Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter's Heart Dreaming of Spring

The miles pass by as I pedal on. Clipped in and on. The hills flow past, the sweat, the summer wind. I am almost there, fifty miles down - this trip a rare solo journey. Over the bridges in the woods, this one small rail trail - in this shade and by these brooks the temperature dips a few kind degrees. The worst hills will find me on the other end of this tiny section of solace. The hills I have had to walk up before will not win this time, I vow.

In this place the pain is less. Things aren't so great at home. It's not the same big problems like before, but sinister new ones that infect the spaces and the places that felt like home. And yet not. They have been with me always, just manifesting differently now than they used to. And so I pedal on.

The hills and the heat beg me stop. But in this pain, legs burning, lung yearning, I am purified. I am cleansed of all that came before, all that makes me lose my confidence, my sense of me.

In this space my imagination soars again, up into the cloudless blue sky. My solitary self upon the road free to be and dream and hope in ways that daily life does not afford me with its demands, its expectation, its endless hunger for efficiency.

Here the road is mine, the sky is mine, and my dreary self rejoices. I am revitalized. I am made whole again by this one simple act.

It is not that hope is gone, or that other things places and activities are less or less wonderful, less rejuvenating, or somehow tainted. It is not that the people I love are any less marvelous and wonderful, or that I lack gratitude for the fortune to know and love them. It is a different journey than that.

At the end of the day there is no one to wrestle my demons but me. I would not, I shall not compare them to anyone else's demons - you have yours and I mine - and we are allies and we help one another, but at the end of the day it's me and my demons.

And this is my favorite battlefield. For now, for me this is where my mettle is truly tested. It wasn't always this battleground, it may not always be this battleground, but for now this is the where.

The hills come, the pain comes. I arrive, those last few pedal strokes into the driveway and up to the porch where they are waiting, the most delicious reward. The embrace of a place. I have done it. I won the hills. I won over the demons in me. I am made anew and eagerly anticipate the ride back tomorrow, no matter what my legs feel now.

I sleep that rare sleep of true accomplishment. I awaken.

And I remember that it is winter. My heart yearns for the roads to come, in spring, in full bloom.

There is a little yearning pang of pain in my heart, for it is winter.

But winter always turns into spring.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Manning the Tiller

I heard somewhere once that you get sea sick because you're at the whim of the waves. You're not in control and that helplessness is sickening. But the man (somehow it's almost always a man in the stories) at the tiller - the man steering the ship doesn't get sea sick. Why? Because he's steering the boat.

And I suppose life is like that.

Feel tired, overwhelmed? Want to avoid the things you used to love? At cross-purposes with yourself? "Won't everyone just leave me alone!" "Why do I have to keep being interrupted?" "I feel trapped in this place." "This doesn't feel like home anymore." "It's too loud here, I can't hear myself think." "I can't be myself here."

We live in an interconnected universe. Our very existence depends on others, and they on us - this inter-related dependence of life on life on life on the environment and back on forth is called dependent origination in Buddhism.

It doesn't have to mean we live at the whim of an arbitrarily cruel or kind universe. Buddhism says the opposite, that the universe is a cosmic life of infinite compassion, that we are as inherently part of as the cells that make up your body. Are you your cells or the amalgamation thereof or something more?

Grasp the Tiller

Even amongst this inter-dependency there is agency and responsibility. The person at the tiller of the ship cannot tell the sea what to do, the sea is too large, too beyond the power and comprehension of one life form, too expansive to be persuaded to change by one tiller.

Yet the person at the tiller guides the ship toward the goal in this environment. And in so doing does not fall prey to the whims of the waves, which themselves may not be helping in the transit to the goal.

The waves in between are just part of the journey, the goal is paramount. The control of the journey to the goal gives the tiller-operator agency and independence. The sea is still there, the waves that countermand the goal are still there - but operating with determination in an interdependent system makes for a journey of purpose, free from that one ill, seasickness.


We complain for all sorts of reasons. But what many of them come down to is that things are not how we would have made them. Much complaint comes from lack of responsibility or a feeling of not being in control.

No control? Make some goals - chart a course for your ship and pilot that great journey beyond your comfort zone.

It's always someone else's fault? Somehow things never go your way? People never really do what they say they're going to do, they never get it right. They don't get it?  Take responsibility. We're all interconnected. When one person stands up to take responsibility and makes goals, everything can change. This boat is carrying more than just one life you know.

Will you pilot your own ship?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Cheerful Caboose: My First Century

Tales from the Road
Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased.
Thus we refute entropy.
--Spider Robinson

Last Sunday I rode my first century. In bicycle-speak that's a 100 mile ride. I'd ridden a metric century, 100k, before - every time I've ridden to my childhood home where my mother still resides has meant another. One hundred kilometers is a good ride these days, but it doesn't represent the distance challenge it used to. (On the other hand if you fill it with hills, it's still just as difficult.)

But to this point, never yet 100 miles.

In the cycle-verse a century is some kind of stepping stone. Maybe even a right of passage? And mine was a long time coming. Within the past 3 months I have taken to my most consistent longer-distance riding. I'm not talking anything like what endurance teams do or what stage races mean, I just mean for me anything over 60 miles still feels like a pretty long way.

And I voyaged into clipless about a month ago.

All to do this.

Rapha Women's 100

July 7th marked the Rapha Women's 100 - all around the world, women on bikes riding perhaps a metric century, perhaps an imperial century. I participated in a joint ride effort put together by the most excellent folks at RAWRbikes in concert with RideStudioCafe in Lexington. This was my first group ride of this nature.

Last fall was my first Hub on Wheels - my first large-scale, coordinated bike ride for a purpose; and in June the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon was my second. In both of these I rode primarily amongst many other strangers and acquaintances, primarily with the Bandit Man as my only dedicated riding companion. Social bike rides and themed bike rides, like Boston by Bike at Night or the Boston Bike Party are familiar to me. 

The ethos and protocol of this kind of road ride was pretty new to me. Any training I completed was either solo or with the Bandit Man. I signal my stops and directions but much more than the idea of don't leave anyone behind, I was new to.

