Monthly Archives: March 2010

Kami’s snappies

“A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.”
Eudora Welty, American short story writer and novelist, 1909-2001


Fellow cross-country cyclist Kami Kitchen has rambled to the far side of the world and back since we rode together last fall from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. So she was a bit late in organizing and sharing her photos.
I’ve already posted on this blog several batches of photographs shot by myself and other riders on the trek. With your forebearance, I’ll post a few more from among the hundreds that Kami shot.
Most of the photos include myself. Others were included to give some idea of the varied terrain encountered during a bicycle ride across the United States.
I particularly like the photo that shows three of our riders as tiny specks on a landscape of rolling range land and majestic mountains in southern New Mexico. I like it so much, in fact, that I’m using it for a time as the “header” photo on this blog.
Kami has posted her full album of photos from the cross-country ride on Facebook, and I, in turn, also posted them on my Facebook Profile page.
Ahhh, as I sit at a computer on a beautiful spring day in Fort Worth — and as those magical moments of last fall slip away — I can’t help but wish I were back on my bike riding across a continent.

At Ocean Beach in San Diego at the start of the ride. From left: Cathy Blondeau, Derrik Maude, Jim Peipert and Gerben Terpstra

Carbo-loading with John Vandevelde (left)

Reg Prentice snaps a photo in California's Imperial Dunes

At Emory Pass, the literal high point of the ride, with Kami Kitchen and Cathy Blondeau

Rolling ranchland east of Emory Pass in southern New Mexico

Celebrating the halfway point of the ride at Guenther's Creekside Grill in the aptly named town of Comfort in the Texas Hill Country

Kami in high cotton somewhere in the Deep South

The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail in the Florida Panhandle

A fit of silliness at the end of the ride in St. Augustine, Fla.

More silliness at the beach in St. Augustine


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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys, Travels

Cowtown’s cycling scene

“They say 60 is the new 40; this is one way to make sure of it.”
— Fort Worth cyclist Betsy Price

Fort Worth’s quickly evolving bicycle culture gets a nice bit of recognition in 360West, a slick, upscale magazine that focuses on Tarrant County.
The April issue of the magazine — which covers the half of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex west of Texas 360 — has three pieces on cycling in and around Fort Worth under the label “Passions.”
One, headlined “The Builder,” is about Jeremy Shlachter, a friend and neighbor who founded Gallus Cycles in January 2009 and makes custom bikes in his small workshop on Fort Worth’s south side. (I’ve written several times in this blog about Jeremy: “The debut of the Gallus,” May 12; “Debut of the Gallus: Part II,” May 14; and “Debut of the Gallus: Part III, June 4.)

Jeremy Shlachter on one of his hand-built bikes

Another piece, headlined “The Believers,” focuses on cycling advocate and bike shop owner Bernie Scheffler, who will soon open a shop just south of downtown to cater to bicycle commuters. (This will be the subject of a future post.)
The third story, “The Roll Model,” is about one of the city’s most prominent cyclists, Betsy Price, who is tax assessor-collector for Tarrant County.
Price, who commutes to work by bicycle, has been a high-profile advocate of an ambitious plan to make Fort Worth one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation within the next five years. (See Feb. 10 post, From Cowtown to BikeTown?)
The city’s “comprehensive bicycle transportation plan,” approved by the City Council Feb. 9, aims to “attain official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community through the League of American Cyclists” by 2015.

Bernie Scheffler

Called “Bike Fort Worth,” the plan also calls for expansion of the bike transportation network to nearly 1,000 miles, including off-street trails, dedicated on-street bike lanes and shared-roadway bike routes.
“The city is stepping up and has realized that to encourage growth they need to support different kinds of transportation,” 360West quoted Shlachter as saying.
“Fort Worth has always had kind of a strong racing scene, but the commute bike scene is kind of a new thing. I still don’t think it’s where it should be, but it’s definitely a lot better than it’s been.”


