Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Affordable Chic and Yesterday's Trip Home

Because I am not feeling the recovery, and fully anticipate a salary cut due to the lack of a recovery, I am all about recessionary chic - which the careful shopper can find at Target! I must admit, that I don't find as much at the Flagstaff Target as I do in the Phoenix or Louisville Targets but those are larger cities that cater to a more diverse market, I suspect. Happily, I know what I like and have the patience to wait and hunt for the objects of my desire until I find them. In this case, I am referring to little cardigans of the variety favored by First Lady Michelle Obama. No matter what you think of her husband's BFF Timothy Geitner (and in my case that would be "not that much"), Mrs. O is superb in every way imaginable including all that she has done to make it easier for me to find little cardigans that fall just between the waist and the hip. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. O. I am convinced she could do a lot for bike commuting if it hit her radar.

Anyhoo, I found these lovely, classic, cable knit cardigans pictured above at Target this weekend for $22 each in a several colors. The sleeves are 3/4 length, the very best length for me. The cut is straight and hangs beautifully. After a day's wear it still doesn't look rumpled or stretched out in any way. The weight is light without being flimsy. I tried on several print cardigan sweaters as well, but found their cut and construction to be inferior. At $22 each, I plan to return to Target to pick up more colors of this affordable and timeless sweater, which in Flagstaff's cooler climate will be a year-round staple. Won't they be just perfect with the Breezer Uptown 8? That is the question, isn't it. Will my clothes go with my bicycle?

Moving right along . . . .

. . . yesterday I met my goal of skiing to work. The snow was compacted and slick enough to make it a very enjoyable experience, even in the areas in which I had to cut my own trail. Although I could have skied straight from the airport to my neighborhood I decided to take a detour into the clearing in the national forest behind the FedEx building. For Phoenix residents who want quick, inexpensive access to cross country skiing, one could easily take US Air up to Flag for the day, walk across the street into the national forest, ski break for lunch at the Pine Mountain Cafe, ski some more and take the late afternoon flight home.

Anyway, it was a fun trip home that didn't involve a combustion engine and left me thoroughly satisfied upon my return home. Moral of the story: when the bike is impractical due to road condition, skis might be the solution. I will be doing this again. Unfortunately, skiing in will not work for me as I would be too unpresentable for work and there isn't a shower in the terminal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cabin Fever and a Break in the Weather

With the snowplows working overtime, our street was fairly passable so after a breakfast of homemade chocolate chip cookies (I baked late last night at the Planner Guy's request) we headed to the gym for a work out. Running outside or biking were both out of the question unless we wanted to simply take our life in our hands. The roads were covered with slush and ice and were very narrow due to the snow banks on either side of the road.

Walking on the side of busy Beulah Boulevard looked pretty dangerous to me, especially as many of the cars were traveling faster than appropriate for the conditions.

Sidewalks on commercial street appeared to be the holding ground for plowed snow so pedestrians had little choice but to either walk in the street or climb over the snowbank - and considering that many snowbanks were up to 5 feet high, I wouldn't advise doing so without snow shoes and gaiters.

I didn't see a single cyclist on the road on route to or from the gym. With the amount of snow we experienced and more possibly on the way next week, I don't expect to be on my bike in quite some time. Luckily, I have skis to distract me.

After returning from the gym in the late morning, Bob suggested we relax with a fire and Netflicks for a few hours before heading to a trail head to the Coconino National Forest, just across the street from our neighborhood. Excellent idea, and at 4:30 we walked through the tunnel-like sidewalks to cross at Pulliam, which was still quite treacherous with snow. Soon we were sidestepping in our skis up a snowbank to start down the trail and into the snow covered woods, which resembled a whipped cream forest. Utterly beautiful.

We were pleased to find another skier had already cut a trail in the deep snow, making a journey a bit less taxing. We could easily glide over and focus our attention on the arctic beauty around us.

A snow covered clearing and dramatic skyscape.

A gentle uphill trek.

The airport beacon station or, as my husband often suggests, a beacon for the mothership.

Almost like being in Candyland.

Darkness began to descend upon us as we headed home but I could see the bright snow brought to mind the possibility of night skiing with friends followed by wine and cheese in the near future.

Tomorrow I anticipate sunny skies and I intend to cut a path to and from work. Why drive when I can ski?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Snow-acopalypse: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Flagstaff has made the headlines. We've been on CNN and The Weather Channel. Family members have called to check on our condition. Once it's packed down the skiing will be good and the Arizona sun will eventually clear the streets for pedaling. Really, this just seems a bit excessive . . . .

