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.