Our ride was divided into different speed groups. The faster 17-19 mph group left first. In the promotional/planning materials we were told that there would be a 14-15 mph group and a 13 mph group.

One other thing I have very little knowledge of is how fast I actually ride. I can guess from how long certain rides take, but I generally map them after and forget to keep track of how long my stops are.

I do not yet have a bicycle computer.

From conversations in passing I had a pretty good idea that 14mph would be a challenge for me to maintain with so much climbing for so long a distance. 

And I was correct.

Of my marvelous century group several of us were first timers. I was grateful not to be the only one. 

So we set off - our fearless leader consistently setting us on the true course.


On a hill in Stow I met my lungs. This hill has a decently steep grade (~9%) and I attacked it. And I forgot to breathe. I started hyperventilating half way up the hill. I vaguely recognized a need to stop but I couldn't unclip. So I performed a strategic fall over on someone's lawn. Unclipped, got up - lungs heaving. By this point everyone had gone by. I was anxious and not at all recovered. I was faced with how I really was not conditioned well enough for a hill of this magnitude, not at that speed at any rate.

So I pulled air and made it up the last part of the hill where my group was waiting. And then the hyperventilating began in earnest. Looking back I think this was equal parts lack of air and confronting my very apparent limits in this situation. 

Most of my hill battles, moments of truth, and failures have been on solo missions, or with the Bandit Man.

Struggling for breath, tears streaming down my face - this was my public moment of truth.

One of our participants was a physician who inquired about my heart rate, if I'd eaten enough, and was generally very helpful and calming - I have an immense appreciation for her. 

After that as we climbed each hill - and there were a lot of hills - everyone asked how I was doing.

I was mildly embarrassed at first, but the genuine concern of people you've only just met is an encouraging thing.

I don't consider myself to be a strong climber but over the course of the day I think I actually got better.

Problems I've had all along as I've taken on longer distance rides - pacing, cadence, which gear, do I stand up or stay in the saddle, remembering to breathe, suddenly started to sort themselves out. Yes I did have to walk up a couple of steep grades (according to what I looked up on ridewithgps these were more than 9% grades), and yes I was incredibly slow, but some of the painful mystery became empowering realizations.

Overall my cycling is not the the point where I could even maintain the 14 mph to stay with my group. I was consistently the last person, losing sight of our mini-peloton. At each navigational stop they waited for those of us who had fallen behind, myself usually the farthest back. 

As my jersey was red and I was at the end, so most naturally I was named myself the caboose.

And as the miles went on I was told I was a very cheerful caboose.

The Cheerful Caboose

The hyperventilating moment of truth unlocked something important. That moment was a struggle in the deepest sense - a struggle we all face again and again in life, the place where expectation meets reality. We have goals, or expectations of perhaps a level of performance or insert yours here and eventually when it meets reality we must face it for exactly what it is

Sometimes it delights and enthralls us. Sometimes it disappoints. These moments of publicly discovering either weakness or strength have always been deeply changing for me. When I competed in horseback riding in college I cried every time I rode in a show, whether I placed well or poorly. It never failed. On some of these long bike rides I have been reduced to tears.

But that hill, that moment let me shed the transient and reveal the truth - that no matter what I was going to do this. That my present level of climbing or biking or strength or what-have-you is only the beginning of what is possible. Maybe I'm not "good at bikes" the way racers and long-time enthusiasts are yet, but my love of cycling powers my persistence to get me there.

After that moment of truth I was free to learn to climb better. Appreciate another one of our group members teaching me to draft, which I was not able to maintain. Appreciate the birds, the land, the potholes, the deer flies, the sun, the music in my heart - each and every sore muscle, delay, or advance.

I was the cheerful caboose because I was weighed, measured, and found myself wanting - and wanting to continue anyway. Having been revitalized by others I did my utmost to reciprocate - when a fellow first timer centurian dropped a chain I stopped to help. When one of my fellow riders was the last on the climbs with me, we stayed together. 

I also must shout my gratitude to our amazing ride leader (vocabulary word: domestique) for waiting for my lagging self at the turns then riding all the way back to the front to lead the main group onward. Patience thy name is domestique (or maybe just Cindy?).

I was one of the few to ride to RSC before the ride, a simple seven or so miles from my house. But as the ride concluded and the rain began (which I relished!), the simple seven miles home seemed a very long way indeed. The Bandit Man in his kindness rode out in the rain from Somerville to meet my dirty, smelly, exhausted husk on the Minuteman to ride back home. 

By the end of the day it was 115 miles and more climbing than I have ever done before. And I am gaming for more!

Future cycling education will probably include, pacelines, drafting, a bicycle computer, and more miles of self discovery.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Voyage Into Clipless

Tales from the Road

So I lay on the path with gravel embedded in my knee and I laughed. Bike on top of me, a couple of people going by and they may very well have figured that I'd completely lost it. But that was a good laugh.

You see, I'd just gone my first 60 some odd miles with clipless shoes and pedals.

With the final 10 miles and the most challenging hills yet to come I was getting a little tired and did not disengage my foot in time. I've got a few scratches and a purple knee but I earned my newbie markings with pride.

This entire change has been a long time coming.

Late for Dinner

I get into things late. When I was seven and I couldn't transition out of training wheels I made the kind of cut-and-dried decision that young children seem so good at; I decided I would never bike again and I would be damned if I kept those training wheels on at that age. Three years went by and I started riding horses in between. At the ripe old age of ten I got on a bike for the first time in three years, and just rode. Wobbly yes, but there was no going back after that.

My story followed that frequently told tale, I bicycled everywhere until I could drive. Then I kept biking. College came, but I did not take my try at urban cycling until I moved off-campus and the advent of Gus the hybrid commuter. When Charlie came along I learned to ride with the toe basket (aka toe clip) pedals that he came with. But ever on the periphery of my cyclist observations from biking around were these shoe/pedal interfaces - part of both the shoe and the pedal that I saw seemingly certain people had. Science fiction bicycle feet.

