Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MFM Day 31: The Thin Man

September 29th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 31: The Thin Man

Looks like I've hit a month, in a way. 31 days of Motor Free Living at any rate. I'll have to get through tomorrow to make it officially a calendar month, and I intend to keep this carnival rolling through October 3rd so we're not quite done, but today does mark a milestone of sorts nonetheless. I've been asked several times about how many miles I've put on the bike and on foot since I started on August 30th. I actually don't know for sure; between being Motor Free and blogging about being Motor Free, I've not had much spare time to add up the miles.

(Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan, Stephan Malkmus Version, link removed)

My days seem to fall into three categories; epic days with many miles of Motor Free travel, typical days with less travel, and bad weather days. By a rough count I've had about 6 "epic" days, 23 "typical" days, and 2 "weather" days. As you can imagine the epic days frequently occur on the weekends, typical days during the week. Thank goodness I've not had to combine an epic and a weather day yet. Speaking of, apparently I'm in for a couple more weather days and one more epic day, we shall see. On a typical day I probably put in 15 miles of biking and running combined. Weather days are about the same, they just seem a lot longer. Epic days will range from 20 miles to 100 miles, we'll give them an average of 50 miles.

All added up that's about 675 miles of Motor Free Travel in the past 31 days. Sounds like a lot when I total it up like that. I wonder, how much money did I save on gas? Figuring a car that gets 30 miles per gallon of gas, and a price of $2.50/gallon, I saved a whopping $56.25 in gas over the past month. Not that much money, really. Although I suppose if gas shot up to $5.00/gallon or something, Id' be saving, what, all of $110 per month. You know, still not impressive! So there must be another reason why I'm doing this.

Looking back on my original post, here's what I said:
"I conceived of this as a social experiment, as a way to get into shape, as a way to raise awareness of bicycle travel, as a way to understand the importance of motorized transport in our society, and just 'cause I'm a little off my rocker. Ironically I expect to obtain a greater appreciation for motorized transport as a result of this experiment."

So not to "save money", so that's good. I should have added "a way to force me to write a lot in my blog" as that has been one of the major side-effects. Other than that, how have I done?

  • Social experiment: I do feel a bit like a rat in a cage on a wheel, but I think I figured I'd be the one doing the experimenting, not the one being experimented upon.

  • Get Into Shape: I feel like I have improved my fitness. I just did weigh myself and I'm down about 7 pounds since the last time I weighed myself, which was a couple of weeks before Motor Free Month. I also set a personal best time at the Half Marathon I ran a couple of weeks ago. I can easily recommend going Motor Free as an effective exercise program!

  • Raise awareness of bicycle travel: Hence the reason for this blog. Time-consuming as it is, I've enjoyed writing it, and I hope you all have enjoyed reading it, and maybe it's gotten you to leave the car at home and get your bike once or twice this month. I know it has for some of you, I've really enjoyed hearing about your own Motor Free adventures. I don't think the Mayor of Fort Collins has gone Motor Free, but we'll keep working on him.

  • Understand the importance of motorized transport in our society: I think I get it now! Cars are quite useful at times. Giving us freedom of mobility, protecting travellers from bad weather, hauling heavy or bulky items, impressing people, just straight up rollin. We tend to rely on them too much but I can't discount them completely.

  • Little off my rocker: Well I admit to being a little off my rocker in order to keep you all from thinking that I am actually completely insane. I think it worked.

  • Greater appreciation for motorized transport: I think that's true. I look forward to hitting the open road in the car for far-off places. When all is said and done, I'll probably try to go Motor Free during the week, but use the car on the weekends. And I want a nicer car, too. Hey if I'm going to have to drive, it may as well be in style!

One other thing I've learned that I didn't know when I started: I live in a unique environment here in Fort Collins that is ideally suited for bike transport. So I've learned to appreciate my little town quite a bit more now than when I started. Love the Fort! Defend the Fort! The town's size, the wide streets, the (mostly) beautiful weather, the progressive attitude towards bikers, they all create an environment that incubates and encourages one and all to ride all over town. And it feeds on itself. The more people doing it, the more people start doing it. How you you think I was inspired to got Motor Free in the first place? It didn't occur in a vacuum. And it seems like everyday I see more people get out of their cars and onto their bikes.

I mean, it's crazy around here with the bikers. Maybe I just notice it more now that I'm a full-time biker, but I see bikes everywhere now. Way more than I saw in Denver, that's for sure.

College kids on bikes, sure, that's normal. That's probably where it all starts. And people out for exercise. But that's not all. I see professionals such as myself, commuting to work. I see mothers and fathers towing their children in Burley trailers. I see people going to the grocery store in their bikes. Older people riding around the senior center parking lot. Hordes of people in old town, clogging up every available bike parking spot. The city has even started putting bike racks in parking spaces just to the cyclists will have a place to park.

What I'm doing is not that strange in this town. I'm certain there are others around here who are living a motor free month by choice (they're just not blogging obsessively about it). Heck there are some who are making an entire year of it. What I'm doing is not even really noteworthy in this town. And that's fantastic. It's like everyone around here just woke up and decided, "hey, you know, it's time to ride!" I've been nurtured, inspired, and encouraged by my environment to go Motor Free. I don't know if I would have done so living somewhere else, somewhere less Motor-Free Friendly. Like the Southern half of Fort Collins, for example, ha ha ha.

