Friday, December 26, 2008

Shrink Not From The Pale Icy Grasp Of Winter

A multitude of nice sledding hills can be conquered within a two mile radius of Casa Del Hoffa Norte. It occurred to me that The Longbike would be a suitable conveyance to take Jasper and a sled and, lo! it is. The photo above was taken after our first foray into the world of xtracycle sledding, and it was a hoot. Just today we took trip #2 and it was even more fun.

Last Tuesday I had to return an empty keg and a pair of keg pumps. The Longbike, once again, proved completely up to the task. The 18 mile round trip was easy as could be and The Longbike handled better with the load than without. I'm strongly considering carrying two small bags of sand for winter traction, just like I used to do with my 1984 Chevy S-10.

I Shall Shrink Not From The Pale Icy Grasp Of Winter!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So We Kicked Winter In The Ass

A hardy group of fellows gathered Saturday to kick winter in the ass, eat a hearty breakfast and scatter to the snow-driven winds.

My camera shot craps half way through the ride, but I rather liked the blurry, surreal photos it took so here they are.

First our "paceline". The photo was taken just after I used my hot breath to thaw out the camera so it would function. It is a blurry photo, but captures the essential character of the day. Wind driven snow and all that.
Second is Ron humping his orange Bianchi up a drifted path. Monte made it the furthest up this hill, but nobody made it all the way.
And finally we see The Mighty Jim, Stumpjumper hoisted on his shoulder as he mutters his way straight up the hill. As to what he was muttering, I can only guess. The blades of the lens protector did not retract fully in this shot. I like the effect.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bike Life: Florida Edition

Having to be in Florida for work-related meetings and such, I've taken the opportunity to bike a few times. Rentals are easy to find, often in beautiful settings, and not very expensive.

DeAnn and I rented beach cruisers (which, curiously, were not allowed on the beach) at Fort De Soto Park, a really nice free county park south of St. Pete Beach. It's got a magnificent beach of its own and ample opportunities for kayaking, swimming, fishing and such. Because of geographical constraints, the paths tend to run very close to the roads, but since we can't ride on the beach it's the best we can do. Notice the incredible Road Warrior semi-truck of pedaling that this family was able to rent:
We pays our money and picks our bikes—big heavy three speed aluminum jobs and wobble off. The wind blows directly into our faces which makes it tough for DeAnn, an infrequent rider. It's cold and sort of miserable. As we tack into the wind, I notice a "hammerhead" dude about a half mile behind. I warn DeAnn that he will likely pass soon, but a few minutes go by and nothing. Glancing backward again, I can see that my "hammerhead" is really slow. As in ridiculously slow.

Over the next few minutes a scenario unfolds which I have since seen a lot in Florida: guys with racing bikes, racing duds, racing helmets and racing sunglasses that are S L O W. Finally this guy overtakes us going a whopping 12 miles per hour, if that. He's in the drops and very serious. So obviously I kick my bike into second gear and draft him for a half mile or so. Well, to be honest I could not have drafted him if I wanted to as my head sticks up a good two feet above his back. At any rate I hang with him effortlessly.

Now, lest you think that I place some sort of value on speed, I can assure you that I do not. It is of no consequence. However, if somebody goes to all the trouble to dress like a racer, ride a racer bike and has a serious, this-is-work-no-fun facial expression it seems like the least they could do is go fast. That or embrace the pace and smile. Although in this case it's hard to imagine him going much slower without toppling into the sand on the side of the trail.

Once we turn around and ride with the wind, it's obviously easier on DeAnn. She's having fun now, and we both laugh and smile. We stop to visit with a group of kayakers that are taking disabled veterans on a day trip. They have ingenious rigs for para and quadraplegic paddlers which enable them to enjoy the quiet backwaters of the park. Everyone is having fun here.

We return the bikes at the end of our short hour and explore the fort and beach. It's a terrific park and we are glad that we took the time to visit. The ambling pace suited the day and palm trees beats the hell out of snotcicles anyday.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

With apologies to vegetarians and avoiders-of-alcohol, I am so very tickled PINK with the meal I made myself tonight that I have to share.

