Friday, May 29, 2009

Not So Bad Samaritan

Perhaps it’s because I’m not such a bad guy; it’s probably also that my affection for bicycles compels me to want to see them running; and above all, it’s probably that I enjoy the opportunity to show off my limited bike repair skills to someone who’s less adept than me, but whatever the reason, I generally do, when I come upon someone who’s pushing their rig or has it turned upside-down on the side of the trail, ask “You okay?” or “Got everything you need?” and will typically, if assistance is called for, pull over to help if I can.

This week, for instance, I got three people back up and riding with hardly any effort on my part, which made those good deeds all that much better since with a minimum of effort, I got to play the part of the knight in shining armor, or at least, wool.

On Monday, I think it was, I passed a trio of teenagers, two of whom stood around a third who was engaged in that classic beginner-move of flat fixing, the one where you’ve got all your tools splayed out around you and are trying to align a perfectly flat tube around the rim with the tire nowhere to be seen. I circled around and explained how it was easier to adopt a strategy where you would tuck the tube into the tire and then showed them how it was done, a relatively easy task given that the tire was all nice and worn and stretched out and didn’t even require levers to reseat the bead. They thanked me profusely and one even stopped talking on his cellphone to express his gratitude.

And then, on both Wednesday and Thursday, I passed by middle-aged ladies who had dropped their chains and despaired of getting them back on.

These are the best kind of roadside repairs: they take but a moment and then you’re gone; a hero off into sunset.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Little of Everything

I’m sure I try to do too much.

If I were a better, more evolved person, I’d be more fully committed to all the things that I endeavor to do instead of preferring to sample the available flavors of the day, enjoying a bit of this, a bit of that, however I can.

But I’m not. I’m the person I’ve turned out to be, so there you have it, which is why, no doubt, I took a reasonable amount of pleasure today in a range of adventures instead of staying put in one place and exploring it to the bitter end.

Case in point: After a morning of several work odds and ends, all of which I should have devoted more time and energy to, but each of which I devoted just enough effort to that I won’t be kicking myself later for having avoided altogether, I hitched up the Haulin’ Colin trailer and rode down to Pike Place Market for the Memorial Day Cargo Bike Jamboree meet-up, where I enjoyed the company of many of my favorite bike nerds most of whom were showcasing impressive ways to haul all sorts of picnic items on two wheels.

But instead of joining them on their jaunt out to West Seattle, though, I pedaled off, once the ride had started, to head over to Judkins Park to sample the experience of another bike community, this one featuring teams of bike polo players competing in the West Side Invite’s championship. And while I certainly could have basked in the festivities all afternoon, I stayed for only a couple beers, and after passing out a handful of cold ones from the trailer’s cooler, I rode off to join my family for an outing at Lake Washington, where grownups sat around quaffing brews and children romped in the water.

Even there, though, I didn’t settle; a couple hours, then back to catch a few more polo matches before home for whatever’s next.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mike Watt

Before Mike Watt and his band, the Missing Men, come on stage, they pump John Coltrane through the sound system. Seems completely appropriate; Watt is undeniably the John Coltrane of the electric bass guitar.

I put on one of my old fIRHOSE t-shirts and rode my bike down to their show at the refurbished Crocodile Café last night, and while there were few moments when Watt’s singing made me long for the vocals of his former guitarist, Ed from Ohio, pretty much every single second that he pounded on the bass was transcendent. The Coltrane connection was evident: I felt like I was watching a true artist at work, someone who was pushing the boundaries of his chosen instrument to previously unheard-of spaces and places.

I think the main thing was that Watt seemed healthy; last time I saw him, with Iggy and the Stooges, he still seemed affected by the health problems he had a few years ago. Last night, though, he had all that cannonball-tugboat power that has marked his playing from back in the Minutemen days.

He remains humble, too, and still wears a flannel shirt.

At one point, between songs, he said something about the connection he felt with the crowd and how there was this common sense of all being in the same boat ultimately, characterized by something like, “Open heart, open mind, just tryin’ to do what we’re tryin’ to do.”

That sure seems how he’s going about it, anyway.

A pretty good mix among the crowd; lots of aging hipsters and nerds to be sure, but also a fair smattering of youngsters who headbanged and spun to the throbbing beat. Not too many girls—more than say, a King Crimson concert—but overall, his demographic appeal skews heavily towards the XY chromosome crowd.

I rode home inspired by the passion Watt is still bringing at his age (mine, too; he’s also a 1957 baby); man remains down with the bass.

Friday, May 22, 2009

All By Myself

The other night, I went to see this movie, Enlighten Up, which is sort of Supersize Me only instead of going 30 days filling up on McDonald’s food, the protagonist goes like six months gorging on various styles of yoga practice.

I didn’t think it was all that great of a movie, but there were plenty of scenes of people doing yoga that I liked and even better, a number of interviews with yoga masters I admire, notably my own dearly-departed Guruji, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

The main response I had to it, though, was to feel nostalgic for the days when I had a daily practice at the Seattle Ashtanga Yoga School alongside some dozen or so other students similarly committed to the practice.

