Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paging Friday Harbor...

So the Captain has discovered, using his handy-dandy sitemeter map, that he has readers in Friday Harbor. This makes the Captain very happy, as Friday Harbor is one of his favorite places in the entire world. If you read this blog, by now you likely know that. But what you may not know is that the Captain will be in Friday Harbor this weekend! Yup, he's coming up for New Years, and he already can't wait to get there. He'll be getting there Thursday afternoon and leaving sometime Sunday. So, dear Friday Harbor readers, if you get this message, drop the Captain a comment. He'd love to buy you a beer or a cup of coffee.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Day of the Black Dog

The five of us started running at about 5am. We had twenty-four miles scheduled, our last long run before the Portland Marathon in 1996. It was dark and we were all half asleep. One of the guys, staring at the ground and apparently out of it, ran into one of those giant mailboxes- the kind you see around apartments or office buildings, the big metal ones- and knocked himself down. We heard a loud thud, followed by a grunt, and looked back to see him lying on the sidewalk groaning. He got up though and, after a good laugh and some good-natured ribbing, we ran on. From that day on, we called him “Thud.”

We had been using the same country road for an out and back training run course that whole summer. Every week, at about mile seven, this little black dog would come out of nowhere and run with us. He'd jump in there at mile seven, run with us to the turnaround, and then drop back off right where he'd started. There were no houses around, and he didn't have a collar or tags, so we never could figure out where he lived. But we got to liking him, and looked forward to having him along. Sometimes we'd even bring little dog treats to give him when we'd stop for a break. We didn't know his name so he just became "The Black Dog," or Black, Blackie. We would joke about him joining our running club, ask him if he'd paid his dues, call him our sixth training partner, talk about recruiting him for our Hood to Coast team. Even thought about getting him one of our club singlets. He was just one of the guys.

That day we had reached the turnaround and were almost back to the seven mile mark when this van came out of nowhere, speeding like mad, and nailed The Black Dog. Just nailed him. And kept right on going. I don't think The Black Dog ever knew what hit him. It was mercifully quick. It was dark and cold and wet and pouring down rain and we stood around him, all of us quietly staring at our little friend. There was nothing we could do. There was nothing to say. We just stood there. I don't know about the other guys, but I was glad it was raining so they couldn't see my tears. I don't know whether I was crying more out of sadness for the dog or rage at the driver. He didn't even slow down, just kept on going like nothing happened. None of us knew where The Black Dog lived, so we couldn't tell anyone. He didn't have tags, so we couldn't call anyone. Eventually, we just started running back. We hated to leave, but we didn't know what else to do. So we just ran.

I drove back later, thinking I'd bury him. I hadn't thought about where I would bury him or the fact that I didn't have a shovel. But it didn't matter, he was gone when I got there.

None of us will ever forget that day. We still talk about The Black Dog, make jokes about how maybe someday he'll be running with us in Heaven and stuff like that. How he’s on a long run in the Big Dog Park in the Sky. Whenever we talk about that day, we call it "The Day of the Black Dog." Sad as it was, we mostly remember how fun it was to have him with us.

Sometimes, when I’m running on a country road, I still imagine him running along beside me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Identity and the Bicycle

Anyone who knows me knows that bicycles are a big part of my life. I have a number of them, some that come and go and a few that are priceless and stay around for a long time. I could easily live in a small studio so long as it had a garage for all my bikes (well, okay, and A LOT of bookshelves…). I ride everywhere, year-round, regardless of weather, and only reluctantly own a car. Bicycling is my “mode” for getting around, but more than that, it’s my lifestyle. Much of my art, many of my books, a lot of my clothes, my social life, and volunteer activities are related to cycling. But I guess until recently, I didn’t realize how much it had become my identity.

I was in this bar in NE Portland, called Zaytoons, chatting with some other barflies-er, uh, I mean patrons- and someone asked me, “Are you really riding a bike in this weather? Are you crazy? Don’t you have a car?”

“Sure, I have a car,” I replied, “but I’d rather ride. The weather isn’t that big a deal if you have the right gear.”

Then (and this was the moment of enlightenment I mentioned earlier), the bartender, Brandy, said, “Dude, don’t you know who that is?” Then, pretending to be me, she said, “Dude, I’m Ryan. I ride bikes. It’s what I do!”

Needless to say, that made me very happy. In fact, I think that will be my new mantra. Whenever I am frustrated with riding or feeling unmotivated, I will say to myself,

“Dude, I’m Ryan. I ride bikes. It’s what I do!”