Pauwel Kwak Belgian Ale
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Freshly Baked Bread
Braised Brussels Sprouts
Smoked Lamb Ribs

Some kinda nice. . .

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Riding In Snow

Today I had to visit my doctor's office, which is about 8 miles away. It's a cold day at less than 20ºF and breezy. The wind chill is 8ºF. Moving forward on my bike I'm pretty sure that it's closer to NONEºF. Still, I work up a sweat getting to visit the doc and my wool clothes have a decidedly ovine aroma. The receptionist plays it cool and pretends not to notice that I'm the One that is Not Like The Others. A gentleman named Gary looks me up and down and comments quietly to himself. I know he's Gary because he proclaims it to the receptionist upon arrival.

It's curious that the clinic has no facility for bike parking. You'd think that they would encourage deviants like me to exercise our troubles away. Hmm.

While I am inside, snow begins to fall in big, lazy flakes, swirling in the northwesterly breeze. I've invested in snow goggles for winter riding and I am glad I did. Pushing off into the squall, I can't help but delight in slicing through flakes of white. Most slide by my face, but a few briefly stick to the lens. It's feels uncannily like swimming. Because no skin is exposed no snow makes contact. I feel slightly removed from the weather swirling around me.

I am exhilarated to cut across wide expanses of fresh white snow, leaving behind only a thin, wandering trail. The hiss of studded tires on pavement is silenced in the deepest drifts, giving the impression of sudden tiny hops of flight. It's an airy, untethered and pleasant sensation.

How enjoyable it is to turn a routine errand into a journey of discovery.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Pleasure of Solitary Pursuits

The Twin Cities received a short inch of snow overnight, which presents a wonderful contrast from yesterday, when the weather was over 40ºF and the sun was playing hide-and-seek with high, wispy clouds. Today looks like winter, yesterday looked like spring.

Likewise, today's ride contrasts strongly with that of yesterday. Today it was a solo tour along the Mississippi River, about 20 miles worth. Yesterday I joined in the congenial meandering of the Hiawatha Cyclery ride (a Saturday morning tradition for them), which is a loose, gangly, ever-shifting group of friendly cyclers. Truth is, we spent more time chatting over coffee than riding our bikes, but they call it a "ride" and who am I to argue?

Both outings were extraordinarily enjoyable. The group ride was filled with conversation and pleasantries, seasoned with a not-insignificant amount of bike geekery. It was just damned social.

Today, on the other hand, was me vs. fresh snow, a north wind and a single gear.
I set out on a loop that I ride frequently. It runs alongside the Mississippi from the Camden Bridge to either Coon Rapids Dam or Highway 610 bridge and back again on East River Road, across the Camden Bridge and home. It's a nice mix of road and trail, with lots of little river-flat add-ons. Wildlife abounds and it's beautiful.

With fresh snow, I opt to take the Schwinn Le Tour III (in the fastest of all colors) since it has studded tires. The roads are treacherous and the carbide is appreciated. At one point a car, turning into a driveway, overshoots by about 12 feet and bounces onto the curb. The side roads are slipperier than I thought! Prudence wins out over convenience and I slip onto the adjacent bike path for the rest of the ride. I normally like to ride on the road because it's safer, but slippery roads eliminate that advantage.

I admit to a nasty habit of listening to music while riding in the winter. My ears are already covered by a hat or balaclava, so the addition of earphones and an iPod seems like a justifiably short step with no drawbacks. Since I continue the practice and have not yet been mowed down by an unheard GMC Yukon, I am obviously on the right side of the safety equation.

With music in place I take off eastward along Victory Memorial Parkway. The wind is at my back and the trail is vacant. It appears to be a glorious day for a ride.
<Southern Man, Neil Young>

I pause a few minutes to take some photos by the small waterfall near Lyndale on Shingle Creek. None of them really turn out, but the image below is acceptable. The bike is old and crusty, but I love the color. It is a comfy, no-surprises ride.
<Won't Get Fooled Again, The Who>

The path runs alongside the Mississippi for the next three miles or so. The river is steel-gray and forbidding. As I come up from the riverside, a stiff breeze slaps me in the face. My single gear seems too steep and all of a sudden I'm huffing and puffing trying to keep my momentum. It takes a few minutes to adjust to the new level of exertion, but soon I'm spinning along, comfortably warm.
<Cold Shot, Stevie Ray Vaughan>

