Sunday, May 26

Punctured Bicycle, on a Hillside Desolate

Have you ever been standing on a rail car as started to move? I feel that disruptive sway, lurch, bump. Instinctively I reach out to grab something, to break my fall. My hand lands on a stranger in the darkness. She shrieks. "Somebody is trying to touch me!"
"Sorry, sorry! I didn't m-" as I jerk my hand away. 
The ground lurches again. I drop to one knee. The car is full--packed in fact--with strangers, and each stranger more stranger than the next. I reach for my bootstrap to pull myself up, but the strap is broken. I remember remembering then that I had forgotten to remember to mend that boot's strapping from flapping, but before I can launch into a full-blown consideration of the nature of prosaic procrastination, the ground shifts again.
I resign myself to the notion that bootstrapping is out of the question. But the movement of the place has changed.. It is movement, but it isn't. Everything is moving. Everyone is moving. All at the exact same speed, and not in relation to each other. The floor rumbles and squeals, but it is sturdy. "What is happening?" says one voice from the darkness. "What is going to happen next?" says another. A small hand tugs on my sleeve. "Sir, can you help?"
The box lurches again, with a sudden increase in the rate of acceleration. We are tossed about. A woman and I fall into each other. I blacken her eye on my elbow and bloody my nose on her forehead. All is forgiven. We're all moving faster, faster, faster. The whole ground is shaking; the floors are screaming with the sounds of metal tearing against metal. Sir? Am I a 'sir'?

We rumble on; faster, faster. Tiny fissures open between the boards of the car's walls. There is light. The light is not cast; it can only be seen directly--so narrow are the fissures. Slowly my eyes collect the light. The light is not enough to draw an image, but enough to draw forth imagination. I see a man with the head of a fish. He is brandishing a guitar. He looks directly into my eyes and silently mouths the words "shindleria praematurus". It makes me uncomfortable.
I see an old record player. I can see even from across the width of the car that is it not vintage but a replica. A warped record spins on the turntable.
"Kunda." the record speaks. The man is still staring at me. He has mouthed the word. But the sound was clearly from the record. I tell myself I misheard. This cannot be. That word, though.. where did I know it?
"Astratta." The voiceless mouth coincides with the mouthless voice perfectly. I remember. I know the words. I remember everything. I remember everything, ever. Horror and terror grip my heart like two curs fighting over a rotting flap of meat.
"Montosse." I scream and tear desperately at the walls. My knuckles bloody in their futile attempts to smash through... My panic is unrestrained. There is no way out. This is happening. The record player has slowed to a near standstill, the needle still hovering in place. All sound ceases. The man is motionless, static. All movement ceases; the rumbling careening shaking ends. Time comes to a halt. Only I am aware of it; or only I am only aware of my own awareness of it. An infinite amount of time passes.
I feel it in the back of my throat first. It crawls up the back of my tongue. With all my will, my tongue pins it to roof of my mouth. It is thus held for four hundred ninety thousand years. My eyes close to the motionless silent darkness.
"Canda." The voice is mine. The sound comes from my mouth. All is dark, silent, and still.

Tiny birds call nearby. I open my eyes; they face upwards, my body on its back, propped up against the root of an old White Oak. A sparrow, two chickadees, a titmouse and a smallish woodpecker are toiling in the branches above me. "Dee, dee, dee" one says. "Ratatatatatat" says another. .

To the side, a bicycle with punctured tire leans against the same tree as I.

Friday, May 3

A Dream

I had a dream last night. I found my bike, the aluminum Fuji, Tachikoma, all smashed up. The frame had been torn apart, a chain stay was completely missing. What!? How did this happen? I was just riding it a few moments ago! Distress and despair gripped me. "Oh, we can fix that," advised friend-family bystanders. We placed the pieces of the bicycle together. "There, see?" one said.
I looked at Tachikoma. The shattered frame was held together with plastic zip ties, and still missing a chain stay. I picked it up, and its stem and handle bars hung like a dead dog with a broken neck. I felt sick.
I've been thinking about this blog, recently. I still get a few thousand hits a month, despite not having posted in something like three years. I'm not committing to anything, but I've got cycling on the mind and I've been riding, so check back here occasionally or just hit subscribe in the upper right; there may be some fresh content coming out as the weather gets nice.
Until then, thank you for reading and keep the rubber side down.

Thursday, January 14

Vietnam: Q&A

Here's a rundown of every conversation I've had with someone I'd just been introduced to for the last like six months:

Person: So, what do you do?
me: I work nights
P: and during the day?
me: Nothing, really. . . . Well, I'm planning this trip.
P: Oh yeah? Where to?
me: Vietnam.
P: Oh, wow! That's so cool! Why Vietnam?
me: . . . It's kind of a long story . . .

[occasionally I launch in to a long story that I'm sick of telling]
P: Oh. Um, interesting.

I have a self-catalyzing tangential way of telling stories. A story often reminds of another side-story, explanation, point of interest, preface, or caveat, which in turn has its own side-stories, explanations, points of interest, prefaces, and caveats. It's kind of like a nuclear reaction. By the time the smoke clears, it's fairly rare that I've even remember what I started out to try to say, when speaking.

