Friday, April 25, 2014

The Next Wave

I am a Feminist.

It has taken a lot of thinking and riding and writing and talking and reading and researching to get here.  I'd like to share that journey with you.  Just like in real life, there's no way I could've arrived here without my bicycle.  Just like many Feminists use their art, or punk rock music, or protests to express and develop their idea of Feminism, the bike was my key.

Here's what happened.  The owner of a women-focused bike shop read a blog post mentioning my angst over Feminism and she called me out on it.  Or, rather, she e-mailed and asked if we could share our differing perspectives over a beer.  Just being invited to discuss a topic that I've been so conflicted about triggered a deliberate sorting out of my thoughts.  So, I was thankful to her before I even took a sip of my IPA.  When she told me she opened her business as an expression of her Feminism, I was humbled and inspired.

The same week, I was interviewed on the Sprocket Podcast.  The host surprised me when he asked about that same blog post, The Pink Conversation, which was one of the toughest entries I've ever written.  Suddenly I had to scramble to try and articulate my feelings on this turmoil-coated topic.

What I discovered is that my past distaste at Feminism has its root in my distaste as being pigeon-holed as a female.  Much of the Feminism I've been exposed to first-hand works by separating women from men.  I don't find this empowering - quite the reverse.  What does make me feel empowered is my bike.  When I started comparing my exposure to Feminism-empowerment and bike-empowerment, it all started to come clear.

I get especially ruffled when I am referred to as a female cyclist.  I am a cyclist.  I am certainly a woman, but I am also white and no one calls me a white cyclist.  I get pretty pissed off when any accomplishment I am proud of is reduced to my gender.  I nearly cried when I saw (f) after my hard-earned R12 status.  The men didn't have (m) after their names.  These types of events and the reactions I had to them caused me to disown my gender, and Feminism along with it.

I experience a feeling of pure power as a cyclist, and I'm not just talking about the emotional and physical part.  I'm talking about "owning" my part of the road, including standing up to motorists or other road users who don't share properly.  No one told me how to do that.  No particular book or movie or inspirational friend gave me the nerve or know-how to take what is mine.  It just came naturally, instinctually, to me. 
Feminism did not come to me so organically, or easily.  It's required an unbelievable amount of internal processing.  As a kid, I felt sheepishly proud to consider myself my dad's "son".  Of being a bloody-kneed tom-girl in a taffeta dress.  Even today, most of my best friends and riding buddies and drinking pals are guys.  I'm often the only chick present, and usually unaware of it.  I'm just one of the boys.

The main thing I've discovered about Feminism is that although the definition is "seeking equal rights for women", there's no one right way to do it.  We each get to define or redefine just how to be a Feminist, and how to best use our Feminism to spread power.  What this means is that Feminists who use gender segregation don't have it wrong.  It's their way and it works for them.  And it doesn't mean I'm a giant hypocrite if I join in with women-only events, taking what I want from them, and sharing what I want too.   

It's funny, it's been right in front of me all along.  Just like my relationship with bicycling - instead of looking to my peers for the "right way", I define my own "right way" and live it and share it.  Just like my apathy about what motorists think of my cycling, I don't have to model my Feminist behaviors around someone else's definition of what's right.

I will open my mind and join any and all groups proclaiming themselves as Feminists to try them on for size.  Most recently, I joined the Women's Bike Swarm.  These young revolutionary chicks are tough and empowered and way ahead of me in their expression of Feminism. 

My first act as a newly minted Feminist is to post this blog.  My second act is to proclaim that I'd like to stop using (and hearing) the term male-dominated, especially when it comes to describing cycling demographics and the bike industry.  That implies superiority when it's meant to describe majority. I propose male-majority instead.

Just like a newbie cyclist, I'm probably going to make a lot of mistakes while I learn about my new status as Feminist and how to express it.  I may cuff my left pant leg instead of my right.  I may wear underwear under my chammy.  I may overlap wheels.  But I'll pedal ahead anyway and be proud of my rookie mark.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Banks Elsie Brevet

Quite a little crowd gathered at the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead on Saturday, all set to ride the lovely out and back brevet known as the Banks-Elsie.  Last year I set my personal best on this route and I aspired to beat it.

