30 September 2008

Farewell to my bike bag

Did I mention that everything I have is broken?

I finally destroyed the Tail Rider. The Velcro straps are so worn out that I have to secure it to the carrying rack with bungee cords, which defeats the purpose of the Velcro straps. The waterproofing is so worn out that I have to seal everything inside plastic bags, which defeats the purpose of the waterproofing. And one of the D-rings for the shoulder strap ripped off some weeks ago. That was really the last straw.

Mind you, this is no ordinary cheapo trunk bag. It's made by Arkel, and Real Cyclists know that's a quality brand. It's by far the nicest piece of bicycle-related equipment that I have.

So, it's not only new bike time, it's also new bike bag time. Oh, how absolutely freaking wonderful.

But instead of immediately dropping a hundred bucks on a new one, I've been thinking that maybe it's time for a change. As much as I love and praise the Tail Rider, it is admittedly rather inconvenient for most of what I do. It takes me forever to go anywhere because I always have to fuss with it when I put it back on the rack. I have to set it down on a surface if I need to rummage around inside for something because its design won't let me do that while it's hanging on my shoulder. If it starts to rain I have to stop and pull the rain cover out (more fussing), which means that when I stop and park I need to pull the rain cover off and then either squash it all wet back into the pocket or let it hang and drip by my knees. And when I carry more than what can fit inside I have to bungee the rest on top, which makes it annoyingly if not impossibly difficult to access the contents. Even more stopping and fussing.

[Where the eff is my headlight?]

This is probably another subconscious reason that I don't often ride with people. I find myself apologizing a lot for taking so long to, say, get out my wallet.

Now, if you're going to stick it on the rack and keep it there---e.g., if you'll be out riding all day long and such that you don't have to worry that someone will steal your stuff if you wander off-bike for a while---the Tail Rider absolutely perfect. I will likely get another one of these eventually, just not right now. For now, I think I'd be better off with something a lot less fussy for the kind of stop-n-go, on-n-off, don't-leave-anything-you-don't-want-stolen riding I do most of the time in the city.

In other words, Jennifer the Stubbornly Opinionated has finally decided that it's time to get some grocery panniers. You're laughing now, aren't you.

As luck would have it, that eternal source of greed, envy, and lust---the Cyclosource catalog---arrived in my mailbox just the other day. (This means that the rest of the Adventure Cycling Association members probably got theirs sometime back in mid-July. Don't ever mail me anything.) I've been drooling at the Detours Toocan Carrier. Straightforward top zipper, detachable padded shoulder strap (standard! you don't have to order it separately and pay extra!), regular double carrying handles, waterproof rubber bottom, and "simple stainless-clip attachment system," whatever that means. [I found more details at REI.] At 2 lbs. it's twice as heavy as the Tail Rider (I'm no weight weenie, but being a cyclist I have weak and puny arms), but with 1600 cubic inches it's more than twice as large. Fits a "standard size grocery bag," as grocery panniers are generally designed to do.

I think I'm in love.

Unfortunately, this probably also means that it's new messenger bag time. One of my messenger bags has an anime character on it, and I've finally reached the point in my life where that makes me feel really stupid; the other is a nice Very Bradley floral print that was a gift from my mother, so getting grease all over it would be sheer agony. (I have not yet discovered the secret of not getting grease all over everything that comes anywhere near my bike. This, among other things, is why advocates of so-called utility cycling generally don't like me. My greasy, sweaty, fussy, grumpy, unfashionable, unsocial, overweight, over-opinionated self is exactly the sort of thing that scares all the "normal" people away. Alas.)

Anyway, should I order one or two? And are grocery panniers also suitable for "touring," or would I have to get another set if I wanted to travel somewhere? (I have noticed that the Tail Rider isn't compatible with any rear panniers whatsoever---except, apparently, those also designed by Arkel---which is kind of a pain in the ass.) Or should I just hold out for some Ortliebs? Mmm, Ortlieb...

