finest," the venerable old record store in Fort Collins. So you may want to skip down and read the older post first, but do what you will. I decided to take a trip down to the The Finest record store on Saturday, their final day, to see what was going on, reminisce, and maybe pick up a few deals on CDs. Yes, I still buy CDs, I'm old school that way. But I haven't bought any at the Finest in years, it seems like. Maybe one or two now and then, but the vast majority I now purchase on line. This is of course a primary indication as to why the Finest, and other record stores of the like, are going out of business.

So I cruised across town to see what I could dredge up on the last day. Turns out they were selling CDs for 50 cents per CD, or 25 cents per if you bought 100 (!) Pretty good deal there! So I walked over to the rack of CDs and started to leaf through them, and an unexpected wave of nostalgia washed over me. I used to do this all the time! leaf through racks and racks of CDs. And I don't think I'd done it in years. It was a bitter-sweet feeling (more bitter than sweet? Sorry, couldn't resist). The music lovers who read this will know what a pleasure it is to browse through stacks of CDs, looking at the strange bands, the popular bands, the new stuff, the old classics. Looking for the perfect disc to complement your mood, fill in that gap in your music collection, or maybe looking for a particular disc, and maybe finding a completely different disc. And I wouldn't be doing that again, at least not in this town, possibly never. So I went through them all. Not that there were that many to leaf through by this point, the carcass having been picked pretty clean by the culture vultures who came before me, but I didn't want to miss anything this one last time. I started at A and went all the way to Z. My time was somewhat limited so I stuck to the pop/rock section, which is my kind of music anyway so no harm done there. I was hoping I would find something I liked, something that would make the venture worthwhile. And for 50 cents per disc, I figured I could take some chances and get some things I wouldn't normally buy. What the hell. Support your local business, I thought ruefully.

I ended up finding 16 discs to purchase. 16! All 16 for $8! And in retrospect I kind of wished I'd have bought more. But 16 was enough, certainly. I'll list them all at the end, it's an amusing list to me. But what really made it worthwhile was 1 disc in particular that was really just perfect. Honestly I'd have paid $8 just for this: "Of Skins and Heart" by "The Church."

It's a terrific album, and it was also a CD that I used to own and frequently listen to when I was in college, but had subsequently sold at some point in some unguarded moment of stupidity. I'd always vaguely regretted selling it. And there it was in my hands again. I didn't realize how much I'd missed it until I saw the cover. It immediately reminded me of all the great songs therein. I turned it over to see the song listing and most of the songs came back to me right away, just by looking at the titles. Even the song title font elicited memories of listening to this CD in my dorm room 20 years ago. Proust can have his madeleine, I have this. I couldn't believe I was going to be able to purchase this CD for 50 cents. It was worth so much more than that to me. Maybe more in terms of sentimental currency than filthy lucre, but all of a sudden I felt like I was ripping these guys off for this precious little treasure. I entertained the notion that maybe I'd sold this exact copy of the CD to The Finest 20 years ago, and there it sat for 20 years, waiting for me to come back and claim it on the very last day at the last possible moment. In reality I don't think this was the case but it's a romantic notion to which I'll cling.

It really made my day, finding this long-lost CD. Sure, I could have simply bought it on-line at any number of intervening moments between when I sold it in the murky past and yesterday, but the symbolic relevance of finding it here, at the Finest, at the place where I may have even purchased it all those years ago, felt more reassuring and correct.

And shameful as well, that this poor store would give me so much happiness on the day of its closing! I walked to the counter and paid for my treasures and my trash. I thought about giving the clerk a 20 and saying "Harry, keep the change." I really didn't know what to say, actually. Sorry you're closing? Thanks for all the tunes? How come you didn't hire me 20 years ago, you jerks? It didn't really matter what I said, so I just said thanks, took my change and my CDs, and walked out.

So what does the fall of Saigon sound like? As promised, the list of 50 cent CDs purchased by yours truly, in alphabetical order in which they were found:

"Breakfast Club", self-titled, from 1987. I got a chuckle out of this one since it was a CD I bought in high school for the single "Right on Track," but sold shortly thereafter as I believe the rest of the CD is absolute rubbish (we'll find out shortly!). Not the same nostalgic wash of the Church, but it made my chuckle, and that's worth 50 cents apparently.

Buffalo Tom, Sleepy Eyed, from 1995. A 90s alt-rock band I'm slightly familiar with, worth a chance. And I know a Tom from Buffalo! Although I think the band is from Boston.

The Church, Of Skins and Heart. See aforementioned notes.

The Church, Parallel Universe, 2002

The Church, Forget Yourself, 2002. I was so full of good-cheer over finding the Skins/Heart CD that I snatched up all the other Church CDs I could find, regardless of quality.

Dada, American Highway Flower, 1994. See Buffalo Tom above.

Bryan Ferry, Taxi, 1993. I've a blind-spot for Bryan Ferry. This CD looks suspiciously self-indulgent and therefore bad, but it's Bryan F'ing Ferry!

Liam Finn, I'll Be Lightning, 2008. Score. This was a CD I was considering buying actually. Liam Finn is Neil Finn's son, Neil Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz. Hope the apple doesn't fall from the tree, because Neil is terrific. Speaking of Finn...

