A Vegetarian Cyclist Defends Herself to NPR

Imagine opening the morning paper only to find yourself accused of being “holier than thou” by a national news agency.

That’s kind of what happened to me this morning. NPR ran a blog post called “Do Vegetarians and Vegans Think They Are Better Than Everyone Else?” After reading the post, I couldn’t help but be ashamed that NPR is using the divisive “us” versus “them” sensationalism usually dominated by local news outfits. There were enough “yes” responses though, that I couldn’t help but feel a little attacked for my personal choices.

As a vegetarian of 18 years, in my experience this is only a real issue for other people. That is to say, the only time my being a vegetarian has become “an issue” is when someone else takes issue or is otherwise uncomfortable with it. I don’t know why a statement uttered for logistical purposes has set them off, but they often start talking in a way that starts making me slightly uncomfortable. Stating a dietary constraint I practice is not an attempt to convert you, I’m only saying it so we can find a place where we can both eat. I’ve shared a meal with plenty of omnivores in the past, and I’d love to share one with you as well.

Most other dietary restrictions aren’t subject to the same scrutiny. Rarely have I found lactose-intolerant people accused of acting morally superior. Allergic to peanuts? No problem! These dietary restrictions aren’t an intentional choice though, based on a highly personal belief that likely took a long time to develop.

A better question then: would NPR run a headline asking if those who follow a kosher diet are better than everybody else? Somehow I think they wouldn’t.

I’ve also heard this claim made of bicyclists—that we think we’re just morally superior to auto drivers. I’ve met plenty of people who do feel that way, and are relatively vocal about it. I feel belittled by those people too, despite also riding a bike. After all, there are plenty of other things for those people to still feel morally superior to me for—I still own a car, I don’t have a CSA share, and I don’t compost my own feces. (How gauche!)

Instead of classifying all vegetarians (or cyclists, or whatever else) as one thing and treating them as such, I’d suggest recognizing jerkish behavior as such no matter who it’s coming from. That means recognizing that not everybody is like you, and respecting them anyway.

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On Shoes and Sweetpeas


One year ago I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes (left) in Missoula, Montana. They were too cold for Oregon’s wet winter but now that our skies are sunny and the world is dry, I’ve been wearing them out in the world once again. A lot.

I assumed these shoes were old news in Portland, but I don’t have to travel far to encounter people who want to talk about my feet.

Once I was held up for several minutes at the Happy Valley New Seasons because the woman behind me in line was curious about my experience with the shoes. After two recent conversations with random strangers in less than 12 hours, I suggested to my mom maybe I should try not to wear them in public anymore. Less than five minutes later, we encountered one of our neighbors at his workplace who—you guessed it—asked me about my shoes.

Just today while waiting for an early-morning MAX train, a man who spoke little English stood in front of me, pointed, and said “Shoes!” with a thumbs up and a smile.

When I go out in the world on Sweetpea (below) I wear more traditional shoes, but I find myself getting stopped just the same.

Recently I was attempting to make a detour from my usual route and took a wrong turn in the Lloyd District. As I attempted to move back on course, I signaled and moved left into a turn lane. When I realized I wanted the next street up, the light turned red and I was unable to get back over to the bike lane before cars approached from behind.

“Oh boy,” I thought, dreadfully. “Once the light turns, these people are going to be upset I’m slowing them down and not in the bike lane.”

The driver in the car to my right rolled down his window. I tensed.

“Hey, nice bike you got there!” he said.

As we waited a few minutes for the light to change, we talked about Sweetpea and my dread lifted. I told him about how this bike had all but eliminated my former hand pain and the breathing problems I experienced on previous frames. As the light turned green he complimented the bike again and wished me well before we both took off.

Even last summer, I ran into a man observing the Missoula Marathon who recognized the bike “in the wild” and we chatted about Sweetpea and her builder for a few minutes.

Normally I don’t identify as a person who randomly converses with strangers. In Missoula things were different (everyone is so friendly), but I’m enjoying the experience of being back in Portland and having people approach me. Talking about Sweetpea and FiveFingers is enjoyable because I’m passionate about them both and enjoy encouraging people through sharing what I know. It also makes me wonder if maybe the black cloud that often follows me in public may be breaking up a little bit.