MFM Day 30: Nightclub Jitters

September 28th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 30, Nightclub Jitters

Well it's back to normal, what constitutes normal for Motor Free Month I suppose. A typical weekday: Bike to work, back home for lunch, back to work, then a work out, and then maybe out for a beer at our favorite local watering hole, the Trail Head. T-Head is a divy sort of place, with cheap food and beer, and it suits me. It seems to suit me more when I'm Motor Free. It may be the jumbled mass of bikes out front, secured to every inch of railing and street post; everyone seems to ride their bikes here. Why, they're just like me! Also the dress code is super-college-casual. No one is dressed to impressed in this dump. And riding my bike everywhere, I'm really not going for a fashion statement. I've frequently got on my hat and gloves, my windbreaker and my little reflective pant leg protector. Oh yeah, looking good.

We did ride our bikes to the steak house for C_'s birthday earlier in the month, and we did dress up for the occasion, but it didn't seem quite as natural as Trail Head attire. The point of all this is that being motor free kind of does pigeon-hole one into a certain style of nightlife.

Let's survey Motor Free compatibility using fine works of art to represent different types of nightlife options:

Here we see the fancy bar. Like a Martini bar, I suppose. Far too fancy for the Motor Free Set. Whatever would we wear?

Now the late-night diner. Denny's or Perkins I suppose, though this place looks much cooler. I think one could barely pull off Motor Free at this particular diner, but there's be no problem hanging Motor Free at Denny's or some coffee shop.

Aaaah, the Moulin Rouge. Or a modern dance club equivalent. Motor Free Folk have the right spirit, but entirely the wrong dress. I'd like to say yes but alas I don't think we'd fit in.

What about a punk Rock show at the Aggie? "Come as you are," you know? I think Motor Free Freaks will fit in just fin here. Motor Free Month approved.

Looking for more information on Jackson Pollock?  Look no further than Here!

The seedy pool hall. This is probably the closest representation of the Trail Head here. I think Motor Free Folk would fit in nicely here. This is probably our best bet.

Observe now the boat cruise ("I'm on a boat, y'all!"). It has a nice outdoor feel which suits Motor Free, but ultimately I'm skeptical that we'd fit in with this crowd.

Even before going Motor Free I preferred the Trail Head to the Dance club or the Martini bar. So it could be argued that my natural preference for a place that welcomes the Motor Free set indicates a predisposition for going Motor Free. You high-class martini-lovers are at a disadvantage!

Slush, Stay thirsty my friends, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MFM Day 29: Take the Long Way Round

September 27th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 29: Take the Long Way Round

Song of the Day: Teenage Fanclub, Take The Long Way Round

You know, it's funny; in those "epic journey" movies, like Lord of the Rings for example, it seems like 90% of the movie, if not more, is concerned with the journey out and the big event at the turnaround point. You know, like with the ring and the river of lava and all that. But scant time is typically spent on the journey back home. I wonder why that is? A few reasons, probably. One, having made the trip to the turn around point, you've proved that you can probably make it back, that you have the requisite strength and stamina to make it back home. Therefore some of the suspense is missing from the return. Additionally, there is much emphasis placed on the event, whatever it may be, that occurs at the turn around point. Might be attaining the summit of a mountain. Might be casting a ring into the fiery chasm from whence it came. There is some assumption in either case that the "turnaround event" is more important than the journey to get there and back. In that case, the journey to the event is only important because it is the thing keeping the event from happening. And the return, well, it really isn't worth mentioning much at all after the event has been concluded.

But surely exciting events can and do happen on the return journey, and truth be told, the trip, the mission is not a success until home is attained once again. Any soldier will tell you that. In fact, any mountain climber will tell you that the return is frequently more dangerous than the trip out. This is particularly true of mountain climbing, but I think any return journey could be fraught with peril and excitement.

As I got up Sunday morning and rode my bike through the now-quiet downtown Denver towards Mona's for breakfast, certainly I felt confident that I could make it back home, but I also knew that it was going to be a long day, a hot and sunny day even, and that my bike was still not working all that well, and I was probably a little more fatigued from Friday's ride than I wanted to admit. At this point I made several prescient decisions that helped to maximize my enjoyment of Sunday's ride. First of all, I resolved to get on the road early, but take my time. I had all day, and what would I rather do besides go out for a nice ride? Also I resolved to eat a great big breakfast at Mona's, which was highly recommended to me by Lou, and half the staff at REI. Lastly, I decided to avoid Lowell Boulevard, although I know she would be sad, and stick to the bike paths out of Denver, even if it meant a longer ride. All of these decisions helped to make my return journey a success. But that's not to say it was entirely peril free; and thank goodness, for what would I write about otherwise? To steal from Tolstoy: All happy bike rides are alike; every unhappy bike ride is unhappy in its own way. And therefore more interesting.

Mona's, I can tell you, is a delightful breakfast spot just there by the REI store. Do go there, but go early, apparently it gets crowded. But at 7:45 am on a Sunday I was literally the only customer in the place! I loaded up on pancakes and coffee, paid my bill, and by 8:15 I was on the Platte River trail. The day before when I was in REI stocking up on spare tubes and chain lube, I poured over a Map in the store that detailed all of the bike-friendly streets and designated bike paths in the metro area (Lowell was not highlighted on the map, for future reference). My friends Greg and Mark had both recommended the Platte River Valley trail as a good downtown ingress route. I followed the trail out of downtown with my finger, all the way to Commerce City before the Clear Creek trail joined it for a Westerly route that I wanted to take. This was certainly several miles out of my way and I debated; take the trail which is longer, or try Lowell again? Traffic certainly wouldn't be as bad on a Sunday morning, so Lowell might be quite a bit more pleasant.

