Biding my time

It’s 9:00 am, Sunday morning. I’ve been up since a little after four, grading art history essays; the bank of windows that line my wall next to me have gradually changed from a densely black night through the various colors and values of a rosy dawn. And now the day beyond the glass looks marvelous. The sky is blue with only a few wisps of cloud. Nary a branch moves; there is not a hint of wind. A quick check of the internet informs me that the outside temps are hovering – for the moment – just below freezing.

I’ve set aside my rubrics and finished reading art history essays, and I could easily layer up and hit the road, but I linger. There’s no question I will get in a few hours of saddle time today. The question is when.

Do you ever do this? Bide your time until the “optimal” conditions present themselves? Well, I certainly have done…and from time to time it bites me in the ass to do so. Not so many weeks back the January weather promised a late afternoon window of opportunity. The morning had been freezing drizzle and the evening looked equally forbidding. But that afternoon of promise was forecast to be a small slice of heaven.

So I waited, and bide my time. The morning drizzle never appeared. In fact, the temps weren’t at all as miserable as the published forecast. Still, I knew that the afternoon would be terrific, so my bike continued to lean against the wall. The morning passed by, and as mid-day turned to afternoon, and the sky began to turn gray, so too did my mood. Rechecking the online forecast, I was shocked to see that the world had turned upside down. Instead of an incredible afternoon, conditions were only going to get worse. The morning freezing drizzle arrived late and by the time I realized what I’d missed the road was glazing over with ice.

I see that this afternoon promises to be in the upper forties. I could bide my time and wait for things to improve, but I can already hear a bird chirping outside my window. Squirrels are racing up and down one of the huge cottonwoods. And I think I’ll take what I’ve got right now.

Exploring New Roads

Chancing upon a gravel road, I pedaled that path to see where it led, round tight corners bordering Missouri River bluffs and through farmlands pretty and cozy and nestled and hidden. Between fields I rode, flanked by ponds and streams; horses, livestock, and waterfowl were my neighbors, and one cowboy rehearsing with a lariat, a young steer his understudy. Up and over very steep hills, I climbed and panted; my breathing at times labored as my wheels reached each summit. And yet the November air brought forth a growing chill in the waning afternoon light.

Tweed Ride 2016

5 October, 2016. This year’s Tweed Ride was fun, but just a wee bit disappointing. Why? Well, I sure wish there had been more vintage bikes on hand – other than my own, of course. Modern bikes and dress up. Hmmm.

I do look forward to this event though. It’s fun to get out and ride one of my vintage bikes, get all duded up in something resembling period attire, and join a group of others of similar mind. This annual ride is sort of turning into a hip, fashiony event. But still cool. Folks are out on bikes, enjoying themselves and the day.

My bike of choice today was a 1946 Hobbs of Barbican. It’s a fixed wheel time trial bike. Staying true to the form of the time I was dressed head to toe in black as British time trialists would have done in the 30’s and 40’s. (An alpaca jacket would have been required – which I don’t have. Fortunately, it was a warm day so no harm, no foul.)

I arrived early, hoping to get in some sketching. Unfortunately, I found out the damn ink was running low in my pen.

Well crap. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook; Kansas City, Missouri.)

Rambling.

It’s Autumn, which means it’s time for a bit of rambling. Appropriate, I guess, because this post will pretty much be nothing but rambling.

The leaves are turning and the weather, albeit mighty slow in coming, is turning toward the colder months. One would hardly be aware of it though, the days being as nice as they are. A few have been more appropriately seasonal and I’ve gotten to wear long sleeves as I crunch through fallen leaves that are beginning to blanket the less traveled roads. But for the moment I’m mostly togged out in shorts and a t-shirt, nearly ideal riding wear for the girth-challenged road tire bikes I’ve come to prefer.

To say the least, my rides have been enjoyable. It’s frightening how quickly the passage of time takes place. It seems like just last week I was hitting the just melted off streets for a quick Spring outing. Summer, and the subsequent months of classes is now a blur; I realize nearly all of my riding has been solitary during that time.

Welcome, indeed, have been the recent overtures to get out and enjoy these days in good company. More than one friend has wheeled up to the house and it’s with glad heart I’ve accompanied them down the lane for a pleasant hour or two.

The herd of bikes and frames that line the ceiling of my studio has slowly dwindled. I’m reaching a point where it’s become extremely difficult to decide which stays and which goes. With mixed feelings, I passed along the Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier most recently. And with a certainty, the next to go will be one of the racier frame sets that, with equal certainty, likely enough won’t put rubber to road more than once a year.

I’ve deliberated between building the sharp looking Katakura Silk back up, or finding a new home for it. With the Cycles Toussaint gone, I’ve decided the Silk will go back to 650b so that I have a bike to fit that niche.