Anyway, without intent to bore people I've just met with my disorganized ramblings, I sort of brush off questions with brusque replies. That being said, let me explain from the top: Why Vietnam?

The Email
I've had the same email address, for, as I write this, exactly six years and ten days. Google Mail's spam filters are the best I've ever seen. They regularly filter out the vast majority of junk mail, and almost never send good emails to the junk directory. I mean, it's not like I don't ever get junk mail in my inbox, it's just super-rare. Like this one time two or three years ago, I got an email from someone from a travel agency complaining about some American IT guy blowing up computers at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam. I skipped over it without a further though.

Then a few months later, I got another isolated random email, containing just a rave flyer (click for full-size):

cycling vietnam giles cooper portsmouth noreast bike bicycle
I was thinking, wow, that's pretty cool. I guess I got on some mailing list for working at The Red Door or something. Cool art, exotic locale. Too bad it's on a Saturday; I have to work that night. Also, Vietnam is the exact opposite side of the world from Portsmouth (by longitude). I somedays can't even get it together to put pants on and leave my house. I tossed it in the back of my mind and carried on about my day. I mean, seriously, Vietnam? That's really far away. Also I think there was a war there or something. Anyway, I archived the email and didn't think much more about it. That is, other than a lingering desire to get out of this stifling festerpool of a crapopolis that is Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And I say that in the most affectionate way possible.

Another month or two later I logged in to check my email to find a barrage of emails asking me for help securing lodging at a four-star hotel in hanoi for several DJs and electronic music acts like Girl Talk, Ratatat, and The Handsome Furs. At this point I began to realize that perhaps there was some kind of email mix-up. I checked back in the conversation threads and found that there is apparently a New Zealander, Giles Cooper who has this gig, Club for Art and Music Appreciation which has a yearly Hanoi International Music Festival. Apparently people were forgetting his email address had a number in it or something and were sending emails to me. I forwarded him all the emails and let him know.

Which Got Me Thinking
How all that became me deciding to go, I'm not sure. I guess it's just time. That restless mid-20's see-something-before-you're-too-old instinct, I suppose. I like to joke that I'm planning a Talented Mr. Ripley scenario. But, seriously. I think it started with a masochistic urge to ride my bike farther than I had ever imagined, till I was sick and tired and starving and in a place where I could not communicate with anyone. Vietnam seems a good a place as any.

I've read a ton about Vietnam. I've learned how to say tôi không hiểu tiếng việt. Kind of. People are eager to impart wisdom such as "they like Americans" and "don't dig up any metal things you see sticking out of the ground in the middle of the jungle" and "bring some spare tubes for your bike." Hmph. My only real concern about physical danger in Asia is getting tagged by a car or motorbike in traffic. I've got a helmet and a first aid kit though, and I understand how the traffic food chain works in developing nations.

So there you have it.

Any questions?

Wednesday, December 30


I still have persistent coughs and headaches from whatever made me sick there last week, so I am going about in a bit of a haze. That's not a drastic difference from my regular operating state though, so, yeah.

It is now just one month until I go to Vietnam. I haven't been biking much lately, so I am a little nervous about what, exactly, I am doing here. I guess part of the reason I am going is to thrash myself a bit. In other words, to put myself out there with a task that might be impossible and without failure as an option. Suppose I am unable to push myself the third consecutive day of cycling 150+ kilometers? I've done that much in one day, before--once or twice. It's really just a matter of persistence, I think. Get on the bike and slug it out until you reach your destination or you pass out from exhaustion.

Of course preparation is part of it. I am definitely going to be bringing a large supply of whatever sport drink powder. Maybe someone reading this can recommend a specific one. I've had good experiences with Accelerade, but then again I've also had great experiences with Coca-Cola. In a brief Google search just now I found one from Hammer called "Perpetuem" which has a nice ring to it, too. Given that, I don't expect to be taking out the 'passing out' option.

So I guess I'll survive the endurance cycling aspect of this trip. I still need to work out the exact specifics of my itinerary, but basically I'll be flying in to Hanoi, then making my way down to Hue (it's pronounced something like "hwey") where I'll spend Tet, which is similar to Chinese New Year. After that, I'm going to push on a little farther to Hoi An, maybe get a suit tailored. After that I'll take a train back to Hanoi, a plane back home. Travelling during Tet can be difficult; everyone travels home, so booking accommodation in advance is a must. I am picturing a scenario where I go from inn to inn, finding that they are all full, and ending up stumbling dead-tired in to some barn and passing out in a manger.

So, yeah. I find myself launching headlong in to the unknown.

Monday, December 21

2010 ASSOS Catalog[ue]

This weekend dropped a whole lot of snow on the entire eastern seaboard. Also it dropped the terrible wrath of H1N1 on me from about Wednesday through Sunday. I've been mostly locked in my room, but my understanding is that it's been pretty cold, single-digit temperatures.

