And Then

By: Matthew Karre May 17

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And we’re back. In the hiatus, the sabbatical, the time away, I learned a few things. Some learning was perhaps more a strong reminder or reaffirmation, but mostly new things were learned. The reason for time away is to learn, to improve, to return a better and more thoughtful person. And so let it be written.

The first thing I learned is that sometimes mini vans, especially purple late 90’s Dodge Grand Caravans with 160,000 plus miles on them, will go out of their way to make to make you think they are dying and then not die. We all know that the mini van is the finest among practical vehicles, especially when traveling with several bikes and other fun makers. Everything fits inside, you can drive relatively fast and not get hassled by the constables, and there is plenty of room for changing clothes before races or the trail head. While many folks argue for the wagon, especially the Subaru wagon, I contend that those are perhaps the least useful of practical options. Nothing big fits inside an Outback, except perhaps dogs, but they will constantly whimper and look uncomfortable until you get to your destination. In addition, and to me most importantly, the Subaru insults the intelligence of anyone who pays attention to the silly initials and acronyms on the back of the car. PZEV (not an acronym unless PZEV is a word somewhere…), which stands for “partial zero emissions vehicle”, makes me cringe. What’s a partial zero? It’s either zero or it’s not. Half of zero is zero. 0.3458267496 percent of zero is zero. Don’t belittle us with this bullshit attempt to illustrate decent fuel economy on an all wheel drive car. If for no other reason, this is why I will never buy a Subaru. Mini vans make no bones about less than spectacular gas mileage. It’s generally in the 20’s somewhere. But, with all the people AND stuff you have inside the van, you’re winning. And looking smart while doing it.



Back to the fake dying of Dodge mini vans: on a trip down to Santa Cruz last month (where I learned that Santa Cruz is amazing for all things bike, surf, and sunset) we drove the purple mini van loaded with all the bikes, gear, room for people, soccer balls, and baby seats (not true). At the California border there’s a patrol stop for non-Californian produce. The attendant asked if we had any produce, I wittily responded only dried mango from Trader Joes, a California company. She didn’t laugh and waved us through.

A few hundred feet after that as I was accelerating to rejoin traffic the rpm’s were red lining. We were going under 40 mph at over 5000 rpm. The transmission decided it wanted to stay in second gear. Maybe first, I don’t know. Great. We’re almost half way there. Do we get towed back to southern Oregon? Ride our bikes to Ashland and rent a car? Charter a mini van sized plane? We pulled off at the thankfully very close exit and went to the gas station. I opened the hood to take a look and quickly remembered my automotive repair skills. Over there, on the left, that’s where the wiper fluid goes. Skills complete. We went into the gas station to see if they had transmission fluid (a fool’s errand as there are so many different kinds, I’ve come to find out). They didn’t. We went back to the car. I checked the tranny fluid level, it read properly. Well, fuck it, we decided. Let’s try it again. We got back on the highway, calmly brought it up to speed and merged with traffic. No blazing rpm’s. No thumping into gear. No hesitation. Smooth, wonderful automatic shifting from the company that in February informed us that it was half time in America. Maybe it was half time for the purple mini van and it just needed a little rest. It drove perfectly the rest of the way down to Santa Cruz, up to San Francisco for a bit, back down the Santa Cruz then back up to Portland. Two days after we got back to Portland, the van stalled while slowing for traffic on I5. Then again on a surface street. After some worry and an over night rest, it drives wonderfully again. I learned that mini vans have feelings too. They just can’t be predicted, deciphered or interpreted accurately.



More recently, I learned that if there is a race with a finish tailor made for my narrow cycling skill set, I will screw it up. This race did ten laps around a scenic circuit with a 1.5km proper climb to the finish of each lap. I remained more patient than usual and didn’t chase every attack on every lap (just most of them). This was the first race where I had actual teammates and I applaud them tremendously for their encouragement and attempts to keep me calm. A more seasoned teammate, Timmy, instructed me to wait until the final 200 meters of the climb. “Don’t lead it out, it’s too long.“ Coming into the last lap we caught the remnants of the break. With 5k to go Timmy and Weaver got on the front and kept the pace high to temper egos and keep me in good position. We hit the bottom of the climb at a good clip, those two swung off and the grimpeurs began to gather and then immediately slowed down. Way down. Everything bunched and the puncheurs reattached. At 500 meters to go a couple of us upped the pace but no real surge; no shock and awe that I needed. I have one acceleration in me and I prefer it to happen early so I can keep the pace high throughout. By 200 meters to go a young talent jumped, and walked away from everybody. He won. He’s 18 and raced in Belgium with the US National team a few weeks prior. I did my best to match the other jumps but I was at the pace where I couldn’t decide if I could jump again, and so I didn’t. At the time I was at max. Right now I kick myself for not trying to find a new max. I really kick myself for not trying from the base of the climb. I consciously avoid ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ statements. But this one is really eating at me. I should have gone earlier. I could have and should have been on the podium. Learning sucks.