Another episode of Hybrid and Folder: Identity politics

Folder: Hey hybrid, can I ask you a silly question?
Hybrid: You just did.
Folder: Huh?
Hybrid: Is that another silly question?
Folder: What? No, I'm just wondering, do you consider yourself liberal or conservative?
Hybrid: No.
Folder: No? Oh, wait, I mean, like, either/or. If you had to pick one.
Hybrid: I don't think that's a silly question.
Folder: You don't?
Hybrid: No, I think it's a completely absurd question.
Folder: Oh. Why?
Hybrid: Um, let me think----because I'm a bicycle perhaps?
Folder: Well, to many people riding a bicycle is in itself a political act, which would suggest that a bicycle is a political entity. And if we are political entities, then we must be either liberal or conservative, because that's the way it works in this country.
Hybrid: That is also completely absurd.
Folder: Well, I guess you could also be independent.
Hybrid: Why do I have to be anything? Why does anything I do have to be political?
Folder: Because any action or opinion that isn't mainstream is considered to be "political." Stray to far and people accuse you of having a "political agenda" or catering to some "special interest."
Hybrid: What's that you're doing with your brake levers?
Folder: They're "air quotes," of course.
Hybrid: Why the Hummer are you making air quotes?
Folder: Isn't that what got that one guy down the street into trouble?
Hybrid: Oh, I guess.
Folder: So anyway, if we're a "special interest" group---
Hybrid: Stop doing that; you look ridiculous. I know what your talking about.
Folder: *sigh* ANYWAY, if we're a special interest group with a political agenda, then are we liberal or conservative?
Hybrid: We? I thought you were just asking about me.
Folder: Well, I can't figure that out, so I thought I'd ask you.
Hybrid: What's it matter? We don't vote.
Folder: Neither do banks, but look at all the attention they're getting.
Hybrid: Yeah, but you can't say a bank itself is either liberal or conservative, because in a political sense that doesn't make any sense at all. At best you can only say that the people in charge of the banks favor a set of policies that lie closer to one side of the political spectrum than to the other.
Folder: So the people who ride bikes, then---are they liberal or conservative?
Hybrid: Well, according to your own definition, the people who ride bikes would be liberal because they aren't mainstream, and the conservative ideology is supposedly about maintaining the status quo.
Folder: I thought it was supposed to be about minding one's own business.
Hybrid: No, that's the liberal ideology.
Folder: What? Are you sure?
Hybrid: Not really, which is why I'm fed up with all of it. They're just words. Words that have accumulated so much baggage that they don't really mean anything anymore, but everyone still feels obliged to identify with one or the other because that's what everyone else does. It's disgusting.
Folder: Sounds to me like you're independent.
Hybrid: No, that word also has too many connotations. It implies either Green or libertarian, but I'm neither.
Folder: Moderate?
Hybrid: Relative to what? That's a wishy-washy cop-out. So-called moderates almost always so call themselves because they support some things but oppose others. In that sense, everyone and everything is moderate, so why all the fighting?
Folder: What, then? Undecided?
Hybrid: Apathetic.
Folder: No, you've put far too much thought into this to be apathetic.
Hybrid: Then why can't I just be apolitical?
Folder: Because... Aaack, we're just going around in circles!
Hybrid: Well heck, in that case we ourselves are politicians!

29 September 2008

In case Friday morning's post was to cryptic for you

I will not be joining the University of Chicago Velo Club this year, nor any year. I know a few of my readers (hello, Benjamin) can't tell the difference between me on one the hand and a bunch of people with matching spandex outfits and high-tech speed machines on the other, but I can, and I now have empirical confirmation that the UCVC bunch has entirely different definitions of the words "slow," "easy," "social," and "recreational."

I do on the occasional fine morning enjoy a nice ride up to Northerly Island, where I always run into those kinds of riders, who always seem incredibly annoyed that I have the nerve to putter around with my camera and get in their way while they're trying to do intervals or whatever. Riding with them for once didn't change my perspective.

And then after that "easy" ride I went to work and puked my guts out.

Later I went home for a quick nap but overslept and missed Critical Mass, thus neatly eliminating my moral dilemma.

One of these days I'll just straight-out admit that I don't like group rides of any nature.

How could I forget?

I did add a new county in a new state this (very recently past) summer: Stevens in Minnesota. When I went through that whole ordeal dragging the folder on the train when I visited my friends because they don't have a spare bike and there's nowhere to get one in their tiny town. Great gig up in the sky, I can't believe that didn't occur to me until now. I am an idiot.

So the county collection has been updated accordingly (better late than never), and I guess I can stop losing sleep over the fact that I still haven't been to Michigan yet.

All the map geeks do it

Some people keep track of all the counties they've driven through like it's something to be proud of. I say, you haven't accomplished anything at all until you've powered your own vehicle across a county line, uphill into a 30 mph headwind, exposed to the elements and pelted with insults and the occasional beer can, pausing by the roadside in the pouring rain to fix a flat, tape up your knee, and feast upon an energy bar that tastes exactly like cardboard.

Who says bicycling isn't fun?

So I've decided to keep track of all the counties I've been to by bike, with the ultimate goal of making this list, well, longer. I even joined mob-rule.com, so now you can see all the places I've biked on a map. (No need to make fun of me for how small that blue region is; I'm already quite aware. I am generally carless, after all.)

Jo Daviess
Rock Island





[To be updated as needed.]

28 September 2008

Midewin 3: Homeward bound

Yet another totally cliche rural Illinois photograph, this one taken from the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.

Bastard Polluters' tank farm south of Manhattan.

Rapids in an unnamed tributary of Jackson Creek. (I get my info from the Illinois Atlas and Gazeteer.)

