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Entries about bicycle

Sitka on Two Wheels

The Advantages of Biking Through this Beautiful Alaskan City

semi-overcast 49 °F

One of the better decisions I’ve made this year was hauling my mountain bike up here to Sitka. I’ve been riding a lot in the evening-after dinner and before the sun sets. I usually go on an all out power ride, riding as fast as I can for as long as I can for a solid workout. Beyond the physical benefits, it’s a great way to see the scenic beauty of the city.
Mostly I’ve been riding along the city streets, making a huge loop through the waterfront, downtown, and up into the neighborhoods. I’ve also biked on some of the narrow trails that meander through the thick woods on the outskirts of town. This was a very technical ride, but I had fun jumping roots, avoiding boulders, and carefully navigating around the obstacles without crashing. I haven’t done many technical rides, so it was interesting to see how well I could handle the rough trails. I have a long way to go to consider myself “good“ at technical riding, but I relish the challenge. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to walk my bike around some of the gnarly sections on the Cross Trail.

Sitka has been certified by the League of American Cyclists. The city has made bike lanes on the main thoroughfare, offering bikers a great way to get around town. Since there are only 14 miles of paved road in town, there really isn’t a lot of traffic to deal with once you get on the side streets. I see a lot of people on their bikes around town. A lot of them commute by bike, many others just like biking to get around.
I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of weeks to find very dramatic lighting on my rides. The intense sunlight of the setting sun has lit up the town several nights in a row. The surrounding mountains, islands, ocean, and the city and sky have been bathed in beautiful hues of brilliant gold, silver, and green. On evenings such as these, I’ve pulled out my camera along the way, and have taken some satisfying photos of the city, sea, and landscapes.
When I find some more time off, I plan on branching out a little further onto the old logging roads north and south of the city. My first ride will be out to Green Lake south of town. There is a seven mile gravel road that winds along Silver Bay. These roads lead to more adventure. I can easily park my bike, and start hiking or paddling around the many mountain lakes in the Tongass National Forest. At many lakes there are boats moored to small docks giving you the opportunity to paddle out instead of hiking or biking.

Tomorrow I have an appointment to get my bike a tune-up. I figure if I’m going to be riding this hard, I may as well get my bike in optimal condition for the ride.
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” ~ H.G. Wells

Posted by Rhombus 22:16 Archived in USA Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

Exploring Silver Valley

Biking the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene and a Good Barber Shop

sunny 48 °F

Down in the valley, it has been balmy and a lot warmer than normal (so they tell me). Meteorologists blame it on El Nino, that periodic weather pattern that gets the blame for everything. I don’t mind, I don’t have any snow to shovel, and I like the warm weather. As a skier, I wish there was more snow up on the mountain. I guess you can’t have everything. I’m not one to sit around and wait for the weather to change though. So the other day, I decided to put the wheels back on my mountain bike, and check out the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene.

Idaho, like other states (most notably Minnesota), has created a good trail system for bikers, walkers/runners, roller bladers and long boarders by building a good asphalt surface on the remains of old railroad beds. The old rail lines are long since forgotten, and are a good foundation for a bike trail. Often they string together small towns along the way, giving easy access to a lot of users.