On Thursday, while the doom of swine-wrath was still building, I received a phone call, from the guy who lives where I used to live, in Kittery. He said "there's a package for you here; I don't know what it is." It being late December, I figured it might be something worth risking personal health for. So I head out in the Hoth-like temperatures, and across the memorial bridge to Maine. I might add that the wind on the bridge was terrible with gusts around twenty miles an hour, and the wind chill index was well below zero. Anyway I made it, and got the package. It was flat and postmarked from Switzerland. I had forgotten that I had ordered their catalog a year and a half ago, and am once-annual mailing list.

Ah, the 2010 ASSOS catalog. The cover of it has a picture of three guys drafting about five centimeters off the back of the official Assos Mercedes-Benz SaG-wagon. Attached was a cover letter. From the cover letter:

Dear Assos Fan,
The new Assos catalogue is here. Creating unique and extraordinary catalogues has always been a little passion of the Assos Centro Studio. No more two seasonal catalogues, instead, one yearly "ASSOS BIBLE" featuring every Assos Product and a large part of the Assos experience for you to be part of.

Wow, fancy. Throughout the catalog[ue] were the various product lines, geared for the exact temperature range. Assos spends a great deal of money on marketing to indicate that there is high-tech, high-precision science behind every single article of clothing. For example, there are no fewer than eight "climate range" lines:

Unfortunately the coldest one was only ready to handle 21°F, which is a high that I don't think the temperature will be reaching any time before April. These guys are from Switzerland, I guess I thought they would have bike clothes in which you could ride up the Matterhorn. But let's face it, no one here can afford this stuff anyway. Not that I know how much it costs; the prices aren't listed. This isn't the Sears catalog after all--you can't order direct. It's like when you go to a real fancy restaurant that doesn't have prices in the menu. If you have to ask how much, then you can't afford it.

assos assoss model girl babe name lady bike cycle bicycle bicycke cycling switzerland swizerland switzerladnThe famed ASSOS girl, the ASSOS Cycling spokesbabe is of course another highlight of the catalog. Here, she peeks out from between the pages. But don't be intimidated, gentlemen--she doesn't actually know how to ride a bicycle. In fact, my sauces tell me that she lives in a castle in Monaco and gets her jollies smashing fabergé eggs. The sauces never lie. No, but seriously: I noticed a lot of search engine traffic last time I mentioned Assos, trying to find out what the model's deal was. I dug around but couldn't find anything. She's a model, not an athlete. Check out that sauce link (might need to log in to facebook), has some non-Assos pictures of her. Meh.

Anyway, the catalog's full-color, full-gloss, heavy paperweight, 150+ pages of great marketing design. They call it the Assos Bible, and that's what it is. Maybe one day I'll own some Assos products, right before I get an $8,000 wheelset, and right after I get a doctorate in dentistry.

Friday, December 18

Public Option

Wednesday, December 16

Crappy Drivers: The Intersection Passers

Okay, here's a scenario for you. Speed limit's like 20, intersection's about 50 meters ahead, I'm going to be taking a left at the stop sign. I'm on my bicycle, cruising about 15-17MPH. I hear a car approaching from behind. At our current speeds, it is impossible for the car to pass me and get a safe distance to pull back in to the lane before reaching the stop sign. I don't know what they are expecting here. Do they want me to pull over, stop, let them pass, then continue? WRONG! I just continue going along normally towards the intersection and pull to the left, rightfully claiming my lane as I approach the intersection. Claiming the lane at an intersection if you are not turning right is not only your right in New Hampshire, it is your duty.

This forces them to either get in line behind me, which would mean conceding defeat to a 15mph cyclist, the ultimate humiliation, or trying to get around me. If they try to accelerate around me with 50 feet left to the stop sign, I just hammer it out and beat or tie them to the line. Sorry pal, I'm ahead of you. This causes them to be next to me, in the oncoming traffic lane, trying to enter the intersection. If anyone else is trying to turn on to our street, then this guy is just sitting there, in oncoming traffic, blocking the way. There's no need for the air horn here, they know they have lost. Either way, I lay an epic track stand right in their face, and proceed through the intersection as traffic allows.

On a related note, there's also those times where, as a cyclist, you see that there is a red light up ahead. If you're downtown, the speed limit is only 15 or 20 depending on the road, so cyclists can keep up with traffic without any problem anyway. If I see a red light, I'll start coasting. I know the exact patterns and lengths and triggers of all the lights, depending on which lanes have cars and such. Ideally, I'm timing it so that the light turns green right as I roll up to the line. This actually makes traffic smoother, as there is no stop and re-acceleration. This is of even greater benefit to the cars than it is to myself.

But I gotta tell you, seeing a cyclist or two taking up the whole the lane and coasting at 6-8 miles per hour gets some people really, I mean really pissed off. Sometimes they blow around you at 25 miles an hour or more (way too fast for downtown). Congratulations Pinprick, you made it to... a red light! I once had a guy in a minivan through a tantrum and peel out, full squealing tires and everything, when the light finally turned green. Sorry dude, I just can't take you seriously in your wood-paneled Caravan.

Anyway, I guess these are a couple little things I do to intentionally be obnoxious, or when I am feeling sanctimonious. I'm not really defending them, and I hope someone comments to tell me off.