Honoring My Compass recently recounted a bike trip taken to visit a friend in rural Washington that lives in a tiny house with her mother. “Bike Touring, Tiny Houses, and Slug Sex” was a fun read, particularly since at the time the reader was experiencing a very stormy weekend and was concerned part of her house may not actually make it through.
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According to one source, mansplaining is “that thing where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter. It’s paired with a ‘slimy certainty’ (thanks Urban Dictionary) that the mansplainer is right because he’s a man.” (Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass)
A few nights ago I made my way to the one bike shop in town that stocks Nifty Swifties—the tires I have on my Sweetpea. Walking in the front door, I instantly felt out of place. The counter was full up with tall, very lean dudes. (If you have never met me: I am not tall, not lean, and my large breasts often get in the way when I’m doing yoga so I’m pretty sure I’m not a dude.) I stood a comfortable distance from the counter and waited patiently for a few minutes until the token woman offered to help.
As she was checking their stock of Nifty Swifties, the next clerk over had an exchange with a new (male) customer who had come in, expressing remorse that the customer needed to wait. Gosh, I thought. He didn’t care that I was waiting—patiently.
The female staff member found the tire I needed and started working a computer for an invoice. A thought occurred to me: since I had to go out of my way to make this purchase, I should make sure I was getting the exact same tire I had.
Asking an innocent question was my big mistake.
“Do Nifty Swifties just have one diameter?” I asked. I was almost certain they did, but better be safe than need to delay my repair, right?
The female staff member, who may have been new, was perplexed. As she started looking up the shop’s stock again, the customer on my right chimed in.
“The 650B is a very unusual size.” Mr. Buttinsky said, in a way that instantly felt condescending. “Almost no bikes have it.”
(Note to random customer: you’ve never been to Europe, have you? Or known any short women? Or checked out the new Jamis models? I know at least two people, not including myself, who have bikes with 650B wheels…)
Wishing I could shoot laser beams into his skull with my eyes, I asserted back, “I have a 650B.”
If I was better at comebacks in the moment, I might have added, “Natalie Ramsland drew two options for me when we were working on my bike together, and I very thoughtfully and deliberately chose the one with 650B wheels.” I know what tire I need, you jerk. UGH!
After I left the shop and headed for yoga class, I thought more about the interaction. Lately I’ve been looking for possible miscommunications in unsettling interactions rather than assuming the knee-jerk worst and letting it color my approach to my fellow humans. Another man I know really likes being helpful, and on many occasions has helped me when I’ve had a lack of technical knowledge. (He also does so without the slightest bit of condescension.) Could this stranger have merely been trying to help, and my own situational insecurity misinterpreted his intent?
It seems possible—until I think about other bike shops where I’ve never once felt out of place. The shops I’m thinking about are proactive about being female-friendly and have more than just one token female staff member. I have a personal connection to at least one person—reinforcing my thought that bike shop loyalty is built largely on relationships. The contacts I have and cherish, like my man friend, share knowledge without disdain. And recognize that I am no newbie to cycling.
Guys—just because someone doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean that they’re not a knowledgeable cyclist. Bicycling in high heels is fairly de rigueur in Portland these days. Seniors were racing the wind since before you were born. Gary Fisher could probably school you on bikes, but doesn’t look the part. If you’re trying to be helpful, check your tone.
And for the love of Pete, when will more shops start stocking Nifty Swifties?
Recently Atticus and I were involved in a crash.
It wasn’t a major crash or anything, but they’re always good at shaking up your life a bit anyhow.
What perfect timing then, that I should come across a blog article about crashes and pets, through the perspective of a fellow cyclist.
In Will You Be Coming Home to Your Dogs Tonight?, Susi shares the story of when she and her husband were in a bike crash that involved a short hospital stay. When they headed out on their ride they had no idea they wouldn’t be returning home to their dogs that night. In the piece, Susi shares her thoughts on how to plan for such an eventuality—and as most emergency preparedness goes, planning ahead is key. It’s not as hard as you may think!
The thought of not making it home to Atticus has crossed my mind now and again, but it’s usually gone in a flash. Reading Susi’s article got me thinking about easy steps I can take to ensure Atticus does not languish if the unspeakable occurs. (I will admit though, when you live next door to your family, half the work is already done.)
How have you prepared for this type of emergency? Got any more tips to share?
How do you tell when an Oregonian is traveling?
Amanda, one of my lovely ex-coworkers from Adventure Cycling Association, won a bike trip to Wisconsin at Interbike. She was chosen through a drawing done by Travel Wisconsin. She asked if I would like to be her +1, and I leapt at the opportunity. We scheduled our four day trip for Memorial Day weekend, and largely went about our daily lives until then. I worried about being able to pull off a long day on my bike, and made sure to do a long ride each weekend in the month leading up to our trip.
We spent one night in Milwaukie, then two nights in Madison, and then were whisked back to Milwaukee to catch our flight home. Over the four days we only got one significant ride in, around Lake Monona in Madison. Fate was not cooperating with our plans to bike beautiful Wisconsin.
