Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cookbooks and Coffee-Offs

This year's Christmas had a definite scientific bent. Amy received The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition which is a great cookbook in that it not only gives recipes but it also includes explanations of the experiments they undertook to come up with the Best Recipe.We tried  the Northern Corn Bread, the spiral ham, mashed sweet potatoes and pancakes.  All things we've baked before but that came out much  better with the new book's recommendations.

Inspired perhaps by the cookbook, or just because someone here likes to conduct his own scientific experiments we also had a Christmas morning coffee-off. Using the same brand of  coffee, freshly ground, in the same amount and with the same amount of water we brewed coffee using:

1. Chemex

2. Mr. Coffee®

3. French Press

The coffee was then poured into secretly coded mugs and served (black) to 4 testers.

The results were surprising, but unanimous.  Mr. Coffee made the best brew, followed by the Chemex. The French Press came in at last place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Adventures in apartment hunting

This weekend we looked at a lot of apartments.  Cute apartments, buggy apartments, sterile apartments and non-descript apartments. Some were in small cities, some in little towns, and one - was as close to nowhere as you can get on the North Shore.

Our specs are pretty narrow.  Has to be sunny,quiet,  2 bedroom (room for guests and toys), and walking distance to the commuter rail line, and an easy drive to Gloucester.  And I think we found one in Manchester-by-the-Sea.  A really, really cute town. The .2 mile walk to the T, takes me by a coffee shop and a bookstore. Also, it is next to a bike shop and behind it, there is a nature conservancy with hiking trails.

Which makes the move all that much more real. Hard to believe I'll be working in the big city. many adventures, so little time to blog.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Making a list

Yeah, it's trite but I figure Santa is pretty busy this year and this will help him out.

Good beer

Those little ear bud / headphone things

Nice wine glasses

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Least you prefer to eat Bon Bons

Books can be dangerous. Very very dangerous. I finished a century in September and decided that I'd had enough of that. I just finished reading Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir, by a guy who obsessively walked/ran multiple marathons, double marathons and 24 hour races, (including trying to run a marathon in every state, and in every month of the year) and half way through reading the book I took a break to find out if that was possible with Centuries (there is one for every month, and all states except Rhode Island have official Centuries), and of course for the really obsessive there are Double Centuries.

Spoiler alert! All in all a good book, one comforting fact however, is that, this guy, Lawrence Block, doesn't realize until he's in his sixties that "it's the walking that's important, not the time, not the distance. Not the medals, not the trophies, not the T-shirts." Hey, at least I got that in my 40s!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Grand Staircase Escalante

It's December and you know what that means. Time to plan a spring hiking trip out West!  This year we're thinking it'd be nice to do more exploring of Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah.  I've poked around the perimeter a few years back and loved it. Hiking the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon and Calf Creek Falls made for two days of my life I'll never forget.  Now it's time to backpack into the heart of it and have some more.

But before any trip comes the second best part - the planning. I'm thinking a good map is essential for this remote area, something like Escalante Canyons - Trails Illustrated Map # 710 should do. And then there is the book. The Book has to not only recommend good backpacking possibilities but also give a bit of history to the area.
Hiking from Here to WOW: WOW Guides Utah Canyon Country : 90 Trails to the Wonder of Wilderness seems to fit the bill.

Let the planning begin!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Adventures in Mass Transit: The Road Warrior Takes the Train

Despite my reputation for loving a long drive, if it were anywhere near cost effective to take the train to and from Gloucester  I'd be happy to do so.  At present though, the most I can justify is when I only need a ride one way. I suppose the thrill will wear off over time but perhaps the thrill of being a road warrior wasn't so much the driving, as the going places. Getting on the train in one town, and getting off in a totally different one without making any further effort seems magical. Almost as magical as say, Magic Thursday back in Mystic ( trash placed on the curb Thursday before work, disappeared by nightfall).