But those hills, those blasted hills! And what about adventure! I already knew that Lowell was no fun, how about trying something new? The trails then, it was decided. I would take Platte to Clear Creek to Dry Creek Trail. This route would deposit me on Wadsworth and 80th st. From there I could make my way to 95th st in Boulder county, which becomes Hover in Longmont. From Longmont I had a couple of choices. This was the plan, and incredibly enough, I stuck with it. But it wasn't easy to stick with the plan, as we shall soon discover. In fact, here is another interactive map of my return journey. I had to guess at some of the bike trail stuff in Denver but it's pretty accurate.

And the bike trail was just great. Not crowded like the Cherry Creek trail. I guess the Platte River trail is not a place to see or be seen. Or it could be that Denver is just not an early-to-rise kind of town. Whatever the reason, I basically had the trail to myself. I had visions of riding through a vagrant-infested post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland, but even the Platte river trail was fairly bucolic and scenic. Amazing what a few trees will do for you, I suppose. I only saw one bum, face down on a picnic table asleep. Where are the scary parts of town now? Aurora? Perhaps. I never made it out that far this trip.

The trail kept tacking North and East, following the river, passing under the freeways; I-70, I-225, I-76. I was starting to get a little nervous like I had missed my turn to the left onto the Clear Creek Trail. I had visions of riding this bad boy all the way out to Greeley. Something about that didn't appeal to me. Probably the Greeley part. Or maybe the Brighton part before the Greeley part. But as it turned out it was pretty obvious where the Clear Creek trail turn was, so I was spared the twin delights of Greeley and Brighton this day.

I continued up the Clear Creek trail, passing now under I-25, Broadway, Pecos, and Federal. I knew that somewhere around here I was supposed to get on yet another bike path, but frankly I didn't study the map all that carefully. Those of you who know me know this is shockingly out of character from my normal behavior. And I paid for my lapse in vigilance! Somewhere after Federal and before Lowell my trail turned abruptly into a dirt road. Not dirt again! I Stopped the bike. Lost so soon, not even out of Denver! I debated on turning around. Maybe I just missed the turnoff. This looked more like a driveway than a bike path. A driveway into some backwoods and distinctly non-bike friendly abode, replete with large unleashed dogs and hicks with shotguns.

But I did see some bike tracks in the dirt. And I really hate backtracking! So I went for it. Down the dirt road. Wasn't long before I popped out right onto my old friend Lowell Boulevard! Well I had somehow missed the path but at least I wasn't lost. I could take Lowell I guess. Maybe it was meant to be. but wait, out of the corner of my eye I spied a bike path, heading under Lowell towards parts North-West. My path! I guess I wasn't lost at all. Fancy that. Funny how your mind can play tricks on you sometimes. I got on my new path which I assumed was correct, and continued on my merry way. This path turned into some sort of strange but cool storm drainage aqueduct with a bike path next to the creek drainage. Must be safe during heavy rains, huh. Luckily the sky was clear. I saw a mangled old bike in the creek. I wondered how long that bike had been there?

Super bonus Song: The Smiths, Is It Really So Strange?

Before too long the path ended and I found myself on Wadsworth, heading North. I had wanted to avoid Wadsworth due to traffic concerns, but between the wide breakdown lane and light Sunday morning traffic it really wasn't too bad. Just before Wadsworth crossed the Boulder-Denver Turnpike I turned West, into the Interlocken business park, into Boulder county. I knew I was in Boulder county because instantly I saw other cyclists! Interlocken. Named after the giant lakes that dominate the landscape here. Wait, no, that's not it. Named, uh, well named to sound vaguely pretentious and wealthy. And featuring my old office, Level 3 Communications! I took a slight detour to go see my old office building. For 5 years I worked at Level 3 and lived in Fort Collins. For 5 years I drove my car 55 miles each way to work. It took about 1 hour each way. I marveled at the sheer impossibility of commuting to Level 3 via bicycle. I mean, I was still 55 miles from home at this point! What would that take, 3, 4 hours to get home, assuming no stops? I felt fortunate to have a job so close to my home now. In fact that was one of the reasons I left Level 3. Just got tired of the commute. And it wasn't good for my fitness either, spending 2+ hours/day in the car. And yet it was fun to see the old building. They sure picked a scenic spot for it, that's for sure.

Employment reverie concluded, it was time to get on 95th street and make the big Northward bee-line to Longmont. I crossed over the Boulder-Denver turnpike just at the Flatirons Crossing mall and the giant StorageTek plant. Or what used to be the StorageTek plant. Uh, can anybody tell me what happened to the StroageTek plant? I mean, unless I was looking in the wrong spot, that place was gone. Did I miss something important here? There used to be a huge hi-tech company right here, with a giant engineering and manufacturing plant. And all I could see was three empty flagpoles and piles of dirt. Seriously; if anyone know what happened to StroageTek, please do tell. I know they got bought by Sun, did Sun move them all to their little dojo palace in Interlocken?

Anyway that was odd. But not the new little 95th street by-pass in Louisville. That was cool! I wonder why they didn't put that little by-pass in a long time ago. Guess they had to pay to put a bridge over the railroad cut to make it happen, probably was expensive to do that.