To me, it makes perfect sense to use these unused rail paths for a bike trail system. It offers a region a lot more green space. These trails often go for many miles through forests, pastures and along rivers. The Trail of the Coeur d’Alene, for example, runs for over 70 miles across the panhandle of Idaho. It’s a very pleasant place to ride. It gives trail users a place to go besides the highway. It’s a lot safer to ride on a nice bike path that forbids motorized vehicles, than on a busy highway. The infrastructure of the trail is already in place. All the bridges and culverts were long ago engineered for trains to run over them, so they don‘t need updating for the weight of a biker. It costs way more to design a trail, than it is to simply lay down some asphalt on a gravel bed. Beyond that, all that needs to be done is to install signs, benches, pit toilets, and parking areas. The towns along the trail benefit, as it gives access to those who want it. It offers through riders a chance to stop for the night and buy a meal or a jug of water etc. I’m all for these trails, and take advantage of them when I have access to them. I hope more states get interested in creating these wonderful scenic trails for everyone to use.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alene runs for over 70 miles from Plummer at the west end, to Mullan on the east end. It follows the snaking Coeur d’Alene river for this distance, making it a very scenic trail indeed. The trail itself is about 8 to 10 feet wide, with new asphalt for the surface. It’s relatively flat, with very gradual ups and downs as it follows the old railroad grade. Along the way they have trailside benches and toilets about every 3 miles. These make great rest stops and a place to learn more about the land you are riding through.
On my first ride, I simply got on the trail in Kellogg and rode east for five miles before turning around and retracing my route. The trail follows the freeway through this section, and the roar of the highway was too much for me. I wanted peace and quiet as I rode, a chance to hear the rushing river, and the hypnotic hum of my wheels on the trail. I looked at the trail map, and planned a good 10 mile ride for the next day; away from the highway and through hopefully more scenic territory.
The next day, the sun was shining bright and the temperature had worked it’s way up into the upper 40’s (Fahrenheit). It was a beautiful day for a ride in the unexpected warmth. I was carefree; happy to be pedaling my bike on such a fine day as this. Heading west from the Enaville trailhead I stopped to watch horses in an adjacent pasture. They seemed to like the warmth as much as I did, as they foraged in the grasses for an afternoon snack. I stopped at the Backwater Bay picnic area, and sat down in the sunshine, resting my back against a big old red pine. I watched a common golden eye through my binoculars dive under the water for its lunch. It didn’t trust me though, and paddled away to find some peace. I didn’t care, I was happy where I was at. What a place! I was in the warm sun, sitting on a river bank, caressed by soft breezes with a complacent river rolling by. I felt like Huck Finn.
I began seeing a couple of walkers out enjoying the sunshine, and I wished everyone I saw a “Happy first day of spring.” Everyone would laugh or smile, and agree with me that it was a good day to be outside. Crossing the river on a long bridge, I saw a lone fisherman on the bank playing hooky (get it?) from work. I can’t blame him, I’d do the same thing. There are some days that should be free from work and responsibility, to enjoy as you see fit. That day was yesterday, and I’m sorry if you didn’t get the memo. Don’t worry, there will be other days. You’ll know the day has come when you walk outside your door in the morning feeling the warm sun and the inhaling the smell of spring. You’ll realize that today, is not a day to go to work; It’s a day to play outside.
I passed under the freeway in Cataldo, which in my original plan was going to be my turnaround point. Since it was such a great day, and I was still full of vim and vigor, it was an easy decision to turn my 10 mile ride into a 20 mile ride. Onward I went, past the rushing Ladour Creek. Its gravel bottom is a spawning ground for native cut throat trout. I stopped to listen to the river and watched some chickadees gossip and forage around in the trees. I was going to stop for lunch at the River Bend picnic area, but when I got there, a little river tug was moving a barge up the river and was making a terrific racket. I wanted to eat in peace, much like the golden eye. I biked on.
It was about this time that I noticed two things: First, was that my rear wheel was soft, making me work a lot harder than I needed to. I didn’t think it would go flat, but I couldn’t coast as far as I normally could. Secondly, I saw that the river had formed a perfect mirror. I stopped and quickly became enamored with the scene. On the far bank the trees had grown right next to the river on top of the bank. The trees were separated by grasslands, and were spaced about every 75 to 100 feet along. Behind the trees was pasture that led to a pine covered hillside. All of it was sharply reflected in the river. The sky was blue with little puffy passing clouds. It was a beautiful place to stop and admire the river. I took some pictures and finally had my lunch: a big juicy, perfectly ripe Sunkist orange, and a bunch of peanuts. I slurped ice cold water from my bottle to quench my thirst. This is a good time of year, as the oranges are finally ripe.
After my lunch, I moved on, becoming aware of the fact that I was getting tired. I was torn between wanting to see what was happening along the next mile, and the realization that every pedal west was one that I would have to retrace back east. I finally stopped at the old ghost town of Dudley. There’s not much left to it, but at one time held 300 citizens and was an important river town. The river in this area is deep and slow, so people barged there goods upriver instead of overland. Now the town is just a memory, and you wouldn’t even guess that there once was a town there.

