Monday, August 16, 2010

Choosing the Path of Least Resistance

I'm the kind of driver who, when needing to go left, will sometimes turn right, just to go with the flow--- until an opportunity appears to make a u-turn. I despise waiting, and loathe going against the flow. Constant motion is my desire. Like a cycle of nature, I'd rather go with the flow.

When cruising on my bicycle, I use the same principle. Rather than trying to be militant about my right to be on the road, I try to pick the route with the widest shoulder, the least congestion, and the greatest chance of my personal survival. Riding a bicycle requires diplomacy, especially when you consider that even the smallest of smart cars could potentially run you down and end your cycling career. For better or worse, the cyclist is connected to the environment in which he or she pedals. Not isolated by the artificial bubble of the automobile, the cyclist must be concerned about every shard of broken glass or sheet metal screw that could puncture a tire, every flying insect that could sting or blind him, every distracted soccer mom whose SUV could flatten him. For this, the cyclist is rewarded with a greater awareness of what it means to be a living, moving creature in that natural activity of moving from one place to another.

Late to cycling in my adult life, being 35 years old before purchasing a "serious" bicycle for the purpose of commuting to and from work, I had initially reveled in the youthfulness that I felt when cycling through my neighborhood, nostalgic for the days of my adolescence, when my Huffy was my chariot.  Now into my third year of commuting by bicycle, I have begun to see cycling almost as a spiritual activity. It's hard to deny that there's a certain peacefulness in finding the downside of a long rolling hill, the breeze in your face, especially when the road is open, free of all vehicular traffic.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Last Free Ride of Summer in a nutshell.

Slow start in Saginaw: Bailey Boswell to Walmart
Followed a spandex bike gang for a mile before they ditched me.
Headed South on Huffines, loving the hills.
Dizziness and sudden wipe out on Huffines.
(Ever see the horizon when the earth tips over?)
Damn hills.
On to Lake Worth, Samson Park, River Oaks, Trinity Trail to Trinity Park.
Notice a goat head in front tire.
Notice flat tire.
Take time fixing flat in the shade of Trinity Park pecan tree.
On to Panera on University: Facebook update.
Dropped a journal in parking lot.
Cycle on to the crossing by the courthouse.
Realize that journal is missing and wonder if that was what the homeless woman was trying to tell me, half a mile back.
(No, she said it was too hot for bicycling and wondered why all us idiots were going around in circles.)
Backtrack to Panera and find journal.
Cycle back through Trinity Park to White Settlement, then more of the trails.
Knee is burning, so take a tylenol.
Visit Braums for ice refill and limeade.
On to Roberts cut-off, then Skyline, across Jacksboro Highway, Old Decatur Road, Saginaw
....110 degrees outside, 130 inside my head...home at last!!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseids Meteor Shower...or sprinkle.

My oldest son, Dylan, and my nephew, Jason, decided to get up in the wee hours of the morning to seek out the Perseids Meteor Shower. They set their alarm to wake them at 1 a.m., but it did not go off. At 3:50, my two year old, Ollie, woke me up asking for "Mitt," his word for "milk." After fumbling downstairs for a clean sippie cup, filling it with milk, and nudging the older boys awake, the power went out. The three of us meteor-seekers dressed by light of the cell phone and headed out in the minivan to find a hill on Bonds Ranch Road. Blurred by the city's excessive light pollution and haze, the stars were at first difficult to see.

As we headed northwest from Saginaw, up Business 287 to Bonds Ranch Road, the Milky Way became dimly apparent above us, but the space nearer the horizons remained indistinct. I pulled off the shoulder just past a parked Jeep where a man and the obscure shadows of his own children, all gazed up into the sky. The father appeared to be using the Jeep to support his tired frame, his elbows perched atop the hardcover, holding up his head at an angle that suggested fatigue. The things we do to enrich our kids' education!

Jason, Dylan, and I stood in front of our own minivan, well away from the shoulder of the road. The lights from the power plant down on Eagle Mountain Lake were a minor distraction from the show in the heavens, but the real interference seemed to be the city to our south.

"When does the shower begin, Daddy?" Dylan asked.
"It's been going on for days."
"How long does it last?"
"I believe a few more days."
"Will we be able to feel them or hear them when they hit the ground?"
"I hope not, son, cuz that might be it if we did."
"Can we go find them?"
"No son, most of them will burn up before they hit the ground."
"Where are they...Oh! There's one!"

The next forty minutes or so produced only a dozen or so confirmed meteors. Jason was the first to return to the minivan. "I think I'm gonna go lay down and take a nap." At 4:50 in the morning, I didn't blame him.

"Maybe next year we'll try to go down south of Benbrook to see if the viewing is better." I suggested to Dylan.
"Can we go now?"
"Well, I don't think it would be a good use of our time and year."
"Can we go get some donuts?"