Crossing the 610 Bridge is loud and unsettling. There is only a short concrete barrier between the hurtling cars and the bike path, the river below on the other side. It's hard to cross here without feeling some anxiety, at least for me. I'm always amazed at how tremendously loud cars are at highway speeds.
<Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band>

The river crossed, I descend into the river bottoms again for half a mile or so. It's peaceful and quite pretty down here, only a few hundred yards from the mayhem of the bridge deck above. Some cyclers have been here ahead of me, there are three wandering tracks in the snow. Out of the wind it's easier to pedal and I start to cool off. I take a water and photo break near the riverbank. Some hardy bushes sport greenery while most plants are brown and dry. The river is ice free and a wood duck house lies abandoned on the frozen ground.
<The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Lynyrd Skynyrd>

The remainder of the ride is calm and still as I pedal with the wind. Snow plumes forward from under the silver aluminum fender and blows back, coating my legs and feet. The water bottle is skinned with ice and tiny tendrils of frost coat my face mask. When I stop, my sunglasses fog over. No part of me is cold, I'm working hard enough to stay warm. A hawk swoops down, skimming the snow-covered trail with its wingtips. Then it is up and gone behind leafless trees.
<Midnight Rambler, The Rolling Stones>

At this time of year, a 20 mile ride on the single speed, particularly with studded tires, is a good workout. I'm tired as I finish, but happy. The pleasure of my solitary pursuit lingers as I stow the bike and walk into the warm house to rejoin my family.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jesus' Sniper Shack

It sits near the intersection of Jefferson Highway and 101st Avenue North in either Osseo or Champlin, I'm not sure.

What I am sure about is that it creeps me the hell out. Look at it:
And yes, that's a big old crucifix on the top.

It does not take much in the way of imagination to picture Christ himself, decked out in camouflage with a Righteous Rifle on his lap and a silver flask of Old Heaven Hill at his lips, scanning the horizon for the devil or his minions. Or, after this entry, your steady author. And here's the thing: Jesus is so bad-assed that he does not try to hide his shack. Damned thing is End of Days white!

I'll bet Jesus is a good shot, too. Even when he's drunk.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All Kinds of Sexy

It's really the only way to explain DeuS, Brut des Flandres.

I was reminded of it while doing a "class" at the Four Firkins on Monday evening. 35 avid (some rabid) beer enthusiasts crowded the shop to hear me hold forth on Belgian Beer Culture. Really it was nothing more than a collection of hopefully illustrative and entertaining anecdotes about my travels in Belgium as related to Things Beer. From the crowd reaction it was successful. Everyone seemed to have a pleasant time in a cozy shop filled with good beer and friendly people.

As usual, a highlight was the opening and serving of DeuS. There is nothing like this, the Queen of Beers and I thought it was tasting particularly seductive, even from a plastic cup. Flavors of pepper, lavender, anise and a flowery, perfumed nose worked their magic on me and I was rendered momentarily speechless. From the irresistably festive POP of the cork to the final voluptuous sip, DeuS is a many-splendored treat, worthy of a bit of internet beer porn.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Warm Social Embrace

The Bulldog NE is a delightful place to start an adventure.

Bert and I, thanks to the kindness of a colleague, enjoyed guest list status Saturday evening for The Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers show at First Avenue. At Bert's suggestion, we started with a couple of beers and a bite at The Bulldog. It was a good suggestion which went only a little sideways as our visit progressed.

The Bulldog NE, like many good bars, wraps it's guests in a warm, social embrace. Sure, the ceilings are too tall and there are far too many TV's, but despite these drawbacks, it's a nice place to spend time. Particularly on a mellow Saturday afternoon the crowd noise envelops each table in a perfectly anonymous white noise which makes it easier, somehow, to talk. I have an idea that human-generated background noise, unaided by electronics and random in it's swells and lulls, satisfies a genetic need we all have to be near each other. Surrounded in a social, convivial way whilst allowing each individual a measure of private space.