Tim Finn, self-titled, 1989. My roommate in college actually had this cd, I liked it but it's been probably 20 years since I've heard this. Sweet find.

The Juliana Hatfield Three, Become What You Are, 1993. This CD I'm almost certain I owned at some point, but it's been lost for several years now. Happy to have it back. One of C_ favorite CDs from college actually. But look, honey, I got one for you too!

Lush, Lovelife, 1996. I had the older Lush CD college, don't know much about this one.

The Mission UK, Children, 1988. This was probably only second to the Church CD in terms of "oh wow" nostalgia. I loved this CD in college, got sick of it at some point, and sold it. I think it only has one good song on it "Tower of Strength", but what a song! easily worth 50 cents just for that song. Youuuuuuu are a tower of Strength, To Meeeeee-eeeeee!

Beth Orton, Daybreaker, 2002. I only know "Mount Washington" from this CD but I recall that it is a well-reviewed release (ed: not true), so it's worth a shot.

Graham Parker, Don't Tell Columbus, 2007. He gets a free pass for "Squeezing Out Sparks", don't care if this is rubbish.

The Sundays, Static & Silence, 1997. See Lush above.

24-7 Spyz, Gumbo Millenium, 1990. A post-Living Colour all-black metal-rap-funk 90s indie band. One of my friends liked these guys in college, I think I even went to see them once, seeing the album cover made me crack up so I bought it. I did listen to this one and it certainly sounds dated, and self-consciously different, but it's interesting, and that counts for something I suppose!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Finest, RIP

"What are your three favorite bands?"

Oh great. I'm sunk. This is an application question? This is at once wonderful and terrifying. Wonderful in the sense that I could land a job where this was one of the interview questions. Terrifying in the sense that I'm probably not going to answer the question correctly. Really, how do I answer? What are my three favorite bands? What do I want people to think my three favorite bands are? What three bands could get me this job?

And the kicker:

"What is the most Obscure Band you know?"

Oh, the pressure! Most obscure? I'll have to dig deep and come up with the most magical band ever here.

The year is 1989, I'm staring at an application for a job at "the Finest". The Finest is Fort Collins' well, finest record store. They have all the cool music. As a music lover it would be an honor to work there. I would be considered a music elite -- or snob, more likely. Call me what you will, but I would be on the front lines of all that is new and interesting and experimental about music! I would be a music sage. But was I worthy of it? Likely not.

But try I must, apply I must, for this is 1989 and I am a freshman at Colorado State, working at an indescribably awful job cleaning dirty dishes in my dorm cafeteria for minimum wage. This job I took after quitting my job making bagels for a local bakery, a job which lasted all of one sweaty flour-filled afternoon. In hindsight the bagel job was probably much better than the cafeteria job, but the bagel job was admittedly crappy also, and much farther away from where I lived.

But neither job could hold a dirty food tray to working at a record store! I could be just like those guys in "High Fidelity"! Of course this was before that movie came out. Now I wonder, which High Fidelity character would I have been? John Cusack, the crabby snobbish delusional owner? Jack Black, the unkempt recalcitrant snob? Or the bald thin dude who looked like Moby, the snobbish reserved recluse? Or (gasp) the square old man who gets dispatched upon requesting new Stevie Wonder music instead of the good stuff? I mean really, I spent all of my spare money -- such that I had, which wasn't much -- on music anyway, maybe I would get a discount working there. Maybe the other clerks would make me cool music mixes. I was lost in a reverie of being that guy; the guy who knew all the cool music.

Things were different in 1989, pre-Internet and pre mp3. Alternative or Indie music was difficult to come by back then. Even if you knew what you wanted, you had a hard time finding it. And even when you found it you could rarely afford it. Those import discs were expensive! People with cool music collections were heroes of a sort. They had rare albums. Their opinions mattered. Frankly it was difficult even to know what the cool new music was. Small bands, indie bands, didn't have the ability to market themselves effectively. If they weren't signed to a big label, they had difficulty getting their message out, getting their music heard. The listener had to make an effort to find music for themselves. But where? How? It helped to have an older sibling who listened to music, and I had two, actually, who both had good yet different taste. Otherwise one had to befriend the weird people at school. You know, the ones who dress up like it's Halloween, every day (what a give-away).

And my weird friends L_ and K_ had the best, coolest musical taste of anyone I knew. New Order, the Cure, the Smiths, of course, but also deeper stuff like Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy and Public Image Limited were familiar territory to them. I got by on recommendations and mix tapes. But the independent record shop, "the Finest" in my case, was the ultimate treasure-trove of interesting and unusual music. I tried to discover new music for myself, but it usually seemed to end up all wrong. I'd go to the music store and peruse the racks, and look at the recommended music. All the clerks at the Finest got to "recommend" something, on a special rack right next to the door. Music you'd never heard of. Music, probably, too amazing and different for you to enjoy. But one felt compelled to purchase it in order to gain admittance to the club of cool music lovers.