Permanent owner and RBA Susan warned us about moss and slippery bridges, called GO and off we went.  It's not a race, but it feels like a race when everyone starts together onto a narrow trail.  I spun out with Chris and Greg (previously referred to as crank-fell-off-guy) and was still warming my engine up when they raced off into the distance.  I'd see Chris one more time, on my way to Elsie and his way back, right after he dropped a cookie in the road.

A quick stop at the market in Vernonia to get my card signed revealed that they have crappy tap water.  I saw orange coat/orange bike/red rim dude there, along with recumbent guy.  Rolled out on the familiar 47, passing Big Eddy and Apiary and headed for the Birkenfeld store for water.  Too bad it was closed.

Bunches of birches past the Birk.  Pedaling hard, head down, into a slight headwind, I looked forward to a tailwind on the way back.  There were sprinkles and an overcast sky and wet streets, but generally it was pretty dry.  My gear was perfectly dialed for once - I never had to stop for a costume change.  A thin merino baselayer and goretex jacket worked perfectly.

I didn't see any elk on the way to the Elk Viewpoint, but I did spy orange coat dude and recumbent guy again.  Then on the way back from the Elk Viewpoint, I saw Jeff and Lynn and others.  They were probably only about 20 minutes behind me, and I shoulda coulda stopped to wait for them to have some company. 

I enjoyed a PBJ, milk and cookie at the Elsie store and shared a table with orange coat dude.  Turns out it was his first brevet.  Bravo!  Someone nearby lit a cigarette, lighting a fire under me.  Rolling down onto 103, I saw two guys turn left instead of right onto 26.  I yelled and hope they heard.

Soon after, I saw Jeff and Lynn and gang.  They looked just like I felt when I was climbing out of that pretty river valley.  Once again, I missed my chance for company, due to the silly quest to beat my personal best.  Plus it felt like good training to ride solo as that's how I plan to ride STP (Seattle to Portland) this year.

The tailwind I anticipated turned tail and transformed into a headwind.  My back wouldn't allow me to ride in the drops so I just sat there and sucked it up.  Since there wasn't any sparkling conversation to distract me, I tried to concentrate on the views. 

The countryside looked like an old fashioned theater background scroll rolling past.  The springtime nature views and scents seemed incredibly surreal.  A hawk caught a squirrel in a ditch beside me and flew off.  No pigs, but ponies!  Goats.  A donkey shaking his tail and doing a dance for me.  A horse rolling around on its back in the grass.  Beautiful dark cows with white striped butts.  A cow licking its own butt.  Yes, you read right.  He (she?) had tilted her back end way to the left and reached her head around.  I've never seen anything like that before.

By the time I reached Vernonia for the second time, I was a shadow of my former self.  Shredded, wrecked, decimated, destroyed, I sat in Subway eating chips and generally feeling pitiful.  An incoming text appeared and renewed me.  Great big wings sprouted and off I flew down the Banks-Vernonia trail.

The quality of light in the late afternoon produces an astounding effect: turning the edges of moss orange.  Everywhere, the moss glowed: on trees, outlining the twenty mile path, covering rock faces and boulders and bridges.  My mind, the only part of me that wasn't tired, flew to my book club book:  The Signature Of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She's the author behind that other terrible title.  But this book is different and better.

She defines many different types of time.  Divine time: infinity.  Geological time: planetary eons.  Human time: a painful / joyful blink.  Then our protagonist discovers a new time: moss time.  Much longer than human time, quick in its accomplishments compared to geological time.  I propose a new sort of time: bicycle time.  It lands somewhere between human time and moss time.  It passes slowly but marches forward and in retrospect looks fast.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alley Cat s c r a m b l e

Alley cat races are unsanctioned street races, traditionally designed by and for bike messengers and meant to emulate a run of pick-ups and deliveries.  They are also designed to challenge and even torture racers.  Speed is helpful, but cunning and mastery of the map may matter more so.

