Friday, November 4, 2016

Blazing Saddles Sores

"Well, I hope no one throws anything at you while you're in Virginia." I couldn't agree more with my well-wisher. In fact I extended my hopes to include North Carolina as well.

I started thinking about biking across the country a couple of years ago. Fly to Seattle, buy a bike, ride east and a month or two later throw the bicycle in the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way meet interesting people, eat local cuisine and develop Ferrignoesque quads.

But since I'd never ridden a bike more than thirty miles in a day (and the one time I rode that far, it was weeks before I got on a bicycle again) I thought a warm-up trip might be a good idea. And I didn't have it in me to spend a month and a half in the lower 48 during an election year.

My presence had been requested in New England and The South. Schedules left me with nine days to ride 700 miles. I didn't do any complex math but less than a hundred miles a day seemed obtainable.

I've done long trips with kayaks and motorcycles and backpacks and those first moments with a heavy load, you're convinced that the frame is bent or the fork is twisted or you're going to sink. Pedaling away was no different, the bike felt squirrely and unbalanced.

A group of people, I'd met the night before at a wedding near Hartford, who thought what I was doing was mildly insane watched me pedal away. Luckily a grove of thick trees lined the corner and I was hidden from view as soon as I completed my first turn.

I stopped the bike, dismounted, and reconfigured the load. Extra straps were accessible because I've had to reconfigure many times in the past. What looks right while holding still is much different once underway. And you'll keep tweaking until Day 4, the day when things fall into place and you've found your groove.

Forty miles was all I set out to accomplish the first day. I knew I wouldn't get an alpine start, I'd be readjusting my load, I had no idea what sort of caloric intake I'd need and so forth. Plus I'd had a mild infatuation with The Doors while in high school and I remembered that Mr. Morrison found a little trouble in New Haven.

It became readily apparent that momentum would be a key. Timing street lights so that I didn't have to put a foot down meant I could keep cruising and avoid the start from a stop which took lots of effort, static versus kinetic friction, the first law King Newton penned.

Traffic was only an issue for three miles or so, then I was on the Farmington Canal Trail. It's a paved pedestrian and bike route and it got me quite excited about how pleasant the trip would be. Coasting fresh pavement inside a green belt through densely populated countryside was a breeze and I'd gone forty miles before I knew it.

The fairy tale ended two days later when I woke to rain. A friendly New Yorker suggested I, "Get in the fucking bike lane." Bike lane, what bike lane? At the next red light instead of irritating all the motorists as I coasted by them on the way to the front of the line, I stopped at his car and looked in the window. He rolled it down and I asked him where the bike lane was. As soon as he realized I was ignorant and not endangering the commute on purpose, his tone softened. Transecting NYC instantly became more enjoyable.

New York to Philly to Baltimore to D.C. blended together in a mix of rain, commuters, and occasional respite on a bike trail. Bike routes guided me through the tired, worn out parts of cities, past abandoned warehouses from the days when Americans made more than they bought and rail yards operating far below capacity.

One feels every bump through the handlebars and it didn't take long before I knew by the vibrations in my wrists that I was in another neighborhood with offers to pay cash for houses Sharpied on cardboard decorating the street corners.

Not long after I left D.C. dogs quit barking and began braying. Hounds being the first sign that I'd reached The South. Menus had grits, restaurants had waitresses, and nearly everyone had thirty extra pounds in their overalls.

"Sit anywhere ya all like," called the man at the griddle. I selected a table, spread my gear so that by the time I was done ingesting the recommended weekly allowance of eggs, potatoes, and pork products my jacket would reach that delightfully tacky state that one only experiences by donning damp rain gear and sat down. "That there's a family table," he pointed a metal spatula at me, "You sit thar, you gonna hafta act like family."

I haven't decided if franchising is the worst part of the American Dream but it's right up there. Good luck finding a group of retired farmers solving all the country's problems from the corner booth at Micky Dee's every morning. But if you follow bike routes there's a good chance you'll walk into a diner and hear someone spouting about how that's the problem these days. Do yourself a favor and sit close. Eavesdropping will be a breeze cuz they're hard of hearing and speak plenty loud.