That build has been moving at a purposely slow pace. I want to savor the mechanical nature of the build up. I enjoy working with my hands, making things. Spending most of my time teaching drawing and painting these past eight weeks, rather than doing any drawing myself means looking for a creative surrogate. The build satisfies some of that urge.

A few weeks ago I was asked to complete a survey and offered a substantial gift card for my carefully considered opinions. I promptly forgot about that until it arrived in the mail last week. Ever since my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican arrived in the studio I had envisioned it with Lauterwasser bars. Gift card in hand, I ordered a reproduction pair from Soma and installed them over the weekend.

I recall reading somewhere that these are very comfortable handlebars. Frankly, I was dubious. I briefly had a pair of mustache bars and found them to be simply awful. The resemblance to Lauterwasser bars left me in doubt. But hey! The gift card meant I could get a pair with no real cost to me. I figured I had little to lose.  And after a few rides Sunday and Monday, I can say with certainty that they are indeed surprisingly comfortable.

Meanwhile, the other wish list item for this bike has been an appropriate cottered crank set. One of the terrific members of BikeForums reached out to me this weekend with an offer of a Williams that would fit the bill quite nicely. Yes, this bike has turned into a money pit, but it’s such a joy to ride a seventy-year old time trial bike. The ride quality is excellent. And how do you put a price on that sort of experience?

Beautiful weather

Oh my gosh, what a beautiful afternoon – both last weekend and this – especially for the middle of February! Last Monday was President’s Day so no school that day either, which made it a perfect opportunity to head out for a couple of hours of bike sketching.

I really enjoy inking trees and limbs entirely freehand, without the safety net of penciled construction lines. Ambling along on the bike trails that roughly trace the forested Eastern shorelines of Smithville Lake, my greatest difficulty was simply choosing which trees to draw. It seemed like every bend I’d ride around would yield an abundance of subject matter! I finally stopped to sit and watch for eagles at the end of a particularly pleasant point on the lake. I’d spotted a single bald eagle less than five minutes after heading down the first path, but there were no more to be seen after that. I satisfied myself by using my break to sketch out this gnarly tree, then hopped on my bike and continued on my merry way.


Despite a week of unreasonably and unseasonably wonderful weather, it seemed as though the following days left me with limited time to enjoy the roads. Too much to do, too many meetings, too many interviews, just too much, way too much. Saturday couldn’t arrive soon enough. And with an afternoon in the mid-70’s, I was off!

I’d like to have called this a JRA outing, but the truth is that I had a goal and destination in mind. Although I stopped to briefly sketch the city-wide wine tasting taking place on the town square, I wanted to head out of town on one of my well traveled routes, take in some hills and get in some mileage that I’ve been missing these past wintery months.

It didn’t take long to realize the trainer hasn’t done enough to keep my legs in the same shape they were last September. Hills seemed longer, gears seemed higher, and my legs got rubbery far too soon. Blast it all! Not a moment too soon, I found myself enjoying the flat miles of the river bottom farmlands. For a while I managed to simply pedal and ponder, lose myself in the moment and place. And that, after all, is the true value of these rides.


Today, the temps are beginning to drop. The weatherman forecasts a return to something close to the norms, although his predictions still sound better than I remember February being. The winds picked up today, but I was itching to get back out again and wanting to do some shorter mileage on my fixed wheel bike. I enjoy the fact that fixed wheel keeps me churning the entire time I’m out. The problem, of course, was that my legs are out of condition, the winds were a bit harsh and gusty, and my legs are out of condition. Also, my legs are out of condition. The hills seemed even longer and steeper today than they did yesterday riding my geared bike. One fixed gear felt ponderous, so my outing turned out to be painfully short. Instead of riding into the wind I made a quick sketch of my fixed wheel 1946 Hobbs of Barbican.

The good news for me is that the days are perceptively longer, the weather grows more reasonably with each passing day, and soon enough I’ll be back out on the roads every afternoon and morning. The hills will get shorter. The miles, too.

And the outings will get longer, and that’s just fine by me.

 

 

My refuge…

The final semester assignment for my Drawing students is a self portrait in charcoal and chalk that illustrates the theme of “Where’s my refuge?” As usual, I draw along with my students so I can model the kind of decision-making that artists engage in through the development of an artwork. To exemplify the theme, as it applied to me, well of course I would illustrate my refuge astride a bicycle, wind in my hair, sprinting along a lonely road a million miles from anywhere.

For the past couple of months my riding has been pretty limited. School seems to have kept me busier than usual. More worrisome than that, some sort of weird knee issue has emerged. I’ve been an especially strong climber this year, so suddenly finding myself with minimal saddle time, and scared to test the knee to much with climbing has left me a grumbly old fart. The few miles I’ve put in have been almost entirely flat and residential. Ugh.