There were still many great things we discovered in Wisconsin though! My personal favorites:
You don’t normally think of hotel restaurants as amazing places to eat, do you? That is because you haven’t visited Kil@wat, which is on the second floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in Milwaukee. Kil@wat’s staff welcomed us with open arms. Although it’s not on their website, they have a significant vegetarian menu. The butternut squash soup (of all things) was to die for. Our server was friendly and had a pleasant conversation with us—even offering us complimentary dessert at the end of our dinner. We also started getting a sense of Wisconsin’s game in the cheese department here.
• The Bronze Fonz
Right around the corner from our hotel we discovered a life-size (Henry Winkler is a short man) statue of Fonzie! It was right along Milwaukee’s Riverwalk, which houses other public art such as “Gertie Gets Her Ducks in a Row” by Benjamin Rothschild.
Tillamook Cheese is one of the original culinary prides of Oregon. Their medium cheddar has won international competitions, so I wasn’t planning to be too impressed by Wisconsin cheese. I was pleasantly surprised though. As a vegetarian in the midwest, cheese is about the only thing you can eat at many restaurants. And boy did I eat a lot of cheese. Cheese plates, grilled cheese sandwiches (minus the bacon, which seems to be an interesting regional requirement), mac and cheese, cheese popcorn…so much cheese. Fortunately it was all quite tasty.
Another pleasant surprise was my discovery of pretzel buns. At the Great Dane Brewpub in Madison I had the mac and cheese with a pretzel bun, which was rather flavorful. The next day at Essen Haus, my veggie burger came on a pretzel bun. This second bun lost that delicious yeasty pretzel taste compared to the Great Dane roll, but it was more like a hamburger bun. Dana and I have made pretzels before, and we’ll have to try pretzel buns sometime in the foreseeable future.
• Manna Cafe and Bakery (and a special cameo!)
Remember Diana the cross-country bicycling veterinarian? She visited Portland last fall and we Brewcycled together but she lives in Madison now with her adorable Newfoundland Amelia. They hung out with us when we first arrived in Madison—Diana took us to Manna Cafe and Bakery, her favorite place to eat in town. I think it’s my favorite place too—knowing the meat-and-cheese landscape of the midwest, I was able to get a meal with serious veg here. Before leaving I picked up a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin and Earl Gray scone with lemon drizzle for later. Both were delightful, and I’m also going to see if I can reproduce that scone at home.
Our second day in Madison wasn’t cooperating with us, but we still had some time to kill. Even though it was Memorial Day, the Wisconsin State Capitol building was open, so we went inside. It’s the third capitol building I’ve been to, after Oregon and Montana. Last year it was the site of much national attention when Governor Scott Walker had a showdown with the unionized public employees of the state. I found beauty in both the immense tile murals adorning the rotunda and in details such as the Ws that reminded elevator passengers which state they were in. Unlike other state capitols, Wisconsin’s rotunda sports an observation deck where visitors can circumnavigate the building and see out in all directions.
In Madison, busses kept passing by with a line drawing of a badger that looked straight out of the 1950s. Soon I found out this was Buckingham U. Badger (or “Bucky” as he’s known to his friends)—the official mascot of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At one establishment across the street from the capitol building I found small bags of Bucky Badger Cheese Popcorn. A great gift for my loved ones at home!
That’s not quite everything, but those were definitely the highlights of this bike trip that featured more eating than biking. I also enjoyed the pet friendly hotel we were at in Madison, where just at the moment I was missing Atticus, a dog came around the corner and made fast friends with me. There was the Free Little Library we discovered—and I later learned Free Little Library started in Madison. We also got to check out Madison’s bikeshare program—which I’ll leave for another post.
As Amanda noted on our last day, Travel Wisconsin gave us just enough of a taste of the state to want to come back for a longer bike adventure!
Would you ever leave your child alone by herself when you went to work all day? No you wouldn’t, fair reader—I just know it. Yet it is commonplace for us to leave our animals by themselves for hours each day, without supervision. What if you have a particularly sharp, social, active animal as a housemate, as I do? If you’re a cyclist, you’re in a double pickle—using your precious free time to go on a bike ride is likely to yield those eyes. Those sad, sad eyes that wonder why you’re leaving—again.
This has been my experience at least. My faithful sidekick Atticus loves going places and meeting new people, but biking with him has been impossible. When he was much younger (and more skittish) I tried acclimating him to a trailer, but one paw placed in the trailer made the thing wobble. He would have none of it.
In the time since, a new option has made serious inroads around Portland: the mighty cargo bike! Able to carry anything you can dream of, cargo bikes have gained enough traction in Portland that there are annual cargo bike competitions such as the Fiets of Parenthood and the Cargo Bike Disaster Trials.
I secured a cargo bike for the weekend from Splendid Cycles, owned by the kind hearted Barb and Joel Grover. Barb and I met when we worked together at the local bike advocacy organization—she was an extraordinary volunteer for a major fundraising event we held each year.