The one, or maybe it's two, hiccups in the Gloucester to Mystic route is the cost. The commuter rail from Gloucester to North Station costs $9.25. Then there is a $2.00 ticket to get from North Station to Back Bay on the Orange line. The cost for Amtrak (which incidentally is only a little more than half the total milage) costs
$28.00. Total cost $39.25. To drive it, takes about half a tank of gas and one cup of coffee - doesn't even have to be a good one. The second drawback is the whole North Station - to the Orange Line - to Bay Back part. It's not really so much that it's inconvenient. Really it only adds about 20 minutes to the whole thing, the real issue on this is just that it's dumb. Even after doing it a few times I haven't been able to stop myself from getting worked up about how stupid it is to not have trains go to the same station. Amtrak trains coming from the North end at North Station, while Amtrak trains coming from the South, end at South Station. And those two are approx. 1.1 miles apart. To get from one to the other you either have to take a cab (which is a total mass transit cop out), walk (being sure to take a good map Streetwise Boston Map, or take the Orange Line subway. This really takes you to the Back Bay Station, one stop down the line from South Station. There is no subway going between the two major train stations. Who planned, or didn't plan this? And why wasn't it fixed as part of the big dig?

But aside from that, it's really pretty cool that you can get around without a car. That you can read a book, sleep, sight-see or people watch and get through one of the most congested places in the US without having to drive.  Tuesday I will board the train in Gloucester, get off at North Station, take the Orange line to Back Bay, and take Amtrak to Mystic, where I'll just walk on down RT 27 to work. Just like magic (with a little bit of grumbling somewhere in the middle).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Sheep to Fish: What Scientists can learn from ethnohistory

Recently I picked up a book about sheep ranching in Navajo Country and began thinking about the recent protest by fisherman in Gloucester, Mass, and Orange Beach, Alabama against National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) new policies intended to prevent overfishing and help stocks recover.

The book, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) focuses on the 1930s government instituted plan of livestock reduction in response to devastating overgrazing. The government plan was, according to the author, Marsha Weisiger, based upon scientific reality and was well-intended but when implemented without the input and cooperation of the people most effected was doomed to failure. Animosities created then between government representatives and tribal members stand in the way of the creating a continuing cooperative policy to work with the land.

Reading the newspaper articles and especially the comments relating to the Gloucester, Mass protest the parallels are obvious.NMFS maintains that their policy is based upon scientific reality and is intended to preserve stock. The fisherman insist the science is flawed but really focus on how the new policies will kill the smaller fisherman, i,e. the culture of the local fisherman. Carrying banners reading "National Marine Fisheries Service: Destroying Fisherman and their Communities Since 19??" they protest the end of their way of life.

Weisiger concludes her book stating that "conserving the range was not simply an ecological problem; it was a cultural one, too...[government officials] lost sight of the fact that a truly sustainable relationship with the natural world requires an ethical relationship with the land, with those who people it, and with the cultures that give it meaning."  Isn't it past time the fisheries problem was looked at as more than a ecological problem?

There are obvious strong, vibrant cultural, and associated cultural meanings that must be taken into consideration if a true solution to the fishery problem is to be reached.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Trustom Pond, Rhode Island

Hiking during hunting season always poses a dilemma. Do you want to risk your life, especially as you'll be wearing a hideous orange vest (don't even bother worrying about your underwear)or do you want to play it safe and 'hike' through town? Trustom Pond offers another alternative. It's a short walk, roughly 3 flat miles along nice wide paths. The main path takes you to two separate overlooks on Trustom Pond, the only pond remaining in Rhode Island without shoreside development. There are lots of birds to look at and it is pretty. At the southern most point the pond is separated from the ocean only by the narrowest of land spits that must be breached even during really high tides. In summer, I'd be tempted to swim out. Something about the place just called for a small bit of wildness.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Matunuck Oyster Bar, Aquaculture, and Rhode Island Oysters

It's always kinda nice when after a  great dinner out you can gather around google maps in satellite mode and say "my dinner were farmed from there, and there, and there." And last Saturday after a great day of kayaking we did just that. We'd tried to go Matunuck Oyster Bar during the summer, but the place was packed. On a beautiful autumn evening it was merely busy.

The entrees were good but really, the coolest thing about the Oyster Bar are, well, the oysters. We ordered a plate of assorted Rhode Island Oysters. All named after their locations. The Potters Pond oysters were the sweetest (and incidentally grown by the owner of the restaurant). On google maps you can actually see the cages. In the summer they run tours out to the farm. Next we had them from farms in Winnapaug Pond, Narragansett Bay, Point Judith Pond, and Ninigret Pond. All good. Actually all very good!!! Can't wait to go again. mmmmm...maybe in November?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A(nother) Grounding on Gaspee Penisula

HMS Gaspée, a British revenue schooner that had been enforcing unpopular trade regulations, ran aground in shallow water on June 9, 1772, near what is now known as Gaspee Point in the city of Warwick, Rhode Island, while chasing the packet boat Hannah. In a notorious act of defiance, American patriots led by Abraham Whipple and John Brown, attacked, boarded, looted, and torched the ship. By many accounts, this is actually the first act of the American Revolution.