And speaking of bridges, apparently the 95th street bridge over Boulder creek was being replaced. This I did not know until I was stopped by more detour signs at the intersection of 95th and Valmont. Not again! This happened to me on the way down! Well, I thought, it is Sunday. they won't be actually doing any construction today. I could see a bunch of construction equipment a half mile down the road. I was pretty sure that it would be a 4-mile detour if I took Valmont over to Gunbarrel. I thought I saw some movement on the other side of the construction equipment. Construction workers? On a Sunday? Damn my luck. No wait, it was a cyclist in a yellow jersey. Two cyclists, actually. Hiking their bikes towards me from the other side of the bridge. So it is possible to get across!

I rode my bike down to where the pavement ended and hiked it up to the edge of the bridge. I noticed that the other bikers had turned around. I soon learned the reason why. I was able to easily gain access to the south side of the old bridge, and the bridge was still structurally sound so I was able to cross the creek with no problem. But on the other side, the bridge ended rather abruptly and I was faced with a 6-foot vertical drop to the ground! There was a ladder but someone had kicked it down, so that was no use. I don't really know how I would hike my bike down a ladder anyway, even if it was available. Well this is just peachy, I thought.

There was one possible way down. On the corners of the bridge there extended two concrete abutments. These were about 10 inches wide, and descended at a 45-degree angle from the surface of the bridge to the ground. If I could carry my bike on my shoulder and walk down the top edge of the abutment, I could make it down and continue on my merry way. It was obviously quite dangerous and stupid, but I was too stubborn to turn back now. It was meant to be, I thought. I was turned around on Friday. I will not be turned around today! And besides, I could see 95th street as it stretched to the horizon on the other side. No cars anywhere! It looked glorious!

I hoisted the bike over my left shoulder, and took one tentative step down the abutment, hoping my bike shoe had enough traction to hold to the concrete (I do have bike shoes with some semblance of a sole, by the way). It seemed to hold. I lifted my other foot off the bridge surface and took a second step down the abutment. I held my ground. Slowly, another step, a small step. Then another. I was getting close to the ground! I took a couple of larger steps as I got closer to the ground, and miraculously made it down without a scratch. Adventure!!!

I hiked my bike past the construction equipment and dirt on the other side to where the pavement began again. I had to take a break after that. Wow, that was stupid. But awesome. I wondered if I would have been able to make it from the other side, if I would have had to climb up that thing? I can see why those other cyclists turned around. After a bit another cyclist came up behind me from the same direction. "That was interesting," he said, as he clipped in and rode off. My thoughts, exactly.

The rest of the ride home wasn't nearly as eventful, thankfully. See, here I go. Spend 90% of the blog getting to the big event, and then 10% on "The return". Or I guess "The return of the return." It is the expected form for story-telling. Who am I to dispute? I can try to spice things up a bit, I suppose.

I visited my mom in Longmont and watched some football and ate lunch, and then I made a stop at Schmidt's German Bakery and restaurant in Loveland on the way home, to enjoy a cold refreshing beer and a free miniature bratwurst. Clearly I was in no hurry! Schmidt's was great. The beer was cold, the polka band was rockin', and the staff was doing the chicken dance. How's that for action? Then as I left Schmidt's I noticed that my front tire was flat again! Oh bother. I must have had another slow leak. It did last me about 60 miles I guess, so I figured it would take another 15 if I just pumped it back up. This I now did, sitting next to a statue of a guy sculpting a statue of an Indian chief. Then it was back on the road and a final push for home. I got home at about 3:30 I think, in time to see the second half of the Broncos game. 75 miles all-told. A fantastic journey home. It was satisfying to think that I could ride down to Denver and back on bike. Was it difficult? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes, particularly with the correct route now mapped out.

MFM Day 28: Hard to Be A Saint In the City

September 26th, 2009:

Motor Free Month Day 28: Hard to Be A Saint in the City

I often wonder when I'm riding by sleepy neighborhoods in my town, what people live in those houses? What do they do? Where do they work? Is anyone in there? In contrast, the city seems so busy, so full of people, of life. In the city everything is out in the open, every life is lived on a stage in view of every other actor. Where do they all come from? Where do they live? You don't have to wonder as much in the city because you can see them all out there on the street. Here comes the lawyer, the bum, the young punk, the student. All brought together on the same street at the same time, brought together for an anonymous moment, and then separated forever. The constant variety, the movement is almost overwhelming in its fluidity, bordering on chaos yet maintaining some sort of internal logic, unknown to the external interloper from the small town. The city changes so fast!

And yet the city is rooted by great buildings and monuments that seem to exist out of time altogether. There's a comforting permanence to it. The play constantly changes, but the hall remains the same, even as the set is subtly altered with the time of day and the passage of seasons. Great buildings dominate downtown, reflecting the first lights of the morning like a rooster's call, and capturing the last light of the evening like a beacon, drawing everyone to the center of everything. I've always loved tall buildings. I remember as young boy looking out the car window, straining my neck around to just stare up at these vast creations. I also remember getting trapped in the emergency stairwell of the Republic Building in downtown Denver once (Pictured here; I think it's the tallest of the three most tall buildings downtown), and having to run down over 50 flights of stairs in order to exit the building successfully! That was painful.

