Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter hiatus

Well, I'm sad to say that I did stop riding my bike to work a few days before Thanksgiving, for the season. I own a bus pass now, and I know how to use it!

Although I felt fairly safe riding home, it was taking an extra 10 minutes to get home via my very low-traffic, but poorly lit, back route. The low light caused me to slow down significantly, and so I was getting home at 6:40. This, in turn, was making my family just a little crazy with worry. So I decided to buy a Metro bus pass instead (useful for lots of other reasons!) and stick to biking during daylight hours.

So now I'm using the bike instead to run errands around the neighborhood -- to the library, the hardware store, the grocery.

It's been a funny winter, weather-wise, and of course it's far from over so it's hard to say how it will turn out. But we've had long stretches of dry weather punctuated by extreme days of incredibly high rainfall. This is what the climate scientists said would happen. Are the predictions coming true, or is it just a coincidence? Will we ever know?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I had to drive the car on Tuesday - a complicated family schedule made the car a necessity - but I observed, while driving down Aurora Avenue, that traffic is pretty slow at this time of day. In fact, it took me 21 minutes to get to work. Usually it takes me 32 minutes if I ride my bike.

I rode to work on my bike Wednesday, but not Thursday - predictions of steady rain in the evening were all too true. Time spent walking to, waiting for, then riding, the bus from work to home: about 40 minutes. Normal bike commute time from work to home: about 45 minutes. (I'm slower on the way home because it's dark and there's a big hill to climb.)

I took my bike Friday. So, 1 day of driving, one day of busing, 2 days of biking. I never would have guessed I could ride so frequently in November, normally our wettest month.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Riding in the dark

This really was the week that I expected to quit. And yet, armed with my flashing lights and a homemade vest striped with reflective tape, I went forth into the darkness each night at 6 p.m., riding across Westlake and along Dexter, then over to the Burke Gilman trail and on home in a new, winter-time route that takes me on back streets for a good portion of the way.

And it's just fine, thanks.

Still. Every afternoon, as afternoon fades to evening darkness, I fight a rising sense of panic that I am doing something irrational and I really ought to quit. Sitting at my computer in the newsroom, I cast my eye over to the window and notice how very dark it is out there. When it is time to go, I don my winter riding clothes in the locker room, thinking to myself, this is nuts. I should not be riding in the dark.

But then, when I get outside, some of the panic starts to fall away. The city is well-lit by streetlights, after all. My blinking lights in the back are visible for blocks. My front lights are more than adequate for illuminating dark stretches of roadway. My jacket is screaming fluorescent yellow-green, and my homemade vest glows in headlights.

I go down Boren to Republican, both side streets at the edge of the downtown core. I stop at the stop signs, pull in behind cars at the traffic lights. I get onto Dexter, joining a small group of other cyclists who are doing the same thing. We ride through the Mercer intersection and climb the hill, our tail lights flashing like some sort of moving Christmas-tree display.

I cross the Fremont bridge, where I count seven or eight similarly-adorned cyclists. I go left now, getting on the Burke-Gilman, which is very dark. I ride slowly, perhaps 9 or 10 mph. The trail is quiet. The darkness is pleasant in a private, almost secretive way that I had not anticipated.

Every commute is an adventure.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bridge in the fog

These recent mornings have been especially beautiful because of the play of light and fog. The Aurora Avenue Bridge was as striking as a modern sculpture.

I'm tracking the amount of time it takes to commute, from my door to the bike cage and back. I took a different route home through the neighborhood yesterday - more hills, fewer cars, 37 minutes.

The ride to work this morning took 31 minutes.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not just my imagination

Yes, there really are more cyclists out there, according to this press release from the city:

SEATTLE – The number of bicyclist entering downtown during the morning commute jumped 31 percent since 2000, according to a recent count released today by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“More and more people are choosing to leave the car in the garage and find a different way to get to work,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “We are making it easier and safer to get around Seattle by walking and biking and we are starting to see the results. By taking a bike instead of a car, people are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and leaving the city and the planet a better place.”