I turned around and began the long slog back, very much aware that my back tire was soft. It seemed like the trail was mostly uphill, and it was cooling off in the shadows. I shivered with the chill, my sweat beginning to cool rapidly. My spring had sprung, and all that was left was the cold work of pedaling 11 miles back to the van. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the ride, but I was tired, cold, hungry and ready to be done. I found more pretty views of the river. I stopped when I happened upon a young red pine a lit up by the strong setting sun. It gave me a chance to rest, and drink some water. Another good reason to take pictures: more breaks.
I made it back to the van some 5 hours after I started. I had biked 22 miles, and was feeling it; my thighs were sore, my butt was sore. I was starving and cold, but I knew that I held the cure in my hand. A steering wheel that brought me home to a hot shower, a big bowl full of hot delicious chili, and the satisfaction of a day well seized.

I called up a prospective barber the other morning and asked him if he was open today. “Nah, I just came in to answer the phone.” I knew I had found my guy. Chuckling, I motored west to Pinehurst and the Pines Barber Shop. Upon entering, I was greeted by a life size cardboard John Wayne. I was impressed, as I had made a gift of the same cutout to my buddy Curly some years ago. The shop was a small one room barber shop (as most are), other pictures of cowboy John Wayne were festooned everywhere on the walls. Country music was playing softly in the background. I sat down on the couch in between two old men. In fact everyone in the room was over 50, except me (a good sign). The guy in the corner was a curmudgeon. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, it adds to a good barber shop atmosphere. He sat with his arms crossed, and after a bit started complaining about wolves, democrats, global warming, stop signs, and modern country music. After every complaint the old guy on my left would say his piece: “Heh, heh, heh.” I tell you it was a good ambiance. Smiling to myself, I read the paper while waiting for my turn.

I waited for the three guys ahead of me to finish, then it was my turn. The barber asked me what I wanted, and I said I’d like a “regular haircut.” Everybody has a different version of what a “regular haircut” is, and the results can be very different. It’s part of the fun, to see what you end up with.

During my travels, I enjoy getting haircuts from old barbers from different parts of the country. Barber shops are a great stop for the traveller, it’s a way of getting a temporary souvenir and a good source of finding out what is going on in the local area. You might hear what’s new, a good joke, what the weather is going to do, and get a haircut besides. You might meet a character or two bantering back and forth at one another. I recommend the practice.

As a man, there is something proper about visiting a good barber shop. It’s a masculine place, women are rarely seen. It’s really a refuge from women, and a magnet for old men to congregate. I like it. It’s a good place to go, to sit quietly and enjoy the company of old men.

The following is an unofficial guide to a good barber shop. The décor should be decidedly manly. Pictures of cowboys, old classic cars, and guns are the norm. The barber should have a proper barber’s chair. Old, worn and comfortable leather makes a good seat. A good barber shop should be playing old music, doesn’t matter what kind, so long as it’s older than 1980. The reading material is also a good indication. Sports, Car, and Hunting/Fishing magazines and the local newspaper should be on the table. No reputable barber will be open on a Monday. I don’t know why this is, but if you see a barber open on a Monday, don’t waste your time. A good barber will hit you with a dose of talcum powder when he’s finished to abate the itchiness. If he’s really good, he’ll lather you up, and use a straight razor to get at the ear hair, the neckline, and to straighten your side burns.
My haircut was quite enjoyable. I usually let my hair get long and shaggy before I decide it’s time to visit the barber. I lost about 3 pounds in hair, and my head felt lighter. I always feel good when I get my hair cut, It’s a small self improvement technique, that goes a long way. It’s like giving your car a vacuuming and a car wash, you feel good about yourself. When he was done, I paid and thanked him. I left him a decent tip. I can highly recommend the Pines Barbershop in Pinehurst, Idaho.

Posted by Rhombus 12:15 Archived in USA Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

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