I was always intimidated by that recommended music rack. There were 16 different bands there and I've never heard of any of them! Do I go based on cover? That cover has a candle on it. How arty! I wonder if it would be too difficult though? That one has a topless lady on it! How provocative! I wonder if it would be too confrontational though? But would I really like it? Probably not. I'd buy it, take it home, listen to it 10 times in a row and try really hard to like it, and then put it away, never listen to it again, and sell it 5 years later. Was the joke on me? Or was my taste just too provincial? I thought I really liked cool music, maybe just not quite cool enough for the record store clerks. I mean I liked New Order, at least I thought I did, but not the early stuff. I liked Ministry, but only the early stuff! I tried and tried to like Joy Division, but largely to no avail at the time, except for the "hits". But I thought, maybe if I worked at the Finest, I'd learn to appreciate these crazy obscure bands. Maybe someday I could have a recommended album of my own on the rack. I was compelled to try.

So I would frequently end up walking round the store with the Candle, the Topless Lady, and 3 or 4 other records in my arms, trying to decide which one of the group, if any, I would take home. It seemed like the most important decision in the world at the time, a decision that would literally change my life for better or worse depending on the choice. Choose well and be rewarded with an album that you would love forever, that would become a part of you. Choose poorly and forever rue the wasted money, the wasted time, and perhaps most importantly the wasted emotional investment.

Now if I was being honest in 1989, my three favorite bands would probably have been: "New Order, INXS, and The Cure". At least those were the ones I listened to over and over, much to the annoyance of my roommate, I'm sure. Not too outrageous there, but better than, say, "Def Leppard, Guns 'N Roses, and Jimmy Buffett" (the three most popular bands at school that year), but probably not cool enough for the Finest. I considered stepping it up a bit: how about "Joy Division, Bauhaus, and, uh, The Clash". Yeah. But what if they asked me questions about those bands? "Who was in The Clash?" Mick Jones? Wasn't he in Foreigner? That can't be right can it? "What's your favorite Bauhaus album?" Uh, the one with the face on it? "How come Joy Division broke up?" Oh you either know it or you don't; no way to bluff out of that one. Am I, *gasp*, a poser? Now I'm ashamed. I realize that my taste, my musical knowledge, my cool just don't measure up. I can see the dismissive smirk of the clerk at the Finest as he brushes back his black bangs and reads my application. I can feel his withering stare as I face the rack and ruminate over his recommended music, music he knows I can't appreciate as much as him.

Now I'm angry. Those fascists! How dare they try to pigeon-hole me into three bands! I like all sorts of music, damn it! I should have answered, "Screw, You, and (The) Fascists". Ha ha, those are probably all real bands. In retrospect that just might have gotten me the job. But I decided that it was better to be honest. If they can't see my raw potential then I don't think I'm cut out for working at the Finest. Ok, "New Order, INXS, and The Cure", it was. Ironically Joy Division, Bauhaus, and, The Clash ended up becoming much more popular with me than any of those other bands, but in due time, not right away, not in 1989.

So the dreaded 3 favorites question was now answered. But what about the Obscure Band? How do I answer that? I think they were looking to see if I was keeping up with the latest music. So I put down the most recent band I'd heard of. In retrospect this turned out to be a bad choice. No, not Milli Vanilli, thankfully they hadn't burst upon the scene yet and I was spared that choice. The night before I had watched "120 minutes" on MTV, and I picked a band whose video I saw that night: Camouflage. Obscure, certainly, but ultimately pretty bad. Turns out Camouflage was a second-rate German Depeche Mode wannabe band. Really not a horrible choice, and one pretty consistent with my other answers, but a band that would probably be laughed at by my heroes at the Finest.

I turned in that application, along with dozens of other music-snob hopefuls, but I didn't think I had much of a shot. I liked New Order, sure, but I still liked Rush. Heck I still liked Ratt, for that matter. Still do! And I didn't get the job at any rate.

So really what is the point of this story? Actually it is a sort of eulogy to the Finest. You see, the Finest is closing it's doors this Saturday for good. The days of the record store are over, my friend. I mourn its passing because it represents a culture of music aficionados that largely no longer exists. I won't miss the store per se, I'll miss what it represented. I still love music, I still buy a lot of music, but it's been years since I bought anything at the Finest. And if I'm not buying there, that place is in trouble. I'm on-line now, just like everyone else. I get my music recommendations from music blogs and on-line reviews. Amazon and iTunes recommend new music for me, based on what they know I already like. And they're frequently right. And much less condescending about it than the raven-haired clerk at the Finest.

But even still there's something about the passing of the Finest that makes me melancholy. Certainly its passing reminds me of the passing of my own years and reminds me that I'm not as young as I once was. But also it reminds me that the thrill of discovering new music is not as exciting, difficult, or rewarding as it once was, ironically because it's so easy to find great music now. There's less joy in finding that new incredible band, because everyone already knows about it now, there's no arduous act of discovery. That rare song? Nothing is rare anymore. Everyone has everything on their hard-drives. The mystery is gone. Every song I could ever want to hear is always at my fingertips, and that ease of access somehow makes the music a little less special.