In April, Nickels released Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan to significantly expand the city’s network of bike lanes, make it easier and safer to ride throughout the city and reduce greenhouse gases. The downtown count, along with surveys around other parts of the city, will set a baseline for the goal of tripling the number of bicyclists by 2017.

“The goal of this effort is simple,” Nickels said “We want to make Seattle the best and the safest city in the nation for bicycling.”

So far this year, the city has installed more than 18 miles of new bicycle lanes and shared-lane markings, or “sharrows”, and 30 additional miles of improvements are planned for 2008.

Seattle’s Climate Action Plan calls for an increase in bicycling as one means to reduce harmful greenhouse gasses and meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. A study of 2005 data released earlier this week shows that Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions had fallen to 8 percent below 1990 levels.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Signs I love

I do really love the way the city has "signed up" the Fremont Bridge area - although I've certainly seen motorists ignore this sign. Somehow, though, it tends to make the majority of them mind their manners.

It's getting a lot darker when I ride home now, and this marks the last week of daylight savings time. Still, I've been pleased at how well my new Cateye bike light has lit up the street in front of me. I feel both visible (to motorists) and capable of seeing the road. I run both the light and a white blinkie, side-by-side on my handlebars. Other cyclists have lights attached to their helmets, another good option.

I went to the Seattle Outdoor Fabric Store last week and bought several yards of highly reflective tape, some of which I've sewn onto my panniers. I think I'm going back today because I'd like to fashion for myself a super-visible vest. All the bike vests I've seen have been lacking in some way or the other (in my opinion) so I'm going to see if I can do my own. The problem is that the highly-reflective silver tape that works so well when a car's lights hit you is also the same color, more or less, as the road, so when it's dusk - not yet dark - you become invisible. Some combination of a bright base color, sewn over with strips of reflective tape, seems best. Construction workers wear vests like these, but they don't go down in back far enough, in my opinion. You want something that covers your butt.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Road hazards

One of my colleagues took a spill while trying to cross the South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT) tracks on Fairview or Eastlake the other day. The trolley is a weird, almost toy-like transportation system that will connect South Lake Union to downtown, when it fires up this winter. It's just not extensive enough to be any kind of transportation solution for anyone, unless you happen to live on a houseboat in Eastlake and work downtown. And it turns out that the trolley's recessed tracks are big hazards for cyclists. Your wheel can get caught in the recessed channel, and the iron tracks are slick as ice.

Another hazard: heading north across the Fremont Bridge and trying to stay north on Fremont. There's a right-hand turn that veers off to the right shortly after you get off the bridge, and it's not marked for cyclists at all. Cars come up behind you, pass and immediately turn right, leaving you no room. A woman could have hit me yesterday with that particular move -- oh, I saw her coming, so it wasn't like a close call or anything, but it irritated me no end.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New light

I went to REI this afternoon at lunch, and joined three other cyclists all staring at the light display, trying to figure out which light would illuminate the road best. So many choices! I came away with a CatEye light with a beam so bright that it hurt my eyes from across the room. It takes 4 AA batteries, but I will try rechargeables to cut the waste down. The $150-and-up lights with dedicated, built-in rechargeable batteries (on display in a locked glass case) seemed like too big of a commitment. I figure that this light, for $44, will extend my riding a little bit into the winter and allow me to start the season a little earlier too.

I also got a very glow-y fluorescent green jacket with a little bit of reflective striping on the back. It's not waterproof, but I think it will keep me dry enough in showers. And the color really stands out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is this the day?

Every day now I've been watching the weather forecasts and trying to decide if this is the day that I change my mind about going to work on two wheels, and hang my bike up for the season. I thought this might be the day - but, despite a dire forecast of rain and wind, the weather held off until 6 p.m. and I rode home in very light sprinkles. In fact, some traffic gremlin must have struck Hwy. 99, because the traffic through Fremont was completely backed up. I zoomed by many cars on the way home. It was one of those days where a bike was probably the fastest way to get anywhere!