We were home before 5:30 and the power was back on. The boys had no trouble getting back to sleep, and I had a good 30 minutes of rest before Ollie woke up for good. Though the shower was less than spectacular, the time with the boys was worth the loss of sleep.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Old GMC

A lot of firsts are tied up in that truck I so crudely depicted in the painting above. It was my first pick-up truck. I paid for it with a student loan when I first moved from Florida to Texas. I was going to be a church ministry major at TCU. In that freshman class, I was one of only two students interested in pursuing that line of education. The other was a girl from Chicago who coincidentally had undergone the same type of childhood heart operation I had experienced. No, we never compared our scars, but we did both feel out of place as horned frogs. She, because she was from Chicago and had no appreciation for anything Texan, and me, because I felt like I had some special prestige as the token blue collar kid on campus. I know better now...but back then, I was certain that no one else at a private school felt as alien as I did to that "prestigious" environment.

The old GMC looked out of place, parked between the Volvos and BMWs in the stadium commuter parking lot, but I loved driving it, even if the floorboard let water splash up my left leg. With its crusty plastic interior panels and its oven-baked black paint with red taped stripes, I felt like I was driving a piece of culture everywhere I went. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, and many Saturdays, I drove it to a construction site, my first real "manly" job, where I learned to stack bricks, make mud, and build scaffolding, and where I learned that rough men are still boys, kids at heart. The best of them wanted to laugh once in awhile to make the day seem shorter, and they could all tell good stories while stacking those bricks.

There were other firsts associated with that old truck, some, the ones regarding certain passengers who may have shared that bench seat in the glow of a stereo dial, are better left to memory and not the page. The most reliable companion to share that bench was Cosby, my old Lab. He was much neater in appearance than my poor rendition above. Large-boned, he had the classic lab look: strong, friendly, curious, watchful. He rode with my family from Florida to Texas, and then, he was my sole companion on an otherwise lonely trek to North Carolina.

Seven Springs, North Carolina is where I first rolled a truck. Totalled it. I was driving a narrow farm road, only doing about 45 mph, when I slipped off the shoulder on the right side of the road for a bit. In trying to correct myself, I pulled back onto the pavement, and watched as a street sign post seemed to cross the road and nail my fender...the loose play in my steering must have been partly to blame...I could  always move the wheel nearly a quarter of a turn before engaging the steering rods...losing control, it seemed all I could do was watch as the hood slammed into the black ashes of a burned-out wheat field. I saw the horizon rolling and I remember the crunching sound and this guttural kind of moan I made as it all went to pieces around me.

When the GMC stopped rolling, I reached for the key and turned off the ignition, unbuckled my seat belt, and stepped through the windshield as the truck continued to lay on the driver side. I walked across the smoldering field, sat on the shoulder of the road, and looked at the mess I had made.

The truck's path cleared out the loose ashes and burnt chaff to reveal a tan, sandy soil underneath. My fishing gear, art supplies, random books, all scattered in a semicircular path...I had a little bit of everything in that thing, and now it all lay, a pitiable mess.

Seeing the wreck happen in front of her on her way to work, a registered nurse stopped and asked, "are you all right?" She made me stay seated and gave me a cursory look-over. Soon, members of the small farming community who knew me from church, showed up. One, an elder in the church, said, "Bryan, I saw that deer you swerved to miss..." and I smiled, knowing that he was trying to give me a story to tell the patrolman who was approaching the scene.

My pastor, Ashley Summerlin, a retired policeman himself, ended up greeting the highway patrol officer, and in his diplomatic, preacher's persona, said, "Officer, everything that boy owns is all out there in the ashes. The last thing he needs today is a ticket." The officer, sporting his shiny aviators, seemed to nod just a bit, and before he left the scene said, "well, son, I hope the rest of your day turns out better than your morning did."

A friend of mine, Ricky Thompson, agreed to tow the wreckage to my Uncle Billy's yard until we could figure out what to do with it. It was a clear loss, but as much as I loved that truck, I knew its time would come.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saginaw to the Stockyards via Samson Park

Cycling to the Stockyards from my home in Saginaw seemed out of the question until I considered the possibility of using Old Decatur Road to pierce the 820 Loop. Narrow, littered with glass and debris, secluded by rampant ragweed and hackberry growth, it seemed like a risky proposition, but better than trying to use North Main Street with all it's distracted drivers.

On a steamy Saturday morning, I ran into no problems along this route, but fear it won't be as savory as a return passage from a Night Riders get together. From Old Decatur to Angle Road to Cantrell Samson Park to Rodeo Park to the underbelly of the White Elephant Saloon, I could see evidence of late night carousing: park trash cans dumped over and piles of beer bottles were far too common a sight for me to want to brave alone after a long night of pedaling and pint-swilling. Until I find a better route, I reckon I'll continue to rely on the minivan.

Friday, August 6, 2010

19 Miles before Breakfast

6 O'clock came and I was ready to roll. On a whim, I saddled up my Trek FX 7.1 hybrid and took off. Traffic was light, but what little cool air might have been left over from last night was already dissipating as I picked up speed on Bailey Boswell Road, just north of Fort Worth. I've never cycled north of my own neighborhood, so I decided to head towards Bonds Ranch Road and cycle toward Eagle Mountain Lake.

