Monthly Archives: January 2013

My bicycle confession

  1. I’D LIKE TO formally apologize to people I’ve scared inadvertently on the bike path. I saw you for quite a while before you saw me, and adjusted my line to swing wide around you, but I could tell it startled you.
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  3. I’D ALSO LIKE to apologize to the two I scared intentionally. One was on the bike path in Venice, California about fifteen years ago. You were walking next to your girlfriend and I thought you were aggressively taking up the entire lane, plus part of the opposing lane, so I blew past you close enough to lightly clip the edge of your arm with mine. I take full responsibility.

     

    The other was on the West Side Greenway in New York City, about four years ago. You meandered straight across the path from the street without even glancing to look at oncoming traffic. I zipped by close enough that you probably felt some wind, and I heard you shriek behind me. My thought was to keep you from doing that again, because the greenway is chockablock with people on bikes who aren’t skilled or alert enough to save you from your lunkishness, and I don’t want you hurt.

     

    I concede that I was also annoyed with you.

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  5. I CONFESS THAT Monday evenings have become my favorite time of the week, because first I walk from SoHo to Chinatown for banh mi and Vietnamese coffee, which I think is just iced Cafe du Monde with condensed milk, and then I walk back to SoHo for a bike repair class. Walking through the dark and neon of Chinatown has always made me feel like I’m in Blade Runner, even back before I had children and stopped remembering what it’s like to be out in a big city at night. This is as close to giddiness as I get.
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  7. I ADMIT WITHOUT the basic human decency of guilt that I have spent money on bike tools and a repair stand, including both sizes of Park Tool torque wrench, two tubs of Phil Wood Hand Cleaner, and a honking 32-oz jug of ProLink chain lube. It grieves me that I feel no regret for this, and if paroled, will do it again. Further, I admit to a glow of satisfaction upon taking a bike off the stand in better shape than when I put it up there, and to liking the image of myself with a spoke wrench and a beer.
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  9. IT IS TRUE that I only noticed the wide-open quick-releases on both brakes once I was descending Henshaw St. at considerable speed, and I aver that I may not have effected as decisive a Flintstone stop if my children hadn’t been watching from the bottom. I additionally stipulate that I have stood on a bank of the St. Lawrence River in the sub-freezing dark, straddling the frame of a hybrid bicycle, eating the best apple of my life, and that the bridges upon which you hop little islands back into Montréal, to catch your train home, are sometimes locked when you didn’t expect it.
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  11. I CONFESS THAT I do not know why even though my boys have identical bikes, one keeps dropping its chain.
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  13. I VERY MUCH regret that my actions have caused smudges on the walls in the bike area; that I have betrayed the goodwill of rugs that trusted me; that I will, at some point, kick a snapping dog; and that I hope it’s a solid kick.
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  15. I SWEAR THAT I have never felt as exhilarated as on two downhills, both mountain descents, both firsts. Exhilaration one: on a practice brevet before my first 200K, a single downhill spanning a longer distance than could fit into the boxy little dresser drawer of Manhattan. Exhilaration two: 49MPH on what I’d find out, a year or two later, is the same road the boys and I now take to our second-favorite campsite in the summer.
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  17. I SHAMEFULLY CONFIRM an excited “Boys! C’mere! C’mere!” when I saw a Calfee leaning against the wall at Darling Coffee, but plead nolo contendre to the charge that I have received a cheap frame and build kit for my first home bike assembly. I furthermore refuse to respond to any and all questions regarding dining room and repair stand, relative sizes of.
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  19. I ADMIT TO thinking poorly of:
    • Pathetic slugs slower than me
    • Arrogant showoffs faster than me
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  21. BUT ALSO TO thinking well of:
    • Kids faking out traffic and practicing BMX tricks under the GW overpass
    • Carcinomic septuagenarian, shirtless on ten-speed
    • Pasty pudgy guy, hybrid, motorcycle helmet
    • Wiry older woman who knew good hills in Edgewater
    • Ethiopian lady on mountain bike in Van Cortlandt Park
    • Local kids with tall bikes
    • Danny McAskill
    • These women
    • Guy who tossed me an inner tube when, for some reason, I didn’t have one, halfway back from Bear Mountain
    • Slender guy with a mullet I followed uptown when I couldn’t see the road because of my messed-up glasses and a bad storm, but could see his blinky
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  23. I CONFESS THAT I saw the diagonal expansion joint coming before my kid got to it on his 20″, and didn’t yell anything because I thought startling him would be worse than letting his natural reflexes handle it. I was wrong. That was one bad 15MPH wipeout and neck-twisting crash into metal railing. For this, Daddy is truly sorry.