(And as a linguist, that they're called clipless when they are actually clips is ever so annoying..If this is a new thing for you, read this.)


This past year has brought a lot of changes. At this time last year I had only one bicycle and was still relatively ignorant of how to care for it properly. (Now I have 3 and do most of the maintenance myself.) At this time last year I'd never built up a bike. (Now I've built up several.) At this time last year my longest bike ride had been about 30 miles. (Now I've gone over a metric century a few times.) At this time last year I would never have tried to do some of the things I do now.

Last fall, in one of those manic ideas that seems great at the time, I took my exhausted self on my first 60 mile bike ride. I was struggling so deeply at work and in my life at the time biking alone on an unknown route, in 20+mph headwinds, in November with no support, no specialized equipment, no experience, and a yearning desire to prove something to myself all seemed like a great idea.

I bonked, but I did it. It took me seven hours and multiple times getting lost, but I made it.

While it snowed all winter I dreamed of biking more and further than I could imagine was physically possible for me.

Clipless Voyages

As I trained for the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon I rode with the Bandit Man many times. The Bandit Man, being as he is, can climb hills with his rocketship legs. To my observance he has never met a hill he couldn't climb. Myself on the other hand, I've meet with hills and they have won, time and again - relegating me to walking up them.

The November solo ride where I bonked had me walking up all the hills for the last 10 miles. And it's those 10 miles that have the most hills. In April the Bandit Man accompanied me on the ride home, part of which was the Boston Populaire route by the NER. With getting lost and making up the last part of the route to my mother's house, that day's ride was over 70 miles. There were many hills. I walked up quite a few. The Bandit Man climbed them all and waited for me at the top.

That was my first long ride this year. In late March I struggled with just 30 miles. In April I was able to do over 50 for the Midnight Marathon Ride (out and back, no hill walking there!). The day after the 70+ mile ride, we rode the 65 miles back. Back and forth the training rides have gone - I've made a route that is just about 70 miles long and finally have it memorized, so that's helped with time and stopping.

But those hills keep pestering me.

Long over the winter I asked the pro-cyclist of my household for her product reviews on clipless pedals. She has consistently answered my ridiculous questions on all manner of topics for which I am incredibly grateful.

And so came my voyage into clipless. On Saturday I rode 70 miles clipless. And 70 the next day.

I had never quite realized how tilty I ride. The shoes have rather helped realign me. My body was confused as it fought to put me back into my off-kilter, one shoulder pitched up and front, hips facing too far to the left position I have adopted unconsciously over the years. Once I stopped fighting this I found that I did not hurt as much and tire as quickly. My legs got more bang for their buck. The time it took to reach my destination was shortened.

I was floored.

Back to the Top

As as I fell over on the Wachusett Greenway, and later at a red light in Somerville I got to laugh. As I've acquired the scrapes and purple knee I wear my newbie badges with honor. I'm learning how to ride all over again and it's great.

Maybe you're never too old to start anew?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Charlie Day!

June 2, 2013 marks Charlie's third birthday with me.

After spending last fall and winter "out to pasture", waiting for me to build him some new wheels and change up a few things, Charlie was brought back to the roads of Somerville in late March.

He's been rebuilt. My first wheelset, White Industries track hubs laced to H Plus Son Archetype rims. New cranks by FSA (Full Speed Ahead). He's running 42:15, instead of the old 40:16. New breaks and cabling - hat tip to Broadway Bicycle School for the instruction on that and the wheel building. Drop bars which once belonged to Mr. Epic - purchased at the Bike Swap. Same old bottom bracket, head set, and saddle.

Rolling strong toward 10,000 miles. Or do we have to start over now that he's been rebuilt?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Training the Never Defeated Spirit

In approximately 12 days, depending on how you count it - The Bandit Man, my cousin Watson, my brother, a friend of his, and I will take to the sides of Gunstock Mountain in NH and run into the jaws of a Tough Mudder. This will be my second Mudder (and Watson's as well). The rest of the team are newbies. My brother is, however the veteran of many a Spartan and Warrior Dash.

I ran my first Mudder solo last October, I learned an awful lot about what I'm made of inside and out. (More on that here.) But Tough Mudder is meant to be a team. It's designed for that, and while participating solo has its own rewards, a team is well, just that - the right approach for the challenge at hand.

Our team is named "Never Defeated".

Never Defeated: What's In a Name

This isn't a competition. Tough Mudder Pledge, Part 1 - Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge.  And parts 2 and  4 - This is about teamwork and camaraderie, helping fellow Mudders comes before course time.

So it's not as though we each all win competitions all the time, well maybe my brother does, but that's another story. The idea behind the name is that as a team we have what it takes to never be defeated by anything; mud, heights, distance, electricity, water, cold, heat - all of these things cannot claim to have trodden us down. But more so than the physical is the heart.

Tough Mudder talks about mental grit. Yes, your physical strength gets you over and through, but it is what you carry in your heart and mind that determines if you really win.

And that is something we put to the test in 12 days.

Training the Never Defeated Spirit

We all have been preparing in different ways, as team Never Defeated gathers from more than one state. But being only myself, here I will share my part of this tale.

Last Monday I ran ten and a half miles. I hadn't run in a month due to a foot injury. It was wonderful to run again.

During that month, while I couldn't run I could ride.

Ride a bike, you see.

Boston Populaire

The Bandit Man and I took part in a parcel of the NER's Boston Populaire but made our own route.

Day 1, 70 miles, a longer winding route to my mother's house than last November. This time sun, sunburns, and still the always dependable hills. Left the randonneur route in Sterling, and went to my childhood home. It meant a DNF (did not finish), but our journeys never fit into molds very well.

Day 2, 65 miles back to Somerville.

A two-day century, well more than a century actually, it was 130 miles+ by the end.

The most I've ever ridden in a day, and in consecutive days.

The goal of the century draws near.

Run On

And since the foot has been back in action - what then?

Also the Bandit Man and I, and he has been able to partake more-so than I (early morning work hours call one in), of the wonderful November Project. Morning people, being active, joyous and pushing the limits year-round outdoors. Such a lovely invention. I am very new - only twice so far- but this is a group of people I look forward to seeing even on many a cold morning to come when one's breath is in the air.

