A few more notes on bike commuting (& that inflatable spa)

November 5th, 2014  |  Published in etc

I had to go to a customer site out by the airport today. I wasn’t sure what the bike storage situation would be there, so I took the Max and broke the 100 percent bike commute rate I’ve been maintaining since the last week of August. I’m going to compensate by jotting down a few things that have occurred to me since my last post.

On Rain Gear

@nathanrawlins quoted C. William Pollard to me once:

“Marketing battles are fought in the mind; […] a battleground just six inches wide.”

That is also the case with the battle against moisture.

My first crack at regular bike commuting two years ago went poorly once the weather turned, partially because I didn’t understand the battle I was fighting. I thought I was fighting a battle against ever being wet, and dressed accordingly. I got super sweaty in ways you don’t want to be sweaty, with the wrong kind of clothes: Base layer stuff that clumped and bunched on the inside, and an outer layer that kept the sweat completely trapped.

This year, I thought that through a little better and I invested in some proper biking rain gear: A helmet cover, a good jacket with pit zips and a back vent, convertible biking rain paints that let me unzip the lower leg and use them as knickers, and waterproof socks. It all goes over either a merino base layer for cold days or some light synthetics on warmer days. I’ve got some waterproof shoe covers, but I’m keeping them in reserve for when it’s just constant, steady rain.

I still sweat, but I’m able to regulate my temperature better, and the wicking base layer means I don’t feel like I’m squishing down the trail by mile six. I also don’t try to have perfect coverage. There’ve been a lot of gently rainy days recently, and I generally use my pants in their knicker form unless the rain is a legit downpour. It’s way more comfortable that way.

I also finished up my bike rain outfitting by putting low-hanging flaps on the backs of my front and rear fenders. The front ones keep road gunk off my legs, the rear ones are because someone passed me and cut back in front of me going through a puddle, giving me a face full of education on why rear flaps are polite.

Anyhow, the trick is not minding that you’re wet. You just have to be wet on your terms.

The Light Question

I was sort of conflicted about how to ride with lights on the Springwater at night because people would sometimes yell at me about them. I’ve just opted for using the lowest possible setting (which is still bright enough) and angling them down so I can see the path quite well maybe 12′ in front of me. People can yell. The Springwater is a wonderful thing to have, but it is legitimately dangerous after dark if you can’t see well: Way too many people with no reflective gear walking toward the middle of the path, pushing along shopping carts or whatever, combined with a breed of sociopath bicyclist who will run flat out with no lights on an unlit trail.

Since my headlight is USB-chargeable, and because I don’t always remember to charge it, and because there are people in the world who just go around stripping bikes of accessories if you forget to take them off, I bought a set of cheap Bell LED lights that use button batteries and deliver 50 or 60 hours when blinking. I put them in a small hard case and keep them in the bottom of my pannier in case I run out of juice or someone takes a light I forgot to secure.

The Springwater vs. Through Town

Google Maps and colleagues suggested several routes through the southeast to get me to the new office. I tried a pair over the course of two mornings and learned a few things:

First, what the Springwater adds in commute distance (a bit under two miles, or 10 minutes at my average speed), it gives back in being able to just go and only stop a few times. Going through the southeast neighborhoods adds a lot of lights and a lot of stopping for construction vehicles or delivery trucks parked in the bike lane. I didn’t save much time in the end.

Second, the Springwater confers a pretty marvelous gift in the form of a relaxed ride. You have to be alert for people and other bicyclists, but it’s a route of long, straight stretches where it’s hard to miss other people coming up from a good distance away. Going through town involves the constant threat of being doored, backed into, or just getting hit by a car misjudging your speed and trying to peel out into an intersection. Other bicyclists with better adapted in-city reflexes and better tolerance for close shaves add to the occasional sense of chaos as they squeeze in between you and cars, or pass on the right.

There’s a part of me that wants to “do it right” and try to build up those reflexes and tolerances, but after a few days of trying, it isn’t nearly as persuasive as the part of me that prizes those long, quiet, slow rides back and forth to work. Am I smiling at you when you thought I’d be walking into that meeting loaded for bear? It’s because I took an hour and spun up five or six virtual instances of you between home and office, and figured some things out. Several of those instances have made excellent points I would not have considered had I been dodging a UPS driver.

So, extra 10 minutes and all, it’s the Springwater for me. I will carve out the occasional exception to meet colleagues down at the Division Street Pine State Biscuit.

The Hawthorne Bridge Is a Marketing Triumph

The Hawthorne Bridge is sold as emblematic of Portland’s laid-back bicycling culture. It’s the worst part of my ride, every single day.

I didn’t get why until I rode through town and came down onto the bridge from the east instead of pedaling up onto it from the esplanade: The people who just ride down onto it are flying off a downhill slope. The people coming up onto it are cranking up a steep ramp. Two completely different states of being are meeting on that bridge.

So there’s lots of close passing and impatient weaving in and out of pedestrians and bikes. People tell me they’ve seen bicyclists shove each other, and I was grazed once by someone who wouldn’t give me the time to get back in front of a pedestrian I’d passed. As it’s marked, I don’t think you’re even supposed to get in front of pedestrians: They’re supposed to have their own lane. You could try shouting that at the spandex rage monkeys trying to run you down, but they’re too busy winning a race against their inner demons.

The Tillikum Crossing can’t open soon enough.

My Inflatable Spa

And that brings us to the odd thing out in this survey, which is my recently purchased inflatable spa (way cheaper on sale a number of places).

People give me a look when I mention it because it sort of sounds like a heated kiddie pool.

So, it’s a spa.

You blow it up with a motorized pump, and it’s rigid enough that you can sit on the edge and it won’t flex. It comes with a pump/heater assembly, a control unit, and an inflatable cover that can be buckled down and locked when it’s not in use.

It holds 200 gallons and it can seat two adults and a 10-year-old on the bottom, which is super cushiony and comfortable, even on our concrete patio.

It can heat the water to a maximum of 104 degrees, which feels pretty good (though I could go for 106 or so, I think, no matter what the government safety people think my chances of stroke might increase to). It also has a massaging bubble action setting that creates a sense of firm (but by no means Jacuzzi-like) massage. The tradeoff with the bubbles is that the pump is just forcing the outside air through a chamber, which means the water will drop about a degree every 10 minutes or so.

I bought it after we spent a weekend at Kahneeta, where there was a spa that looked out over the mountains and I realized that I have a definite gift for lolling around in hot water. I mean, I can completely crush lolling around in hot water.

I’ve guess I’ve always known that about myself. At least, I’ve known it since eighth grade, when I took a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into the bathroom with me and didn’t come out for two hours, just giggling and occasionally managing the delicate operation of draining off the cool water and adding the hot water with just my pruned toes.

It takes a little maintenance in the form of alkaline/ph balance and chlorine management, but it’s completely worth it. I’m in it most nights, a bit before Ben’s bedtime so we can hang out and talk about whatever’s on his mind before I tuck him in. Yes, several virtual instances of you have probably been in there with me, arguing about something, but in quiet and relaxed voices.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it life-changing, but it’s been a definite life improvement. I mean, I really, really like lolling around in a tub full of steaming hot water. Getting to go out and do that under the stars on my own back patio is pretty great. I think I might need to start saving for a permanently installed one, because I’ll have to pack this one up once it starts getting consistently under 40 at night.

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