Purple is a truly magical color, is it not?

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The Humble Tupperware Container

It’s a bowl…

It’s a plate…

It can carry your packed lunch the next day!

You’ve already got one!

Instead of spending $15.95 for a titanium bowl so you can feel super cool bragging about it, why not bring The Humble Tupperware Container (or its sister, The Humble Rubbermaid Container) along on your bike trip?

Tupperware containers can still carry some bragging rights. When Bill got his vintage Tupperware out on our recent bike trip to the Oregon coast, we reminisced about how long the stuff had been around. Most families in the 80s had the very vintage he did.

My Humble Rubbermaid Container was procured when I went to Lewis and Clark College. I rescued it from being trashed when it remained unclaimed at the end of the school year. It has served me faithfully for more than a decade.

This isn’t to say I always advocate for the cheapest option—I’ve definitely spent some money on nicer things when I was certain the purchase would be worth it. But I’ve seen gearheads literally bankrupt themselves trying out new products. Because they’ve gotta have the new French press that’s also a tire lever, pipe wrench, ice axe, thermal blanket, and GPS unit. Whereas I’m the person who bought a mid-90’s (approximately) REI tent for $10 a couple years ago, and am still pretty happy with it.

Above all else, do what works for you. Get that titanium bowl if you dislike leaching plastics. Know though, that what works for you doesn’t necessarily require you to purchase a whole bunch of fancy-pants gear. Unless it’s more important for you to be a show-off…

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Certified Excellence in Bicycle Touring

“There is a war in each of us against ourselves.” –Plato

The first thought that screamed through my head Saturday morning, about five seconds after opening my eyes: IT DOESN’T MATTER.

No matter how excited I may be to have slogged up a monster hill, to have ridden up to 55 miles in one day carrying camping gear and some group supplies, to have faced my worst case scenario on the road, already I could feel all my personal victories being squashed by others. To them, acquaintances who have had far greater victories, this would matter not one whit.

It put me in a mood for the better part of a day—but soon I remembered all the overwhelmingly supportive people on my trip, leaders and participants alike. I recalled all the coworkers I’ve helped become bike commuters over the years, and how everyone has to start somewhere. We all must ride our own ride.

Joyce had said going back to your daily life could be tough.

As a graduation present to myself I enrolled in Adventure Cycling Association’sIntro to Bike Touring” course, taught by Joyce Casey and Wally Werner. After doing a bit of extra hill/distance training the last couple weeks, on July 29th I headed south towards Eugene, Oregon. Another Portland-area participant, Terri, was gracious enough to offer a carpool, and we arrived at Fern Ridge Lake together.

Fern Ridge Lake, Eugene (Saturday Evening/Sunday/Monday)
Wildlife spotted: western grebes (even parents carrying babies on their backs!)

Fern Ridge Lake was the lovely setting for our first two-ish days of instruction and preparation. This lake is an enormous reservoir that was built by the Army Corps of Engineers just northeast of the city of Eugene, Oregon. It hosts both public and private entities on the shore. Around sunrise I would take a short walk down to the marina and listen to boats bobbing along the dock, their bells lightly clanking. Then I would attempt to get a better look at the grebes, who would dive and resurface 20 feet away. Guess they didn’t want to say hi to the wacky person following them around for a better look…

On Monday afternoon I helped the first meal team procure groceries in nearby Veneta. It was good to get a warmup bike ride! We encountered an uncourteous semi driver on the way to town, but that was the only bad automobile juju I was aware of during the entire trip. Soon enough I was hauling several(!) heavy cantaloupes back to our campsite.

Adventure Cycling does group meals and meal rotations, which I enjoyed. It was no problem that I had no cooking equipment—all I needed to do was allot 20% of my cargo capacity for group gear each day, and participate in one group meal rotation (dinner, breakfast/lunch). While I think each of our groups had too many cooks (har har), participating in the meal process was a very educational experience. Later I’ll be posting about The Humble Tupperware Container, which was another pre-trip revelation.