Part of me loathed the Finest because of how mainstream, how un-cool it made me feel. But part of me loved the Finest because of the mystery is represented. If I could just unlock its secrets and slip past its traps, I could discover great treasures. The Finest was a castle with a beautiful maiden locked in its tallest tower. iTunes is a brothel. Everything you iDesire is iThere, and assessable, and doled out to anyone with the means, regardless of worth. The thrill is, indeed, gone. Thank goodness the music is still there. So Rest In Peace, the Finest, the times have surely passed you by but your memory lives on in song. Weird, indecipherable song.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beyond MF: Asphalt Risin'

October 4th, 2009: Asphalt Risin'

Song of the Day: Fu Manchu, Asphalt Risin' from In Search Of...

Would it seem like life in fast-forward? Would it seem like magic? I put my car into reverse and back out the driveway. I'm disappointed; it all seems so normal, so familiar. Just like getting on a bike, how ironic. I'm sitting in a car for the first time in 35 days. 35 days of auto-self-denial, killed off by a driving trip to Denver. I was hoping that it would feel strange, being in a car again, but it just felt like any other day. Maybe that was the problem; the previous 35 days were the exception, they were the aberration. This was reality.

One thing I enjoyed right away; interior climate control. What a feature! You want to warm up? Red bars! Cool down? Blue bars! I don't really have to plan ahead when I go out in a car. Is it hot out? cold? windy? raining? Don't care so much. Got this miniature self-propelled shelter on wheels here. Very convenient. And I'm hopelessly overdressed, sitting in the car at this moment, wearing a sweatshirt and a jacket. I'll have to peel off those items in a few minutes.

On to the stereo. I look at it. What a delight! I absolutely love music. When the stereo died in this car earlier in the Summer (wouldn't play CDs anymore, just the radio), I immediately sprung for a new car stereo even though I don't drive the car nearly as much as my wife. C_ thought I was a little nuts for that. On the bike there are no tunes to distract and amuse yours truly. Some choose to ride with music anyway; I think it is rather dangerous to do so, but I understand the appeal. I missed cranking the tunes in the car during my exile on bike street. I really do think rock music was made for the auto. In fact I'd go so far as to say that we might not really even have rock music if it wasn't for the auto. Just think about all the rock songs about cars! Little Red Corvette, Thunder Road, Truckin', Little Deuce Coupe, Highway Star, that Gary Neuman song, the list goes on. A comparative list of rock songs for bikes pretty much begins and ends with Bicycle Race by Queen. A solid entry no doubt, but a lonely stalwart in comparison. So sitting now with the car stereo in reach was a joyous reunion after a long forced absence from a best friend. And yet, there sat the stereo, silent. I'm not sure what I was thinking, maybe I felt like it would be too much of a distraction right away. I have to admit I got used to travelling without it. Maybe I wanted to savor the thought of listening to music in the car before actually participating in the activity. The knowledge that I could listen to music was quite enough to satisfy. Maybe I wanted to listen to the music of the engine for a while. To experience the new sounds of driving. I was content without the stereo, for now.

It all came back to me right away, the actual mechanics of driving. So many movements of hands and feet! The mechanics of riding a bicycle are fairly straightforward on city streets, provided one is relatively sober and the roads are dry and there is some available light. Left foot, right foot, steer, brake, shift if you have gears, even that's optional. Cars, particularly manual transmission cars, are a spasmodic dance routine in comparison. Right hand shift. Left foot clutch. Right foot brake. Left hand steer. Left foot off clutch/Right hand off shifter. Right foot gas. Left pinkie turn-signal. Right hand air-vent. Right hand steer. Repeat. Why it's quite difficult, actually, all these coordinated movements. We take it for granted because we do them so frequently. And I'm doing them without having to think about it, I haven't skipped a beat. There's a certain rhythm to it. I imagine drummers make good drivers, at least provided the traffic signals are timed properly, and they're not too distracted tapping out "YYZ" on the steering wheel to be bothered to actually steer the wheel.

I remember once driving in New Zealand, where they drive on the "other" side of the road. I was all messed up then. Of course the shifter was on my left, and the turn-signal on my right. And the car window was on my right shoulder. Thank goodness the pedals retained the same configuration. Could you imagine if the gas and brake and clutch were reversed as well! Not to mention the act of turning that turned every intersection into an Esher drawing, with cars coming out of impossible places and surprising configurations. It's small wonder that I ran into a curb on a bridge and caused a flat tyre some 15 minutes after taking the wheel on those narrow Kiwi roads. That backwards Queens-driving I fear I'll never get used to; but driving American-style was no problem after a prolonged absence.

We spend so much time in our cars, perfecting these movements, that it actually gets a little boring and routine. So we feel the need to spice it up a bit. Time to get a cup of coffee! And call my friend on the cell phone! And update my facebook profile ("I'm driving!")! And read the liner notes from one of my CDs in the passenger seat! All at once!!! Now we're talking; this provides the necessary degree of difficulty to make driving exciting again. And I must point out that it would be well nigh impossible to do all of these things while riding a bike. It's merely stupid to do them in a car, which puts me in the fine company of 98% of the rest of the drivers out there. Oh yes, I'm watching out for cyclists and stuff. Uh-huh. I must admit that I've frequently ridden my bike to work with a cup of coffee in my hand, it's not too difficult. Mostly you have to wait until stops to take a sip though. And I've had more phone conversations than I care to admit from the seat of my cycle. Yeah (pant, pant), I'm on my bike (pant, pant), I know it's stupid (pant, pant), well you (pant), called me (pant), k c'ya bye. Riveting dialogue there. No one said bikers were the most intelligent ones. But we can't claim any moral superiority to drivers here. If bikers could figure out a way to do their makeup and text their bff's while riding, they would.