My husband clearing the driveway. An obsessive runner, training for his first Ironman, Bob documents his solution to training through a monster snowstorm in The Running Bob. Check it out. It's humorous but instructive.

Meantime, I am going to wait out the weather with hot tea, Scrabble, and bike commuting blogs originating from less meteorlogicically challenged realms.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Great Bike Weather Minus Great Bike Infrastructure

We're back in the Raleigh-Durham area after celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary down in South Carolina. My sister Alison lives with her family in Cary, NC, a Raleigh bedroom community, and we are staying with them. Cary has a charming little downtown with some surrounding older residential street but is largely made of of suburban style neighborhoods with little in the way of connectedness - many deadend streets and cul de sacs, which lead to nowhere. A greenway allows for some measure of walkability and bikeability but it seems mostly regulated to recreation rather than an alternate method of getting somewhere. The main roads are very wide and given to speeding cars. I haven't noticed much in the way of bike commuting.

This morning Alison, her daughters and I went to Durham, home of Duke, the Harvard of the south, for breakfast at Elmo's (home of some really awesome pumpkin pancakes, BTW)and then to take a peek in Zola's a gallery that seems to stock mostly local and regional arts and crafts. Despite mild temperatures and sunny weather, few people seemed to be taking advantage of a great opportunity to bike commute, although we did see numerous bike locked to sign posts and the few bike racks. I didn't see many, if any bike lanes but the 9th Street neighborhood would be an ideal place to install some as a learning tool given its mix of residential, cafes, bars, restaurants and eclectic gallery and retail space. I'd be much more likely to stop and investigate an interesting looking establishment on my bike than in my car in which I'd need to search for a parking space.

I'm not sure what to call this three wheeled contraption. It's not really a trike . . .

I thought the bike locked up in front of Zola's presented a perfect picture. We spent about 40 minutes shopping at Zola's, where I picked up some wind chimes to enjoy on our front porch during warmer weather. These aluminum water bottles caught my eye, as well.

Other items of interest at Zola's.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Simple Life Essential

The Planner Guy and I traveled to the Carolinas late last week for my parents' 50th anniversary. Gathered in Greenville, South Carolina for the celebration were my two sisters, the husbands and boyfriend, and grandchildren. Fifty years represents an enormous commitment to each other and the family they created and we were all proud to be sharing a meal together in one room for the first time in over 3 years. A primary theme of this blog is the pursuit of the simple life; that is, those things of meaning and deeper value on which one cannot put a price tag. Despite the physical distance between us all, I hope it does not take another major milestone to bring us all together.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Follow Through Sunday

It's easy to say "I'm gonna do this" and "I want to do that" but often I don't pony up with action. Challenged by Bob to actually follow through with good intentions, I pulled out the skis on Sunday morning and explored possible cross country routes to and from work. I really have no excuse not to; relatively flat open space on both sides of Pulliam goes nearly from my front door to the airport entrance and it's less than a mile.

As the Planner Guy had to buy some new tires for the Element, I decided to do the route mapping on my own. Getting out by myself would allow me to practice descending and climbing hill without feeling self-conscious that I was slowing my more experienced husband and our friends up and I could fall and struggle to pull myself up without feeling humiliated.

I spent 3 hours skiing by myself, only occasionally chatting with dog walkers, one of whom offered me suggestions on areas for good skiing in and around the airport. The practice left me feeling much more confident, having successfully descended several long but gentle slopes without falling or feeling all a-panic. My conclusion, as I removed my skis in front of the entrance of my neighborhood, was that I would likely arrive at work too sweaty to ski in, but that I could easily carry my skis and poles with me in the Element when Bob drops me off in the morning and ski out at the end of the day. Since I can often flex my hours to leave work at 4 or 4:30p.m., I'll have extra time to enjoy one of the longer routes rather than going straight home.

I'm excited about my discovery. Just because weather conditions inhibit bike commuting doesn't mean I need to break my resolve and become a slave to the car. I live in a community where it snows and I'm surrounded by forest. We might be in a severe recession (regardless of what Larry Summers tells us) but I have the good fortune of being in a community with snow. I might not be able to afford Aspen or Vail but I can cope with economic insecurity by taking advantage of what is right in my own backyard. The Coconino National Forest. Luckily for me, my boss is an avid skier and in full support of my new found enthusiasm for skiing as a form or transport.