Just Get Up That Hill (Tuesday)
Wildlife spotted: red fox 

Early Tuesday morning, we set off. Our first stop was at The Sweet Spot in Monroe, OR, for a highly recommended second breakfast of Shirley’s cinnamon rolls. Sadly Shirley had forgotten to bake extra for our group that morning—but I nabbed one of the last! Then began the great slog.

It was fairly obvious why our route began with a big hill and a higher mileage day. The plan was clearly intentional. After all, we’d be fresh out of the gate. There was also a huge empowerment element in making it up this hill—a hill that I was nervous about. I vocalized my nervousness to anyone who would listen the previous evening. Terri and I talked through the day’s route for mental preparation, and I texted my mom who reminded me “you’re tough” and didn’t buy into my worry. (She never does!) I recalled a moment in Wild by Cheryl Strayed where she was in a pickle and decided that in the middle of nowhere you could either move forward or go back. Forward it was!

Our big climb started out shady and cool, but sunny patches closer to the top took their toll as the grade increased. Over the course of two miles we climbed from about 400′ up to 1,425′, with grades up to 8%, and only two or three of our group was able to make it to the top without walking at least a little. At one point I looked back to the other side of a hairpin curve I had just traversed, and everyone I saw through the trees was walking their bike. It was a tough climb.

Eventually we came to the town of Alsea. The evening’s meal group bought vegetables from a farmer whose place we biked by just before town, and goat cheese from Alsea Acre, which we also passed. They also purchased three (delicious) pies from the local cafe, and the owner offered to drive them to our campground for free! Kindnesses like this happened elsewhere and were one of the best aspects of the trip. In town I tarried a while on the front porch of the local market. Pushing towards our camping destination I visited the Hayden covered bridge, where the clear water beckoned me to go wading below.

Beach Beach Beach Beach Beach! (Wednesday)
Wildlife spotted: spouting whales

I had a fairly specific motivation to get me through each day of the trip, and Wednesday’s was getting to the beach! As soon as our morning map meeting was over I filled up my water bottle and headed out. As Joyce predicted, the hardest climb of the day was the short hill getting back to the highway from our campground, given we’d be on cold legs. Ocean calling, I tore to the front again, only stopping for some construction about seven miles outside of Waldport. The pause allowed me to eat my lunch as second breakfast, and by the time I was attempting to follow the pilot car through the one mile construction zone, Ross had caught up to me and we rode the rest of the way to Waldport together.

In Waldport, I managed to burn an hour and a half before I knew what had happened. First I visited the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center and spent a fair amount of time marveling at the ocean and sunny afternoon, then spent some time drinking a soda in front of a market with Tony. Eventually I decided to bike the last few miles to the state park we’d be staying at. Highway 101 mostly had a huge shoulder (except strangely, going up the small hill out of town) and it was far more enjoyable than some of the Highway 101 horror stories I’ve heard.

Even though my group had the meal rotation, I still managed to enjoy this location quite a bit—likely because it was our lowest mileage day of the trip. Not only did I nab a great spot for my tent, but I got to wade in the ocean, enjoy the sunny weather, and take a shower in the evening. Getting groceries back in Waldport and getting our dinner together in time was tricky, but somehow it all came together with panache. During cleanup, John pointed out there were whales spouting out in the ocean, and I was able to watch for a few minutes (no binoculars needed!) before getting back to things.

Sea Lion Caves! (Thursday)
Wildlife spotted: swimming sea lions

Our day’s travels would take us straight down Highway 101 to Florence, then inland about 15 miles. Highway 101 afforded us a scenic ride, which included many small climbs followed by downhills as we climbed up a cape, then rolled down to a small town. Our highest elevation of the day was 475′ at Sea Lion Caves, but the tunnel before that climb was pretty harrowing.

At the entrance to this tunnel, a push button turns a light on warning auto traffic there are cyclists inside. We were advised to take the lane because there is no shoulder in the tunnel. As soon as I entered and positioned myself, I heard what sounded like an enormous truck approaching behind me. It echoed throughout the tiled walls of the tunnel. I closed my eyes and hoped they would see me and slow down so I wouldn’t be squished. Clearly they did, but at the first opportunity after that tunnel I pulled over to take a few breaths since my hands were a bit shaky. As the truck passed, I saw it was one of those enormous Dodge pickups that are one small step under needing a CDL in order to drive. Yeeps!

