Friday, July 30, 2010

Bicycles: The End of an Era

I felt as though I had sold a child. Amy handed me a check and drove off with Eugene strapped to the back of her car.

Eugene is a red 1994 Trek 370 Sport bicycle. He was the last in the fifty year-long chain of my two-wheeled companions. Sadly, Eugene spent most of his 15 years with me standing abandoned with the stacks of empty moving boxes and pair of mismatched suitcases that I stashed in storage closets in two states.

I bought my first car shortly after I got Eugene and I no longer had to strap groceries, books, or furniture on the back of my two-wheeled buddy. I had a more demanding job by the time Eugene joined me and I needed more time to think. Walking the three-mile round trip to work provided two quiet interludes in the day. This allowed me to be a spectator to the parade of aging co-workers who limped the halls after bicycling accidents.

For many years Bob Padgett, at Catalina Bike Shop in Tucson, supplied me with bicycles and taught me how to keep them rolling. An article in a local newspaper described Bob's kind and helpful manner and suggested that he might laugh himself silly at his customers' blunders by the end of each day. I'm sure I contributed to Bob's after-hours hilarity.

Bob was a friend to me and to my bicycles. He knew which cones my bicycle friends needed and what size bearings fit in each of their rotating joints. He tried to talk me out of buying a cable cutter, "Oh, just bring your bike in and we'll cut the cables for you when you need it." I bought one anyway because I was a bicycle mechanic. I also needed my own chain tool, spoke wrench, cone wrenches, third hand, bottom bracket wrench, crank puller, freewheel tools, and tire irons.

I was a capable mechanic, a strong cyclist and a confident traveler. I pedaled Eugene from Tucson to the (then) tiny town of Maricopa, 88 miles past saguaros, creosote flats, and irrigated cotton fields, to save the cost of a bus ticket. My bicycles were marvels of simple engineering. I may not have been up to supplying an army with my bicycle, but I kept myself well-supplied until I was nearly 40.

Last spring, my friend Amy saw Eugene standing on my balcony, waiting accusingly for me to rebuild him and put him up for adoption. He he had found his new home.

I visited several bike shops in Boise over the year it took me to finish the one-day job of getting Eugene ready to go live with Amy. But I couldn't find anyone like Bob Padgett in Tucson. No one knew me and no one knew my bicycle. I was looking for parts for a boring old bicycle and I was the age of everyone's mother, so I was also old and boring.

I worked on Eugene long enough that I moved to a new apartment and landed near Bob's Bicycle Shop on Fairview before I was done. I could walk over carrying the 15-year old part that needed to be replaced or pushing the bicycle I couldn't get the 15-year old part off of.

One young man, a mechanical engineering student, pretended to be interested in my bicycle stories. He ignored the fact that I was his mother's age (if she had had children quite late in life) and chatted with me about repairing bikes. I felt like a 20-something bicycle mechanic again and wondered why I hadn't worked on bikes for a living. It would have been an unusual career choice for woman then (or now), but becoming a scientist wasn't a common path either.

I got Eugene fixed up and ready for his life with Amy with several minutes to spare. Over the past year, working on a bicycle for the first time in 12 years, I learned that:

1. Few people fix bicycles from 1994 anymore.
2. Digital cameras let you photograph your bike before you take it apart, increasing the chances you'll put it back together the same way.
3. You can wear disposable rubber gloves while working on your bicycle, eliminating (cool-looking) grimy hands.
4. There are on line videos on how to rebuild (newer but still similar) bicycles.
5. Google can find accessories that Catalina Bike Shop stopped carrying in the 1990s and that you assumed were no longer available.

I was reminded of other things:

1. I cuss a lot while I work on bicycles.
2. Fixing bicycles is more of a duty than a hobby.
3. You feel GREAT when you're done.

I made sure Amy took all my bicycle tools with her when she left, plus the book (1971 edition), so that I'll never be tempted to work on bicycles again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Taco Truck Lunch

Three tacos pastor at Taco Veloz taco truck: $3.00.
Table conversation when you, the only woman, pull up a chair at the picnic table: None.
Reliving a previous life working in Mexico: Priceless.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Butterflies on a Road

The snow melted enough that the roads were open in the Modoc National Forest above Lava Beds National Monument at the end of June this year. I left the already-baking campground at Lava Beds in late morning and climbed into the cool forest.

On a side road, clouds of butterflies collected minerals from damp spots in the soil. As a plant person, I only identified them to family: Nymphalidae. I was caught in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel as the butterflies surrounded me. They fluttered and landed on me when I got out of the car to photograph them.

They joined me when I stopped to take a bucket bath in the forest (there are no showers at Lava Beds). They pretended there were minerals to collect around the mirrors of my car.

They flew into the car to land on the dash and on me, to bless me with butterfly wing dust.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mt. Rainier Visitor's Center

I once saw a sign in the Zion National Park Visitor Center: 

1. Outside to the right
2. 93 degrees
3. 8:00 pm

I try not to ask many questions in National Park visitor centers. I never ask where the restroom is, how warm it's expected to get, or when the visitor center closes. I find the restroom before I go in, then I ease through the door, sidle along a wall and search the bulletin boards and displays for the information I need. I am an experienced and resourceful holder of a National Parks Pass.

I was spotted entering the Mt. Rainier Visitor Center, after using the restroom outside. The man behind the counter boomed, "Do you have any questions?" while most of me was still outside in the light mist.

The man focused on me and blocked my view of the white board behind him, which appeared to hold the weather report. He seemed to have been waiting for me. I tried a few head bobs to get a clear view of the board, but he had dealt with craftier visitors than I. And he was not a small man.

I mumbled that I wanted to know how cool it might get that night and how likely I was to get rained on in the campground. I seemed to be the first person to ask about the weather that day; he turned to read the board with me.

After we had established "mid 40s" and "probably" the man turned back to me and asked what else I wanted to know. He had been waiting all week to answer my questions.

I warmed up to him and asked a few more things: what was his favorite day hike (still snowed in, but there were several at lower elevations that I might enjoy), how much had I dropped in elevation since coming over White Pass (about 2500 feet), and was there a cure for my fear of trees (try taking my glasses off). His eyes crinkled beneath grey hair. I was his favorite visitor that week.

We chatted on, swapping stories about other parks, our favorite hikes, and people who rely solely on their GPS unit, rather than carrying a backup compass and noticing where they are on the landscape (other people; not us). We were old friends; I was probably his favorite visitor all year. Admittedly, the visitor's center had only been open for a few weeks. 

By this time more visitors had arrived. None were sidling along the walls searching the bulletin and white boards, so I left the man to talk with other, less interesting, park visitors.

I moved on to the 3-D scale model of the park, on my way to the displays in the museum.

The man welcomed a young couple as they entered. He detected an accent and asked where they were from. When they responded, "Holland," he asked which part. He placed their home town in the correct region, which he pronounced convincingly in Dutch. Then he described the Dutch origin of one of his children’s names. 

The couple were his favorite Dutch visitors that week.