 

The Sickness of Being Sick

By: Matthew Karre Mar 6

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I’m sick for cycling right now. In fact, nearly all prepositional phrases containing ‘sick’ and ‘cycling’ apply to me. I am sick for cycling because I am recovering from sickness; sick with cycling because it was cycling that lead us to San Diego’s sunshine and sea last week, unfortunately culminating in too many hours in the sickness inducing airport/airplane (and by sick I mean I have a bitch of a cold—not life-changing sick, for that would deserve a much better commendation than this.) I’m sick with cycling because I am ill and cycling has some potentially terminal ailments that need serious tending. I am sick in cycling for reasons numerous, most prominently that everything in my life is cycling centric (except the few minutes that are devoted to Ghostbusters, of course); sick in the informal, slang definition akin to one being ‘lousy with’ something. I’m sick around cycling simply as a point of juxtaposition. I’m definitely sick between cycling. I probably wouldn’t say I’m sick at cycling because that would imply either grandeur or distinct lack of ability, and I will admit to neither. I am sick for cycling because I haven’t been able to really ride for days (four) and this addiction is much stronger than I am. Because I am sick. And that makes me sick.


In general I deny being susceptible to sickness. Even, perhaps especially, when it is more than apparent to everyone else that I have some influenza-type malady and they ask, ‘are you sick?’ I always respond between nasal drips and hacking cough: ‘I don’t get sick.” Illness is a mental battle as much as it is physiological and environmental. I believe that once one admits to himself that he will get sick, he will get sick, and the duration of sickness will be longer than if he had maintained his strength of character and mentally ignored the evidence. The internal monologue can overpower virus and bacteria as long as the silent orator has a capable speech writer. One can admit that he is sick following denying that he is getting sick, but only after the sickness is nearly defeated and he can pontificate to all within audience that he was only sick for a day or two. – Deny during the early and hard stages of the sickness. – Admit to sickness when it is mild and nearly gone.
This will improve mental fortitude for the next round of sickness denial in two or three years (because annual sickness is out of the question, to say nothing of semi-annual sickness. A folly, that!)


But then the best part will happen. This part is so incredible it is perhaps better than life before being sick. I’m talking about the clear and palpable improvement in body, mind, and outlook as sickness is defeated, as affliction is assuaged, and relative normalcy returns; that is one of the finer moments in life. The first ride following the days of purposeful, controlled not-riding is filled with useful reminders and appraisals. The most difficult reminder has to be that other things can happen during a day off from work besides a several-hour ride; I don’t know what they are yet, but I’m reminded that they exist. In fact a simple 1.5 hour ride is possible on a such a day. On said ride, one can remember how to sit in the whole time; to have a total elevation gain of under 400 feet; to never eclipse 17mph. Then finally, the transitional ride that explodes with excitement and new found eagerness to re-ride a well worn route, to up the pace purely to sear the lungs and expel the remnants of the long-forgot-about sickness. The best part about being sick is the divinely satisfying progress of getting better.

 

Drive

By: Matthew Karre Jan 31

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I recently saw the movie Drive. It is a fine piece of American cinema, and I believe in sparse dialog and brutal-but-not-too-brutal violence. Aside from sharing a title, the movie has nothing to do with the rest of with this essay (except, perhaps, in contrast by this essay having far too many words and that movie having not very many.) Sorry. Or you’re welcome, depending on which way you swing.

This is not an ‘us vs. them’ diatribe. It is, however, a definitive work on the defining characteristics of certain motor vehicle drivers in an attempt to help define them. It is also a quick lesson on ridiculously redundant sentence structure. Also about shooting holes into my own arguments.


Every road cyclist has encountered drivers with clear and present personalities. Likely, the cyclist will have a system of categories for the drivers based on certain empirical data: the sound of an engine revving or the hum of the tires closing from behind, the position of an oncoming auto in its lane, the model and make of the machine, among many others. In this, I will generalize driver behavior based on motor vehicle model and style based on my experience while riding the roads.


The White Sedan
First and foremost, the white sedan is the most dangerous car on the road. This is especially true when said white sedan is American made. Think for a bit. You’re nodding. Among many other generalizations about white American-made sedans, the driver of a white Pontiac is without fail from Michigan, Indiana or Ohio. Same with Saturn drivers. If the driver is not, then the family member from whom he bought the white American sedan is. And he still lives there, but now drives the SUV version of his old white Pontiac. It too is white. This leads to part of the reason why white American sedans are the most dangerous cars on the road: they are embarrassing cars. Especially Pontiacs, because Pontiac doesn’t even exist as a branch of GM anymore. Outwardly, that won’t be admitted but inside they know their shamefully self-induced social stigma.