At Sea Lion Caves I bought some postcards and eschewed the $12 elevator ride to the cave. A staff member told people that as it was breeding season the sea lions were out on the rocks anyhow. While futzing with my bike before leaving I noticed some birds way below, and realized they were following a few swimming sea lions, which I then got to watch for a moment before heading out.

After descending from Sea Lion Caves, Highway 101 got a lot less shady and the overcast morning had completely burned off. This made the rest of the way to Florence slightly less pleasant, and by the end of the day I was developing a sunburn. In Florence I ate a Gardenburger at Mo’s (we had been given $10 out of our meal budget to do so) and filled out postcards. After mailing said postcards at the post office and a quick bathroom break at the lovely Real Food Co-op (thanks again!) I headed inland.

The highway wasn’t terrific at first but the shoulder soon opened up to the width of an entire lane! A tailwind carried me quickly into Mapleton, where we were staying at the local RV park. And what an RV park! Our tents were 15 feet from the Siuslaw River, which beckoned us to come for an afternoon swim. I hung my legs off the dock while my now-sunscreened skin baked a little more. Others jumped off the dock into the river or floated on tubes. After coming back from the dock I discovered the shady back porch, noticed the Traeger barbecue embellished to look like a tractor, chatted with the owner, and luxuriated in some fine bathrooms and laundry facilities. None of our camp sites were that bad, but I had never stayed at an RV park and this was really nice.

That evening we had dinner in town at Frank’s Place as a last hurrah. Joyce awarded us certificates to commemorate our “excellence in bicycle touring.” She then noted the next day’s forecasted heat (95 degrees) and decided to push our morning up an hour, making our map meeting at 7am instead of 8am. Oy. We all went to bed nice and early.

Home! (Friday)
Wildlife spotted: a family of deer (two fawns and mom) crossing the Siuslaw River

Besides traveling largely by myself, one of the ways I got enough alone time each day was by waking up fairly early. This meant setting my alarm for 4am on Friday. When I opened my tent the river was draped in fog, illuminated only by the fluorescent light on the dock. Walking around that morning, mist dampened my clothes.

When I left the RV park shortly after our 7am map meeting, I had tea in my water bottle. According to my TransAm map (we were now on the alternate route of Section 1!) we would soon be in Swisshome, a full-service town where I could get some water. So I drank most of my tea before it went cold. What I hadn’t budgeted on was that the markets in Swisshome and subsequent towns wouldn’t be open that early on a Friday! So I ended up making the first climb of the day with no water, and only about 1/4 cup of tea available to me. Oops. Imagine my delight then when I arrived at the open market at Triangle Lake, where the owner offered me ice water with my purchase.

Again on this day I was in the front our group, but after reapplying sunscreen and drinking my soda at Triangle Lake, I realized Todd had left ahead of me. This trip taught me that I’m a carrot rider (a goal or reward keeps me pressing forward)—so catching up with Todd became my goal for the next few hours. I summited our next climb, Low Pass (1022′) fairly quickly, and pulled into Low Pass Market after a shady descent.

At first I asked the women sitting in front if Todd had been through and how long ago that was. When they estimated he was 10 minutes ahead of me, I decided to stop for another soda. After others arrived, I took off but was now feeling a thump, thump, thump as my wheels turned.

“If I don’t look down, I don’t have a flat!” my brain bargained.

But I needed to look down. And there it was. My worst case scenario made real. (Although in my brain it is happening in a cold downpour, and I am alone.)

Turning back to the market, I asked if I could borrow anyone’s frame pump. Dan graciously loaned me his, and I started tearing gear off my bike, hyper-focused on what needed to happen. It wasn’t that bad—Sweetpea’s first flat delayed me only another 10-15 minutes, and I took care of it completely by myself. VICTORY WAS MINE! TAKE THAT, BRAIN! My worst case scenario didn’t seem nearly as dreadful as it once had.