Here we find exemplified the spirit of never defeated in daily life. Self-motivated, but also team/tribe motivated, and not because someone's wallet is saying "Well, you paid for this, so you'd better show up!". Each one pushing to beat their best, to beat fatigue, self doubt, maybe fear. I see no signs of begrudging life anywhere here.

Small things matter. It is important never to forget how simple a smile and a hug can be in the morning. Especially when it took everything you had to get there. We run up and down Harvard Stadium stairs, we run up hills, we find new places to strengthen our hearts, minds, bodies, spirits, friendships.

We come back again and again because each time we break through we realize the only limits are those we came in with, those we brought with us - so frequently our limitations are those we set for ourselves because of fear. Maybe fear of failing. But the never defeated spirit knows no fear of failing, or at least cowers not before it.

The Tough Mudder itself is one brilliant moment to shine with the never defeated spirit. And training for events like this can take us onto the road of growth and change, to confront the self and develop courage. But it is only one day. The truly never defeated spirit lives in our daily lives, is shown each day. To get up early and run and strive as November Project does, is one way to train and practice, to nurture the never defeated spirit in our daily lives. (There are other ways and many stories one can tell about this kind of development, but for now this is the story I am telling.)

And having company on this journey to the better self is surely one of the finest experiences one can ask for.

From all of this I will learn anew and re-solidify in my life, down to the depths of my being what it is to be truly fearless. Not reckless and crass, not overly cautious and filled with excuses as I once was. But truly free to be and fail and win and laugh and fall and get up again. To dance in my pedals, to dance on my feet. To rise up when I fall and help someone else do the same - whether it's literal mud or the muck of life.

We make mistakes in this lifetime. I'm transforming mine.

I overcome all fears.

And next?

The day after the Mudder, Team Falcor (so far the Bandit Man, and I (and maybe some recruits?)) will ride the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon. 65 miles. We'll talk more about that later.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Grander Vision: the Midnight Marathon and Redefining Security

I wanted to tell a much different story than this, but this is the story that I am going to tell.

Monday was one of the best days, then one of the worst.

And it started on Sunday.

One of the best days...

On Sunday we rode bikes. And that's what made it one of the best days.

We rode from Somerville, then out along the Boston Marathon route to the starting line in Hopkington. We rode up all the hills; up and up and up for a few hours to meet with more than a hundred other cyclists already there.

We were joined not long after by those getting off the special bike-only commuter rail train which stopped in Southborough to disgorge around 700 cyclists.

And then we rode the Boston Marathon at midnight, as many of us had done before.  For five or so years now what began as Greg Hum's idea has become a movement of sorts. This year being the biggest yet.

And so Sunday passed into Monday and it was one of the best days.

When you bike along quiet roads in beautiful nature with little disturbance from cars, surrounded by friends and like-minded individuals - especially on the way back when everything is downhill - and the miles and the stress melt away - that's when it's one of the best days.

When we crossed the finish line in the early hours of Monday to so many smiling faces and friendly law enforcement officials along the way - we were so pleased that the bicycle end of things was safer then last year's Framingham train track debacle.

But as we departed from there in the early hours of the morning, little did we know that about 12 hours later it would become one of the worst days.

One of the worst days...

Later on Monday afternoon - around 3pm or so - there were a couple of explosions by the finish line. Packed with people at one of the most publicized sporting events in the US this was no small situation.

People died, people were injured. The media did as media does. I will leave you to read what you will of the official documentation.

Someone decided to do something horrendous to my beautiful city and I'm not happy about it.

A Grander Vision

Last week I had the opportunity to interview the amazing Sayre Sheldon, long time peace, political, and social activist, professor and so much more. One of the places she has made a mark (or perhaps created the benchmark?) is in women's participation in war and peace activities. In that chance I had to speak with her I was exposed to a mind and a personality that has seen the world change more than once; I heard the view of a far reaching vision.

Moments Like These: a powerless present

When we hit moments like these we want retribution, perhaps harsh justice, we want to get mad. Nothing is quite so disempowering as watching the news, reading the feeds and receiving so much information and yet being powerless to take any seeming real action.

We want to get mad or be able to just do something.

And some people did - more than 1000 people volunteered their homes as places to stay for those who may have been displaced in the chaotic happenings after these harrowing events.

But when we get to the point when we look at what happened on Monday not through the lens of the immediate but of a lesson to be learned, as history - then how will we see it?

And then I learned about Women, Peace, and Security.

I want peace and security in my country, in my lifetime. In my city, in my neighborhood. Sayre says this has something to do with redefining security itself. It has to do with a grander vision for our society, our world.

There was a UN resolution passed back in 2000 - referred to with the rather impersonal sounding call code of S/RES/1325 (short for Security Council Resolution). And it had something to do with women, peace, and security as far as I knew. Then in December 2011 President Obama signed an executive order (Executive Order 13595) that the administration would adopt an official action plan to get in line with this UN Resolution.

And all of that happened before I'd really been paying any attention to any of it.

But it's amazing the power of one person - if we know even just one person who cares about something then it might matter to us too. And now I know more than one person who - these people, rather (and maybe even me too someday) - are making this women, peace, and security thing a reality in this, my own country.

Redefining Security

When those explosions went off the first responders were on the scene - doing their job - and in so many ways doing what no one else can do. And that is part of the definition of security. That's the part we see the need for, and know without having to be told that these kinds of harrowing happenings would be a much darker place without them.

And we owe such gratitude.

But security must needs look beyond the immediate need of the moment. Beyond first hours where the fight of life and death balances on the edge of a knife. Security is defined by so many other moments tied to these dire events.

A day from now, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now - I do not want to hear how this, that, or the other damage to a person was not addressed, not healed. Security is defined by this too. It's not just defensive munitions, options, personnel, tech, and placement. It's not just training. It's not just offensive tactics and position. Security is the health and well being of those injured on Monday years from now. It's the ethos of the city that bore this wound. It is in the immense capacity for compassion that our first responders demonstrated. Will those displaced have food, will those injured - not just physically, but also the wounds of the human heart - have the care they need?