I was reminded of that episode quite powerfully as I stood in front of the open elevator at my hotel. And here I was now contemplating how much effort it would take to carry my bike up 22 flights of stairs in order to get to my hotel room, versus stepping into the elevator like every other rational human would, excepting perhaps someone who lived still in a primitive culture and had never seen an elevator, or an unfrozen caveman. Even an unfrozen caveman lawyer. Are elevators motorized transport? Undoubtedly, yes. Is this Motor Free Month? Yes, also true. So to take the elevator would be in violation of Motor Free Month. A sin, even. As the song goes, It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City (David Bowie Cover) .

I didn't hesitate long; I wheeled my bike into the elevator and pushed the button. The motor churned and the door closed. I felt, ashamed? happy? scared? nothing. I felt nothing. It was easy, it was logical. Certainly I wasn't following the letter of the law here, but what was I to do? Could have requested a room on a lower floor, could have taken the stairs, but I didn't.

Besides, I had already taken an escalator upon leaving the Great American Beer Festival, so I'd already sort of blown Motor Free Month. I tried to take the stairs, but the security guards were only allowing us to leave via the escalators. I hesitated. I almost stopped and explained to the security guard that I wasn't supposed to use motorized transport. I thought also about going crazy, maybe hitting the emergency stop button on the escalator and walking down the steps. Or running down the steps more likely, as the security guards would surely be giving chase if I pulled that stunt. But really, what was the point? What am I, Amish? Amazonian? Unfrozen? The escalator in particular; that thing runs weather or not I'm on it. Sure it works harder if I'm on it, but actually it might work less hard if I'm going downhill on it, which I was.

The first sin comes after deliberation and agony. The second after a slight pang of guilt and the search for justifications. To be imperfect is to be human. So into the maw of the elevator I stepped. The doors closed and the digital numbers counted higher as I was carried in my magical floating box, and I felt something. Appreciation. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to put one of these elevators in my hotel! And whatever did we do before elevators? This was a glorious thought, really. I'd never taken the time to appreciate the elevator before. What a marvelous creation.

But still, what a compromise. The city does that to you, forces you to choose. Listen to me, one day in Denver and I'm already dispensing hard-fought street wisdom. The city does that to you... I started to reflect on how much more difficult it would be to live Motor Free in Denver, or any large city by extension. In Fort Collins everything I need is close by. Not just the shops and my office, but also most of the things I like to do are close by, and most of my friends live nearby as well. In fact, excepting outdoor activities, there's not much that isn't close by.

This is in contrast in Denver, where there are a lot of cool things going on that are in pretty far-flung locations, and the people you want to see may still live "in town", yet 10 or more miles away. The problem isn't necessity; assuming you don't live in the 'burbs, where you're almost required by law to have a car to go to the store, in the city most things you need are probably within a few miles of your home. The problem is that there are so many interesting things to do, and they're all over town! I've determined that on a bike, the realistic normal distance one can travel is about 4 miles before the advantage of the car becomes dramatically pronounced and impossible to discount. But where I live in the Fort, 4 miles takes me pretty much to the far reaches of town. There's not much else to see:

4-mile radius from my neighborhood in Fort Collins. Note relative lack of city outside radius.

Luckily for my sanity, there's enough to entertain me within my 4 mile radius. But I do wonder if I'm satisfied partly because I really don't have any choice. You know, bounded by a nutshell. Put me in the middle of Denver though, and although there is likely more interesting things I can do within the same 4 mile radius, there are also certainly many many more interesting things to to in a 8 or 10-mile radius as well:

4-mile radius from representative central location in Denver. Actually I think it's centered on an old abandoned envelope factory. Hot neighborhood, I assure you.

And because those things and those people are out there, and they are easily within our motorized grasp, we feel deprived if we can't have them! It's easier not to be tempted by far-flung frivolity.

Going to the mountains is another point of discussion, and it also gives my small town a more pronounced but less critical Motor Free advantage. In Fort Collins I can be in the foothills rather quickly on my bike, but the options are limited unless I drive somewhere. In Denver I pretty much have to drive if I want to get away from the city. So if you can obtain maximum satisfaction from a limited set of outdoor options, then the Fort can be satisfyingly motor free. Denver really doesn't stand a chance there; you pretty much forgo the option of getting to the mountains at all.

And lest we forget the impact of narrow streets and increased traffic in Denver. In my (very) limited experience, I find that riding in Denver is far less enjoyable than it is in Fort Collins. That's no knock on the fine citizens of Denver. The streets are more narrow and crowded. There are far more stoplights, at least downtown. Maybe if I lived there longer I would find the bike-friendly routes through Denver, the Stover and Stuart equivalents. But I suspect even those would be less amenable to cycling than the streets upon which I like to ride in the Fort.

Bonus song of the day: Snow Patrol, Take Back The City

But for all these disadvantages, the irony is that it is probably easier for someone to live Car Free in Denver than it is to live Car Free in Fort Collins. The simple reason; public transport. Denver has an extensive bus system and a recently-expanded light rail system. Fort Collins, bless it's little heart, tries hard but can't seem to get any widespread acceptance or usage on its bus system, and has no form of public rail system, unless one counts the novelty trolley that runs from City Park to Old Town in the summer. Ironically, since Fort Collins seems so well suited for bike transport, it probably ends up repressing public motorized transport usage. And since we're in the business of compromising our ideals in the city, I happily concede that taking the bus and light rail train is in the spirit of Motor Free living. Like a cousin to Motor Free Living. An older cousin that buys you beer.