So I got my cup of coffee, wound my way through town, and headed out towards the interstate. I made a right turn on to the access ramp, and pressed the accelerator as I merged into traffic. 5th gear engaged as the needle arched over the top of the speedometer. 50, 60, 70, 80 mph. There it happened, finally, the moment I was hoping for; just for an instant I felt it. I felt the car accelerate, I felt the force of acceleration literally push me back into my seat. Just a little, but it was a sensation I'd not experienced in several weeks. This power of acceleration! Exhilarating! In the car, going fast, isolated from the environment, one really can lose touch as to how fast one is actually going. Maybe I should have opted for a convertible or a motorcycle. Regardless, once I attained interstate cruising speed it didn't really feel all that fast. Doubtless caused by the separation between me and the road as much as anything else. But there was no denying the force of acceleration as I took the car from 50 to 80. Going fast, ho hum. Getting fast, now that's something! Does it have a hemi? Sweeeet!

And that was it, really. And just the one time too! That was my one and only Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer moment. The next time I did that, accelerated quickly that is, I felt nothing. I mean I felt the force push me back into my seat again, but I had grown accustomed to it once again, the novelty had worn off, it was not exhilarating, I had assimilated.

Then, finally, it was time for the stereo. I turned the volume up to 11 and felt the music fill the space in the car. The music never sounded so good, tearing down the interstate on a sunny Autumn day. I settled back and cruised, and thought about how much farther back I'd be on my bike on this day. I really felt no regret or guilt for driving the car this day, more like an academic curiosity about what it would have taken to ride to Denver again. I appreciated the fact that I could zip down to Denver in 1 hour instead of the 6 or so it took me the other week. I thought also though about what I was giving up, driving in my self-constrained box. It's not a sense of eco-superiority, although I surely gave that up. I think I felt a little melancholy remorse at missing out on the chance of adventure. Everyone drives, it's easy, it's convenient. It's isolated, too, and lonely. I hit some traffic on the interstate on the way home from the game (go Broncos!). The light was fading and I was facing a sea of red brake lights on the road. Everyone else was in their cars, facing straight-ahead, lost in their own little worlds. There was no interaction between us, between them, no awareness of our environment. There was no anger, just bland resignation, just another traffic jam on the freeway in the dusk. It was all rather depressing. Is this what we do now? Sit in our cars and stare ahead at the tail lights in front of us? The whole world at our disposal. I could be in Mexico in less than 24 hours in this thing. But mostly my world has shrunk to the span of the interior of this car, and the space of asphalt between the front of my car and the rear of the car in front of me. I can be bounded by a nutshell, or a car-shell, and call myself a king of infinite space, but those are just words (words, words); I'm still bounded, no matter how much freedom I tell myself I have.

On a bike things are different. Like it or not, you're connected to the environment. You feel the sun and rain on your face. You hear the sound of the wind in the trees, the other cars and bikes. You interact, you say hello to the crossing-guard at the school. You wave to the other cyclists, the joggers, the moms with their strollers. You don't really do that in a car. They all go by too quickly. You don't have time to really see anyone else. Particularly other motorists, but pedestrians as well. And they don't really see you in your car, they mostly just see the car. You're just another automaton on the Autobahn. In a car you affect the scene, but you're not part of the scene. On bike the scene effects you as much as you affect it. There's an interplay you get that doesn't exist in car-travel. It's the play of life, really, and you get to participate. It may seem insignificant, but at a minimum you get used to it, and may start to miss it.

I'll be back on the bike on Monday, I've grown accustomed to it. I'll call my new campaign "MFMF" -- Motor Free Monday Friday. But it's more of a guideline than a rule. You'll see me in the car, driving fast, eating a sandwich and blasting tunes. I am still American, after all!

Monday, October 5, 2009

MFM Day 35: Don't Let's Start

October 3rd, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 35: Don't Let's Start

34 degrees. That'd be 34 Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Maybe we should have started the ride at 9? Well it's 8, and that's that. The blood in my brain was moving like the syrup on the pancakes I just ate at the Rainbow Cafe, and those synapses were not firing. Must. pedal. bike. We started the ride and I immediately took our group of 8 the wrong way through CSU campus, so we had to backtrack to get back to the original route. Can't stick to a plan for more than, oh, 30 seconds it seems like. Also we were all moving very slowly at this early and frigid hour of the morning. My knuckles were freezing and my toes were numb.

This was the final day of Motor Free "Month", 35 days of living without setting foot in any sort of motorized transport. To celebrate this final day, I and some friends rode our bikes from Fort Collins to Boulder for lunch, and then back to the Fort. A nice 100 mile ride. The ride was named "Noodles 2 Noodles" (everything has to have a name) since the start, turn-around, and end were at Noodles & Co. locations. I suppose it could have been called Noodles 2 Noodles 2 Noodles? I wonder if I could figure out a ride whose initials were H1N1?