Security in the traditional sense is something we need yes, but a grander vision for security is something we need too. This Women, Peace, and Security resolution (and connected National Action Plan, and WPS Act that is in the works) challenges us to do just that - to rebuild our concept of security.

I'm no lawyer and no legislator but this is why I give a damn about this - not just as a lady person but also - can you believe it - as a cyclist too.

Sunday was one of the best days because the security to be in that place - doing this simple thing with so many others - was in place. We could just be. And that's how Monday was supposed to be.

I'm not a fan of retribution or vengeance. I'm not a fan of violent forms of 'justice'. The only way I know how to change the course of causes that leads to things like this is individual transformation of one person at a time.

My bicycle has taught me humanism, as only a device with such people who love them can. My bicycle has given me a different view of security as something ephemeral. I can put on all the armor in the world but my security depends upon my relationships with others upon the road. Ephemeral security does not mean insubstantial or non-existant - I mean it here to be a trust we put in others - because our civilization does not work without each person - ordinary people are the most important beings in the world.

When we look at ourselves and our place in this world and see security not as locks, chains, alarms, armor, and weapons but rather as the social and community ties that tide us over and heal us long after these others are gone or are obsolete - then we begin to see that grander vision. We begin to redefine security.

But it starts with each one of us.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reinvention: Charlie the phoenix bicycle?

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages - this is one of those moments I tend to equate with showing your parents you got an A on the spelling test and a gold star sticker, one they put it on the fridge.

Those gold stars were something else, surreal and powerful to my young mind.

Right now Charlie is the gold star.

I started out half a year ago on a project that I thought might take a weekend, but I let creativity run the show and so it's become a growing opportunity mixed in with a creative outlet.

Charlie the blue fixie returns to the streets at long last!

New old bike day!
He's got a snazzy 700c wheelset I build myself - H Plus Son Archetype rims laced to White Industries track hubs. His lovely 15T splined cog came in. He's running a track chain and has some drop bars.

Old road aesthetics meet some period appropriate componentry with a touch of modern and a side of DIY - mix together and you there you have him.

On the stand, hoods uncovered

By last summer we had racked up over 8k miles together. Mercutio has been the fall and winter mount, earning himself a respectable (approximately) thousand miles. (And now needs a bottom bracket overhaul compliments of winter road grunge.) But now it's Charlie's turn to shine!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stuck in Winter

Yesterday spring began! Did you notice? or think to look?

I almost didn't, because what did it do the day before? The sky belched winter upon us.

Winter seems to be arriving late, and staying too long. At least here in Boston land anyway.

So what's a girl to do? Besides work and run and bike and drink coffee (or tea increasingly), and dream of spring?

Build a bike of course!

I'm one 15T White Industries splined track cog away from Charlie being up and running as his new overhauled self.

One track cog away from putting the beater away.

One track cog from riding on a wheel set I built myself.

One track cog away from so many things.

One track cog isn't very large. And that's about the distance between now and spring. Between the present and the amazing possibilities around the corner.

So all you need is one track cog's worth of patience. Keep chipping away at the work that needs to get done, and eventually the little hairline fractures in your great obstacle will result in a great breakthrough.

Remember the Old Man on the Mountain in NH? Well, eventually his nose fell off (then the whole of it), and sad as that may be for him, or scenic mountain profiles, I'm excited about that moment, just around the corner when winter's nose falls off too.

Can you feel it in the breeze?

Next mission, clipless pedals for Princess Buttercup, and for me learning how to ride SPD.....

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cars and The Cave

The Bandit Man has excellent ideas, this began once again from one of our conversations - I went one related direction whilst his thought pattern went another in Leaving the Cave Behind.

Cars and The Cave

The conversation began with the comparison to cars and caves. And while I happily point to the Bandit Man to speak his piece in his own way, my tangent went in the direction of Plato, rather than our species' anthropological history.

In Plato's Republic, to relay in brief (in case it's been awhile since you've read it), our reality is compared to shadows on a wall. That we as humankind, dwell in a cave - chained together, facing the back wall of the Cave. The entirety of our perception is the shadows we see cast upon the wall before our eyes. We cannot turn around to see the source of the shadows. We do not know life outside the Cave.

From Plato's perspective - from the perspective of those who followed Metaphysics - this world of ours was only ever a reflection of a more pure world, where the true root of all concepts, all perceivable things comes from. (On a side note, if you've ever read Neal Stephenson's Anathem - this perspective on metaphysics corresponds to the Hyalean Theoric World from the novel.) We have no access to this pure realm of absolute concepts and definitions, we can only perceive small snippets  blurry forms as insubstantial as the shadows upon the Cave wall.

So where do the cars come in?

Cars are rather useful. They get us places, they get us there fast. Ambulances often make the difference between life and death after an accident - getting there swiftly to save a life. We rely upon the vehicles of our law enforcement and fire fighters. Vehicles are part of our society and are useful tools.

But sometimes they're not.

Sometimes our cars are Plato's Cave.

Traffic, fumes, parking spaces and all of the drama and frequent time sucking that goes along with it. For some of the trips the car is not the tool for the job at all. And that's where it becomes the Cave.

Shadows Upon The Wall

Surrounded by metal, plastic and glass one is shielded from the world, from the noise, from physical exertion. There are blind spots. You could be on the phone, as just about every single cab driver in the greater Boston area is all of the time, and neglect to really check for oncoming traffic because of the phone in your hand. (We don't have hands free driving equipment as mandatory in MA.) Perhaps your car can update you on Facebook statuses, and there's always music.

It's not as though you can really chat with the people around you. You're boxed off, a horn blast or a certain finger gesture often the best communication you'll receive. But is that really communication?

And is it worth it to sit in traffic for an hour if you're going less than 10 miles? Public transit doesn't cover the distance so you have to drive, right?

There's another tool for the job actually, and you might like this one.