After the victory of the flat change, my spirits took a little dive. At this point the afternoon was getting quite warm and we were heading back into the unshaded farmland of the Willamette Valley. (Lesson: if you get a flat on a hot day, fix it in the shade—not on asphalt next to a bright white concrete building.) Once when I stopped to turn my iPhone on to see if I had missed my turn (I hadn’t), I received a disappointing email. I was less than 10 miles from being done with this trip, but my motivation was waning. Joyce was right: one’s attitude can make a big difference.

Dan wasn’t far behind me, so we ended up riding back to Eugene together. We passed the campground where the trip had started, and pressed on to the airport, where the group’s vehicles were in long-term parking. The land was mostly flat and uninteresting, it was hot, and we had a bit of a headwind.

After pulling into the airport and putting my things in Terri’s van I attempted to use the shade of her car to protect my burned skin. After a few goodbyes to the other early finishers, we stopped for a cool drink and headed back towards Portland.

Would I Do It Again?

One of the first questions my mom asked was, would I do it (a multi-day bike trip) again? After a week meditating on it, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that question.

It seems there is an expectation that I should instantly be over the moon about bike touring. No—I haven’t been writing “HA + BIKE TOURING 4EVA” with hearts all over my science notebook, or planning my round-the-world honeymoon bike trip after I become Mrs. Biketouring. It often takes me some time to fully warm up to a thing (see also: Napoleon Dynamite, pickles, tofu), and it seems the things I am instantly enamored of are the things I soon can’t stand (see the hobo scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for a cinematic demonstration). We should be glad I don’t want to be Mrs. Biketouring.

Make no mistake though. Despite that Saturday morning brain crash, I definitely enjoyed myself.

Our leaders and participants were superb. Everyone on the trip was really interesting, and I enjoyed getting to chat with people individually when I rode beside them. We had an organic blueberry farmer, an ER doctor, a psychiatrist, two college professors (one retired), an ex-postal worker, a middle school principal, two cancer survivors… Our participants lived in North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, California, Washington, and Oregon. Our leaders Joyce and Wally had superb leadership skills and a comedy team rapport that kept everyone chuckling. I really enjoyed riding mostly alone, but having the safety net of the group and leaders should I need it.

In the end, whether I’d do another bike trip would highly depend on the particulars—especially the participants and group dynamic.

It could happen!

Check out my Intro to Bike Touring photos on Flickr.

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Allstate and Cyclists: Boo-urns

This evening I was eating dinner within earshot of a radio, and heard the most awful Allstate commercial. It featured “Mayhem,” played by Dean Winters, spouting a monologue about being that nasty fixed-gear cyclist who intentionally damages your car and makes you get into a wreck after you’ve gotten into the bike lane. Boy did I have a different perspective on that scenario, having been almost run off the road (intentionally) several years ago in Gresham.

At any rate, the bikes vs. cars mentality was coming through loud and clear—which doesn’t seem very helpful in keeping anyone safe.

I’ve yet to find a copy of the radio commercial on the internet (how convenient!), but did find this on a road bike forum, an image which was posted on the official “Mayhem” Facebook page in October of last year.

Allstate insures my car, and this begs me to question an assumption I’ve made. Many (but not all) car insurance policies also cover you when riding your bike—if Allstate is so anti-bike, what does this mean for me if/when I have a serious crash on Sweetpea, who I arguably use more than my car?

Even more disappointing, Dean Winters has said “when there’s not 10 feet of snow” in New York City he bikes to get around (photos). Actors are bound to their contracts, though, I suppose.

Have you heard this commercial? Anyone have a link to an online copy? And can we say a collective UGH?

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Gone Biking

Tomorrow morning Sweetpea and I leave for our first multi-day bike trip! I’m so excited.

(The link isn’t to a Pointer Sisters video. Please, just humor me and click on it, would you?)

In preparation for this trip, we’ve gone to many interesting places together the last couple of weeks:

Mt. Tabor (636 feet)
(via the steeper east slope)

Smith and Bybee Lakes/Kelley Point Park
(a 40 mile round trip from home)

Mt. Scott (1091 feet)
(for the first time by bike!)

Rocky Butte (612 feet)
(for the second time ever, and first time by bike!)

…and of course, some bike shops. But tomorrow we will travel to Eugene, and with any luck, over the next few days we will propel ourselves over the Coast Range, down the Oregon coast, and back over the Coast Range to Eugene.