In short, it made me really miss my cult.

Back in the day—say, about this time last year, but especially around 2002-2004, I would go every single morning to a hot and sweaty (but sometimes chilly and dark) room at 5:30 to 6:00 AM, and stay there for around ninety minutes to two hours bending myself into increasingly odd positions while all around me fellow students of Ashtanga did the same.

And then, occasionally, we'd do special events, like when about twenty of us did 108 sun salutations to commemorate the summer solstice.

It all seemed perfectly natural and I couldn’t imagine doing yoga any other way.

In fact, I took a workshop once from David Williams who mentioned that most of the practice we would do in our lives would be solitary, and I just thought that seemed so weird since, certainly, I’d have the AYS studio to go forever.

Alas, that all came to an end last August and my daily practice has been solitary every since then.

Good thing I have a drunken bike gang to ride around with and a softball team that chugs and slugs together; otherwise, I’d be all by myself all the time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Godspeed Guruji

The news comes from Mysore, India, that the revered master of Ashtanga yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, died this morning at 2:30 PM India Standard Time. Guruji, as he is known to students and followers, was 94 years old.

The world is poorer for his loss as it was enriched immeasurably by his life. I am one of the many thousands of students and students of students who have benefited spiritually, mentally, and physically from his teachings.

I had the great fortune of taking classes from Guruji on three different occasions, first in New York City for a week just prior to 9/11, then again for a week when he came to Seattle a year later; and finally, just for a couple of days in San Francisco in 2005 or so.

And while all of these were great big “led” classes, in which Pattabhi Jois stood before a group of some two or three hundred sweaty yogis and yoginis, calling out the poses and breaths for the assembled to follow, I did get to feel something of the magic that flowed from him as he taught.

And I’m glad to recall that he personally pushed me into a couple of poses, most memorably, Prasarita Padottanasa B, where his advice, as I struggled to bend my head to the floor was simply to “do the pose.”

I have a copy of his book, Yoga Mala, which he inscribed for me on August 27, 2002. It’s in Sanskrit, so I don’t know what it says, but I’m not sure that matters; he is famously quoted as saying, “Yoga is 1% theory, 99% practice,” so no doubt whatever words he penned are not nearly as important as the spirit in which he penned them.

In my own practice this morning, I started out especially slowly and painfully; maybe that was my minor mirror of Guruji’s ongoing transition to beyond the physical; now his spirit, unleashed, is all and entirely flow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Amateur Hour

I’d be willing to call myself a bicycling advocate; I believe, as Grant Peterson put it, that the bicycle is a rideable work of art that just might save the world; and I share Mark Twain’s opinion that whenever I see an adult on a bicycle it gives me hope for the future of the human race; I think that the bicycle is humanity’s most noble invention and I’m happy to go on and on about how superior a mode of transportation it is to the automobile.

So, it’s no surprise how pleased I am at the prospect of more and more people riding bikes more and more of the time.

But what is sort of eye-opening is how annoyed I can get when that happens.

Like today.

May 15, 2009 is the annual Cascade bicycle club-sponsored “Bike to Work Day,” the one day a year when cyclists of all stripes come out in force to pedal from their homes to workplaces, although many, I think, drive to some convenient location near the Burke-Gilman trail and then pedal in from there.

In any case, this morning featured a veritable glut of cyclists on my route to school, mostly weekend-warrior types on road bikes too small for them, nearly every single one wearing some manner of tights, most showing off way too much information about the wearer’s body-mass index.

Part of my crankiness emanated from having to swerve several times out of the way of some fair-weather rider who seemed under the impression that the morning commute was a training ride; a big component, though, of my annoyance was my inability to shake the notion that all these folks on two-wheelers—none of whom I saw out and about in February—simply don’t deserve, (haven’t earned the right, to be taking up trail space on such a lovely morning.

I know that’s a crummy attitude; it won’t last, though: they’ll all be back in their cars come Monday.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In For A Penny

About three months ago, I received news that Sharath Rangaswamy, grandson of my primary yoga guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and probably the world’s most advanced practitioner of the Ashtanga form, was coming to San Francisco to conduct a series of “led” classes, a style in which the teacher announces the movements and breaths while students follow along.

I was so excited about the opportunity to study with Sharath, even for a couple of days, that I immediately bought tickets for the entire family to travel to the Bay Area, leaving Thursday night, returning Sunday, my enthusiasm due not only to the prospect of taking part in the usual sort of Grateful Dead concert meeting of the tribes atmosphere that characterizes the arrival a renowned instructor all the way from India, but also because the non-refundable tickets were so cheap—only 59 bucks a piece one way, meaning the total cost would be just over three hundred dollars, a price that I have, in the past, and on short notice, paid for a single round-trip ticket to the City by the Bay.

Unfortunately, I found out two months ago that I had to attend a workshop at school on Friday, which meant I couldn’t leave until Saturday morning, so, I spent another sixty bucks on a Saturday morning departure for me, with the idea I’d meet Jen and Mimi, who’d have come as originally planned.