     

    Daddy also thinks not wearing a helmet in urban environments is generally not the brightest choice, having seen where aforementioned child’s head went, and admits both to knowing who that statement will annoy and to thinking their logic is mostly confirmation bias; and moreover regrets both his lack of interest in fighting about it in the comments and the likelihood that he will anyway.

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  25. I ADMIT TO resolving the dilemma of where to look when an attractive woman zooms by on a nice bike by staring, as though riveted, at absolutely no particular component of the bike whatsoever, with great interest, until the crisis has passed.
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  27. I CONFIRM THAT I once hung by one arm from the base of a metal post near the very top of the hill above the Little Red Lighthouse, with my bike downhill from my prone body, gripped by my other fist, because I tried to ride up when the path was iced over, and I am honor-bound to tell two additional truths: I saw the neck of the guy in the little kiosk at the bottom swivel 180° as he stared after me on my way up the first rise, and I will probably try again.
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  29. I HAVE CLIMBED and descended mountains, hit potholes, and lost traction on the metal lips of driveways in downpours. I have pretended to knowledge I did not have, offered advice that turned out to be wrong, and given just the perfect fact at the perfect time. I have ridden the beaches of two coasts and glided alongside pelicans.
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  31. I HEREBY CONFIRM that the consequences of my actions have brought enhanced harmony to my family; increased productivity and tolerance of bureaucracy to my employers; and exhilaration, reduced heart rate, and damn shapely calves to myself; and I cannot, in good conscience, swear that, given the chance, I would not repeat any and all of them until my final moments on Earth, except for the one with my kid wiping out.
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  33. AND THAT I love the smell of Proofide, and finally taking off night gear at dawn on a rural road between misty pastures, and that I will always cherish towing my two-year-olds to preschool, riding with my six-year-olds to PS 178, and cheering crazily for my seven-year-olds when they finished 16-mile rides or climbed like champions. FURTHER, DEPONENT SAYETH NOT.
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Filed under Bicycling, BikeNYC, Bikes, Favorite, Senseless Acts

Three questions

RIDE 2 cover

Cross-posted at the RIDE blog.

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IT DIDN’T OCCUR to me, when I decided to use this “Three Questions” game to say what I liked about each story, or why I’d chosen it, that I would eventually come to my own. Instead of telling you how great it is, I’ll tell you something I learned.

The first RIDE anthology (mumble mumble purchase mumble) was my first stab at being an editor and publisher. One of my mistakes was in sending Advance Reading Copies to reviewers when everything was almost perfect—except for my own story, a novelette called “Night Ride.” The cover did say UNCORRECTED PROOFS, after all, which people would know meant there was still some hammering and sawing going on, and I was thinking of the book as a team effort, which implied there was a team for me to take one for. People were trusting me, and if tasks had to fall undone before the ARCs had to go, it was only fair if most of them fell into the bucket with my own name on it. So I sent the ARCs out.

And then I minded.

Not as much, though, as I’d have minded being that guy who sends a string of “Wait, I uploaded a new version!” emails.. So I stuck Don’t ship the ARC before your story is as polished as all the other ones in the “lessons learned for next time” column, along with Don’t publish the ebook and the print book at different times and Don’t miss the holiday sales window.

Those last two…well, RIDE 3, I’ll do better. But “The Rambler, Part 1” was nice and shiny before the first review copies of RIDE 2 went out. And—yeah, it’s a poem. It rhymes. I was reading Chaucer in the tub on my iPad, and I saw that he was heavy on the plot and light on the closely observed moment, and I went I can do that! I can not observe stuff!

…up through Harlem, onto Broadway; picking
out his silhouette, they weave to follow,
sticking tight past Jimmy Jazz, Apollo,
Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Popeye’s Chicken,
toward the river, tires quicken
toward the bridge that goes to Jersey.
If he’s caught—there’ll be no mercy.

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Barb Goffman (“Ulterior Motives”)

asks three questions of

Keith Snyder (“The Rambler, Part 1”)

Barb: In “The Rambler, Part I,” your rider is using his bike as a means of escape, literally. Have you ever raced away from someone on a bike, trying to avoid them?

Keith: I like to do these things called brevets, which are long-distance rides with proscribed routes and time limits. I’m also the CEO and OGH (Only Guy Here) of a book design company that grew from a fledgling business that sucked up all my time in 2011 to a big workload that sucked up all my time in 2012. So my last ride that went all night was in 2010.

Whaddayagonnado—I been busy.

But in 2010, I was severely underemployed and emotionally shredded, so I was riding longer distances. One was a 400K that went through the Pine Barrens at night.