Wish us luck, would you?

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Mechanical Woes

[Warning: this is long and detailed. -ha]

When you’re up against a deadline, nothing mechanical is ever easy, is it?

Nope.

Case in point: a mystery squeak and a desire to be worry-free for my upcoming trip resulted in visiting two bike shops six times over the course of four days. And it led me to some larger realizations.

The first shop, which specializes in wheels and which I don’t wish to keep anonymous, I’ll call “Shop S” for Sugar Wheel Works. Shop S is primarily a one-person operation but the owner also employs a lovely acquaintance of mine. Let’s call the other shop “Shop X,” which I will keep anonymous. Shop X is my local bike shop, which I have been pretty faithful to since they opened their doors nearly 10 years ago—mostly because when they opened, they employed two people I already knew and trusted, and soon got to know and trust a few other employees. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

A couple weeks ago I was riding with a friend and my bike was squeaking. My friend also has a Sweetpea, slightly older than mine, and she had experienced a similar squeaking in the past. This was by no means the first time I had heard the squeak, but it was getting more persistent over time. Since we were just about to ride past Shop S anyway, we stopped and went inside. I got to meet the owner (Jude), who advised that what I was describing was consistent with spoke tension issues, and then felt it on my wheels. She said I could have my wheels trued with her or elsewhere, but if I wanted her to do it I could set up an appointment.

A few days later, that’s what I did. And last Saturday afternoon began the saga. Jason, Jude’s awesome employee, trued up my wheel while we caught up with each other. When I got home and put the wheels back on my bike, the squeak seemed to be gone.

However, before I had even gone to Shop S for the first time I had already set up an appointment at Shop X. Sunday I visited Shop X out of obligation, believing my squeak was fixed and I shouldn’t need much to keep me safe on my trip. Of the several people I once knew at this shop, only one remained, and he was on vacation. A cheery person who remembered Sweetpea took a look at her, and recommended some work based on what she saw. It largely centered around cleaning my drivetrain and replacing the chain. Her estimate was between $100 and $200 dollars, depending on some things they might discover as they worked.

Of course, it ended up being the $200 figure, which I felt slightly unprepared for when the estimate was prepared. (That isn’t terrible in bike shop terms—but at the moment I am hanging on to every dime I can.)

And the squeak was back!

When the wheel got trued, there was a mystery click that remained—Jason said if the noise hadn’t gone away, to come back on Tuesday and Jude could check to see if my rear rim was cracked. Since Shop X is closer to me though, I stopped in and had a conversation with the mechanic who had worked on my bike. Not only was the squeak back, but the chain was still skipping! We decided I would head to Shop S to double check a potentially cracked rim, then drop my bike back off at Shop X when I was done.

Jude was able to isolate what was making the squeak—a loose endcap on my rear hub, which she tightened a tad. In the process she discovered that Shop X had put my rear cassette on so tight she was unable to take it off! Describing it as “barbaric,” she suggested I make haste back to Shop X and get them to loosen it enough that ideally, I could remove the thing on the side of the road in the rain if need be.

Riding unsqueakily back to Shop X, I related the diagnosis behind the mystery squeak, asked to get the shifting adjusted so the chain wouldn’t skip anymore, and related the cassette issue to the mechanic.

“It’s supposed to be tight,” he protested. “It’s done according to manufacturer’s spec, which is pretty tight!”

When I relayed that Jude couldn’t get the thing off using her bench vise and chainwhip, he offered to bring the wheel up and show me how much force he was using with his tools to remove the cassette. But before he did, I asked if I could do the honors. Since ideally, I’d be doing my own work anyway.

Using his tools (“be careful, those are my tools—I don’t want them to break”), I used the weight of my upper body to gently press down on either side to remove the cassette. It didn’t budge. I kept increasing the weight, then started using my muscles and abs…nothing.

Explaining I didn’t want to break his tools, I handed my wheel back over. Then he gave it a shot himself. “It’s not supposed to be this tight!” he sputtered.

Really. You don’t say.

