Pardon My Karass

I was reading an article this morning about a young married couple: one a conservative pundit, the other an Obama White House staffer. The latter was killed by a car while he rode in a bicycling charity event outside DC.

It’s a sad story that you can read about here.

The two were the unlikeliest of couples. The story ended with a reference to Kurt Vonnegut who came up with the concept of a karass. According to the Urban Dictionary, a karass is

A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.

Time and again I have met people who are part of my karass. I find myself hanging out with them even though there is no logical reason for them being important to me. Somehow they become incredibly meaningful to me and have a great influence on how I think about…everything.

I won’t name any names. (Long time readers can almost certainly guess who some of the members of my karass are anyway.) As someone who read Vonnegut back in the day, I am surprised that I don’t remember this concept. It was lost in all the cynicism and twistedness of his writings, I suppose. I am grateful to finally have a word to put to something that has been puzzling me for years.

So, who’s in your karass?

Bike Commuting with Jet Lag

My recent vacation took me (literally) around the world. We flew from DC to Sydney, did some flights in Australia and over to New Zealand, then flew to Phuket Thailand. After staying there a couple of days (it rained, my son who lives and works there got food poisoning) we flew home by way of Abu Dhabi and New York. The great circle distance between all these points is about 28,800 miles. If you allow for routing off this shortest path we probably flew 30,000 miles. Our time in the air was in the neighborhood of 64 hours.

64 hours of sitting in coach is not a really good idea. It’s really hard on your body. Your hamstrings tighten up and you back starts to ache. In Melbourne, about the middle of the trip, my lower back start to ache in sharp bursts. I managed to calm things down with some gentle back and hamstring exercises.

When I got home from the trip, I started getting the same back twinges. I decided that the best way to get back in the saddle figuratively was to get back in the saddle literally. So I rode my bike to work the very next morning. It was the slowest, groggiest bike ride I have ever done but I made it in one piece.  The ride home in the rain was not anything I’d like to repeat. The back twinges were coming and going after the rides but my back felt fine during the commutes.

Yesterday I rode to work again. Again I had a few back twinges during the day but they didn’t propagate to full on back spasms. I rode home with very welcome strong tail wind. When I went to put my bike in the shed, I noticed that the grass in front of the shed had gone to seed. I hadn’t mowed it in nearly three weeks. The grass was up above my ankles so I decided to mow the lawn.

During all this riding and mowing I drank only 2/3rds of a bottle of water.

Last night at 3 am payback time arrived. I rolled over in bed and the inside thigh muscle on my right leg went into a massive cramp.

It took me a good 15 minutes  to get the muscle to calm down enough to get back to bed, all the while having little aftershocks to remind me to stay perfectly still.

I thought about riding to work today. The idea of having one of these cramps on a bike was somehow unappealing.

So I drove.

What a wimp.

At least my jet lag is gone.

September by the Numbers

September was my lowest mileage month of the year. I rode only 349 miles including 8 bike commutes for 243.5 miles.  My longest day of riding was 33 1/2 miles, a commute extended to meet a friend for a beer in DC. I did 8 bike commutes: 6 on The Mule and 2 on Big Nellie.

For the year I know have ridden 5,669 miles. I’ve done a 121 bike commutes. I am wearing my oldest bike out. The Mule has done 70 bike commutes and 3,012 miles.

Back in the Saddle

I have been off the bike for about 2 1/2 weeks. My wife and I went to visit our kids. Our daughter is doing a semester abroad at MacQuarie University in Sydney, Australia. Our son is teaching at a school in Phuket, Thailand. Since my daughter had a two-week spring break we decided to go see her and check out Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand.

We headed west on 9/10 and kept going, arriving back in DC on 9/28. Yesterday, despite severe jet lag and a head cold that I’ve had off and on since 9/8, I rode to work. Riding with jet lag is a bit like riding drunk. Balance is a real problem, especially at when stopping and starting up.

While I was gone, the Alexandria City Police department began targeted enforcement at stop signs, singling out bicyclists. This is probably in response to complaints from some cranky residents of Old Town who refuse to acknowledge that they live in a tourist trap and on a major bicycling artery, the Mount Vernon Trail. They have political pull so from time to time the Alexandria police appease them with obnoxious enforcement.

The police are apparently requiring bicyclists to put a foot on the ground when stopping. The penalty for noncompliance is a $91 ticket. Suffice it to say, my jet lagged body did not appreciate this.

Last night on the way home I counted the number of cars that came to a complete stop at stops signs on Union Street. 6 out of 10 did not. The first of the 6 was an SUV that nearly hit me as I stopped and put my foot down.

On the way to work I rode to work on Royal and Saint Asaph Streets. No cars, not a single one, came to a full stop at stop signs. I lost count at how many there were but the total must have been more than 30.

I have ridden through Old Town 40 or 50,000 times. (No lie.) I have never hit anyone or been hit by anyone. Not a single accident. Cars have nearly hit me dozens of times. None of them were ticketed.