As we enjoyed our beers and food, we talked of many and unrelated things. How's graduate school? How's work? Family? Your bike? It was a very pleasant conversation and the food and drink were delicious. Smiles and laughs frequent.

Things took a turn for the commercial when I engaged Chris and Amy, the married co-owners and managers in some work-related banter. It's no reflection on them as they are very friendly and I highly value them as customers, but nevertheless business talk put the hex on the time I was sharing with Bert. Somehow the crowd noise which had been comforting was now growing loud and vaguely annoying. The spell, now broken, failed.

I savor moments of social grace with friends and family and I endeavor to recognize them as they are happening. On Saturday the moment slipped away, unseen but not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hard Hitting Internet Journalism

When I started this blog, I anticipated writing about things that got my hackle up. You know, rants and the sort of things other good bloggers seem to be able to pull off. I swore that I wasn't going to be another "today I waxed my moustache with a new kind of moustache wax and I'm pretty sure that I like the old stuff better and here's why. . ." sort of blogger.

It turns out that I'm just another moustache wax reviewer. Huh.

I like writing about the little things that bring me joy. I have trouble committing to pixels my peeves. It might be more interesting for me to be peeved more often, and I swear I'll try. But in the meanwhile let me tell you that the highlight of my day, for sure, was hearing this little girl practice saying my name. She's just getting used to saying real words and my name is one of the words she's learned. Pink is the color I'm tickled, my friends. Pink.

Meet Lily, my Favorite Person for Tuesday, November 11, 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Time For The Special Team

Is Good Beer Recession Proof?

As I watch the Dow plummet—again—this Veteran's Day, I wonder about the long-held view that good beer, unlike many things in a soft economy, is resistant to recession.

The beer I sell (which you can see here) is some of the most expensive in the world. Being from Holland, England, Germany and Belgium, it costs a lot to get it to the US and it's not cheap to begin with. The result is an adult beverage at the "top of the range" as the Brits say.

I've been selling such beer for almost 14 years and have noticed no drop-off in hard times. These may be the hardest times of all, and it's too early to know for sure, but it looks like another down-turn without much effect on the import beer business.

So maybe some things, minor vices maybe, ARE resistant to recession. But I keep looking for the monsters in the closet.

On a totally different topic, if you have the wherewithal to do so, offer a small toast to the men and women in history that have given their service to our country. Thank you, veterans!

Friday, November 7, 2008

First Snow

We had our first snowfall of the season in Minneapolis today, and Jasper celebrated by doing the only reasonable thing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Celebrating Election Day One Case At A Time

I spent the afternoon with my friend Jake on Election Day, and picked up a case of Tilburg Dutch Brown Ale at The Four Firkins by way of exercising my rights as a free American.

It's sweet hauling cases of beer on a bike. I'm pretty sure I could handle one or two more at a future date. I will post of a photo of a three-case day.

We had lunch at Moto-I, a couple of excellent sakes, and a slightly buzzed swerve down the Greenway. All of these things I endorse heartily.

A Day Off With Jasper, With Trains

On Monday my son Jasper had the day off from school. His teachers were doing an in-service or some such thing, and he and I had the chance to spend the day together.

He joined me for a bike ride on the long bike (as yet unnamed) and I took him to overlook some trains. Jasper's nuts about trains, so this was the only way to get him outside on a beautiful November day.

He is only 5, so he can't begin to understand how wonderful he makes me feel and how much I enjoy hauling his squirrelly little butt around.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reflections on A Ride

Today I jumped on my trusty, almost rusty, orange Schwinn Le Tour III with one goal in mind: to ride some new asphalt.

This bike is set up as a cheap-o winter singlespeed and will be sporting Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires this season to get me through the Big Cold. For now, it's got some sweet Ruffy Tuffy's and an old man gear (42/18) for tooling up and tooling down and tooling all around. I like the bike very much and it's in the very best color of all for bikes. Orange is both fastest and sexiest. Even on 30 year-old frames.

Anyway, I buzzed from Casa Del Hoffa down the byways and parkways, across the river, down many leaf-strewn paths and found myself biking around Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery trying to find an entrance to the Minneapolis Diagonal Trail.