I've driven over these roads hundreds of times over the past twenty years, but slowing down and seeing them from the seat of my bicycle gave me a new appreciation for the subtle beauty that abounds in the humblest of landscapes. At the crest of each hill I climbed, I leisurely scanned the horizon and took in the rolling, grassy plains, or what's left of them, and imagined what it must have been like when the Comanches were still hunting these parts.

Always leaning towards romantic sentimentalism, I was kept grounded by the very real threat of being bumped off the road by work trucks and soccer moms. When Bonds Ranch Road ended at Morris Dido Newark, I took in the view of Eagle Mountain Lake and the power plant, and then headed south towards Saginaw. Soon, I was forced into using my lowest gears as I tried to climb on hellacious curving hill without the benefit of a shoulder to give me elbow room.

Those commuters from Newark, Aurora, Boyd, and other parts north westward had little concern for my personal space, and I have to admit I may have flinched a few times to avoid their rear view mirrors.

I made it all the way back to Bailey Boswell without incident, and walked into the house, steaming and exhilarated, ready to resume my duties as "Mr. Mom."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Trinity Trails by Canoe

The Trinity River gets a bad rap here in Fort Worth and points Eastward. The new and improved advisory against consuming fish and crustacea from the Benbrook Dam spillway and downstream was met with chortling and raised eyebrows from the local Fox 4 News affiliate reporters, "You mean that people have to be told not to eat fish from the Trinity? Ha Ha Ha!"

A bit of common sense does seem to warn one from consuming creatures from waters that reek of chlorinated human waste, but I felt that the attitudes of the reporters seemed inappropriately callous. Maybe some righteous anger would have been more suited to the situation. If the rivers of the northeast, which were at one time so polluted that they caught fire, can be cleaned, why can't our muddy little Trinity?

I have paddled up and down local stretches of the Trinity and some of its tributaries for years. In that time, I've come to know that even in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, wildlife can be found on the banks of the Trinity. Beaver, waterfowl, even wild turkeys have surprised me in the riparian habitat along the Trinity Trail System. I've seen fish jumping, and snakes swimming, and all manner of living thing trying to make it along the uniform banks that were built up into grassy dikes years ago.

Though I feel the need to disinfect my canoe and paddles when I've spent an hour or two paddling, I still find elements of nature worth preserving and respecting along this urban river.  With the city's plans for revitalizing the Trinity River, my biggest hope is that developers make projects like the Riverbend Natural Area a priority and that some undisturbed areas might remain to remind urban dwellers of the beauty to be found in Nature.
August 5, 2010.

The desire to do all things that strike my fancy has led to hundreds of half-finished projects. It may be time to become a minimalist. Taking baby steps in that direction, I've deactivated my Facebook account. For every bit of fluff I eliminate from my life, my hope is to find a meatier replacement. Each hour I would have been tempted to Facebook my friends, update my status, chat with my compadres, I will now devote to creative writing. That is the plan, anyway...and if creating a blog for the first time can be interpreted as taking a tentative step towards honing "the craft," well then, so be it.

Three years ago, I took another, more drastic step towards living simply: I changed schools so that I could live within cycling/walking distance from my place of employment. I now teach just a mile from the sanctuary of home, and I have learned that I can no longer lounge around in my pajamas with the blinds open because I'll hear about it the next day from one of my students. While watering my zinnias, it's common for a random student to politely honk and discreetly holler "Hi Mr. Hardy!" as he or she drives by. I now no longer water those zinnias while shirtless.

Giving up a bit of distance between work and home has been largely beneficial. Instead of spending hours each week stuck in traffic on North Loop 820, I now pedal a bicycle every day, rain or shine. The family makes do with one vehicle, the stereotypical suburban soccer mobile, and instead of paying a second car payment, not to mention health club membership, I now do most of my commuting by bicycle. It's a great way to get to know the neighborhood, and unless I get hit by one of my multi-tasking neighbors, my health should continue to improve.

Cycling has also opened my eyes to glaring differences between my childhood education and the education many of my neighbors have experienced. When I was a kid, we were taught that sidewalks were for pedestrians and that cyclists were bound by the same laws governing automobile drivers. In fact, we learned proper hand signals (employing more than just one finger) to help communicate with others sharing the roadways. We were taught never to ride against the flow of traffic because drivers making a right-hand turn never look to their right when pulling out from a stop sign, and because head-on collisions can kill.

Many of my Texas neighbors have politely suggested that the road was not meant for bicycles. One woman, upon meeting my wife while riding a stationary bike at the females-only fat farm, said "Is that your husband who rides his bike to work every day? He sure is an idiot! Ha ha ha...don't he know that he's supposed to stay on the sidewalk where it's safe?"

My wife replied, trying to smile, "well, actually, the key word in sidewalk is 'walk'" and then began to explain how cyclists can be ticketed for riding on the sidewalk instead of the road.

Another thing one learns from cycling through the neighborhood each morning is that some people will water their lawns no matter what, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Nothing says "howdy neighbor" like hitting an ice slick on your way to high school with a satchel full of research papers on your back.