But beware, it's not a Cave. It can't be.

There's no cushion between you and the world here. This is getting up, removing the chains on perception, turning away from the shadows upon the Cave wall and walking out to see the sun. Maybe for the very first time.

This is a bicycle.

And it doesn't mean you have to bike every day, come rain, snow, sleet, or asteroids. (Although some of us do.)

It's a way to move you and your perception. My bicycle and I were Metro-West commuters, 12 miles each way, each day - and I got to work faster than sitting in traffic, faster than the bus, and I didn't need a gym membership.

Now that's escaping the Cave.

All I ever really needed was the sun and the sky, and the wind on my face. Unfiltered, no windshield, no metal cave to restrain me.

Life outside the Cave has been learning to love transit. It's not the daily grind, it's a bike ride that happens to be to work, or wherever else my legs take me.

Would you like to step outside of the Cave?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Process of Becoming

There's a quote I love: "To accept is easy, to continue is difficult. But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith." 

A Moment for Philology

Taking a moment to expand on some of the words here. We can take Buddhahood to mean the enlightened aspect of a thing or person, or perhaps the manifest best side of something or someone. E.g., The person who speaks against injustice without regard to their own safety or reputation could perhaps be said to be manifesting the Buddhahood of that situation. Faith, so often a loaded word in politics and interpersonal relations, comes in many forms. Faith in an idea, a movement, a deity, a sports team, a parent, a loved one. But more so here, we're taking faith to mean faith in one's self; faith in one's ability to grow and manifest one's best self. Faith to undertake the challenge to see life exactly for what is it and deal with it, whether we fail or win the first time.

"Fascinating New Thing"

When we start something new it's really exciting. New job, new school, new project, new love, new house, new things... you get the idea. But eventually things are divested of sparkling their newness and we're left with what is.

Oft times that's where we stop. But that's the kicker...

So often, what is is better than the idea of shiny newness that we ascribed. So often what's there is a shining, beautiful thing. But it takes something to get there.

In the process of becoming, so frequently impatience kicks in. Why can't this be done yet? Why am I not there yet? It feels like nothing has changed, all this time has gone by and I still have all these same problems.

In Bicycles as In Life

I am rebuilding Charlie. After over 8000 miles it was about time. Charlie is in the process of becoming his new self.

He's got a little of this:

And some of this:

And some new wheels, but there's the waiting. The parts order is in but there's only so much we can do in the meantime.

And it keeps snowing.

Where are my parts? Why won't it stop snowing, it's March now.

(See what I mean about impatience?)

What I Want, Right Now

That's the thing about continuing. It's not about what I want right now. It's about the big picture, about remembering that when things don't go your way, when it keeps snowing, when everything seems arrayed against you.

Spring will come.

But how you pass the time between now and then is up to you.

Doing the work that's right in front of you, starting where you are is the next step in the process of becoming.

Me, I'm building another bike, but I'm still riding the beater. I'm doing another Mudder, so I'm running. I'm starting a business, so I'm learning.

I'm somewhere in the process of becoming the next best version of me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to throw current me into the bilge trap. This me is pretty awesome too, because she is continuing, even though the destination is over the horizon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What I'm Capable of: Mental Grit and Bikes Not Bombs

Well last year I did a my first Tough Mudder solo, more on that here.

And I rode home for the first time solo, more on that here.

I still haven't ridden a century, and I've got another Tough Mudder coming up in June. This time with a team. I've been running all winter, even with this crazy pile of snow Nemo dumped on Boston last weekend.

I also play taiko, and we've got our first round of competition coming up.

So why not challenge myself a little more.

Enter, the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-a-thon. (If you want to help our donation goal.)

Last year was my first Hub on Wheels (more here), compliments of the Bandit Man. And once again, we endeavor upon a bike ride. The Bandit Man has done the Bike-a-thon for several, many a year (see here). I have not yet participated.

So why not do a Tough Mudder, then the Bike-a-thon, back to back? Supporting The Wounded Warrior Project and Bikes Not Bombs in one weekend. (And it'll be the Bandit Man's birthday!)

I am no triathlete. I am not an elite cyclist like one of my roommates. I am however, stubborn, and I want to see what I can do.

So spring training has a new meaning. Running, biking, and drums.

I'm already running 8 miles with hill climbs, so let's see what we can do next!

Looks like a job for.... Princess Buttercup (aka the Bumblebee Bianchi bike)....

Friday, February 8, 2013

True Wheels, True Self

Wheel Building, part 2

So I've recently had a chance to add wheel building to the eclectic mix of bike nerd skills I've acquired this year.

Once you've got the wheel laced and get a little tension happening you have to start dealing with lateral truing and radial truing. The wheels I've been building for Charlie have been a challenging set to true radially (i.e. the wheel ought to be a circle, not an oblong-circle-like-thing). No wheel is perfect but these have not been easy. Which has been entirely to my advantage because I get to learn more.

Lateral true: you spin the wheel in between a set of calipers and identify spots that are warping up (or out, depending upon how you look at it I guess) and tighen the opposite side. Little by little as you deal with the problem areas the calipers come in and the standard deviation of wobbliness (not a technical term), is reduced until your wheel has only maybe one or two millimeters of imperfection.

Radial true: How good of a circle is it? My rims have some impressive deviation in this regard. Truing radially has taken quite a long time. Still dealing with one problem area at a time, refining the wheel through patience, diligent attention to detail, and an understanding of the bigger picture.

Once again bicycles help get the deeper meaning out of life. We're not perfect, but how well we roll depends on how we refine ourselves. Just as no one spoke has provided the easy answer to all my wheel building problems, no one quick fix makes life suddenly trouble free.

We deal with the obstacles as they come up, refining as we go - just like building the wheel. Without an understanding of the bigger picture we might get too caught up in the details and make things worse, but if we ignore the details we cannot refine the current situation.

Wheels are of course meant to be used. Not just admired, even if they are ever so pretty, like those I am building for Charlie. Through use they break in, and sometimes are damaged, need a spoke replaced, need to be trued again. They also say wheel building is an art form. Our lives are like this, best when used, continuously a work in progress. An art form that's never quite done.