When he finally did get the cassette off, he used his torqueometer to reattach it at the right pressure. Hopefully. How did it get on so tight in the first place? We’ll never know. But about an hour later I had my bike back—sans squeak, sans chain skipping, and working as creamily as ever.

When leaving Shop S for the last time, I realized something. During this episode whenever I left Shop S I felt happy and relieved. Whenever I left Shop X I felt doubtful and a little frustrated. Then I remembered how I had essentially been passed around at Shop X and mainly interacted with people who I had never met previously, who knew neither me nor my bike. The realization: it might be time to move on to another shop, where those long-gone employees had settled, and the shops that fully explain your options rather than upselling through an estimate.

Summer at a bike shop is crazy-busy. Usually I try to avoid taking up employees’ time except in winter, but this time it was mostly unavoidable. And the shop was a bit understaffed at the time, compounding the problem. It’s not to say I’ll never go to the shop again—in fact, incidents like these can kick-start a much more friendly rapport for the future. But I realized why I had been going there, and about how important it is for me to trust the people messing around with Sweetpea.

Very.

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Overachiever

In under three weeks, the goals were to bike a lot, do some hill climbing, and eat better in order to prepare for my upcoming bike trip. It would require that I pull out my kick-ass time management skills in order to do these things on top of continuing my post-MPub job search.

One week later, I’ve been on my bike nearly every day, intentionally tackled some decent hills, and lost seven pounds. (Really? Did I have a lead pipe in my pocket last Tuesday?)

I’ve always been an overachiever.

The woman leading said bike trip also noted that the terrain would be “within [my] abilities” given that I had tackled Oregon City on a full bike earlier this spring. That was encouraging—until I remembered just how much that climb wore me out.

Catching glimpses of wildlife after choosing the long way home, doing 40-milers with people I’ve always wanted to get to know better, and reconnecting with long-lost acquaintances have been some of the beautiful by-products of this process. On one outing, my riding partner diagnosed a mysterious mechanical issue I’ve been having, and even introduced me to the woman who fixed her bike when it was having that exact same problem. Kismet!

All the hours of biking have also yielded much reflection. First and foremost: being around positive people who take care of themselves makes a huge difference. Left to my own devices, I have a healthy amount of self-doubt—so it has been refreshing to get out in the world for a break from my own inner monologue and chat with new people.

As my mother recently reminded me, I likely won’t have a chance to do a trip like this again anytime soon, so it’s important to make this one count. How better to do that than by preparing properly, so I can enjoy the sights of beautiful Florence, Oregon, rather than desperately searching town for the strongest painkillers I can get.

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BMI? OMG!

The morning started simply enough, with a gesture of friendship and goodwill when I agreed to be a friend’s teammate as she undertakes the President’s Challenge. And it ended in a horrifying epiphany when I needed to weigh myself: I have gained 13 pounds since October!

If that wasn’t enough, check this out: whereas I was borderline before, this weight gain has bumped me squarely into the “obese” category of the body mass index (BMI).

But HA, there are many documented problems with the BMI as an evaluative tool! Maybe you just gained a lot of muscle!

Let’s see here. First there was the Oregon winter keeping me cooped up inside, paired with four months of sitting on my bum writing my MPub project report, followed by a month of eschewing Pedalpalooza. All that time I’ve been trying to eat on the cheap which has resulted in a lot more fats and fewer vegetables. There was that delicious recipe for lemon ice cream I discovered just yesterday. Yeah—I don’t think that too much muscle is my problem…

Typically I monitor my weight by the measurement of my pants. When my pants get a little tight around the waist, I know it’s time to start monitoring my exercise and eating habits. But this weekend I wore a bike jersey that suddenly had a one-inch midriff in the front that I don’t recall it having before. Just yesterday I noticed my suit pants were a little tighter than the last time I wore them. A few days before, I chatted with my mom while intending to eat two or three spoonfuls of ice cream from a carton. Ten minutes later, I realized my mom was right—I should have gotten a bowl! Because I discovered I had eaten a lot more than I intended.

What’s the game plan, then?