At some point, I'm either going to have to invest in some better equipment - a strong headlight to accompany my flashers, and some fenders - or else sit out the winter and return in the spring. It's a true budget dilemma: Good equipment could easily run $200 or more, versus driving to work (parking $135/month plus gas) or riding the bus ($48 a month).

Good story on the environmental online site Grist today on bike safety - the author argues that the streets aren't as dangerous as most people think:
"Biking is safer than it used to be. It's safer than you might think. It does incur the risk of collision, but its other health benefits massively outweigh these risks. And it can be made much safer. What's more, making streets truly safe for cyclists may be the best way to reverse Bicycle Neglect: it may be among communities' best options for countering obesity, climate disruption, rising economic inequality, and oil addiction."

Friday, October 5, 2007

Radical Bicycle Manifesto

To commute by bicycle in Seattle is to become radicalized about bicycling.

Perhaps not right away. At first, you may be lucky enough to have a dozen easy commutes in to work. Then one day a bus cuts you off, rolling right in front of you and blocking the bike lane to pick up passengers. An SUV driver yakking on his cell phone passes you on the downslope of a hill and then makes a sharp right turn, forcing you to slam on your brakes. A fellow bicyclist on a fixie or a mountain bike wooshes past you, leaving inches of clearance. A truck is parked two feet from the curb, sticking way out into the bike lane and forcing you into the lane of traffic. You carefully and reasonably “take the lane,” as you’re allowed to do, to avoid a dangerous situation and get a blast from a motorist’s horn, as a driver too hell-bent to get somewhere comes roaring up on you and insists you move immediately out of his way.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: To the city, for an unending list of hazardous places where the lack of signage or clearly-painted bike lanes creates cycling nightmares. To the drivers, who act like you’re invisible and regularly, almost routinely, put your life in peril. And even to a very large chunk of the bicycling community – riders who run stop lights and red lights, dart in and out of traffic and ride, against their own self-interest, at night without lights, often wearing enough black to outfit a Ninja. What are they thinking?

During my training for the STP, I started doing a little bit of bike commuting. After the STP I settled into a bike-commute rhythm. At some point, I went from biking 20 percent of the time to biking almost 100 percent of the time to work. Since August, it’s become something of a pleasant addiction. When I ride in to work, I feel great. When I ride home, I feel great. That little 30-minute rush of adrenalin and jump in my heart rate works better than a double-tall espresso in the morning. Curiously, it has the same effect on me at the end of the day. I arrive home energized at the end of the day, as if some genie recharged my battery while I was grinding uphill on Fremont Avenue.

I’m of the opinion that a well-behaved, careful, law-abiding cyclist is – or should be looked upon as – something of an urban hero. The commuting cyclist is taking a car off the road or freeing up a seat on the bus. His or her vehicle emits no pollution and takes up a tiny amount of space on the roadway. It’s even light on the infrastructure, with the typical commuter bike weighing in at something around 20 to 30 pounds. All in all, a healthy, law-abiding population of cyclists is good for the city – even for those who can’t ride themselves: People who trade their car in for a bike make more space on the road for those who cannot.

So I’ve decided to try turning my STP bike blog into a bike commuter blog, chronicling the joys and perils of riding to work in Seattle. I'm hoping that by recording the daily journey, I'll help shed light on why Seattle can be a difficult city to navigate on two wheels.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Great stories

I heard a lot of interesting stories on the road to Portland, and even more in the days that have followed. My favorite story is from the family riding in memory of a young man named B.J. who died in an auto accident last August when he was only 18. (I understood it to just be an auto accident, not a car-bike accident.)

The seven cyclists were wearing jerseys “in memory of B.J.,” so I tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked who he was. She turned out to be his mother, and she told me about his untimely death and explained that they were riding in his memory and honor.