My only response to this nonsense is to put my foot down literally and figuratively. I will stop at ever stop sign and put my foot down. I was also stop patronizing businesses in Alexandria. I probably spend several thousand dollars a year in Alexandria.

I try to keep in mind that the police officers involved probably don’t want to be out there harassing people. But harass they do. Doesn’t do a lot for respect for the badge.

Rant over.

Pictures of my travel can be found on my Flickr page.

A Pebble in the Water

A year ago today the world lost an important person. She wasn’t famous or well-to-do. Maybe your path crossed hers as she wended her way about the DC area to school, to her internship, to home, to her volunteering activities, or to meet with her friends.

Lorena could command a room with her determination. She could make you feel loved with her radiant smile. Sometimes she would do both at once.

I knew her mostly second hand from a mutual friend who loved her dearly.

Lore and Flor

Shortly, after her death, her friends and family held a secular memorial celebration at  American University (where she was to earn her Bachelor’s Degree postumously in May 2015).

Through incredible heartbreak came the moving testimonials of her husband, her mother, her four “soul sisters”, and other friends. She was a force of nature who loved fiercely. A few months later her husband told me that they had thought of themselves as pebbles in the water:

“…to encourage all who may be struggling/stuck to open themselves up to making the impossible possible…in their lives.”

As one testimonial after another revealed, Lorena lived this simply by giving her time, attention, and love to her friends in need.

So every day, I think about her. I think about how she helped so many people, how she was going to college so she could help many, many more in the career she never got to have.

And I suppose her pebble has moved me, too.

Lorena's Recipe for Living on My White Board at Work

Lorena’s Recipe for Living on My White Board at Work

Wish I Was Here

Tomorrow is the annual 50 States Ride in DC. It’s the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s main event. You ride on each of the avenues named after a state. The cue sheet is nortoriously complex, typically running 9 pages. The weather rarely cooperates.

I won’t be riding it this year, but I will be thinking of my friends who will be slogging up and down the hills. For those of you who are new to the event, here are a few pointers:

  • The route is about 62 miles long. It feels like 162. It will take you all day. Don’t complain. Suck it up.
  • The weather almost always plays a role. Rain or oppressive heat and humidity, sometimes both, are the order of the day. (This year’s forecast looks pretty decent though.)
  • The people who work this event, WABA employees and volunteers, get up way before dawn and work into the evening to make this thing happen. Thank them profusely. Buy them a beer at the after party. Hug them.
  • You will stop at a red light, a stop sign, or a rest stop about 1,458 times. Instead of bitching about it, introduce yourself to the people who are riding with you. I’ve met more people during the 50 States Ride than all the other rides I’ve done put together.
  • Your hands will be tired. You’ll be breaking constantly.
  • When you get to Massachusetts Avenue in SE, feel free to let ‘er rip. It’s the best downhill in the city. Sadly you will come to a mess of traffic lights and a traffic circle at the bottom. Don’t blame me.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, remember you can bail out at any time, if you can live with disgrace, that is.
  • If you’ve done the ride before, take a rookie under your wing. I’ve done this several times. It’s great to see the smile on that rookie’s face at the end of the ride.
  • Take pictures and post them to WABA’s Flickr page.
  • When you get to the Tacoma Park rest stop, yell “Hail Rootchopper!” Mike and Lisa will understand.
  • The rest of Washington will be out and about like any Saturday in September. Say hello. Smile.
  • Save a little something extra for the last five miles. You’re gonna need it.

And most of all, Have FUN!

Shifty Nellie

Over the weekend I put a new rear wheel on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I test rode it and all was good.

Two miles into my ride to work I realized that my rear shifting as FUBAR. I only had three or four working gears. It wasn’t a disaster but it was annoying all the way to work.

Now that Labor Day is in the rear view mirror we can enjoy the delightful weather of fall. NOT. It’s oppressively muggy here, made worse by the fact that the air conditioning was turned down over the weekend. I changed into my work clothes and went to my office. Sweat just poured off me. Gross.  By ten the air conditioning had caught up with the humidity so the rest of the day wasn’t so bad.

The ride home was an exercise in deft shifting. I took a detour to Spokes Etc. in the Belle View shopping center. Aaron made quick work of fixing my bike while I waited. This shop has done this for me dozens of times over the years. They rock. Thanks, Aaron.

I was wearing my Anthony Rendon jersey today. One of the shop employees mentioned that Rendon is his cousin. I asked him for his autograph.

I lie.

The ride home was routine except for the sauna-like conditions.

I realized today because of other committments that I will not see another regular season Nationals game at the ballpark this year. I had a blast going to games with my kids and with Ryan, Kirstin (twice), Renee, Ed and Mary, Mike and Lisa, and Katie Lee (twice). Thanks to Delonte and Raymond for their most excellent bike valet service.

Of course, there is always the possiblity that the Nats will make the playoffs and give me another chance to see a game. :-)