The overnight portion of a brevet can be physically and emotionally difficult; you’re fatigued, it may have been a while since your last real food, you’ve had several imaginary but not entirely silent confrontations with the most obtuse people of your acquaintance, and your metabolic thermostat has sprung its coil. You can’t remember why you thought this was a good idea, your car is fifty miles away, and there’s no train and zero bars on your phone.

Brevet routes tend to be designed to put you on smaller highways and mountain roads as much as possible, both to reduce the number of cars you’ll encounter and because stoplights bleed your average speed more than you’d think. (Well, stopping at them does, anyway.) So depending on route, season, weather, and velocity—I’m slow—you can end up in unlit desolation for long stretches of time, able to see only as far as your headlight beam, utterly blind to the sides and rear. 4am isn’t just the best time for an army to attack, because the other army is at its worst; it’s also when a dirty, discouraged randonneur (or frozen, or drenched; we do this in all weather) can’t see the point of this anymore.

The Pine Barrens are a forest shot through with cranberry bogs. There are no streetlights because there is almost no night traffic, and there are no stars except those directly overhead, because the pine trees snuff them out in all directions. On this night there was no moon, either, and an overcoat of clouds over whatever stars had escaped the pine trees. I could see the highway in front of me well enough to think every stretching shadow was a pothole, but the portion of beam higher than the road didn’t do anything but collude with every reflective highway sign to blow out my vision and hint at an ever-moving wedge of distant black foliage.

But you can hear things in the cranberry bogs.

I don’t know species, so I classify them all by size. That soft crackling and crunching, very soft, everywhere, is the the local insect biomass stumbling over thousands of tiny twigs, falling off leaves, dropping into ponds. Briefer, more directional little snaps and dull creaks are your beefier bugs and possible birds. Next larger: definite birds—woodpeckers, the occasional confused rooster—and continuing up the size scale are your random small mammals, trotting coyote, bored, leaping deer, the isolated shapeless thing skulking across the highway.

And to my left, the deep, leathery flap of something huge in the air, rising off a dirty water surface. There’s a creek, or a bog, or a flooded ditch off the highway there, because the rising thing’s feet drag on liquid as its wings beat. It gains altitude ponderously, amassing momentum, its hot weight coming even with me, then rising above eye level—and my panic has flooded me with so much strength, I can barely get my fumbling fingers on the shifters.

Once identifiable as little rocks, gravel has become dim streaks beneath my pedals. I’m maintaining barely enough self-mastery to not flub a shift and grind my non-precision budget drivetrain. Hair surges on my neck and forearms—the luxurious wingbeat is closer, the dense black body gliding in the humid black air; my butt’s bouncing because I just outran my gearing. The highway floats ahead in a few dozen feet of bulbous gray light. A few inches behind my saddle, the floating glow of a deep red coal—the brightest taillight on the Internet—is beacon and rangefinder for anything that wants to strip my nerves from my meat.

There’s a deep bovine growl three feet from my ear, a hot snort on my cheek. I’ve just whimpered and my legs are spinning faster than the gears can accept, and I don’t know what gear I’m in, so I shove a shift lever in my blind panic, and there’s a cling! and a thrrrrrip!; my pedaling legs flail against nothing, and I understand that the chain has come off.

A single blast of warm air into my face and through my helmet vents, and thick leather wings and a whip tail clip the topmost antumbra of my headlight, as I grab my handlebars and fight to keep from crashing; I stutter-step with one foot a few times because I can’t remember how to unclip the other one and I stand alone shaking, the flashbulb impression of a massive bat ray still fading in my retinas, and up in the depth of night, something smashes the tops of the invisible pines.

Barb: Is there anywhere in the world you would like to explore on a bicycle but haven’t been able to? If so, where and why? And what’s holding you back?

Keith: There aren’t that many places I wouldn’t like to. In some alternate universe, I have no family and one of these. In that same universe, its bushings never fail, and my witty, self-deprecating accounts of adventures through a smorgasbord of terrains and cultures are the most fascinating things that happen near the onion dip at parties of A-list literati; but this never happens. So let’s just keep things as they are.

Barb: What’s your most embarrassing or funny biking story?

Keith: FCO (Failure to Clip Out) in front of Princess Grace of Monaco. She pretended not to see, but we both knew.

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LIKE YOU’VE NEVER read Chaucer in the tub on your iPad.

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Filed under Anthologies, Arts, Bicycling, Books, Favorite, My writing, Other people's writing, Poetry, Randonneuring, Self-promotion, Senseless Acts, Short stories