And then later, I got a little more of the story from CZ, who left a comment on the last blog post:

“In spite of his tender years he had crammed 5 STP's, 1 RAMROD and the summiting of at least 3 of the 5 major peaks that the Cascades have to offer (that I know of). SUCH a spectacular kid!! So we assembled a motley crew of first timers to join his experienced mom and sister .... one of which was his uncle .... the rest friends .... and we took him for his symbolic 6th STP. Everybody in our group had something "BJ" (his nickname) with them. I wore his bike shoes. We all wore what I thought were spectacular jerseys designed by his mom and sister and SO many folk were SO kind and curious to ask about our mission. It was very touching ... and we heard nearly as many touching tales in return. I was impressed. I was moved. I was proud. I was empowered. I was drained. I AM changed!!”

What a lovely way to honor his memory.

Not just spandex and carbon fiber

I got an e-mail from Anthony in Boston, who wanted me to know that “STP is not about multi-thousand dollar bikes or spandex shorts over $100. You will also see the Schwinn Varsities of 1980s vintage and the teenagers with their baggies. I rode my first STP on a used Raleigh Technium 12-speed I bought for $80 and my training in more recent years included commuting to Seattle from Bellevue on an upgraded Fuji "comfort bike" (front and seatpost suspension, but weighs a ton) that was on clearance for $170 at Performance Bikes. I still ride in bike shorts that are on sale at Bike Nashbar or Performance in the $30-40 range.”

This is exactly right – I saw every type of bike out there, from fat-tire cruisers to those 1980-era ten speeds. And every type of clothing. And every type of body size, too, including a man who must have weighed 250 pounds and was not shy about telling you that he had a custom bike frame built for him because he’d broken a few frames in his day. In fact, a story in yesterday’s New York Times called it the bicycling paradox:

“Cycling is a lot more forgiving of body type and age than running. The best cyclists going up hills are those with the best weight-to-strength ratio, which generally means being thin and strong. But heavier cyclists go faster downhill. And being light does not help much on flat roads.”

What to-do next?

In the story I wrote for Saturday’s paper, I said the STP has always been on my “to-do” list, which made my neighbors wonder what else is on that list. Well, truthfully, it’s a vague and ever-changing mental list. Right now I want to get back to practicing the piano more frequently, and fixing up my sadly neglected vegetable garden; also, inspired by the many, many children and teens on the STP, I’d like to at least do some fun rides with my family.

However, I’ve also gotten a lot of ideas from friends:

* My neighbor Amy thinks I should climb Mount Rainier.

* Miyoko suggests hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

* Roy recommends the RAGBRAI = Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. “It's a lot of people, a lot of fun and it's unlike any bike ride you will ever do because the towns are genuinely stoked to see you coming. Towns bid to be overnight host towns (one this year mailed hundreds of postcards to RAGBRAI headquarters begging to be picked) and the pass- through towns throw full-blast welcomes as the riders pass through.”

* John W. wants me to do the RSVP next year – the Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party.

* Elizabeth suggests I do the STP again, in one day this time. And it’s a great family event if everyone participates, she adds. “I highly recommend, if you have children, to keep this in mind as a bonding exercise for the teen years.”

* Darrell suggests I join a rock band.

* Julie thinks I should go to Venice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Notes on a great ride

One thing about blogging on the road is that you have no idea if your pictures are downloading properly, or if anyone’s watching. My husband called me on Sunday morning, when we were at Castle Rock High School, and told me there were a bunch of comments on the blog. He read most of the comments to me; it was a kick. So thanks for following me on the road – knowing that I had people riding along, virtually speaking, made the experience much more fun!
I have some other pictures I took with a better camera, and I'll try to freshen up the blog this week, add more commentary and some better pictures.