Then, about a month ago, we learned that Mimi had a big standardized test to take on Friday, which precluded the girls from coming at all, unless we wanted to fork over another hundred twenty dollars to buy new tickets for them, which we didn’t.

Finally, last week, I got an email telling me that Sharath had to return unexpectedly to India and the classes were cancelled.

I flew down yesterday morning anyway, and have had a thirty-six hour visit with old friends, well worth, I guess, that $350 combined roundtrip fare.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Not Bad

I’m pretty sure that I have one of the best bike commutes in the world, or at least that among those better than mine, there’s some inferior trade-off, like it takes place in Southern California, or that the job it would get me to would involve working all day long in a cubicle.

Sure, sometimes I wish it were a few miles shorter, and that long more-or-less uphill from the Montlake Bridge to my back alley wears on me from time to time, and I do get pretty sick, during the winter months, of wringing out my gloves and wearing plastic gear that comes to take on an odor of cheese, but those are just minor annoyances in comparison to the overall excellence of my bike route to and from school.

Yesterday was a great case in point.

On my way out to Cascadia, not long after sunrise, I got to pedal along the Burke-Gilman trail for about 14 miles, serenaded by the morning songs of thousands of birds, at least one or two—crows and robins, at least—I can identify by name. The sun was coming up over the lake, slowly burning off the morning fog, and the air that rushed by my face as I rolled along at a pace slower than everyone including a guy even older than me on a department store mountain bike, was bracing and invigorating, so much so that I managed to stay awake all through my three-hour morning meeting.

And then, last night, after a long, but reasonably interesting day at school, it was my great pleasure, following a shared pitcher of beer at Bothell’s Main Street Alehouse, to carve my way through the night, lit by the beam of my bicycle’s headlamp, along the nearly-deserted trail, the full moon slowly rising behind splayed-out fingers of clouds above the lake.

People would pay for this pleasure, I’m sure, but I get it free, sometimes, like yesterday, twice daily.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


There’s part of me that doesn’t want to enjoy anything because as soon as you have fun, you can’t help but mourn the loss of it when it’s over.

So, for instance, all this week, I’ve been drag-assing myself around in the wake of last weekend’s good times at Ben Countrywide: The Fourclosure. It’s not exactly like I wish it had never happened, but I do recognize the ups and downs in my life in starker relief when I have the opportunity to ascend a peak, even if it only lasts around 24 hours.

Part of it, I guess, is the run up to the event; I remember noticing this even as a kid of 14 or so, when it seemed weird to me that I was wishing so hard for the days to pass until the upcoming Jethro Tull concert would finally arrive. It struck me as strange that I wanted days that I might normally savor in some way or another to simply slip by as quickly as possible so that I could be there already enjoying the musical stylings of Ian Anderson.

Weirder still is that some four decades later I still experience that same phenomenon. As a matter of the truest fact, I don’t want my life to be slipping away; but as a matter of the way things really are, I’d easily be willing to exchange the days between for the hoped-for eventuality.

But if you carry that out to its logical conclusion, why not just aspire to the full completion and be dead and gone as soon as possible?

Maybe it’s just the age-old question of whether it’s better to have loved and lost or never have loved at all; I think most people would opt for the former, but that doesn’t it mean it doesn’t suck to be in the throes of the latter.

Maybe you just need the next thing to look forward to; in my case now, sleep.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Fine Disaster

Getting fifty-some alcohol-fueled cyclists fifty-some miles north and west across open water requires dedication, commitment, and plenty of beer, all of which were on display for the last twenty-four or so hours courtesy of Ben Countrywide: The Fourclosure, this year’s version of the annual two-wheeled clusterfuck that celebrates the birthday of .83’s self-styled president and resident angry hippie.

When the call went out of a 9:30 meet-up, I thought it was kind of overdoing it, since surely we wouldn’t take more than five hours to haul our sorry asses up to South Whidby Island State Park, meaning we’d arrive at our campground early enough we’d have no choice but to do something awful like play Frisbee or even worse, take a nature walk.

Fortunately, though, tumbling the huge clattering carcass that was our conglomeration of riders took way longer than that what with multiple mechanicals, many a stop for regrouping, and at least one accident involving a dog, a derailer, and a trailer, and we eventually didn’t roll into camp until almost eight hours after our initial meeting time.

Everything was just as shitty and wonderful as a person could hope for; we got rained on hard enough early in the day that our mettle got tested, but most of the time, I didn’t even have to wear any plastic at all, wool was just fine.

Whidbey Island was doing its best Middle-Earth impression, especially when we rode en masse over a hard-packed trail atop a levee way out in the middle of a beautiful nowhere of Puget Sound tidal pools.

My peak moment was one of delicious suffering: climbing another of the last long hills to our campground, sun breaking through the pines, I popped a piece of chocolate in my mouth and as it melted, little flashes of joy exploded like flashbulbs all around.

And this was before the fun even started, fire and firewater into the wee hours; unforgettable to any able to remember.