If you live in Warwick, RI, this is the raison d'ete for Gaspee Days, a three day craft fair, party and parade.

For me, it lead to a moment of living history. Saturday some friends and I went kayaking in Narragansett Bay. First we headed North up the Pawtuxet River, then South around a very long sand spit. As we rounded the point Steve pointed out that this was Gaspee Point.

I work in a museum but I'm not really the kind of person who gets excited by the whole 'true cross' thing. Looking at Washington's wooden teeth is gross, staring at the hat Lincoln wore the night he was shot is just morbid, even a splinter for The Cross really wouldn't faze me. But doing something, or being somewhere, where something historical happened - just gives me the shivers. So there I was, paddling over the very spot where the Gaspee grounded and burned more than 300 years ago. The wind was blowing, the temperature was dropping and I was loving it. I paddled as close to the land as I could, half hoping I too would run aground.

The Flatest Century in the East, 2009

Even though I rode a Century, a hundred mile ride in one day, apparently, I'm a slacker because I haven't written about it. Which alters the question of whether life imitates art - or informs it.

Doing the Century this year was touch and go on four separate occasions:
  1. the day before 
  2. at the 54 mile mark
  3. at the 75 mile mark
  4. when SD was yacking while my right leg was cramping
 Knowing we were getting a bit older we had been training all summer for this ride. Along with regular rides we'd also done the Erie Ride for a warm up, and the Vermont week for the final big training week. But we hadn't ridden the week between Vermont and the Century and then some friends invited us to spend the weekend on their island. We knew we could ride the 100 miles. We'd ridden 80 hilly miles just the weekend before so we wondered, do we really need to do the actual ride? and if so for whose sake? Why do we set these goals and who cares if we achieve them - technically?

Philosophical musings aside, the morning of the Century found our friends enjoying a nice cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over Narragansett Bay as we pulled into the Dartmouth parking lot with 3000 other bike riders whom we soon followed North to begin circumnavigating the Southeast Mass coastline. The riding, while not flat, was nice, traffic low, and the Narragansett Bay Wheelman had hired a number of traffic police to see the massive groups across major intersections.

At the first rest stop, the peanut butter sandwiches tasted pretty good. We'd ridden 37 miles and we were feeling okay.  Between there and the next rest stop SD started lagging a bit behind. He probably doesn't remember and will, most likely, make a comment on this post as an anonymous person completely denying this but I know I wasn't peddling very hard and he was. But pedal he did. The next rest stop delievered even more sandwiches and promised a change of scenery. Up until that point we'd been riding North of Dartmouth, mostly through wooded areas. Now we headed South, riding up and down pennisula's with great views of rivers, bays and the ocean. And that was a very good thing. As much as I love riding, sitting in the saddle for over 7 hours, can be a bit boring sometimes so it's always good when there is something interesting to look at.

By mile 75, I was in desperate need of something nice to look at. My bum was a bit sore, my right leg was occasionally cramping and I didn't want to eat, or even see, another peanut butter sandwich. SD, at this point, was raring to go. We'd arrived at a short cut to the finish line which, if we took it, would result in an 82 mile ride. Now the question wasn't why do we (I) need to ride the 100 miles, if I knew I could do it, the question had become, geez, can I ride another 25 miles?  SD waited patiently.

I turned right - opting for the whole monty. Ooooowww. By mile 95 my right leg was permanently cramped. I now suspect it was some sort of mineral depletion but then I just knew that every time I turned the crank it hurt like heck. SD pulled in front and slowed enough for me to draft and that helped greatly. On the last 2 miles he thought it might be better if he rode beside me and offered comforting words, and perhaps some distraction. Lets just say that's not a good tactic with me, but the effort is much appreciated.

At 102 miles, SD pedaling along like a little kid, and me cursing every stroke and whomever threw in the extra 2 miles we returned to the Dartmouth parking lot and picked up our t-shirts.