And isn't that the best part?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Only Way Out is Through

Sometimes something happens that has the potential to make us hate what we used to love. After a trying moment of my own last fall it almost happened to me and bicycles. I didn't want to have much of anything more to do with them. It took a couple of weeks and some digging into what really matters to me, and I got over the first hurdle.

Healing means we have to get through the pain one step at a time, it doesn't happen all at once. And ignoring the pain is definitely not going to help. There is no way around this, the only way out is through.

A lot of mistakes and Buddhism taught me that. Face your problems head on. They cannot be buried or pushed onto someone else. Cause and effect is very strict like that, think you can avoid anything and you will find it calling back around at some point.

Karma is accumulated thought, word, and deed. Karmic cycles of behavior are not necessarily some bad thing as pop culture would point out. We can have good cycles of behavior and negative ones. The negative ones ought to be dealt with head on if we ever want to change our lives.

I once read that the definition of insanity was doing something the same way over and over and expecting a different result. How much of our avoidance is just this? Wasted effort. The way around is just that, around - it comes back on itself.

The way through may be more difficult, more uncertain, but there is a better me on the other side of it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Charlie's Got A Brand New Bag

Setting the Stage

First, channel James Brown, specifically - "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag":

Then instead of fly dance moves from back in the day - think bicycles.


My darling, he's old, he's Austrian, there's no one like him - he is a bicycle. We've gone more than eight thousand miles together over the past two and a half years. Late last summer I took him apart because he looked like this once the cranks came off. He needed to be cleaned.

He needed a new chainring and a few other things.

And he's been waiting.

Mercutio's become the winter bike, he's aluminum so I'm not so worried about the road salt eating him alive, whereas a couple of winters have tried their hands at Charlie's steel. (Princess Buttercup does not come out when there is road salt, she's too fancy for that.)

So Charlie has waited patiently, but now Charlie's getting a brand new bag.

Compliments of the most excellent idea of one of my roommates, we are taking the wheel building class at Broadway Bicycle School. Charlie's fly new wheelset, made by yours truly includes a lovely White Industries track hubset laced to H Plus Son Archetype rims.

Charlie's getting rebuilt, just like me.

Last year brought a lot of change, and fall brought some more. I always used to think that you had to take what was handed to you and deal with it, but it doesn't have to be like that.

Building Anew

You can build yourself anew. And I'm doing that with life, and I'm doing that for Charlie. The bicycle of my personal awakening, of making me into a cyclist, deserves that. But even outside of anthropomorphizing my bike, people deserve that too.

You, me, and all the folks out there.

Some words I continually come back to:

"Indulgence and indolence produce nothing creative. Complaints and evasions reflect a cowardly spirit; they corrupt and undermine life's natural creative thrust. When life is denuded of the will to struggle creatively, it sinks into a state of hellish destructiveness directed at all that lives.

Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.

But to do so is to vindicate your existence as human beings. Even more, it is the mode of existence that is authentically attuned to the innermost truths of life itself; it makes us worthy of the gift of life.

There is no way of life more desolate or more pitiful than one of ignorance of the fundamental joy that issues from the struggle to generate and regenerate one's own life from within. To be human is much more than the mere biological facts of standing erect and exercising reason and intelligence. The full and genuine meaning of our humanity is found in tapping the creative fonts of life itself."   -Daisaku Ikeda, from "The Flowering of Creative Life Force"

Building Mercutio taught me a lot about the mistaken delusions of perfectionism; Charlie is teaching me how to rebuild and start again, all over again.

Come spring, we'll be rolling by - renewed, refreshed, rebuilt, and ready for anything.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What It Means to Be Human

I attended a most interesting talk on quantum computing (and a mess of other things) by a noted professor of MIT in December (in a pub). (Hat-tip to the Bandit Man for this suggestion.)

Besides sending photons back in time and qubits and such, there was of course talk of parallel dimensions and alien life, the sort of thing often reserved for science fiction. This combined with a recent conversation sent my mind to wandering, here's a paraphrase and a bit of a tangent....

Rodenberry's Vision and My Childhood in Spaceships

I've always loved science fiction. Some lovers of literature and other genres don't quite understand why. It is often seen as some sort escapism. But for those of us who love science fiction, many of us love it because of its power to show us what it means to be human. We seem to have to take a step outside of ourselves to truly understand what it is to be exactly human. To answer, "what really is alien?"; we must look at ourselves and ask "what is it that is truly human?".

And there's more to it than just fiction or our best stories. Beings that are at once perhaps either supernatural, alien, fantastical, or godly in our stories are removed from the human experience by this otherness. They are not human, yet interact with a human world on a human scope (or near), close enough that we can still relate to the story. It could be argued that stories have to be relate-able on some scale in order to move us. (And probably has been long before this musing...)

Growing up I always loved watching Star Trek: Next Generation, and while there were crystalline entities, the godlike Q, energy forms, the Borg, and androids, so many of the races met on the Enterprise were humanoid. And while we might argue that from a special effects budget perspective it makes more sense to slap makeup on some actors, I think Gene Rodenberry's vision was deeper than that. That somehow we must often have the mirage of humanity in order to relate to the stories at all.

I don't think that the probability of (or incredible improbability of) parallel (or convergent) evolution producing unrelated-yet-humanoid life forms all around the cosmos was Rodenberry's point; or the appearance of so many Earth-like (M class) planets either. Those may have helped with not needing space suits in every script. So much of what we have observed in the heavens from our own local star system to exo-planets does not point to the prevalence of human-life-friendly-type-worlds that abound in the realms of science fiction. These observations do not seem to support his hopeful view. But once again I think this link to humanity, in an ecological-story-setting sense, makes for better story telling.

And so we move from a story telling style of a great alliance of planets, The Federation, governed by a Prime Directive, to an even more intimate story telling methodology: the individual.

Doctor, Archetype, Hero?