Regardless of the name, or perhaps because of it, I was actually able to convince 7 other people to join me on this ride. It was to be C_'s first century ride. Several friends of mine also joined: Jim and Katrinka were game as well, and also Jeff and Emma. The 4 of them had rode "E-Rock" earlier this year and were excited to ride another century, particularly an easier century ride with a cooler name. Tony joined us as well. He was an experienced cyclist who also rode with us earlier this year at the CFF charity ride to Ward. Rounding out the 8 was our ringer Felix, who quite recently successfully completed a solo 200 mile ride in one day, from Fort Collins to Walden and back, surmounting Cameron Pass twice on the attempt. I wasn't too worried about Felix finishing the ride. Or breaking a sweat.

Our route to Boulder took "The Back Way". This is a lovely and flat route that generally tacks West towards Boulder at is meanders through the back roads of Larimer and Boulder counties. It's a nice way to get between the two cities by car as well, if you have a little extra time. On bike it's probably the fastest route between the same two cities. Curious that the same route could be the slowest (Standard route) via car, and the fastest via bike. Clicking on the map will take you to an interactive map of the route. Much of the first 10 miles of the route were the same as my ride to Denver the previous week, due to the paving detour fiasco that time. Today there would be no construction messes; we knew that Hwy 66 between Longmont and Lyons was all torn up, so we opted for the straight shot through Hygiene instead of the more scenic but more difficult "36" route via Lyons. Ironically we had to stop on the route in nearly exactly the same spot as my construction detour, but one mile West, when Jim got a flat tire not even 10 miles into the ride. This was to be our only mishap of the day, thankfully. And now that I've given away that nothing really crazy happened during the ride, I'll be hard-pressed to keep your interest, patient reader. But I'll try nonetheless.

I found that it was easier riding with a group instead of solo. I frequently found myself happily putzing along in the back of the group, enjoying the nice draft effect. When I rode to Denver I was completely on my own, so I obviously got no drafting benefits. Apparently drafting can reduce the effort required to cycle by 25% or more. Meaning if I drafted the whole way, I could expend only 75 miles worth of effort on a 100 mile ride. Of course someone has to lead the pack and put forth the 100% effort -- we can't all draft! I did take a few turns up front but I don't think I pulled my weight there; mostly I was content to hang out back. With 8 people on a 100 mile ride, if each person did their share of leading, then each person would lead the pack for only 12.5 miles. If we were organized we probably would have come up with a system for switching up leaders and what not. As it was we were not terribly organized, nor were any of us racers, so we really had no idea what we were doing. The group tended to get split up into two or more smaller groups fairly frequently, which meant that 2 or more people had to put forth full effort instead of only one. And none of us were all that great at maintaining a steady pace, which made staying together difficult and somewhat dangerous. And frankly I wasn't paying much attention to staying on the wheel of the person in front of me, and I frequently found myself far behind the slipstream of the pack, and needing to bust my butt to get back in the pack several times.

For you non-biker-types, that's why you see all the bike racers all bunched up in the big peleton during le tour. They're just straight-up lazy, ha ha. I suppose that's why those flat Tour de France stages are so boring; there's hardly any reason or opportunity to break away and win those stages until the very end. Why don't they just do a 5 mile race on those days? Only the last 5 miles seem to matter anyway! It is interesting being in the slipstream of another rider's wake. You can tell you are drafting by the lack of wind, and it's even a little warmer. You start to catch yourself wondering, "jeez, why isn't (so and so leader) pedaling any faster? This is a really easy pace!" not remembering of course that they are having to work 25% harder than you to maintain that pace. If it feels easy, big boy, why don't you take a turn up front!

Overall we were not as organized as the massive groups or riders we saw in Boulder County that day. But when the group was all together it really worked! And besides, it was a lot more fun to ride with friends than on my own. A 100 mile solo ride is an awfully long time to be without any communication aside from the voices in one's head, which in my case are fairly entertaining, but probably not good for my mental state.

We arrived at the turn-around Noodles in Boulder (the one by Ideal Market) at about 11:45 am. That was about 3 hours and 17 minutes "in the saddle" as they say, and close to 3 hours and 45 minutes transit time when breaks are taken into account. I was able to meet up with my friends Mike and Valia, Ken, and Kathy, and assorted progeny for lunch. The MFM theory tested today was, how difficult is it to meet someone for lunch in Boulder? Apparently it's possible, provided you have about 8 hours to spend doing it, and your friends don't mind waiting about 30 minutes at Noodles & Co. for you to arrive. Not terribly convenient, truth be told, but kind of fun.

Our gang spent at least an hour at the cafe before saddling up and starting home again. The weather had warmed up nicely and there was little if any wind. We really got lucky with the weather this day. Unlike running which one can do under almost any conditions, biking does have a threshold of atmospheric crappiness below which riding really can't occur. Aside from the cold temperatures that bedeviled us in the first hour, we were far above that line and enjoyed a beautiful ride home. Emma's husband Blake met us at about the halfway point between Boulder and Fort Collins, and we enjoyed a bona fide aid station complete with bananas, cookies, bagels, and water. That was awesome!