The realization I came to, then, is that environment plays a critical role in determining one's ability and aptitude to becoming Motor Free. Fort Collins is well suited to living a Motor Free lifestyle. Denver, less so. But on the other hand Denver is more suited to living a Car Free lifestyle. Doesn't make one city better then the other, just different.

And of course one is far more likely to find themselves needing to take an elevator or an escalator in the city. Cities are built up in order to achieve higher density living and working conditions. This is on the whole a good thing. But it generally necessitates the use of these motorized-people-moving-contraptions. We really do take it for granted, stepping on an escalator or an elevator. To be truly Motor Free and live in the city, and avoid taking the light rail and refuse to use elevators and escalators, seems near impossible. At least that's what I kept telling myself all weekend.

So I ended up making 3 round-trips in that elevator, and took three trips down that escalator by the end of my trip. But other than that I was a good boy, I promise! The Beer Festival was a hoot and a hollar. I poured a lot of beer for thirsty patrons, and had a few samples myself. "Norm" from the TV show Cheers (George Wendt) was there, he gave the, uh, keynote speech at the awards ceremony. Buckbean Brewing Company sadly did not win any award this year but people were particularly impressed with Buckbean's pilsner offering. Oh well. And Denver Mayor Hickenlooper was also in attendance, I presume he still owns the Wyncoop Brew Pub? It was fun but by the end of three sessions I was burned out with the whole beer fest thing. So I left the convention center and went to, well, another beer festival -- the Larimer Street Oktoberfest. They had a polka band and a 80s cover band, and Pauliner on tap. Good times. I went to bed late, and got up early the next day in order to begin my journey home and complete this epic adventure.

Continued tomorrow!

Monday, September 28, 2009

MFM Day 27: Pump It Up

September 25th, 2009

Motor Free Month Day 27: Pump It Up

The weather held up, my legs held up, my bike held up -- mostly. I made it. “There and back again,” I might say, just like Bilbo Baggins, starring broken glass as spiders and trucks as dragons. It was quite an experience; frustrating, joyous, exhilarating, nostalgic, challenging. A weekend I'll never forget! Allow me to share it with you, good reader.

As mentioned in my previous post, I was to ride my bicycle from Fort Collins to Denver for the weekend. The reason; I was volunteering for Buckbean Brewing Company at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The plan was to ride down to Denver on Friday, and return on Sunday. And here's how it unfolded.

I left Fort Collins for Denver on Friday afternoon, about 12:30 pm, hoping to make it to Denver by 5:00 pm. You can click on the map picture here to go to an interactive map of my actual route to Denver. Note that this was not exactly my intended route, but as usual I did not follow my own plan. Wing it; just make it up as you go along. My actual route covered about 71 miles from Fort Collins to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) at the Convention Center in downtown Denver. I don’t have one of those cyclometers to I don’t know my average speed but I suspect it was pretty slow; I didn’t arrive at the GABF until about 6:00 pm, making this a 5.5 hour journey. I was delayed by 2 flat tire changing sessions but we’ll get into that, all in due time.

At it turns out my planned route, the route I should have taken, was much better. On my Sunday return I did follow the planned route more carefully, and had a much more enjoyable ride home as a result. But partly my route changes were unavoidable; Friday I intended to leave FTC via Shields, and take it all the way through Loveland and Berthoud. However just South of FTC my plans were thwarted by construction. Shields was blocked to traffic at Trilby, necessitating a detour. But I thought oh, oh yeah? I'm on a bike, I can sneak around this construction stuff like a slippery eel!, so I snuck past the barriers and continued down the road, happy as can be on the deserted road. Big mistake.

I got stopped about one mile further down, this time by a construction worker. Apparently they were re-paving Shields all the way from Lovelend to FTC. Our stimulus money at work, at it turns out. “The asphalt is 350 degrees, it's gonna melt your tires right off,” the construction worker said. “You’re going to have to turn around.” This was undoubtedly the highlight of his day. I had no choice, I had to backtrack a mile back to Trilby, and then go a mile West to Taft Hill to get going back South again. This ended up being a 4 mile detour, and I was less than 10 miles into my route. I was not getting this thing off on the right foot!

And of course my detour took me by the intersection of Trilby and Taft Hill, which is the site of yet another recent car vs. bike accident: Allan Baclasky in critical condition following accident. I felt a little nervous and superstitious approaching the intersection, but there was not much traffic so I navigated it without incident. It did serve as a dark reminder that what I was doing was on the whole more dangerous than driving to Denver, and certainly more dangerous than watching TV, so it put me a little on edge.

Finally heading South again, I made my way through sleepy Loveland without any additional mishaps, and then headed back East to rejoin my original intended route on the South end of Loveland, turning back South near Schmidt’s German bakery and restaurant. We’ll see more of them in a couple of days but for now it was all business as I pedaled towards Berthoud.

And we're going old school 80s for the Song of the day: Visage, The Horseman. Picture a montage of me riding past sun-baked subdivisions and farms, my face set with grim determination and purpose. Something like that.

At any rate, as I approached Berthoud I let my impatience get the best of me. My plan was to go back West at Berthoud, and take a route that would put me on the West side of Longmont (on Hover Rd.) But I was still annoyed at my 4-mile detour from an hour ago and decided that I did not want to “back-track” West, as I knew Denver was to the East, not West. So this I now resolved. No more West! Only East!