The alley cat scene is coming (back) to life here in Oregon.  Portland alley cats of late have included the Kuchen-Rennen, the Fly-Cat, the Fashion-Cat, the hugely successful Cranksgiving, Freak Cross and the Cross Dress series.  The last race I planned was in Eugene in '01 and sparked a tiny summer-long series of races (including a Cranksgiving).  So, it felt like my turn to throw a race.

Opening my old alley cat scrapbook for inspiration launched me on my own short race down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about the great dancing cat graphic.  So, once again, I found myself stopping at strange street corners looking for good graffiti, pouring over maps, cutting and pasting and printing a manifest.

My initial plan for checkpoint destinations fell apart so I started over the day before the race.  Riding around in the rain during my commute, stopping here and there, taking pictures and creating a scramble puzzle word made me late to work.  But I was able to pull it all together, even making copies just a short while before go time.

Fifteen minutes before the announced start time, racers started to roll in.  Eight in all!  Riders signed in, grabbed a quick beer and tried to prepare for the race.  Unlike recent races in Portland, riders were not provided with a manifest until GO.  Part of the scramble style is grabbing your list of checkpoints and riding away with it, skimming quickly on the go.  My personal strategy in those scenarios is to head to the furthest checkpoint, which creates several stolen moments on the road to make a plan for the other destinations.

These racers were unaccustomed to this sort of start and stood in the parking lot looking at their papers.  I threatened to take away points if people didn't get out of my sight post haste.  Actually there weren't any points but I wanted to see people scramble.  Unfortunately, one racer went around the corner and promptly fell over.

I moved to sit in the window, hoping to make racers scramble a bit more at the finish line to find me.  37 minutes later, two breathless boys were shoving crumpled manifests at me.  First place Bruce said "with a flat!" as I graded his sheet.  Scramble puzzle races are super easy for the organizer to judge, as you only need to look at one answer at the bottom of the page. All eight racers were in by 61 minutes after start, and all eight racers correctly answered DOLLS.
Luckily I had eight prizes to hand out, so everyone won something.  Surprisingly, the two women's garments were selected by men and one of the men's garments was selected by a woman.  Everyone had fun, no one got hurt, and people left happy.

Alley cat racing is a communal effort so I know one of these racers will organize their own race soon.  Kyle (second place, winner of Fly-Cat and Fashion-Cat) announced that the West Side Invite will take place July 4th, 5th and 6th and will include the infamous Coffee Cat, where I DFL'ed almost a decade ago.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One Speed

Water Avenue Coffee: what a perfect place to meet.  Centrally located, amazing coffee and a big window where I can watch my unlocked bike.  I got excited when I saw the line up of single speed bikes on the rack.

But, alas, only one rider was inside waiting for me.  Then, another one showed up, proclaiming sickness and saying he'd catch up with us at the alley cat race later.  Another bit of perfection - he took my heavy bag full of prizes and dry clothes so I wouldn't have to carry them all day. 

Hardcore single speed aficionado Mark and I set out, into the rain and onto the Esplanade.  He rides a beautiful frame he made himself.  It's a fixed gear.  I was coasting, trying to put a few miles on my old single speed before attempting a double century on it this summer.  Riding on the dock portion of the Esplanade bike path is extra fun when it's raining.  Water everywhere!

Riding the up the little hill of Interstate Avenue felt like swimming upstream, there was so much water flowing quickly.  Up and over the corkscrew Concord bridge and out to Willamette.  Peninsula Crossing trail and a quick break on the bridge over the Slough.
Riding along the Delta Park golf course was gorgeous of course.  Birds flying every which way.  Tons of 'em.  For the first time on this path, I could see and hear cars racing around Portland International Raceway.  You could smell them too.

We found the connection onto the new bike path near Schmeer and more rain. Weaving back and forth over busy Columbia, we finally came across the a hidden nature park and gazebo.  This place feels secret.  We explored the different paths thoroughly and were surprised to find this:
And surprised to pop back out on Columbia.  Was it just a couple weeks ago I had my Brevet Card signed for a Permanent at this same mini-mart?  Up the hill, down the hill, to Velocult and the Alley Cat  s c r a m b l e race.  Then copies, then race!