Like I said, the ride was uneventful in the epic sort of way, unless one considers the accumulation of miles in and of themselves to be epic. We hit 90 miles just north of Loveland, and with just one more hill to climb on the South ramparts of Fort Collins, we knew we had this ride "in the bag". Consequently it seemed like the group really started to splinter at this point. Every man for themselves! Last one to Noodles is a wet noodle! All the stoplights in town served to keep the group together, but everyone was excited to be done, and ready to be done. And after a quick shortcut back through campus that actually was a shortcut this time, we found ourselves back at the original Noodles.

Done at last! A quick celebratory drink at the Pickle Barrel, and the group split up for good. Thus concluding Motor Free Month for yours truly. But that zombie wouldn't die. There was one more trip left in the 'ol month it seems. Besides, even considering the extra distance to and from our house to the start of N2N(2N) I don't think we had covered the requisite 100 miles to consider our journey a "century". So back on the bikes we got, to go to a friend's house for a housewarming party. The riding was slow on tired legs but C_ and I sucked it up and did it. This was one trip I'd have gladly done in the car had I not been Motor Free.

Now finally, returning home, I was done at last. 35 days of motor free travel, "in the bag". It was quite the adventure. Thanks for following along on the blog! I plan on posting about driving a car on October 4th, what that felt like. Until then, ride on, courageous reader, and I'll see you at the bike rack!

MFM Day 34: Take the Weather With You

October 2nd, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 34: Take The Weather With You

Motor Free Month just will not die! It’s a Zombie. “Miles! More Miiiiiles…” it groans. Well I think I know how to lop the head off of this monster and send it underground for good. The Century ride! That’s right, I’ve got a century ride coming up tomorrow. 100 miles on the bike. The “hundie”, “hundee”, “hundy”, or “Hyundai”, as is it’s affectionately known around our house. No matter the spelling, it’s going to be a long ride. This will be my fourth hundy (preference shown), my second this year. There’s something quite alluring about being able to ride 100 miles. Two years ago I made a resolution to do it, as I’d never gone that far before and I thought it would be a good challenge. It ended up being a great challenge, as I decided to go to Estes Park for my first hundy. That took all day!

Tomorrow’s ride is less hilly and more straightforward. We’re riding from Fort Collins to Boulder and back starting at the Noodles & Co. in the Fort, and turning around at the Noodles & Co. in Boulder. It’s called “Noodles 2 Noodles.” I did it on my own last year, in November. Not the recommended time of year for a ride of that distance. This year C_ will join me, and 3 or 4 other friends. And it’s in October, which contains a much higher probability of it being above freezing. Although I suspect the first hour or so will still be quite cold. We’ll just have to ride fast to keep the blood going I suppose.

Why Noodles 2 Noodles? I really have no idea. I have so particular fondness for the place. There’s a Noodles & Co. very close to our house, which must be what started the idea. I think I’m incapable of just going for a ride. It’s got to have some sort of epic or novel quality to it. Eat at two Noodles & Co.’s in the same day! Step right up! Whoo-hooo! Truth be told I doubt we’ll eat Noodles when we return tomorrow afternoon. We might get a beer there though. It’s more for the landmark I guess. And something about that name. Noodles 2 Noodles. Reminds me of “Soul II Soul” from the 80s. People respond to Noodles 2 Noodles. I can’t get anyone to go on a century ride with me. But a Noodles 2 Noodles ride? Sign me up! You’ll see, this will be bigger then E-Rock in a few years.

Brian helped me get my bike all tuned up for the ride. As you may recall it was not riding all that smooth last weekend on my trip to Denver. The rear derailleur was off kilter, and it was making awful squeaking noises. Brian, Super-Bicycle-Repairman, assisted me in adjusting the derailleur and determining the source of the squeaking (those little pulley wheels were to blame). See how he uses a spanner to tighten that nut! Bicycle repairman, how will we ever repay you? So Eric is ready to go. C_’s bike, named Black Beauty or BĂȘte Noire depending on the sort of ride she’s having, is also tuned up and ready for action.

So adventure awaits us, and that as it should be. You may have picked up on how my desire for “adventure” has propelled me towards this Motor Free Month challenge. Like many I spend much of my life working my job, doing the dishes, avoiding doing the dishes, and trying to avoid just going through the motions. But I know people that have done amazing things, had incredible adventures! My (ex)-co-worker Andy, for example, quit his job and sailed from Mexico to New Zealand. Dave recently returned from hiking the Appalachian Trail. Mark’s climbed Himalayan peaks.

Song of the Day: Crowded House, Weather With You (from Woodface )

There’s a tremendous amount of adventure out there to be had, but sometimes I get sucked into the day-to-day and lose sight of the adventure that is right in front of my nose. Hence the Motor Free Month. Was Motor Free Month about the environment? Fitness? Blogging? Certainly those things to some degree. But Adventure comes closest to the mark. And it’s almost a subversive sort of adventure, one I can do right here at home. I may be sitting in my cubicle staring at the computer screen all day, but I’m on a Motor Free Adventure, sitting in my cubicle, staring at the computer screen all day. Somehow that makes all the difference. That’s the same spirit that drove me to add golfing, a trip to Denver, a hike in the mountains, and now Noodles 2 Noodles to the Motor Free Month.