In my quest for trail access, my eyes did not fully reckon what they were negotiating. That place is beautiful! If you have not had a chance to wheel yourself around it, please seek out a day like today (70F in Minneapolis on November 2—surely a sign that our political fortunes will change for the better on Tuesday) and buzz around a bit. It's a stunningly peaceful, well designed place and the only cemetery I've seen apart for the one in the middle of Boston that I would deign to lay my bones in post-mortem. And the one in Boston, I'm pretty sure, is no longer accepting corpses for—or in—any position.

I found the Diagonal, rode all 1.5 miles of it length and turned around with bahn mi on my mind. These for the unintiated, are unspeakably tasty Vietnamese sandwiches made on petit baguettes and feature various meats and vegetables. It's best not the think of the actual provenence of the protein, but they are hella tasty. I most frequently get the ones at Quang, but can recommend them from almost anywhere. I just happen to be a Quang man.

Sandwich in hand, I headed out for a pretty little spot along the Greenway where there are chairs for anyone to use. I think it's at the Greenway and James or maybe Irving. One of those. It's a nice spot to eat a late lunch and watch the bicycles pass by.

And pass by they did, in great numbers. I was gobsmacked by the variety of people and bikes that wheeled past. If I were a betting man, I'd wager there were 200 bikes that paraded in front of me as I sat, content in the sun, eating one of my favorite foods. There were old bikes and new. Fast bikes and slow. Big people and small. Even a man who pedaled with his arms as his legs were withered and obviously not useful.

As I watched, short narrations entered my mind. Tiny works of theater played out in the 10 seconds or so each biker or group of bikers occupied my field of view. This guy is angry about something, or maybe always angry. That woman is sad and working it out on two wheels. Here is a couple that has not been one for long, but are very much keen on getting to know one another. The young man on the dilapidated Huffy is on the way to work. Biking is not a passtime for him, it's a necessity.

What a wonderful thing it is to sit in the sun on November day and open oneself up to the world, and the people, in it. Unlike cars, which are all Cylon masks and pretty much the some, one to the other, bikes are as individual as their riders. Hints, clues and suggestions about the people riding them are on display and open for interpretation, if only you take the time to look.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

And here's a photo of an ambulatory pumpkin pedaling a kindergartener. SCARY!

A Mighty Load

Yesterday was our CSA pickup day. I have endeavored to pick up our locally-grown produce via bicycle as much as possible, and yesterday was my biggest challenge in two years.

It was turkey delivery day.

We had a 11+ lb. turkey to pick up, in addition to the squash, potatoes, beets, carrots and other various 40lbs of vegetables. I am sure that the total weight of the load was approaching 60 pounds.

As you can see in the photo, I've rigged up my own cam straps for the xtracycle and used them to put a cooler in place to keep our fowl from thawing. In addition, I had three grocery bags of produce and two dozen eggs. The eggs rode safely up front and the grocery bags were on the side where they belong.

The high center of gravity of the turkey made things a bit more wiggly than they would otherwise have been, but the ride home was uneventful. Lots of uphill, which was very slow, but no problem. I'm glad that Mark at Hiawatha suggested that I upgrade the brakes when we added the xtracycle. I'm not sure the old brakes would have stopped this rig.

I am delighted with this machine and look forward to summer picnics, camping trips and continued daily chores with it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The New Bulldog

Wednesday night the new Bulldog opened and I, along with many of the MSP-based beerfolk, were there to welcome Matt and Co. latest into the world.

It's a big space with a big bar and many, many good beers. For such a large place, the Mens room is oddly undersized. One sitter and one stander don't seem to be adequate, but time will tell. It's an airy, well-lit space with heaps of windows and nice wooden floors. For such a large room, it's pretty welcoming, but I could imagine that when empty it'll seem really cavernous.