Butterfly resting on what I assumed to be crabgrass.

Patient little bugger; we attacked the poor thing with our cameras for like ten minutes.

This part of the trail is delightfully symmetric.

Another panda portrait. Not much of me, but I like it because my map case is visible. That's the official IDOT bicycle map (2006 ed.) for District 1. They're supposed to be available for free, but it seems you can't order them online anymore.

Sugar Creek Preserve.

Sugar Creek Preserve.

The Wauponsee Glacial Trail winding through Sugar Creek Preserve. The trail is blessedly asphalt from there to Joliet. (It was a long, gravel-filled day.)

We guessed that this sign might be leftover from the old railroad whose grade the trail now follows.

Joliet Union Station (also perfect for your wedding) from... some parking lot. Does anyone else get the impression of looking across a river? This was far from any river, but the view was somehow suggestive to me of a river being there.

View non-downtown-ward from the platform at Joliet Union Station.

These are LOUD. You would never believe how loud. And they make an unforgettable thundering echo down at street level among the maze of viaducts.

Then we returned to Chicago.

Midewin 2: Midday win

And so I finally actually went inside the grounds of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

We stopped at the Klinger family cemetery to pay our respects.

This seems to have bothered the cows, since they wouldn't stop mooing at us.

Bunker! Or rather, igloo! According to Midewin's cultural history pages:

"The igloos, which were designed to withstand and contain the explosion of their highly-volatile contents in case of accident, would be prohibitively expensive to dismantle. Fortunately, the storage requirements for TNT are very similar to those for storing prairie forbs and seeds. Coming up with other ideas for reusing the igloos has become a favorite past-time of Midewin staff, volunteers, and tour visitors intrigued by the unique challenge of integrating these structures into the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie."

Presumably this is Bailey Bridge, given that the road is now designated as the interim Bailey Bridge Trail. According to my indispensable Illinois Atlas and Gazeteer [note to self: get the fifth edition], the creek is Prairie Creek, which begins some number of miles to the northeast and flows through Midewin into the Kankakee River.

The cutest "no fishing" sign I have ever seen.

Prairie Creek.

Old Chicago Road, with a pile of gravel politely indicating that the area beyond is closed to the public. [Update: I spy an old streetlight!]

Wait, so are they "igloos" or "bunkers"?

Whatever it was, it was open.

So of course we had to go inside. Eric went first, being accustomed to that sort of thing.

The interior was very cool, in more ways than one.

I was amused by the math graffiti.

From inside looking out.

From on top looking down.

I, General Carlessness, hereby claim this bunker and/or igloo for Car-Free Republic of Jenniferia! (Coming soon: flag, pseudo-democratic elections, space program.)
[Photo by Eric Allix Rogers with my camera.]


Turtle Pond.

Prairie farm. The native plants whose seeds will restore the grassland are grown in neat rows and enclosed by a tall fence to keep dear and other animals from eating them.

A building leftover from the old arsenal. This picture is crappy because it's cropped from an original that had to be taken from rather far away. (There are certain things I won't do, and trespassing on federal land is one of them.)

Group 63 Trail.

More arsenal structures in the distance.

Panda portrait. Victory!

Bunkers Igloos seen from the Bailey Bridge Trail.

More bunkers/igloos seen from the Bailey Bridge Trail.

Eric wanted to stop and shoot some cows; a few were willing to moo-del for him

Prairie Creek again.

A lovely grove of trees.

Then we headed back to the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.

Midewin 1: Journey

In Joliet Eric found the Jacob Henry Mansion, and there was much rejoicing. (Jennifer, per her usual cynicism, notes that the building's only value these days appears to be as little more than overwhelmingly charming place to rent for your wedding or other special occasion. Tsk tsk.)

Phlox (Phlox! Coolest flower name ever!), in which I finally learn how to use Digi's macro setting and decide that I don't like it after all.

Some sort of aster with both pink and yellow disc flowers on the same plant.

A few cornstalks that have planted themselves in a grassy area along the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, as if to say "Up yours, Monsanto!" In the background is Paul & Mary's Raceway Camping.

We had lunch at Manhattan's local fast-food dive, which had a race car on the ceiling. ("Wait, is this a bad idea?" "Well, they have Vienna Beef, so at least they're civilized.") Chicagoland Speedway is nearby, in case you were wondering.

Battle of the CatEyes. Mine lost. New headlight time!


Midewin 0: Morning

Sunrise is great, but why does it have to be so early all the time?

Morning on the lakefront, from the 47th St. overpass.

I am such a sucker for the skyline. Here it is again from the 47th St. overpass.

Not sure what I was trying to do here. I think I just liked the light, or was it the shadow?

Then we were off. It takes entirely too long to multimode from here to Joliet, something like three hours. Not driving can be such a headache sometimes, but you do what you have to do.