If I was only doing this for the environment, I don’t think I would have approached it with nearly as much zest. Billy Bragg sings, “There is drudgery in social change.” Clearly his revolution was not of the 2-wheeled variety. Thanks goodness for adventure, even, and maybe particularly, adventure on a local scale. I’ll be happy to end Motor Free Month as it has entailed some hardships, but I don’t regret the experience.

On another note, I’ve taken down the song of the day links; my home page hosting site was none too pleased with the songs on my web page and asked me to take them down, which I happily did. It was a bad idea for me to post songs, they were not central to the posts anyway. If you listened to and enjoyed the music, I ask that you consider supporting the fine artists who work hard at creating this music, and purchase their songs and cd’s! I’ll replace the song links with a handy link to so you can purchase them yourself; makes a great gift too!

More tomorrow on the 100-mile epic noodles 2 noodles ride!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

MFM Day 33: Over and Over

October 1st, 2009

Motor Free, uh, Month, Day 33; Over and Over

Clearly I've been Motor Free for over a month now, making the whole "Motor Free Month" sobriquet a little awkward at this point. But it always was a little incorrect, since I started Motor Free Month before September even started, on August 30th. I suppose I could have stopped at September 28th, giving me 30 days of Motor Free living, but that's not a entire calendar month, so to stop then would have been disingenuous. And I suppose I could have waited until September 1st to start Motor Free Month, but honestly I had no reason to drive either of the two days preceding the start of September, so I figured I'd just get a little head start on the proceedings. So the by the end of September I had 32 days under my wheels. And now I'm into October, and I'm still going; October 1 makes it 33 days and counting.

Feist, I Feel it All, (from The Reminder )

How much longer can I keep this up? Forever!!! Naah, just kidding. This all ends on Sunday, October 4th. I'm driving to Denver to see the Broncos-Cowboys football game. Yes that's the only reason I'm stopping, I suppose! Hummm. Anyone want my tickets? Just kidding, I'm going! Ever since Super Bowl XII I've always sort of hated the Cowboys. I was just a young lad in 1978 when Roger Staubach and Ed "Too Tall" Jones blew out my heroes Tommy Jackson and Craig Morton and the rest of the Broncos in that game, and I'm excited to see them match up again in person. Super Bowl XII is really the first football game I can remember. Mostly I remember being very sad, and also that I drank too much Orange Crush soda and ended up puking in my parent's friend's house sometime in the second half. I'm blaming it on the soda but it could have been due to my agony over the game. Nothing like sealing your life-long allegiance to your team with a devastating loss and neon-orange colored vomit. Yeah, I'm a lifer.

Anyway, Saturday October 3rd will be the final day of Motor Free "Month", and I'm going to go out in style by riding my bicycle from Fort Collins to Boulder and back. Going out in a blaze of glory. This will give me a 35-day month. That's agonizingly close to a full 10% of the year, actually. I guess I'd have to go 36.5 days to hit that milestone. Gives me something to shoot for next time, perhaps.

So really, I suppose I could get into a car now, I've fulfilled my goal. But honestly I've no pressing need to drive anywhere, so why should I do so? And you know, if I didn't have the game to go to on Sunday, I could probably stretch this out another week or two.

But I won't. Honestly, the tyranny of not allowing myself to set foot in motorized transport is a little wearying. It will be nice to know that I can get in a car, accept a ride, drive to the mountains, take an elevator, without feeling guilty about it. I'm genuinely excited about driving to Denver on Sunday. I've not gone faster than about 20 miles per hour since August 29th. I suspect it will feel pretty exhilarating to drive down the interstate at crazy-fast speeds on Sunday. Gets me thinking about our ancestors. I suspect that before the 1800s, the fastest form of transport was the horse. Horses max out at about 45 mph, but obviously can't sustain that rate of speed for long. I suspect a horse and rider probably went about 10-15 mph over distance. I feel like I've been living like my great-great-great-???-great-grandparents the past month, or even an unfrozen caveman. I should start wearing animal skins. But Sunday I re-join the modern world, transportation-wise at least, and I'm pretty excited about it.

So I'll continue to post something for Friday and Saturday, and I'll definitely post something after I drive on Sunday to offer my observations on driving once again. After that, I'll probably fall into a pattern wherein I don't drive much, if at all, during the week, but I will drive on the weekends. That seems like a sustainable lifestyle for me.

This sounds like a goodbye post, which it's not. I plan to keep posting on this blog in the future, certainly not everyday, but once in a while. I've enjoyed writing this and I hope you've enjoyed reading and following along on this adventure. It's been incredible, and it's not quite over yet! In fact I'm about to head out on my bike now; going to ride to a show at the Aggie tonight, Galactic is playing. I heard they're pretty good, I've never heard them before. I think they're playing in Denver or Boulder this weekend, as well. Time to ride!

PS, the show was a lot of fun!