The ride was well organized and well supported by the Cascade Bicycle Club. Kudos also to the many small-town police officers who stopped car traffic for us along the way, and to the drivers who enthusiastically waved us through even though they had the right-of-way. They were terrific. So, too, were the motorcycle riders of the Goldwing Touring Association, who escorted riders over the Lewis & Clark Bridge and kept watch for trouble along the route.

The only problems – and they were probably unavoidable – were the long lines for bathrooms and food at some of the stops. When a big concentration of cyclists arrived, volunteers couldn’t hand out food fast enough. And on Saturday morning, the lines for the Port-A-Potties at some stops were intimidating.

I’m happy to report that I had no flats or mechanical problems on the entire ride. Physically, the roughest part for me was day 1, at about mile 70. It was hotter than I had expected. My feet and shoulders hurt. I was wiped out, and there were miles and miles to go. I was so pleased to finally spot the sign that read, “Welcome to Centralia.”

On the second day, I set up my bike odometer so it only showed the time of day – not the number of miles I’d ridden. Perhaps that was why day 2 went so much better. I stopped focusing on the miles and just enjoyed the scenery.

The best parts of the STP are the ride through Seattle, the Kent Valley, and especially the countryside between Roy and Kelso. The worst parts: Spanaway and the last 50 miles along Highway 30. There was a serious bike accident along Highway 30 in Oregon – a driver, reportedly driving under the influence at 9 in the morning, who hit a cyclist and caused a chain reaction bike crash with two other cyclists – and then drove away from the accident. I hope the injured rider is going to be OK.

The Blog

Photo-blogging on the bike was pretty easy. I’ve got a new Samsung phone with a 1.3-megapixel camera (nothing fancy – it’s what you get free with a T-mobile account). You can set up the photos to send them to a default destination, and I had set it up in advance to send to my blog. So each picture required just three pushes of the phone’s buttons: One to turn the camera function on, one to take a picture, and one to send it to Blogger.

If you’re interested in mobile blogging, just do a search for “mobile blogging.” Blogger isn’t the only blog service that offers it – I think all the major blogs support mobile blogging now.

It’s also possible to send videos to YouTube from your phone, but this involved a lot more button-pushing, and I only tried this once. I don’t think it worked.

My homemade phone holder, made with balsa wood and duct tape, worked quite well – a picture of it is down further in the blog. I was able to take pictures while keeping good control of my bike. I was also glad that I tethered my phone to my bike handlebars with a stretch of elastic band. That saved my phone a few times, when rough roads jiggled it right out of its holder.

I look forward to the day when manufacturers are able to marry a better camera to a cell phone. In the bright sun, the phone’s screen was hard to see, and I took a lot of so-so pictures.

Random notes

For the most part, people don’t watch the STP. Sure, it’s not the Tour de France, but there was almost nobody on the side of the road to view the spectacle. Instead of watching, people set signs out: “Go Lisa!” and “Chuck – Portland or bust!”

Overheard: Two guys discussing the plot of “Breaking Away,” the 1970s movie about cycling. One guy remembered the plot better than the other. “What, you mean the Cutters lost?!”

The pine forests around Fort Lewis smell fresh and delicious.

Overheard, from a guy riding a fixed-gear bike: “Gears are for sissies.”

Accidental badge of honor at the end of the STP: a tattoo of chain grease on your calf.

I wasn't planning to do this again anytime soon, but John reminded me that the 30th anniversary of the STP is in two years. Hmmm...

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Whew - it's over!

I'm sitting in my Portland hotel room now, where I hope to get in and add some descriptions to the pictures I took during the STP. I've had a shower and removed a layer of suntan oil, perspiration and road grime from all over. I'm looking forward to a good dinner -- anything but pasta! -- and a beer. I'm exhausted, but not as much as I thought I'd be.

It was a great ride, and now that it's done, I'm already feeling kind of sad. Wow - it's over.


We got a bottle of water and a special STP patch at the end. There was a great crowd at the park.

The finish line corridor

You ride through a line of well-wishers at the end.


There it is...

Lining the streets

You knew you were close to the end when you started seeing people along the side of the road.