I didn't find many places that will have a Fieri-red Camaro parked out front. What I did find were lots of joints full of good people serving decent food at reasonable prices. And of course a couple of serious griddle masters ending with the pat of melted butter on my grits, the black dude with hands so big that he could crack two eggs, one at a time onto his griddle. He's flipping hot cakes just down from the bus station in Raleigh, NC.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Heard through the headset

We're paying for the sunny spring with a jolt back to a normal summer in a temperate rain forest. The clouds add a Jurassic Park feel to the flights when there are few enough that we can provide a quality tour experience. There was one such break in the weather the other night and world headquarters hot-loaded my helicopter back to back to back.

I don't have the same spiel for each flight, mostly as a way to stave boredom and avoid becoming robotic. It would be a lot easier on the days when I don't shut down the helicopter between flights and loaders bring me group after group of passengers. I could just push play on my natural history humor mixed-tape and be off. Instead I sometimes have to ask myself if I already told this group my fun fact about super tankers or if that was two flights ago...

Anywho, I always pay attention to first timers or nervous flyers in my helicopter. I want people to have a positive experience in my machine (for lots of reasons up to and including that when at a backyard BBQ years from now when a helicopter flies over and someone complains about the noise maybe my former passenger speaks up about the wonderful memories from a flight decades ago) so I call out my turns before I make them, try to be extra smooth with my control inputs and in general make it as pleasant as possible. So at the end of the last flight of a very long day when I asked somebody's grandmother, who had told me as soon as she put on her headset that she had never been in a helicopter, "So Pauline, what did you think of your first helicopter ride?" while we waited for the blades to stop spinning so they could head back to their hotel and I could dream of murdering a beer while doing my paperwork.

"Well, I'll tell you, the helicopter was a lot nicer on my hemorrhoids than the tour bus."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Exposing the soft pink underbelly

A friend of a friend took a look at a project I've been pumping myself up to do for a few years. My pen pal pushed me to get started and so I did. Start. I thought starting would be the hard part. Getting over the idea of how incredibly arrogant it is to think that other people may be interested in one's life story was hard. Especially living in a place like Alaska where there you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a world class adventurer.

But get over it I did, because I had to or the project would never have gotten started. And completed phase one. With some help from my pen pal, I completed a book proposal. Or seven drafts of one, actually.

Phase two in the perfect world goes like this: You send out your book proposal with a query letter, an agent falls in love with the idea, negotiates a large advance, you land an artist in residence spot at the National Park of your choosing, the hardcover shoots to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List, the movie rights are sold for an obnoxious amount of money, Hollywood asks you if you'd rather have Brad Pitt or Edward Norton play you etc. etc. and you buy an island.

Phase two for me so far has gone like this: I send out the proposal to an agent. Said agent doesn't respond. Repeat.

So I enlisted the help of one Iver Arnegard. He's a friend of a friend who I met once years ago, likely eight beers into the evening. Arnegard is a professor of creative writing who recently had a collection of short stories called "Whip and Spur," published. You should check it out. It's Cormac McCarthy with punctuation.

Iver was nice enough to read through it and give me some encouraging feedback. The nuts and bolts of it was this: I need to delve deeper into the emotional bits, the failures, the lack of confidence, the vulnerabilities, the lost loves, the losses in general, the reflections on my inadequacies.

He's probably right, it'll make a better book. It'll probably make my mom cry. Hell, it'll probably make me cry. I guess that's the point.

FNG Again

I'm flying on the other side of the Chugach Mountains for the summer season. Valdez is more stunning than I had remembered. Eight-thousand foot peaks shooting right out of the sea, a proper port town and the largest tide-water glacier in Prince William Sound right next door.

It's the bottom of the totem pole for me (which is another one of the things whitey got wrong, the most important being is on the bottom so that you can look at it from eye level and the least powerful being is on the top and outta sight) this summer. That means the choice flights go to the guy that spent the winter in Valdez and that I probably won't fly the R66 cuz he needs hours in it to advance his turbine time. No biggie. I still have lots to learn about bouncing through the mountains without bouncing off them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

End of the line

I hurtled into Anchorage. I checked the clock and knew that I should stop and get rid of a cup of coffee before I showed up at the tire place to avoid dancing an uncomfortable jig while waiting in line. Alaska’s largest city is no metropolis so I wasn’t surprised to find a friend in the public restroom of the furthest south grocery store.

We shook hands, his damp from a fresh washing, and agreed to get together once more to play cards before the summer swallowed us up in its manic-ness.

I pulled into the tire changeover place fifteen minutes prior to opening. The necessary pit stop put twenty-five people in front of me. I walked past a smattering of people that make up this city on the edge of the wilderness. I few had heads down engrossed, or pretending to be, in their screens. The man at the front of the line, (when had he arrived?) leaned on his diamond willow walking stick. I noticed that it had one of those flip down ice cleats at the tip. Sweet aftermarket alteration.