Friday: Getting Our Bearings
Friday evening I picked up the bike at Splendid Cycles. Our chariot for the weekend? A Danish Bullitt cargo bike, in a color called “Milk Plus.” It had a box with a non-slip bottom in the front for Atticus.
The Grovers’ experience is that dogs generally do great in a cargo bike. “There’s something about being in front,” Barb said—and it made sense. Atticus likes to be in front on our walks, so perhaps being in front on a more solid vehicle than a bicycle trailer would make sense for him too.
Barb wheeled the rental across busy Belmont to the much calmer SE 14th—a residential street. She explained the two errors newbies always seem to make: watching the front wheel and steering incorrectly. She said that almost everybody gets used to their Bullitts after riding about a block.
While I didn’t watch the front wheel when I took off, the steering still felt foreign. Riding the slight downhill on 14th helped, and by the time I reached a traffic circle and made my way back up to Belmont, I was confident enough to start making my way home.
The way home was slow. Normally that journey would take about 30-35 minutes on my usual bike, but I believe it took about 45 minutes on the Bullitt. It was a combination of still feeling a little foreign riding the bike and making my way up the hills along the route home. But the second I got home, I brought Atticus out to see how far we could get on the first introduction.
Turns out, getting Atticus in the bike wasn’t that tough. The last few years he’s been pretty good about getting into a bathtub if I point and sound assertive. Making sure the bike was on its center stand for more stability, I gave my bathtub command. The first time we had to help his back end into the bike, but after that everything was fine. I wrapped a leash around the head tube of the contraption and attached it to his harness, just to make sure he wouldn’t leap out.
We started with just a trip around the block, and the only time Atticus looked nervous was when he felt the stand flipping up and hitting the bottom of the cargo box (he got used to this over the weekend). One successful trip deserved another, and then another. Atticus only risked trouble once that evening, when he shifted his weight in the box as I took off from a stop, and we nearly tipped the bike. After that, he nestled in the box and rested his chin on the edge as we ended up biking around our neighborhood, and even over to the Woodstock library, as much as we could fit in before dark.
At sunset, it felt like a new day had dawned.
Saturday: Human Cargo
Atticus didn’t go for any rides on Saturday, but I did experiment that day with human cargo. When I offered the above photo of Atticus successfully meeting the cargo bike on Friday, Steven immediately replied, “when do I get a turn?” He came over Saturday and I had a new challenge.
That part went pretty well—we moved more slowly because Steven weighs more than Atticus’ 65 pounds, but the bike actually felt more stable/less likely to tip because of it. Again, we started with just a trip to the local park and back, but before we knew it we were headed to the Woodstock library again, around Brentwood Park a few times, and generally any old place I could go that didn’t require any hill climbing.
My legs were a little tired when I finally got off the bike, but I was properly prepared for Sunday.
Sunday: East Portland Sunday Parkways
If you’re not familiar with the concept, Sunday Parkways (or ciclavias, Sunday Streets, etc) is an event where certain streets are closed to cars for people to come out and play. The first Sunday Parkways of the year was held in East Portland—historically the least packed of the bunch, which I saw as a great opportunity.
Atticus isn’t fond of other dogs, which normally makes taking him to a crowded Portland event like this a bit unfair to him. He loves exploring new places and enjoys meeting strangers, but other dogs that get in his face and stay there are Canidae non gratae.
Dressed in ship-piloting theme clothing (Union Jack helmet and Moby-Dick socks), I loaded Atticus into the Bullitt Sunday morning. Steven joined us, and we headed for the course, just over a mile east of my home.
But before we got to the event Atticus randomly decided to jump out of his cargo box—mere feet from busy 82nd Avenue! It wasn’t too hard to keep him out of harm’s way, but it was a bit of a scare since we hadn’t even reached the event yet. He peed, and soon enough we hit the road again.
Once at Sunday Parkways, Atticus had a swell time. He was lying down for about half the seven-mile course, but then he sat upright and just let his ears and tongue float on the wind, face relaxed. He enjoyed getting to go for a ride, appreciated not being left behind, and delighted in the attention he was getting from passersby, whose children would point and shout, “look at that doggy!” A few gravelly voices noted how Atticus clearly had a great life, getting wheeled around on a cargo bike. We avoided stopping in the most crowded places so Atticus’ patience wouldn’t be tested. In hindsight, the cargo box probably offered him the protected feeling of a kennel, calming him even more. This was one happy dog.
Since my full attention was on Atticus and the bike on Sunday, I didn’t take any photos of us. Steven got a few of us riding the course—we’ll see how they turn out!
After the event, we went back home to briefly rest and compare notes with Steven before the bike needed returning. Soon I piloted the Bullitt back down to Splendid Cycles before the shop closed at 5pm.
And when I got home, I immediately started scouring Craigslist for used cargo bikes…
Does Atticus have an easy life? Decide for yourself: subscribe to The Daily Atticus to follow his adventures, in pictoral form.