And South of course. Mostly Denver was to the South, so where I should have turned West I forged on ahead to the South, on a county road I’d never been on before. Adventure!!! I had no idea how I was going to get to Denver now, I just knew I was not going to backtrack! So now South, and now East, and now South again, as these infernal county roads kept ending in T-intersections. Soon I hit another T-intersection, and this time I inexplicably decided to turn West (I can’t even follow my own made up rules). This road bent South again which was good, but turned into dirt which was bad on a road bike. The road was in ok shape but for the wash-boarded sections, but it slowed me down considerably. The upshot was there was little if any traffic to deal with, it was a nice day in the country, and the weather was lovely. Eventually the road became paved again, and I was able to make good time the rest of the way to Longmont.

A quick lunch at Subway in Longmont, and I was off again towards Denver. I ended up on “WCR 1” which is the road that borders Boulder County and Weld County. A pretty nice road but heavily trafficked at this time of day. Along this road I saw a farm that had a cool sign stating that they were 30 miles from Fort Collins and 30 miles from Denver. As it turns out I had gone about 40 miles by then so clearly I wasn't taking the most direct route! WCR 1 took me all the way to Highway 7, aka Baseline road, aka the 40th parallel. Even though I was well past half-way to Denver by now (mileage-wise Longmont was closer to my half-way point), Highway 7 felt like my Rubicon; South of Hwy 7 I was in the Denver Metro area, and there was no turning back now. Again I backtracked to the West here, because I was not sure if I could find a route to the East at this point before hitting the interstate, which is best avoided on bike.

As I started back to the West on Highway 7, here occurred my first major mishap. Second song of the day: Elvis Costello + The Attractions, Pump It Up. That's right, a flat! I think it was a slow leak. In retrospect I’d been pedaling slowly the last several miles. Now I knew why. It was time for a break anyway. I stopped and replaced the tube whilst sitting on the side of the car-choked highway. And totally made a hash of my tube-replacing attempt; I bent the valve stem horribly when I pumped up the new tire, and it would not keep air either. This I found out not right away of course (well I did see the bent valve stem but figured it would hold. Wrong.), but rather 5 miles down the road as I climbed the first of my Never Ending Hills of North-West Metro Denver Mini Tour, featuring the delightfully sassy Lowell Boulevard. So I pumped the tire back up, thinking I could get it to Denver at least. Not so much. 2 miles later it was flat again. Stop, inflate, ride, repeat. This cycle of ineptitude I did one more time before deciding “enough is enough” and stopped to replace the tire for good.

I'll also mention here that my road bike was being annoying in other ways as well. My rear derailleur was slightly out of tune, and my lowest gears were making some awful squeaking noises. We're talking nails-on-chalkboard type stuff. I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert bike mechanic but I do know this: noise = bad. But in my attempts to save weight I'd stupidly decided not to bring any bike tools or any sort of chain lube or grease. Adventure!!! Also I found out later that one of the little derailleur pulleys was squeaking due to lack of grease, but only on one particular lower gear; of course it seemed like I was hitting that gear all the time as I climbed up the hills separating myself from Denver. I didn't know how bad the problem was, if it was an indicator of total system failure or not, so I ended up avoiding that gear if at all possible, which had the effect of putting my bike into all sorts of unnatural gear configurations. I was not happy with my bike anymore, I'm sure it also regarded me with some measure of disdain.

Me: I will trade you in for a new bike today, you bucket of bolts, you watch your step!

Eric (my bike): Oh yeah, well I'll go flat on you but ever-so-slowly so you don't notice, how do you like that, punk!

I get the feeling I was going a little schizophrenic by the end of my ride on Friday. I think this adventure would have been more enjoyable with company. Anyone care to join me next time?

Yes my bike's name is Eric. Eric Estrada, fully named. We just named it after this ride; The bike is a Novara Strada (Novara is REI's house brand of bike), so, Eric Estrada. Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho.

Anyway on to Lowell Boulevard. Lowell was my planned route into the city, and I accessed it at 92nd street just after 5:00 pm. I also could have taken bike paths at this point but I thought that Lowell would be faster since it was straighter. I think I was terribly wrong there, for two reasons; one, the bike paths are blessedly stop-light free. Two, while the paths may be more circuitous, they do tend to follow creek drainages and avoid hills.

Lowell does not avoid hills. Lowell loves hills. I'm pretty sure Lowell Boulevard took me over Highest Point On Earth, aka Belleview College. I get it now; anything with the word "view" or "vista" is code for "pointless soul-sucking climb". Next time I'll look for "valley" (but not Sudden Valley), "glen," or I'd even take "swamp". The windswept vista from Belleview College was nice though; I got my first look at downtown from there. It was nice to see my destination in view finally! And after cresting the Belleview College hill I got a long break as I descended towards Denver proper. But for all the stop lights I was making good time and knew this day's journey was in the bag. Provided I could avoid getting killed by the traffic at rush hour on Friday.

Denver, I will now point out, is nothing like Fort Collins. Fort Collins is smaller and less crowded for one thing, as one would expect. But Fort Collins is also blessed with the widest streets on earth. Even minor streets in old town are extremely wide. I understand they were made wide to accommodate a u-turn on a horse-drawn carriage back in the day. Whatever the reason, by happy accident they make naturally bike-friendly streets. By comparison, the humblest old town street in Fort Collins would be considered a major thoroughfare in Denver. Denver would shoehorn 6 lanes of traffic into each street in Fort Collins. Denver's streets are insanely narrow from my perspective; I once witnessed two delivery trucks clip side-view mirrors while passing each other on Zuni street in Denver, which is considered a pretty major street. Something tells me these types of incidents are not uncommon, since neither driver bothered to stop after their little pas de deux avec métal et verre!