Yeah - I can still ride a 100 miles but I do hope I never make that a goal. Goals like "riding the coast of California" or "circling the Grand Canyon" or such, would probably be funner. Oooh wait, maybe that's a good goal. Riding for fun!

But I did have fun doing the century, not just the ride but the training. AAARRGGG

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Bike Rider Corollary Effect

The book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) aside from just being generally fascinating in what it reveals about our driving habits has some good insights into driver/cyclist dynamics as well. Citing a study by English psychologist Ian Walker, the book points out that car drivers tend to give more slack and be more cautious around cyclist whom they can not predict and whom do not appear to know what they are doing, i.e.
  • The further a cyclist rides from edge of the rode, the more space drivers give them
  • Drivers will pass closer to cyclist wearing helmets than those not.
  • Drivers pass further around a woman than a man (in other, non-cycling traffic studies, the majority of drivers, women included, treat women drivers as less predictable)
  • At an intersection, cyclist who fail to signal a turn are treated more cautiously than those who do.
Apparently, the best way to avoid being hit by a car is to not wear a helmet, wear a dress and ride erratically. It's truly a great study that will give readers a whole new perspective on driver/cyclist dynamics.

Will I, however, follow this line of reasoning? Heck no! For what I term the the Bad Bike Rider Corollary Effect.

Corollary is defined as a "proposition that follows from another that has been proved."  As such the above law has been proven. What remains to be seen/studied is how the driver will then treat the next bike rider they come upon, and the next, and the next. Having now ridden in several group rides and followed both good and bad riders, both Lycra-clad and non, I can tell you that the more badly behaving, non-signaling, non-riding to the right bike riders a car has to pass, the less leeway they give and the less cautious they become.  Heck, even I do it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Long live Shakespeare

We are returning to a mob ruled, pre-industrial revolution society! If, as Lawrence W. Levine states in William Shakespeare in America, the first chapter of , Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization) Shakespeare was the most popular playwright in America until the late eighteenth century because his plays reflected the American moral sense and worldview. A popularity that faded as individualism and moral virtue became less and less a rewarded characteristic of industrial man. Then, with the current replacement of the industrial revolution by the technological revolution, we are already beginning to see the resurgence of mass movement, crowd sourcing, twitter-organized protests, etc. balance by a respect for rugged individualism. In a nutshell, we are witnessing the return of the power of the individual to effect change through mass movements. Can the mass market popularity of Shakespeare be far behind?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Adventures of the Bad Tourist

If you ever get the chance to go site seeing or museuming with me, don't. Hiking, biking, backpacking, kayaking, or anything like that – I'm a great companion, but touristing, even if you're lying, say you're busy. My present trip to Washington, DC confirms my long ignored suspicions that I have no talent for looking at things.

In the 2.5 days I was in DC I went to The Capitol, the Library of Congress, “The Castle”, the Museum of American History(more on the maritime exhibit in another post), the White House Visitor Center, the National Archives, The National Book Fair, Washington Monument, WWII Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vietnam War Memorial, and the Hershorn Art Museum, and I'm not sure what I got out of it.

Museum curators, when designing an exhibit, are trying to answer the question "So what?" Looking over their exhibits, the one question that keeps popping up in my head is "Why?" Why do I or anyone need to be here to see this stuff? What are we hoping/expecting/expected to get out of it?"

The Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Monument, the Vietnam Memorial and the Veterans and volunteers at the World War II Monument were truly awe inspiring. Climbing the steps to the Lincoln statue I recalled Sarah Vowell's description of her visit there in Assassination Vacation. (A book that looks at history by visiting sites associated with presidential assassinations) Not only does she tell of the creation of the Memorial, the citing and lighting issues, but also of her relation and how she stayed a long while watching other peoples. I cried. There is a feeling there, under this great man's gaze, inside this giant marble greek temple, on the top of hill, with the Washington Monument behind you, and behind that the Capitol. There is a sense of time too, both eternal, but also you sense his time, that "great battlefield" on which he was engaged, and that we too are on that battlefield, not in war sense, but in the sense of doing, and being what is right.