I rounded the corner walking past a man wearing ear buds and talking on the phone. During our time in line he ended and started several conversations. Through body language (non-verbal communication is the college class that I use most often in the real world, or the real world in this dimension, anyway) I knew that the woman in front of him grew increasingly annoyed. Later they would approach the counter together. Was it the phone calls or an off-hand remark over breakfast that bothered her?

I took my place at the end of the line and a well-dressed young man greeted me. We chatted for a bit about how nice a day it was to wait in line. Then he leaned in and whispered, “What’s going on, is there a big sale today or something?” I smiled and welcomed him to the state. He knew nothing of studded tires and procrastination in the 49th state.

It’s wonderful how you can show up at the tire shop and see the full spectrum of Alaskans from the crusty Sourdough, who could give a brown bear a run for its money with his studded walking stick, to the fresh-faced newbie from Pennsyltucky who hasn’t slid sideways yet cursing to himself that it’s time to dig the winter tires out of the shed.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice number two, 2014

A fair number of you stalked me through the first half of the year. I went underground in an attempt to shake the tail. I had a minor surgery with major blood loss. I know, I know, face injuries always bleed a frightful amount.

I attended the wedding of close friends in Colorado in August. I heard the food was good but I didn't eat as is my custom in large groups. Sometimes I fill a plate and push bits around until they disintegrate while watching others dig in like Tony Soprano on a New York Italian (sandwich, not whore). As far as wedding bands go, the rest of you knot-tiers have a much higher bar to meet. Those boyz rocked twice as much as they rolled.

The husband made me take his motorcycle for a ride as it had been neglected all summer. I re-aggravated that exposed nerve associated with why Mr. Young's proclamation hadn't been, "We're going to Oklahoma." Bee and seagull worship aside, that place is stunning (a word used too often in parts of the Southern Hemisphere).

I hopped a train in a half-assed circumnavigational attempt on the contiguous states. Couldn't bring myself to leave Boston for Florida. Next time. Those of you that haven't ridden the rails in this country have missed out on some amazing scenery and delightful conversation. Tops involved an ex-con and an Amish gentleman debating the problems with the attention span of our country's youth.

I met up with my pen pal in NYC. They're right, it's a hell of a town. Hot tourist tip: the cheapest beers in the city (unless you date a bartender) are Bud pounders on the Staten Island Ferry. And the ride is free and beautiful, you can even see Trenton, New Jersey.

I'm currently sock sorting in Wisconsin. Mokodi is the Japanese word that springs to mind. It means the same but different. The same is grading skins is grading skins the world over. The different is no crashing rental cars or partying with movie-star midgets.

Whether you celebrate this time of year by lighting candles, sacrificing goats, or humans, I extend a hearty, "What up?" to you and yours.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

World Cup, Whirled Peas?

I agree with Chuck Klosterman and his assessment of the beautiful game's popularity in the United States. The kids destined to be picked last love soccer because all they have to do is run back and forth to participate. There's no need to get anywhere near the ball to look like you are pivotal to the match. Kids get their pictures in the yearbook and then never have to think about sports again.

Most athletic American kids still choose ball sports where you actually have to touch the ball or individual sports that require you to directly compete. Maybe in a generation or two that will change. The fact is that the USA sends its fourth-tier(fifth maybe if you count hockey) athletes to the World Cup.

I've been asking everyone who's going to win the World Cup. I spent a bunch of time in Jo-burg while waiting for the heli to get out of the doctor's office and was often the only "English" guest in the hotel. The most interesting thing I heard(and I heard it many times) was that Africa needs a continent-wide team to field for the World Cup. I pointed out that football is the least expensive sport, a village only needs one ball and it's the one sport aside from running that Africans could/should be able to compete at a world level and was consistently met with disbelief in my inability to feel sorry for Africans.

Has the world ruined Africa's ability to help itself after years of handouts? I don't know, but I do know that if Argentina knocks Belgium out, conversations at Gentse Feesten on the last day(called the "Day of empty pockets," when all the beer prices are cut in half) will not be about how Europe needs one team for the World Cup. Europeans would riot if Spain and Germany had to play for Greece or France in an all-Euro team. And the rest of the football world would riot, too. But I bet very few would say boo if an all-Africa team were proposed.