So I must admit it was pretty nerve-wracking as I continued down Lowell and the street numbers descended into the older part of town. It was 5:30 pm on a Friday, and everyone was out and about, plans to keep, places to be, no time to waste. I had to keep my head on a swivel and ride defensively, but I was able to avoid trouble as I rode through the Highlands neighborhoods to downtown. It got me thinking how lucky I was to live in the Fort with it's wide streets and limited traffic, and how I don't think I would enjoy being Motor Free as much if I lived in Denver. But more on that in tomorrow's post.

As mentioned, eventually I made it. As I crossed over the Interstate on the 15th st. bridge and pedaled into LoDo, I was awash with a feeling of excitement and joy. The big city! It was exciting to see the buildings, the people, the bigness of it all. I've been to Denver hundreds of times, but in a way I was able to see it fresh this evening. For one I don't think I'd ever been on a bike in Denver before, so right there that was novel. But also I'd gotten used to being in the Fort so much this month, that even though everything in Denver was familiar, everything also felt new and exciting again. And I was proud that I had done it, I had completed this leg of my crazy journey. Motor Free to Denver. Felt good.

The Beer Festival was a lot of fun as well, I looked like a total dork serving beer wearing my biking shorts and jersey for the first 30 minutes before I finally got the wherewithal to go change into my "non biking" outfit. After the festival session closed for the evening, I headed out with Lou for a pint and a late night burger at the Irish Snug pub, and I eventually turned in sometime before midnight, tired and content. Adventure!!

Continued Tomorrow...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MFM Day 26: Long Road Ahead

September 24th, 2009: Motor Free Month Day 26

Thursday itself was full of anticipation for Friday and beyond. But Thursday had it's moments are well. I got absolutely drenched by a fierce little rainstorm at lunch, and once again found myself at work without a decent pair of socks to wear. You'd think I would learn to carry around a couple extra pair by now. Nope.

But now it's about to get real! Back when I was still thinking and planning my Motor Free Month I decided I would need to include an overnight trip to Boulder or Denver in the month. If one takes the Motor Free Month as a proxy for say, a Motor Free Year or Life, for example, one would have to know how difficult it would be to go to a different city now and then. My life has been somewhat geographically constrained since August 30th. The farthest I've traveled was up to Greyrock Mountain some 3 weeks ago. It's time to bust out and see what sort of hardships and annoyances one must endure in order to travel down to the big city and enjoy what it has to offer.

If this song doesn't get you amped up to travel, I don't know what will: The Pogues, Sally MacLennane

And in the offering this weekend in Denver is the Great American Beer Festival, and I am delighted to attend as a representative of Buckbean Brewing Company, based in Reno Nevada. Mostly I'll be volunteering at their booth and pouring their delicious sudsy beers for thirsty festival-goers all weekend. Assuming I can get there. Note to festival-goers; I'll be attending the Friday evening session, and both Saturday sessions. Stop by and say hi!

I'm taking the afternoon off Friday, and I'll start my journey on the road bike directly from work at lunch. I just mapped out a route from Ft. Collins to Denver, roughly parallel to 287 through Loveland, Longmont, Louisville (any other towns in CO that begin with "L"? Shall I detour through Leadville?), and Broomfield, before making my way to Denver. Thanks to some good advice from my friends Greg and Mark, I've got a decent route through the city to downtown. The total distance is about 66 miles from my office. At 17 miles/hour that means it should take me about 4 hours to reach downtown, plus extra time for rest stops, traffic lights, getting lost, and assorted mishaps.

Note that if I were driving a car, I would not have to take Friday afternoon off at all. So there's one annoyance right away. Secondly, I'm going to have to pack light. Extremely light, in fact, since I don't have touring panniers for my road bike and I'll have to haul everything on my back in my backpack. I figure one set of clothes for riding, another for not riding, and lots of deodorant. And extra socks, I seem to frequently be in want of those. Anything that can be left behind will be left behind, including such seemingly trivial items as my wallet (just take the cash and cards), glasses case (substitute a sock I guess?), and phone charger (will leave phone off most of the time). I believe this constitutes a second annoyance.

But for all that I am very excited about the trip. I've ridden longer distances than this before, but something about this trip seems far more adventurous, more fraught with peril. I suppose some of it is that if I had trouble on a normal long ride, I could get a ride, you know, in a car, and get back home easily. This sort of behavior is not allowed during Motor Free Month. If I really get into trouble I'll have to figure out a way to get my bike to a shop and get it fixed. If I do end up accepting a ride in a car, it will be a tragic and unsatisfying end to this grand adventure. But that's what makes this trip all the more essential; the stakes, the risks are much higher. Although it is not the end, it is the culmination of this grand experiment.

So I may not be able to post to this blog much between now and Sunday afternoon. Au revoir until then and wish me luck! And respect my authoritai!

And keep your calendars open for Saturday, October 3rd, my last Motor Free Day. Ever. I'm planning a special century ride for that day and you're all invited to join me. We'll start at Laurel and College in Ft. Collins, at 8:00 am, and ride to Boulder and back. More details next week.