Exhibit wise, I was not so impressed, having more of a "been there, done that" or "I could have read this (and a lot more) just about anywhere" experience. I guess I lack that reverence for the "true cross" that museum folks always talk about. Seeing the original Star Spangled Banner left me more annoyed with the idolaters who cut out one of the stars than well, whatever we were supposed to feel/learn/? And don't even mention the "ruby' (aka plastic sequin) slippers to me. Then there was the White House Visitor Center. Since, for understandable reasons, visitors can't just tour the White House they have shunted them over to a building on Pennsylvania Avenue where there are a few aged panel exhibits and a 30 minute video tour of the White House. Excuse me? I came all the way to DC and you want me to sit and watch a mediocre video I could see anywhere? The more of these video tours I saw, the more annoyed I got with them. With one exception. The Castle runs a 10 minute introduction to all the Smithsonian Museums and is hosted by Ben Stiller. It's well produced and genuinely informative as opposed to the media sales talk type.

Well, could go on, but I won't. I will do a later post on the National Book Fair , another on the "On the Water" exhibit, but later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Left Hand Milk Stout and 180 Degrees of Atlantic

Even though, after in-depth consultation with a co-worker who also works at a package store, I decided not to drink anymore dark/especially chocolate beer until the inventory freshened in late fall, I did have another chocolate beer yesterday. It was the beer list, how could I pass?

Brewed in Longmount, Co., Milk Stout was the 2006 and 2008 World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winner in the Sweet Stout Category. The company describes it as "strong roasted malt and coffee flavors build the foundation of this classic cream stout. The addition of milk suger mellows the intense roastiness and gives this beer the most incredible creamy mouth feel." Hey - I just thought it was a darn good chocolate beer. The lightest, smoothest one I've tasted yet. Not as chocolaty as Youngs, but not so thick either and the perfect beer to follow a nice fall walk through Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, Ma. Possibly the best place to view the harbor.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sir Edmund Hillary Lied

...or at the very least he did a great disservice to adventurers everywhere. He didn't climb Everest because "it was there". He climbed it because something in him resonants with that adventure. Not with arctic exploration, or marathons, or the idotaroid but with the experience, the thrill of the climb, the planning of the route, the conditioning of the body specific to mountain climbing. That is what feeds his soul.

Some people have been asking me why I would ride a Century. Admittedly not everyone can, or wants to ride 100 miles in one day...but some people do...and not just cause its' there. They (me) ride it because in doing it we feel 'right' doing it. Even getting ready for it, planning and training, all feel right. Not necessarily easy, but right. And in doing what feels intrinsically right, all else fades away and one dissolves into that moment, and the moment after.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Camera Case

I know this may be hard to believe but sometimes I get so focused on riding 50 miles in 4 hours, bagging the peak by sunset, or kayaking the length of the pond before the tide changes that i have trouble stopping long enough to enjoy where I am or even take a picture. I just don't want to break the momentum long enough to get out the camera.

Or, knowing that was an issue, I'd, dangle the camera from my handlebars, stuff it in a side pocket or lash it to the deck, basically keeping it handy but not all that safe.

Not anymore! S. went on a search for the perfect camera case and found the Pedco Wrap-Up - Camera Wrap . A case which quickly took its place in the small world of well-designed gear. The camera doesn't go into the case - the case attaches to, and wraps around the camera. After only a few practice runs I was able to unsnap the cover and take a picture - all while riding along on schedule. And while I haven't dropped the camera yet (there is cord that goes around the wrist) the case is also padded enough to protect the camera from a fall.

I'd take a picture of it, if I could only figure out how!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lake Champlain Bikeways

Riding North on the Lake Champlain Bikeway with the inland sea and Green Mountains to the right and Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to left I have to disagree somewhat with Pico Iyer. I don't travel to get outside my normal comfort zone. I travel to get in touch with it. Nothing feels quite as right as pedaling through the islands of Vermont.

Some places are better for pedaling than others and the Northern Lake Champlain region is certainly one of the best. While I scoffed (actually snorted) when the guidebook (which I highly recommend - 25 Bicycle Tours in the Lake Champlain Region: Scenic Tours in Vermont, New York, and Quebec
) said that “although few roads have shoulders, the traffic is low enough, and what drivers there are, are kind enough, the Lake Champlain region is perfect for bike riding." But it's true! Along with that the views are fantastic! Lakes and mountains, mountains and lakes. From our campsite alone we can see east to Mount Mansfield and south to Camels Hump.