In Missoula last summer, I started experimenting with an iPhone app and website called Lose It! The program really helped me keep tabs on my eating and exercise habits. When I moved back to Portland my life became more chaotic, and my regular use of the program quickly stopped. (Fun fact: my daily walks in Missoula were often a combined length of two and a half hours. Today’s walks in Outer SE Portland totaled an hour—barely. I have some theories about why walking is so much more unattractive in Portland, but the discrepancy is pretty telling, wouldn’t you say?)

There’s also the matter of my bike trip, which starts in 17 days. While I’ve done practice overnight trips this spring (Champoeg and Metzler), I have not yet done much hill training. According to our group leader there is at least one day with a significant climb. While I’ve primarily been focusing on my job search the last couple of months, in the next two weeks I clearly need to prioritize gearing up for this bike trip.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which has been influencing how I perceive everyday activities. In the book, Duhigg discusses the role that peer pressure plays in the formation of habits. I too have found that accountability to others is almost as great a motivator as a big scary red number (see above photo). In putting this blog post up on the internets I aim to do the following:
• Create public accountability of my goal. If nobody knows, I won’t have to answer to anybody, will I? Then what motivation do I have?
• Encourage people to share their stories. How do you keep your weight in check? Ensure you’re eating right and moving enough? Tell me!
•  Invite people to join me. Are you on Lose It? Let’s keep each other accountable by joining forces. Do you bike? Let’s go on a bike ride in the next several days! I’ve yet to see the Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway, Rocky Butte, Mount Scott, or many other places from my bike. Let’s get in cahoots.

Traditionally I have not been someone overly concerned about “the number” or starving myself over a societal image of beauty. However, I do like to feel good in my body, and thinking back, that feeling was loads higher last September than it has been more recently. It’s time to do a little positive self-adjustment!

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A Pedalpalooza-Free Pedalpalooza

It was peaceful. It was enlightening. It occasionally required the aid of a sponsor.

It was a Pedalpalooza-free Pedalpalooza!

Of course, I was Pedalpalooza-free last year as well because I was in Montana. But this time it was a very deliberate choice which, at times, was hard to stick to.

But I did!

Well, except for one event.

One particularly sunny day (rare in Portland, even in June now) I was desperate for a bike ride and to get out of the house. Since I was already having an email conversation with a bikey friend, I decided to ask about the ride his girlfriend was leading that evening—it wasn’t really a Pedalpalooza ride, was it? And I wouldn’t know anybody coming except him—right? His answers were sufficient, except for one. I pretended he said it definitely wasn’t a Pedalpalooza ride, and headed out.

While riding to the meet-up location, my mind percolated. Pedalpalooza rides generally start in the central part of the city. Where I am located in Portland, this requires an hour or more just to get to the ride start. Then about another hour to ride home, depending on the end location. The ride I attended was about four hours long, not including the estimated three hours of post-ride hangout time in the host’s backyard. I departed shortly after our backyard arrival but combined with my travel time, that was a six-hour commitment for one ride!

The next morning my mother called me on my attempted self-delusion—our take-away from the ride had the word PEDALPALOOZA emblazened across the front in handwritten script. So I suppose I need to own up to the fact that yes, I went on one Pedalpalooza ride. The most insidious habits often feature a lapse or two, right? (Why am I referring to Pedalpalooza as an “insidious habit?” That’s a can of worms for another day.)

I’ve been doing the Pedalpalooza thing since 2005. That’s the year the photo above was taken—back when Multnomah County Bike Fair was exciting enough to me that I took photos. This is the annual endcap to Pedalpalooza—there are tents with vendors, some free activities, and competitions. The only problem? It is almost the exact same event year after year. To try and keep it exciting, two times I volunteered to help someone else with a booth at the fair. Both experiences left me with a bad taste in my mouth—although one made a good, albeit horrifying, story that I’ve related from time to time.

Eschewing Pedalpalooza is indicative of a larger crossroads that I’ve been trying to navigate since returning to Portland. It’s also tough to talk about because I know a lot of people who put a ton of hard work into planning Pedalpalooza and its associated events. Riding my bike is definitely important to me, but I think I need to start doing things in a new way else my enjoyment is likely to start draining. As a reader of Bikish, I’m sure you’d rather see happy, inspiring tales of discovery rather than bitter, terse observations of the same old thing. Am I right?

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