My knee has felt very tentative during each ride. Walking up stairs has felt very tentative too. So I was overjoyed this cool, overcast December evening to pedal out of my driveway, both my knees and legs feeling strong. Zooming down the first hill was exhilarating, the brisk air harnessed more than a few tears, the moisture slid around the side of my face and quickly dried, leaving salty tracks in the wake. My first climb was a short one, but I did it sitting, as is my wont. In fact, the thing I’ve missed most has been seated climbing: I really don’t care to stand. Strong pedal strokes through town, and then up a longer hill, and another, and then finally the long climb back up to my house. The ride was relatively short – why tempt fate too much? It was probably a good idea using the past several weeks to rest whatever has been ailing me, and it is probably a good idea not to push too hard for a while longer, but it sure feels good to be back in my refuge, if only in short bursts.

…and then it began to rain.

I’m nursing a bum knee at the moment. I’ve no idea what’s wrong or what I did, but things feel all wonky on my downstroke – especially on climbs. So I’ve been taking it easy, avoiding the temptation to overstress the joint and haul it, full tilt boogey.

The thing is, I’m antsy and want to open it up. Y’know, and haul it, full tilt boogey. 

Despite these inclinations to do the wrong thing, I’ve managed to avoid mucking things up further, let my knee and all of the attachments rest, and spin for short periods of time over pretty flat territory. The situation has me in a funk; I crave some real exercise.


 

So, no school yesterday, no one else at home – I’m free. Fat, cushy, supple tires; bum knee; crunchy leaves; overcast sky; cool weather with a brisk wind coming off the lake; leisurely pace; no particular destination in mind. Just about perfect.

This is the kind of day, the kind of path, the kind of riding I built this bike up for. My bike kit is a pair of well worn jeans with velcro ankle clips, a pair of hiking shoes, a gray sweat shirt. The path is very mildly rolling and the surface incredibly uneven. I’m in no hurry, stopping along the way to take photographs as the color, the texture, the muse strikes me.

Squirrels suicidally breach the path, scurrying through brown leaves, scooting past my front tire, chattering in alarm. I’m sure they have something nasty to say about my intrusion. A small group of deer look up, startled as I come round a bend. Slowly, but deliberately, the trio moves off deeper into the trees and then disappear, camouflaged by the underbrush. Birds seem to be as busy as the legions of squirrels, flitting from branch to branch. I wonder if they are preparing to leave for the season? Or just steadying themselves for the looming change?

The sky is overcast, the light is flat, but the day is not gloomy. In fact, far from it. I love these kind of conditions.

I remember the days when I would carry a backpack of photography gear with me, earnestly hoping to make The Great American Image, the iconic and defining photograph of our landscape. These days I carry an iPhone and it’s so much more liberating.

Stop. Compose. Tap the screen. Reposition. Recompose. Tap. Ride onward.

The ride is short. It’s decidedly flat. And I’m not in the least bit tired, at no point am I winded. But my knee warns me not to push things to far, too hard. Dammit. Time to stop and paint for a while.

I’ve carried my sketch kit with me for years, purposely planning my cycling journeys to allow ample opportunity to stop along the way and draw. I’ve even named these outings, referring to this as “bike sketching.” Is that preposterous? Pretentious? Feeling the need to name such a natural extension of my JRA outings? (Oh yeah, I just realized that I acted in similar fashion by giving a title to my leisurely cycling: “JRA.” Just Riding Around.)

Lately, I’ve been painting en plein air in oils again. I figure I’ve been away from oils for close to a decade, the solvents and toxic heavy metals (like cadmium and cobalt) having weighed heavily on my mind. Not long ago I began to experiment with oils that clean up without solvents and are free of toxins. It’s a lot like rediscovering an old friend, and I’ve been carrying my field kit in the back of the car with me.

My ride is a loop, timed to bring me back round to the car just as my knee begins to twinge. Yes, time to stop and paint for a while.

My hands are cold. I’m still getting my chops back with oils and bristle brushes. I have to think deliberately about placing colors, cleaning the brush after each stroke, mixing and matching – which is functionally quite a different process than with the watercolor media in which I’ve been immersed over the past decade. At some point it will all come back to me, to be a natural set of motions – you know: just like riding a bike, as the adage has it.

As I lost myself in painting, I thought to myself that I’m still pretty fast at laying in shapes and colors and values, even if my brush strokes for the moment feel a bit too deliberate. I allowed myself a moment to yearn for those fluid strokes, but also knew that I can be patient, wait, and they will return. Perhaps doing so will ease this parallel wait for my knee to heal.

Yes, my hands were cold and stiff. The wind began to pick up, and I had to chase down a suddenly mobile paint-drenched paper towel. A mist was in the air and tiny water droplets began to appear on top of the oil paint.

Moments later it began to rain, and all was well in the world.