Our first ride was a 60 miler to Isle de la Motte. The ride reminded me a lot of riding in Holland. The road goes along a flat coastline for while then up ahead you see a bridge and in a few miles you cross that bridge. There are 3 islands between Grand Isle and Isle de la Motte, Oh, and good coffee too. On North Hero Island there is Hero's Welcome. A general store, post office, restaurant, outdoor sporting goods shop and cafe all in one – with picnic tables on the lake. For a small island, Isle de la Motte boasts a number of firsts. The first place Champlain landed, the first Catholic shrine in the United States, the first black granite quarry, the first ferry from Vermont to New York, and the first inland coral reef. It is a pretty nice island, it was also the first place I tasted a Zesta apple. I hope there are many more of those to come.

The second day S. and I took the riding down a notch, circumnavigating Grand Isle. More beautiful riding along quiet roads with the addition of a side trip down to the causeway, an abandoned railroad bed that originally linked the south end of Grand Isle with Burlington, Vt. Once the railroad was abandoned the drawbridge was dismantled so the only way to presently ride the whole 15 miles to Burlington is on summer weekends when volunteers run a bike ferry. Still it was a good ride just going out to the cut and waving to the folks on the other side. We also got to see a salmon carving someone had done of one of the many amazing chunks of granite that made up the causeway.

Wednesday we looped North then west and into New York. Stopping at Lakes End Cheese for a sample then at the Welcome Center in Alberg. The guide there was a serious bike tourer riding every summer from Vermont to Wisconsin and putting on lots of miles on the roads we were just discovering.

Crossing into New York we stopped in Rousse's Point for lunch then road 28 miles due south along smoothly paved farm roads. Along the way we stopped to read all the historic markers. Not so much because they were all that informative but because it was amusing to see how far someone would stretch facts to justify a historical marker. My favorite had to be the one that recounted how General Burgoyne, in his march to Ticonderoga built a number of corduroy log bridges across “inland swamps like this.” Of course a close second was entitled “Benjamin Franklin” and related the story how two brothers who had met Franklin lived “somewhere close to this spot.” If this is what classifies as deserving an historical marker, the mind reals. We spent the next 15 miles cursing the headwind and inventing our own.

We left NY for Vermont via the ferry and finished the ride with a 3 mile spin across Grand Isle.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chocolate and Beer!

A while ago I lamented (via facebook) that chocolate and beer didn't go together. Several of my friends were quick to correct me. It appears that not only do many folks think they do but that also there is chocolate beer. Which left one more question unanswered. Which chocolate beer is best.

Three beers were assembled for the tasting.
1. Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout
2. Youngs Double Chocolate Stout
3. Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence

And the answer is - chocolate and beer go very well together, most especially in Youngs Double Chocolate Stout!

Are there any other contenders I should try?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fond Reminisce on the "Semester of Death"

Sunday we rode our bikes through Essex, Gloucester and Magnolia to Manchester-by-the-Sea stopping briefly at the bestest cemetery ever and bringing back all the wonders of a college semester spent studying Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, and "The Puritan Way of Death". Can anyone possibly image a happier way to spend a gloomy New England spring? Since then, I've never been able to think of those two authors as anything but dreadfully mournful but I have come to embrace all that is good, happy and wonderful about Puritan death practices. Most especially their gravestones! And while Connecticut, the second official colony, does have some good stones, it's nothing like the wonders found in Eastern Massachusetts, right alongside our Sunday bike route.

Manchester's "Old Cemetery 1661" sits on a hill just to the east of town, surrounded by a iron fence, overshadowed by tall pines and populated by stones (and people's remains). In it too are beautiful examples of the classic gravestone engraving progression from Death's Head, to Cherub, to Willow and Urn. Some styles so distinct they were obviously the work of a particular carver. Also among the stones were some with a design I'd not heard of, a rising sun. If, as Ludwig states in his work, Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815 the Puritans choose designs that communicated to the living, their idea of death and the afterlife than what were the folks with the rising sun stones trying to say? The message of the Death's Heads is obvious, things are pretty bleak over on this side. Likewise, the appearance of wings alongside the head, and a happy face, reflects the Puritan's happily evolving view of afterlife. The willow and urn complete the cycle. Things are now in a restful state, quiet, contained.