Across the bridge

We go single file across this bridge over the Willamette River.

The never-ending finish

I expected the finish line to show up at any point, but it seemed like we just kept going on and on through downtown Portland...


Industrial Portland

The last seven or eight miles or so went through an industrial part of the city. It was not Portland at its best.

Bridge in sight

We must be getting closer, because we see more bridges in the distance.



This was a long hill.

Just 10 more miles!

Outskirts of Portland

Tandem family

I didn't get a very good picture of this family, but they had a very little girl on the back of this tandem bike -she must have been six or seven.

Last stop

Actually, although this sign claimed this was the last stop, there were a couple of mini-stops after this one.


It was about 82 degrees here, and a lot of people stuck their heads under the water here to cool off.

Food stop

The ham sandwiches here were excellent.

Long, boring Highway 30

The last 50 miles of the STP go along Highway 30 in Oregon, which is hot, busy and in some places has no shoulder to ride on. This was a good stretch because there was a wide shoulder, but it was still really busy. I have heard that there was an accident somewhere on this road - a drunk driver who plowed into a bunch of cyclists. We didn't see any sign of the accident, though.

Narrow highway 30

This oversize load - a big boat - passed us along Highway 30.

Almost in Oregon

This shows a pretty good view of these expansion joints on the Lewis and Clark bridge. They're very hazardous to cyclists, and we were warned repeatedly to beware of them.

Approaching the bridge

What's wrong with this picture? Well, I accidentally pressed a button on the side of my cell phone that reversed the picture. When we went across the Lewis and Clark Bridge into Oregon, we were, of course, on the other side of the road.

Bridge approach

Lining up for the bridge

In Longview, they line you up in a big group and then escort you across the Lewis and Clark Bridge. This is just before you turn onto the road that leads to the bridge.

Through Longview

Turn your head sideways

A guy at this Cowlitz County Park food stop offered to take our picture, but then he turned the phone sideways to take the picture. Whoops! Also, I think I must have smeared the lens with sunscreen. My hands were really oily, and of course there was no place to wash up out here.


This was the lunch stop at mile 145, but there was a very long line for the food. We decided to skip the line and went instead to Longview, where we stopped at a Starbucks and had a sandwich and a yogurt parfait.

Pirate cyclists


Castle Rock - mile 137

I had a peanut butter & jelly here.

Castle Rock High School

World's Largest Egg

Winlock's claim to fame!


I didn't have cell-phone reception until I got to Castle Rock, so these pictures from Winlock are a little out of order.


We passed a bike accident somewhere between Vader and Castle Rock, with five or six cyclists standing on the side of the road and bicycles scattered all over on the ground. However, everyone was standing up and nobody seemed badly hurt. This ambulance passed us about 15 minutes later. I hope everyone was OK.

Banana bread

I think this was Napavine, where somebody was giving away free banana bread. I had this crazy craving for a banana - just a banana - but I never got one. I saw two of them smushed on the road, and one whole one that had dropped out of somebody's back pocket, but I didn't stop for it.

Old trucks for sale

This was a nice part of the route. We entertained a lot of livestock as we rode by - cows and goats enjoyed watching the parade.

This way to Portland

Downtown Chehalis

Early-morning ride

The road from Centralia south was lovely farmland. I think this was my favorite part of the ride.

Water fill-up before day 2

Luggage pile

We got a ride from our hotel from some very nice people who had space (barely) in their truck. We added our luggage to the pile, claimed our bikes, and headed out for day 2.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A row of bike seats

Dropping of bikes for the evening

I thought it was a good idea to leave our bikes with the Centralia police and walk to our hotel, but as it turned out, the hotel was much farther away than we thought. The Google map showed it to be a mile away, but it seemed more like two. It was too much trouble to go back to Centralia College for dinner, so we ended up eating at a Pizza Hut by the freeway. I wish we could have stuck around the college campus to see what went on in Centralia on STP night...