Only I think in my mind I will hear it in Brandy’s voice, because it sounds a hell of a lot sexier when she says it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Competitive Bicycle Commuting

Have you ever been driving down the freeway, with your cruise control on, and somebody passes you, only to slow down, and then when you catch up to them, they speed off again? Meanwhile you're on cruise control , so you know you're going a constant speed. Well, I've been having a similar experience during my bike commute. I ride at a pretty consistent pace. I'm not flying, but I'm not dawdling either, just cruising along comfortably. And every day, I see these people who, apparently, think the commute is a race. You know what I mean, you're sitting at a light, and someone pulls up next to you. When the light turns, they stand up and SPRINT! like they're trying to take Contador at the tape- pounding those pedals, throwing that bike left and right- only to have to stop and sit at the next light. Then they do it again, over and over, stop light after stop light, never really getting away from you. People do this to me every day. Meanwhile, I'm cruising along at a steady pace, my goal being to not have to unclip at the light- not to see how fast I can possibly get to it.

Another common thing is people flying by me ("ON YOUR LEFT!!!) only to settle back down to my pace or slower within a hundred yards or so. Then, when I catch back up to them, they sprint off again. And meanwhile, of course, I'm just cruising along at my steady pace.

I also often wonder, do people know how to use gears? I'm not sure. My commute home has a lot of uphills. Again, I'm not particularly fast, but I'm steady. So people will fly by me on the flats, then three blocks later I pass them on the uphill. I'm chuggin' along, the same speed (or a tiny bit slower) than when they were channeling Fausto on me three blocks back, but when I pass them they are grinding that drive train, looking like they're legs are in slow-motion and panting like my old black lab. And then, when they see me, they double the effort, though they usually still fall back- at least until the next flat.

I'm not sure where all these racers are racing off to. Why are they in such a hurry? As far as I can tell, we're not in a race. There are no podium girls at the stop lights. There are no crowds cheering for us, the old fat guy in the red devil suit is nowhere to be seen, I don't see Bob Roll or Al Trautwig anywhere, though I confess, in my mind Phil Liggett- with that gorgeous voice- sometimes narrates my commute:

"There he is, The Captain himself, poised at the light. The rain is coming down, the
exhaust fumes drift by, what can be going through the mind of The Captain right
now? But he's-oh look! The light has turned green! He's pedaling! He's going through
the intersection! He's taking the lane! He's definitely going to make it home in time
for dinner tonight!"

But I digress, (as I so often do). Now back to our commentary...

Are they late for a meeting? Do they just not know how to ride relaxed? Are they worried the hipster-bar will run out of PBR? Me, I'm just not in that big of a hurry. I like to get to work on time, but my office is not going anywhere, I don't have to chase it down. And it's not like they won't let me in the building if I'm not there by 7:56 am. And as for getting there (wherever there might be) before they run out of beer, this is Portland for Christ's sake, they're never going to run out of beer- ever! And certainly not before I get there.

So race on, competitive commuters. Just tell the bartender to save one for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

(Reverse) Seasonal Disaffected Disorder

I think I have reverse Seasonal Affected Disorder. The weather here has been unseasonably clear and sunny which- especially as someone who spends a lot of time playing outside regardless of the weather- should make me really happy. However, I find myself getting angry about it sometimes. Like when...

... the low-angle sun is shining in my eyes all the time, constantly half-blinding me when I'm on my bike or driving...

... I see how warm it has been, and how little precipitation we've had, because I know that means it will be a bad snow year...

... I feel like vegging out and watching a movie or reading, but then I look outside and it's sunny and clear, making me feel guilty for not being out there...

... People constantly ask me, "Aren't you cold?" because I'm not bundled up as much as they are. I always wonder, "Aren't you burning up in that? Bundled up like you're going on an arctic expedition?" But I know it's none of my business, so I keep my mouth shut...

... The heat in my office is on so high that it feels like a sauna (and restaurants, pubs, stores, etc. doing the same thing)...

And others. I grew up in Alaska and I am from Northern European stock, so maybe Oregon weather is just too nice for me. But it's funny to listen to coworkers and friends complaining that the weather is too "yucky" and how it's depressing them. Because I'm thinking, "Seriously? It's been sunny, dry, and in the high 40s low 50s for weeks. And it's freakin' DECEMBER for Christ's sake! Can we PLEASE have some freakin' WINTER around here finally?" I would be really happy with some really cold, dark days. The kind where it's the best thing in the world to get all cozy by the fire with some hot chocolate or bourbon (or both, in the same cup...) and read a good book.

But it is Oregon so- though it will never be like Alaska- I'm sure I'll get my wish soon enough.

Sunrise over Little Tohama, from Ingraham Flats, 2007