But how does the rising sun fit within this? Were these 'rebel' Puritans who believed in, dare I say, the resurrection? Were these people even Puritans? Were they, with their beliefs etched into immortal stone alongside the other downers, trying to show their differences of opinion?

Riding along the rocky Cape Ann coast and through the salt marshes that surround them it is something to wonder about. Most of the houses, as well as the farms these folks built are long gone, but they left their gravestones behind to tell us something. Cycling along winding roads I've got to wonder what it is.

BTW, there is an actual book entitled The Puritan Way of Death: A Study in Religion, Culture, and Social Change (Galaxy Books) and I highly recommend it!

Round trip to Newburyport via Plum Island

Amidst all this pontificating I have been riding. Honestly, I swear. On Saturday we did the following 56 mile ride out to Plum Island and then to Newburyport for lunch.

The ride was good except through Ipswich, a town where apparently, they have decided never to pave their roads ever again. Cool stuff along the way included a "No Evacuation Possible" sign on the way out to Plum Island, a 18th century cemetery, and a statue of a man completely covered in muscles, muscle shells that is.


Must one choose between being a road-racing type cyclist and being a more utilitarian, but still bike loving commuter type cyclist?

I ask because the feedback I'm getting on my last post as well as the very book that inspired the last post have me wondering. Jeff Mapes, author of said book certainly put in more than a few digs toward the "Lycra-cladded elite riding cyclist with bikes that cost more than my car". And on the other hand, a friend of a friend read my last post on urban cycling and recommended that I check out Rivendell Bicycle Works. A really cool San Francisco area bike shop seeking "to offer an alternative to racing-centric bikes and parts, and to espouse a different approach to riding." An approach that, reading through the pages on frames, components, clothes, etc. champions a less complicated bike with less stuff to go along with it.

Aside from their unmitigated love of wool as the ultimate in outdoor clothing material (because you can take the girl out of EMS but you can't take the EMS out of the girl - except where smartwool is concerned) they have some great ideas on riding. Ideas I whole-heartedly agree with. Ideas that make me yearn for Holland's magnificent bike culture. But I also like my lyrca, my carbon-fiber bike, and clipless pedals.

So I wonder, must this be an either-or proposition? Can't a Cyclist appreciate both or even all types of cycling? Is there not a time for hammering down the road, lyrca covered, pedals clipped, shimano ultegras seamlessly shifting, going no where but faster? (Preferable in the cool of the morning, on a freshly paved, traffic-free road) and also a time to load up the panniers for a relaxed-hair-blowing-in-the-breeze spin downtown to the store, friend's house or even work, uncomplicated by special clothes, fossil fuel consumption and heavy steel?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cycling Life - or Kelly Considers Becoming Militant

The largest chunk of public land in most urban areas is taken up by roads and parking spaces. Billions of acres and public dollars are spent adding to and maintaining that piece of the transportation infrastructure while only a few million goes to alternatives. Alternatives such as biking that yield a much higher return for each dollar spent not only in people-moving effectiveness, but also in increased heath care savings, lower pollution production and smaller global impacts.

If you're into cycling, not just recreationally, but also as a means of getting around and because it makes more sense than a car-centric culture, then I'd recommend reading Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities.

Yeah, I know, I don't live in a city but I do live somewhere where biking for utilitarian reasons makes a lot of sense and where, since reading this book, I've seen how just little changes in the way transportation funding is spent that could make bikes a whole lot more attractive as a means to get around. Take for instance the beautification project in Pawcatuck. They spent a lot of money to add brickwork to the sidewalks and in the process narrowed the road forcing bikers out into a busy and confusing traffic pattern. While, they could have, with just a little thought, made a very safe, and pretty, way for cars, bikers and pedestrians to get through town.

And speaking of cars, the more you look at them, the more you really 'see' what impact they have on our county, especially as compared to the elegant simple machine that is the bike, the more pissed off I get. Come on folks, stop driving to your mailbox, stop accepting a 50 minute commute as normal, stop going to the gym. Live an active life. Bike, walk, rip up concrete with your bare hands, turn in your clunker - use the cash to buy a bike. (Oh just imagine that bike! For $4000 you'd have the top of the line - not a downpayment on 5 more years of debt)

Photograph of bicycles at UC Davis taken by Ansel Adams in 1966. Photo view is due south from intersection of Shields Avenue and East Quad Road and showing the Wright Hall in the background.