On a happy bike-note, after two days in a row that required the car, I rode the Breezer to and from work today. Nice ride and just in time, too. A weather bulletin was sent to us today with notification of a series of snow storms next week with the potential of dropping 3 - 4 feet of snow by the time it all ends. Luckily for me, I have alternatives to both the car and my bike.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Solo Saturday Pedal and Observations

I've been sifting through the other bike commuting blogs learning what I can from the experience of others who pedal through and over snow and ice. But really direct experience is always the best teacher.

Last Saturday at the Flagstaff Athletic Club, while doing a lower back extensions for the purpose of strengthening my "core", I pulled a muscle in my lower back. Son-of-a-bitch! I wasn't doubled over in pain but knew I'd need to act fast in order to prevent cramping and immobility from setting in. I hobbled as swiftly as I could to the front desk and asked for an ice bag, which I put just inside the band of my skort. Movement being key, I climbed on to the treadmill for 30 minutes, proud that I wasn't wallowing in self-pity but irritated that my plan to bike to work this week would be delayed. After a week of ice alternating with heat, stretches, the treadmill and the TENS unit I felt confident enough to venture out on the mostly clear streets and urban trail at mid-day. The temperatures had climbed into the mid-40's my 1:30 and the sky, as usual for Arizona was sunny. A perfect day for being on the bike with only a few easily removed layers.

Since my Breezer lacks studded tires and I initially worried about getting over the areas where the trail was still covered. Luckily, the walkers and mountain bikers had fairly well in the last two weeks compacted the snow so that I never got stuck. Knobbier tires doubtlessly would have negotiated the rutty snow covered places better than the smoother Breezer tires but I quickly learned that the trick to successfully pedaling over the snow and ice is the slow down slightly before entering the icy sections and keep pedaling. The few times that I slipped and slided I had neglected to pedal but was able to quickly recover. Occasionally, I came across a serious snow covered decline in the path and elected to walk my bike down, as I am still protective of reinjuring my back.

When I go out on my bike I like to have a purpose and destination. Today's was to purchase good bread and cheese for a night by the fire with my husband and Season 2 of Lost. Bob never got drawn into Lost and I let it fall off my radar after we moved to Flagstaff so while he gets up to speed for the new season, I am taking a refresher course before I pick back up at the tail end of Season 4. Anyway, back to bread and cheese, there is no mode of transportation more appropriate for fetching bread and cheese than a really elegant bike. The Workcycles Oma would probably be the optimal choice but since I do not (yet) own an Oma the Breezer Uptown 8 is more than a suitable substitute. (Quite frankly, the Breezer is probably the bike of choice if picking up a California wine, so I don't mean to imply that one bike is better than the other . . .)

I decided to run my the new Sawmill development where the Wildflower Bread Company was having a grand opening party and buy a loaf or two of whatever they had. I arrived just before things wound down so the staff gave me a complimentary loaf of Ciabatta. Oh, goody. We're already starting off our relationship on a good note.

Leaving the store, I couldn't help notice how attractive and appropriate to a mountain tourist oriented community was the architecture. The metal patinaed siding, stone and stained wood reminded me of what I saw in Teluride/Mountain Village in Colorado. Flagstaff could use more of that to pretty it up. Like many development projects that got started just prior to the economic meltdown, Sawmill has stalled out. Too bad; I hope it gets back on it's feet somehow because it definitely is a bike and pedestrian friendly plan. Certainly, bicyclists and walkers count among the customers of New Frontiers Natural Food Store, the first business to open at Sawmill. I entered the grocery store for cheese and more bread (you can never have too much) and could see I wasn't the only person to travel there on a bike. But of course the full bike rack easily gave that fact away before I even stepped inside.

I found my bread, cheese and a jar of fig spread and hit the road. I decided to take the long way round in order to visit the shipping container house. Since transferring to the airport I hadn't been able to follow the progress of the house and wondered if the snow had brought work to a halt. Au contraire. Work proceeds. The exterior has been painted a green patina shade and it appeared some interior work had been done in preparation for insulating the structure.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thinking and Doing

What I've been thinking about? Warmer weather and streets and bike paths free of snow and ice. The Workcycles Oma . . . and how I'd pay for it. Why do I do this to myself?

What I've been doing. Coping with the snow and ice that is preventing bike commuting but learning to ski. Our friend David invited us out to his new homestead in Mountainaire for an afternoon of cross country skiing. My third ski adventure at learning to glide. My lack of physical coordination lead to some falls going down the few hills but I'm still learning. Dottie from Let's Go Ride a Bike suggested that I ski into work since biking is a more limited option. Given the considerable open green space between my house and the airport, the idea is not out of the question. I snowshoes out of work on Thursday afternoon. Why not ski?