I like working with the Bulldog people. They are loyal and they keep beer on tap long enough to find a clientele, if a clientele can be found. Pete, who manages the bar at the Lyndale location, is a terrific guy who has turned many people onto great beer. Chris and Amy at NE are hardworking, focused folks who are always pushing to bring the best beer and food to their customers. Kelly, who works at Lyndale, put in a lot of overtime helping to get things ready at Lowertown, and her attention to detail shows. Matt, who is the ringleader of this whole bunch, just sort of lets his people do their thing. It all hangs together and I thank them for their good, hard work. They are all wonderful to work with and I wish them all the best!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Today's Pannier Is Full

First the good things: I made a trip to my favorite beer store in probably the world. The Four Firkins is a little shop owned by a relative newcomer to the beer world, but he's doing very good things for the local beer scene. He takes very good care of his beer, he has lots of good advice and he's a very personable guy. If you live in MSP, hie yourself down there.

I scooped up a Boulevard Smokestack Saison-Brett, among other beers. I feel that Boulevard Saison-Brett is the finest US-brewed interpretation of a Belgian beer out there. Seek it out if you can. Be prepared for strange and wonderful aromas and flavors. "Brett" is short for brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain that give slightly sour, funky flavors to beer. It gets stronger over time and is very distinctive. It's sort of the beer equivalent to blue cheese.

So the pannier was literally full of beer today, which is good.

But it's also figuratively full of not-so-good things. Elden Nelson, of Fat Cyclist blog fame, writes one of the best blogs—hell, best ANYTHING—out there. His wife Susan is struggling with advanced cancer and, despite awe-inspiring effort and force of will, is not likely to recover. Nelson has written with tremendous humor, humility and insight during Susan's illness and has drawn me, my wife and several thousand other people into his life. He seems to be the kind of guy I would like to know, and his pain radiates from his most recent blog entry in waves. This has occupied my thoughts today and I wish for him and his family all kinds of peace and happiness and a hope that their situation resolves with as much grace as possible.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Newest Steed

In 1994 or 1995, my wife and I were living in South Minneapolis. Somebody broke into our basement storage area and stole a bunch of stuff, most notably our GT mountain bikes. The insurance man bought us new bikes just before he canceled our policy. Apparently, insurance companies like the "take your money forever" part of their gig but not the "give some back in case you lose some shit" part. To this day, and forever, I will feel like Allstate is run by a bunch of number-crunching monkeys who care more about their bottom line than providing actually useful service. Revolutionary, no?

I digress.

The bikes that our insurance man bought us were Treks. For me a copper colored 950 and for my wife a teal blue 930. We still have the bikes but have not ridden them in fly mountain bike style for some many years. So I converted them to upright-but-not-uptight city-style bikes last autumn. I get much use of mine and enjoy it greatly.

A few weeks ago, the good people at Hiawatha Cyclery installed an xtracycle conversion on that bike and now it's my favorite ride. The very first day I owned it I went to Target and bought the biggest package of paper towels they sell. Just 'cause I could. It was sweet swerving down the road with a cubic yard of Quicker Picker Upper hanging off the side. A dude in a pickup honked and waved and, get this you biker folk, smiled.

Plus which, earlier in the day, on my way home from Le Grand Hiawatha, a chick on a Cross Check actually laid down a "nice rig" on me. First ever, if you don't count my wife or 5 year-old son. Pretty sweet, yo.

I like the bike not only because it hauls much in the way of goods, but also seems to transport other folks a place where they are able to lighten up and share their joy. Whodah thunkit?

This Time It May Stick

Dear Gentle Reader,

I've started five or six blogs over the years, only to kill them dead before hitting the "Publish Post" button.

Two things have always stick in my craw about starting my own blog.

1. Who in hell would want to read my ramblings?
2. Why in hell would I want to write any of my ramblings down?

But then I started reading other people's blogs and—having noticed that some of them actually are fun, helpful or insightful—decided to man up and push that "Publish Post" button this time.

In my day job I am an importer of beer. Some very good beers. I may write about them or I may write about some other aspect of beer or the business of importing and selling same. It's a big area and it might be interesting.

The title "A Full Pannier" stems from my interest in bicycles and bicycling and hints at my particular viewpoint as a cyclist. You won't find discussion of racing or racing-style bikes here, my friends. Nothing could bore me more. You might find that this here pannier is full of food or beer, or maybe the spoils of a hunting/gathering expedition to Target or a local thrift store.

The point is: the pannier is always full and there is always something to say about it's contents.