Coming out of a recent conversation about Doctor Who, came a discussion as the Doctor's function as a hero of the individual. (I've seen just about every episode, even on back to the black and white ones from the '60s all the way to the present revamped version.) He represents the freedom of the individual in a cosmos of standardized, emotionless, conformist, conquest-driven military societies and races. Not all Who nemeses are like this, but the favorite and timeless enemies of the Doctor; e.g. Cyberman, Daleks; demonstrate this behavior. Even the Time Lords themselves, his own people, were strict and hands-off when it came to matters of time travel and space happenings. The Doctor himself is antithetical to their philosophy. He stole a TARDIS and travels anywhere and any-when in space and time without regards to the Time Lord structure and rules. (If he was subject to the parameters of Star Trek's Prime Directive, he would have been a very, very bad boy.)

And in his seeming humanity, in both appearance and mannerisms, he reminds those he encounters of the human race what it is to be human. He encourages them to move beyond freaking out or giving up when the going gets tough to remembering how they got there in the first place: through uniquely human brilliance, creativity, determination and teamwork. He remembers humanity when we forget ourselves and so reminds us. All the while constantly having to remind humans that he is not himself human.

Aliens are so frequently saying how weak, how destructive humans are across the films, tv shows, and books I have encountered.

Is that how we see ourselves? Or is that how we're challenging ourselves not to see ourselves?

Us, Ordinary People

I want to consider for a moment a role the Doctor plays in the lives of so many people who encounter him. He serves to wake people up to the wonder that is the universe in which we live, to the profundity of the nature of the life of the ordinary person. More so in the story lines of recent years, he constantly voices that there is no individual more important and significant in time and space than the ordinary person.

The great storytelling that has sustained my love of this genre, long past when it was only the forceful insistence of my elder brother than began it, shows with such lucidity; and often in a very uncomfortable way, just what our behavior as human beings looks like outside the norms of our today. Outside our usual days, objects, transit options, and interactions it is easier to see exactly what sort of cruel and generous, destructive and altruistic creatures we are. And this is all from fellow story tellers of our own species.

Look Beneath the Surface

Science fiction looks from the lens of the outside and can teach us much. But true and lasting change comes from within, so we must see ourselves as we are, here and now. We must awaken, and there isn't going to necessarily be a goofy alien time traveling rebel to help us wake up. It's the choices we make now - it is a choice to open our eyes and see.

The choice to wake up or not - the whole point of Buddhism in my understanding is to impact our daily lives on an immensely positive scale so that we can then engender a positive change in society at large - ultimately so that humanism is the common sense of the era. Buddhism issues this challenge to look beneath the surface, to face the current situation for exactly what it is, to transform our present truth into that seemingly ephemeral better tomorrow.

And the best prescription to see what's really here means going out there and getting a bit messy. That's what the Doctor excels at. And a bicycle can be that lens from inside the present - you don't get to hide behind technology here:  face to the wind, it's you and the road and the people and the city and the world. In your face. In real time. Eye to eye. The real human experience.

A bicycle can tell us a lot about humanity when we look at how we treat our most human forms of transit. All this in the nitty gritty present, not a far-off world, an alternate dimension, or life form we've never seen. This is every day people, those folks we pass and know and don't know and love and hate and ignore and greet...  our species.

And maybe this bicycle is the vehicle of change too.

My bicycle may have modern components, but it is a time machine. And yes bicycles aren't spaceships. But I think the people who dare to ride them are heroes. Every day, ordinary heroes. It's a simple thing, this bicycle. It doesn't have a warp core, it can't make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs, as Han Solo says. But it challenges the way we move, the way we think in this ordinary world that is so amazing.

On a bike you have to look people in the face. You can't hide the humanity of this thing, because it has no real life without a person to make it move.

A bike helped wake up my life, and it's helping my city wake up - maybe even the world.

But what can a bike teach us about being human? Sure I pedal and it goes...but there's more...

My bicycle allows me to confront myself by revealing my behavior as a human being. I don't need a space ship or a time machine to show me what the reality is of being human today.** My human powered transit can teach me that. Humanism on wheels = bicycle. If we ignore our human transit we're ignoring an essential part of us. And just as people who don't introspect and face themselves head on don't grow - how can we? Our treatment of our cyclists can tell us a lot about where we are as human beings right now.

Will we listen? Will we take action?

____ ** But I don't mind the idea of a TARDIS:)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

No Excuses

"I can't, I just can't.  Because of all these things (insert variables, x, y, z, q) I just can't. And that's all there is to it.  I can't and so you must.  You must do this because I am unable."

How many times and in how many places have we heard this?  It comes in many flavors too...

...Sometimes it's uplifting: Yoda cannot bring back the Jedi because his time is through, and so it falls to Luke.  

... Sometimes it's a bit irrational: A dear friend who is afraid of spiders will not enter a room where one is present if she can observe it or knows about it until it is removed.

... Sometimes it's defeat: Something is hard enough that you can't do it right the first time, and so give up.

We learn in life, in books, in songs, in Buddhism, and - of course - in bicycles that victory comes in many forms.  If I had stopped riding just because Gus (my old bike) broke, or Charlie would get flats that I couldn't fix (or any other manner or repair), or it rained or I got lost - then life would not look like what it looks like today.  I would not be me.  In these, as in so many things, sometimes perseverance is in and of itself the victory.  We keep riding, we keep going, because we must, because to give up is to admit defeat - and defeated people don't ride.  

Victory may not be standing at a podium with a medal around your neck, cameras blazing while you give a speech, or receive some delightful recognition.  Victory may be that you just pick yourself up and try again, and again and again, until finally something goes right.  Never give up.

It hurts my heart when someone talks this way through the lens of defeat, of fear, of giving up.  There's so much more to us than defeat.  

Hemingway writes in the The Old Man and the Sea; "But man is not made for defeat.  A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

Just because it doesn't work out the way you wanted, or on the first try, or it seems so easy for others while it is so difficult for you doesn't mean you can't; it just means you have to try harder.  I have invited myself to live a life of no excuses; I will stop with reasons why I can't and instead redetermine - however many times it takes, to do it and know in my heart I've won.
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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License