The White American Sedan passes as soon as it reaches the cyclist. It will pass uphill, downhill, ten meters before a red light, through a school zone, or in the vicinity of a school bus with red lights flashing. It cares not about oncoming traffic, traffic furniture, or blind curves. The driver will slow as little as possible, if at all, before expertly (read: terrifyingly) passing 7-13 inches from the cyclist. If the cyclist is riding on or à droit the white line, the White American Sedan will not change course at all. The potential for collateral damage is high, especially on twisty roads. In Portland, a frequently ridden road is the unimaginatively named Skyline Blvd. It’s rolly and twisty and accesses every ride west of Portland. While the frequency of White American Sedans on Skyline is less than other roads, the impact is still great. And even though I’m impressed by White American Sedan driving skill, chalked up mostly to good old mid-western work ethic, the reality is likely that this mid-western work ethic is also equal parts mid-western morality (not mortality, mind you) resulting in not skillful driving but moral driving. If the very small but powerful portion of that driver’s brain is ever over-ridden by the larger but weaker part that says “do not go around, go through.” We’re all fucked.


The Prius (applies to all small hybrids, but mostly the Prius)
The Toyota Prius driver is a mobile morality play starring Irony, Freud, Acceptance, Hypocrisy and Hubris. At first encounter, especially in city settings, the Prius is scary. It’s not a big car, no larger than a hippopotamus, but it is a silent car, at certain speeds. And nothing scares me more than a silent hippopotamus. It’s true. Can you imagine a hippo opening its giant mouth and no sound coming out? Or when it walks through swamp and over shrub? Luckily, hippos can never avoid this distracting trait:


The silence of the Prius hippopotamus is not its scariest feature. The deadly internal monologue of the Prius driver is what makes it a terror of the roadways. Prius drivers are psychologically delicate and existentially ponderous, usually as a result of owning a Prius. They must constantly rationalize and justify their existence in the car, of the car, while driving the car. A transcript would read like this:
“Should I drive to work today or ride? I bought this expensive small car; I should probably use it. But before I bought it I rode my bike or took the train everyday. But now I have more independence and can go other places than to and from work. But I can’t do them very fast or I’ll just be driving, not Hybriding. At least when I’m stuck in traffic I won’t be polluting. Do you hear yourself? Oh, there’s a couple bike riders. I’m like them. Hey guys! But they’re out there and I’m in here. Hmm, I have room to pass but what if one of them flats and accidentally swerves into my lane? I could accelerate to get around quicker but then I’d be polluting and my engine noise might startle the bike riders, and when I do get around them they’ll see my Share The Road license plate and think I’m a hypocrite. If I don’t pass them at least I’m still hybriding. But if I don’t pass, then why am I driving? Because I have this car. Not car, hybrid car. My status now depends on this hybrid car and I need to reassure myself by not acting like this hybrid car is just coincidentally that: a hybrid car. It’s a statement about me and my beliefs. I’m just getting around; just commuting. And I’m saving the planet and producing fewer emissions. But they aren’t producing any emissions. But relative to those other cars, like that white Pontiac over there, I’m planting a tree! But what about the battery in this thing? It came from around the world. But so did that bike rider’s Surly bike. That’s true, it had to be shipped across the ocean. My battery is no different than his Surly. Except that near my battery is an internal combustion engine and on his Surly is just, just… Oh, hey I’m at work already. Where did those last 3 miles go?”

Prius drivers don’t know where they are at any time. Ever seen a Prius without a dent or scratch? Nope. Rider beware.


The Pickup Truck
When a pickup truck comes into view, heightened senses take over. The mind and body prepare for war. When the big tire hum joins the other ambient noises, the rider instinctively moves right and compacts his girth. The four point stance is stable; confidence is powerful and disarming. The rider must demonstrate his courage over his surroundings and not give in to terror. The pick up truck will swerve into your lane as he comes at you. It will throw cans, trash, cigarettes, Pizza Hut Pazones, expletives, and homophobic slurs at you. It will tell you to get on the sidewalk. The dog in the truck bed has been trained to bark at the most startling moment. The empty gun rack is worse than the full one. They will always win but we must never let that show. Hold your line (where appropriate. Get the hell out of the way as needed.), smile and wave, flip no birds, taunt not the caged gorilla. The pickup truck is always trouble. There are no good ones.

All generalizations are bad.

*Photo of traffic courtesy of Osvaldo Gago **Photo of pickup courtesy of CZ Marlin
All other photos public domain ***A tip of the hat to Ira Ryan for the brainstorm.

 

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