Filed under Cool stuff, Texana, Urban cycling

Dictating to the Dragon

I’ve been experimenting with an application for my iPhone that could be of great help to anyone keeping a blog on the road, as I did last fall on a bicycle ride across the United States.
Son Thomas in Denver, an iPhone user and gadget maven, alerted me to the app “Dragon Dictation,” developed by Nuance.
Once you’ve downloaded and launched the free application, you tap the red dot on the screen and begin speaking — the more distinctly the better.
The app turns the spoken words into a text file, which can then be sent to e-mail, text message, or clipboard — or transferred to another application, such as “Notes.” I e-mailed part of the draft for this blog post to myself, picked up the text and pasted into my blog file.
Even if you enunciate clearly, the text file probably will require some clean-up — usually of punctuation and misspelled words not clearly understood.
I wish I had taken an iPhone, with Dragon Dictation, on my cross-country bike trip. It would have made blogging much easier.
Instead of scribbling into a notebook to recall sights and encounters along the road, I could have dictated into the iPhone and transferred the text files into the blog at the end of the day. After a little editing, the blog post would have been mostly finished.
To me this technology is akin to juju. So I’ll leave the explanation of how it works to Mel Martin, writing on the Web site TUAW, The Unofficial Apple Weblog:
“When you record your message, it is quickly transmitted to Nuance servers where a speech recognition algorithm is run against your data. The resulting text is returned to your iPhone very quickly; my informal benchmarks showed that it took about a second for text to be processed on a Wi-Fi network, and less than 5 seconds over 3G. You’ll need a data connection for the app to work, but having this speech-to-text capability is going to be very important to a lot of people, who will find all sorts of uses for it.

Blogging on the road somewhere in Florida with a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook

“I tested the app for about a week and found the accuracy to be very good. Accuracy diminishes if you are in a very noisy environment, as I found when I tried some dictation while being driven down the interstate. There were a few errors, but they were easy to correct. To add punctuation to your text, you can say ‘period,’ ‘question mark,’ or ‘new paragraph,’ and Dragon Dictation adds the appropriate punctuation.”
Martin said he queried Nuance about users’ security because the dictation goes out over the Internet for processing. The reply was as follows:
“Search queries and dictation requests are transcribed by fully automated speech recognition software, without the use of humans. Data is uploaded and collected in order to improve performance for individual users, and to improve the general performance of the system.
“All speech recognition requests and associated data are processed in data centers in the U.S. that meet stringent security and privacy standards; these are the same standards that we use for processing private information in other areas of our business.”


Filed under Blogging on the road, Cool stuff, Travels

The search for the lost cyclist

“Time was when Will Sachtleben was a popular hero in Alton, known to everyone. His fame was nationwide, and wider still, because of his daring deeds.”
— Editor Paul Cousley, writing in the Alton Evening Telegraph, Oct. 29, 1952

Seldom do I come across a book that appeals to me on multiple plains of interest: cycling, travel, adventure, history, mystery — and my hometown in Illinois.
Such is a forthcoming book by David V. Herlihy called The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, due out on June 18 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (336 pages, $26).
It’s a gripping yarn set in the golden age of cycling — the 1890s, before the bicycle was displaced by the automobile in the first decade of the 20th century.
It tells the story of Frank Lenz of Pittsburgh, who went missing on a round-the-world trek by bicycle, and William Sachtleben, a veteran globe-girdling cyclist who was dispatched to find him.
Of particular interest to me is that Sachtleben was from Alton, Ill., my native town, and of the same German stock as my forebearers.

David Herlihy

In fact, it is my connections to Alton that prompted David to steer me to his book. He had come across this blog, noted that my e-mail handle is “altonjim,” figured that I might have ties to the town and asked if I would like to review the book for Jim’s Bike Blog.
I was already familiar with the story of Lenz, who was the subject of a nice piece by Geof Koss in the January 2009 edition of Adventure Cyclist magazine, “The Last Ride of Frank Lenz.”
It was from that story that I learned that Sachtleben was from Alton. He was born in the Mississippi River town, just upstream from St. Louis, on March 29, 1866, of German parentage. Alton and St. Louis at the time had large communities of German immigrants.
It was through exchanges of e-mails with David, about Alton people and places, that I learned that Sachtleben had graduated from Alton High School, the cross-town rival of my alma mater, Marquette High School.

Sachtleben's house

I also learned that the house where Sachtleben lived still exists at the corner of Seventh and Langdon streets. That’s only a few blocks from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was called “the German church” when my paternal grandparents were married there in 1907.
After reading Koss’s piece in Adventure Cyclist in January, I did a bit of my own research and found that Sachtleben was well enough known in the 1890s to merit a lengthy story in The New York Times on March 1, 1895, the eve of his departure on the quest to find Lenz.
These trips by bicycle in the 1890s, it seems, drew the same sort of media attention as flights by pioneer aviators a generation later.
“Sachtleben will cover himself with glory should he succeed in his search for Lenz,” the Times story said. “All wish him good luck in his undertaking.”

Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben pose in a London studio in September 1890, shortly after announcing their plans to circle the globe

Rather than disclose whether Sachtleben succeeded, I’ll leave it to David to unravel the mystery of Lenz’s disappearance, which he does admirably through diaries, letters, newspaper clippings and witness testimony. It’s an intriguing tale of mind-boggling adventure in a bygone era by men now largely forgotten in their hometowns.
As one who bicycled across the United States last fall, hauling all my gear, I have some inkling of what inspired these travelers in the infancy of long-distance bicycle touring. But bicycle tourists of today, especially in North America and Europe, seldom face the sort of challenges that these intrepid adventurers had to deal with at the end of the 19th century: primitive roads, trackless deserts, bandits, hostile and xenophobic locals, and mountain passes and roaring rivers that required the portage of bicycles and gear.

The last known photo of Lenz, taken in Tabriz, Persia, in late April 1894

David weaves together two separate journeys — that of Lenz, who set out from Pittsburgh in the spring of 1892 to cycle around the world east to west and disappeared in eastern Turkey in May 1894, and another trek by Sachtleben and college classmate Thomas Allen, who were already on the road, traveling west to east, when Lenz began his solo trip.
After it became apparent that Lenz had dropped off the map somewhere in Turkey, during the turbulent dying days of the Ottoman Empire, public pressure built for The Outing Magazine of New York, the sponsor of Lenz’s trip, to mount an expedition to find him. Sachtleben, newly returned from his own round-the-world journey, was picked for the job.
Not only is the hunt for “The Lost Cyclist” a wonderful tale in the vein of Henry Morton Stanley‘s search for Dr. David Livingstone in the heart of Africa in 1871, it’s also a fascinating treatise on the rapid development of bicycle technolgy in the 1890s.
The “safety bicycle” — with two wheels of roughly equal size — was displacing the “high wheeler,” or “penny farthing,” which had a huge front wheel and a small rear wheel. Also, cyclists were experimenting with, at first, hard rubber tires that replaced wooden wheels and then with “pneumatic” tires, the inflatable sort that we know today.
Who better to tell this part of the story than Herlihy. His 2004 book Bicycle, a history of the “mechanical horse,” has become a classic among bike aficianados.
But one doesn’t have to be a cyclist — or from Alton, Ill. — to enjoy The Lost Cyclist. It would be of interest to anyone with a love of history, travel and adventure.
And it’s a riveting whodunit, to boot!

(For another review of The Lost Cyclist, see the Web site Bicycle Fixation.)


Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys, Literary musings, Travels

Adding to the lore of the Big River

“The river captured my imagination when I was young and has never let go.”
Eddy L. Harris, Mississippi Solo, 1988

Neal Moore

I wrote in this blog several times — as I was preparing for and doing a transcontinental bicycle ride last fall — of another adventure that was taking place at the same time: a journey by canoe down the length of the Mississippi River.
That trip was undertaken by Neal Moore, a friend of my oldest son, Ben. Neal set out from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi in northern Minnesota, on July 10 and arrived Dec. 1 in New Orleans — a journey of four months and 22 days.
Neal and I had communicated via blog and e-mail before and during our respective journeys. We had toyed with the unlikely notion that we might meet in St. Francisville, in southeastern Louisiana, where our bicycle caravan crossed the Mississippi River on Nov. 4 on our transcontinental journey. (See Nov. 4 post, The “strong brown god.”) But Neal, a citizen journalist for CNN, was still upriver in Oxford, Miss., doing video stories for CNN and his blog, Flash River Safari.
He’s now back in Oxford working on a book about his adventure. Neal sent me a draft of Chapter 4, tentatively titled “The Wisdom of Wildness.” It’s about the first legs of the journey on the Upper Mississippi in Minnesota, before the river becomes constrained by locks and dams and widens into an industrial thoroughfare.
“It represents most probably my greatest day on the river, hands down,” Neal wrote of Chapter 4 in an e-mail. “I hope that you enjoy it!”
Throughout Neal’s book, Mark Twain chimes in with observations from his work that echo what Neal is writing about. A description of a spectacular thunderstorm on the river, for example, is followed by an account of a storm — indented and italicized — from Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.
“There’s a connection to this river that is impossible to explain unless you’ve lived it, or lived along it, or opened yourself up to it,” Neal writes in the chapter. “There’s a love affair that begins to emerge and at this stage of the journey, the river was starting to talk to me, to whisper sweet nothings, to tell me her stories. I offered an obliging and eager audience.”
As one who was born and grew up in Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi just upstream from St. Louis, I’ve had a love affair with the river since, as a child, I lay in bed and listened to the horns of the towboats in the approaches to Lock and Dam No. 26. That river, I knew, flowed all the way to New Orleans — and from there to the wider world beyond that I one day hoped to see.
Aside from Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, much has been written about the river.
A few of the books in my own library: Old Glory: A Voyage Down the Mississippi, by Jonathan Raban; Lower Mississippi, by Hodding Carter; Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry; and Mississippi Solo, by Eddy L. Harris, a chronicle of a journey by canoe that served as inspiration for Neal.
Judging from Chapter 4 of Neal’s book, it promises to the a worthy addition to the romance and lore of the Big River.


Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys, Literary musings

Crossing the line?

“I tell you, it’s Beijing. It’s going to be buses and bicycles. That’s all there’s going to be.”
Tony Kornheiser, ESPN 980, March 11


For sheer idiocy bordering on criminal incitement, check out the latest rant against bicyclists by ESPN blabber Tony Kornheiser.
I don’t listen to Kornheiser’s bloviations, but others who follow his ESPN 980 show in the Washington, D.C., area say he hates cyclists and frequently inveighs against them.
Here’s a bit of his latest diatribe on March 11:
“I don’t take my car and ride on the sidewalk because I understand that’s not for my car. Why do these people think that these roads were built for bicycles?… They don’t share the road. They dominate the road. They dare you to run them down… And then when you do, they get angry. What is that about?… And so you tap them. I’m not saying you kill them. I’m saying you tap them. Tap them once… If you’re not rubbing, you’re not racing right? So you pop them a little bit and see what happens.”
What prompted the rant was a March 11 story in The Washington Post about a plan to install a pair of bicycle lanes in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.
You can hear the full audio on You Tube:

Dan Steinberg, who writes the D.C. Sports Bog on The Washington Post Web site, says that Kornheiser’s regular listeners “realize that he’s playing the character of a crotchety old man” who doesn’t like a wide variety of people and things: soccer, soccer parents, cross-country skiers, women basketball players, bloggers, computers, e-mail … and so on.

Bike lane on 15th Street NW between U Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Photo by Gerald Martineau of The Washington Post

“If the interest groups for everything that Kornheiser had ever insulted on his radio show were to start online campaigns against his radio station, well, that would make for a fairly humorless world,” Steinberg wrote. “I mean, it’s shtick, people. Chill out.”
It may be shtick, not meant to be taken seriously by his regular listeners. And Kornheiser, of course, has a right to his opinions, whether they be about soccer moms, bloggers or bicyclists. But his March 11 remarks seem to cross the line into the realm of incitement to commit a criminal act.
The Walt Disney Co. owns 80 percent of ESPN. You can let the Disney folks know what you think by sending them a comment about corporate responsibility, using the following link:
Or you can send a comment to Kornheiser by using this ESPN 980 link:

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Taiwan’s trail travails

A sign prohibiting motorized vehicles

Exploding fireworks, a horde of humanity on two wheels, children’s bicycles weaving from side to side and a complete lack of trail etiquette.
These are some of the dangers and frustrations facing a cyclist who ventures onto the relatively new — and expanding — network of bicycle trails on the island nation of Taiwan.
“Just a few years ago, when cycling was largely the preserve of schoolchildren, the elderly and foreign laborers, it took vision for governments to invest in the planning and realization of what, within a year or two at most, will be an interconnected system of paths circling the island,” noted The China Post, Taiwan’s English-language daily, in a March 1 editorial.
“It must have been hard to predict the passion with which Taiwanese would embrace ‘self-powered vehicles.'”
And embrace them they have.
On any given evening or weekend, The China Post said, “one can now barely move for two-wheelers” on the thousands of kilometers of interconnected trails circling the island. It’s evidence, the newspaper said, of “another quiet Taiwan miracle.”
I’m reminded of Yogi Berra’s observation about a St. Louis restaurant called Ruggeri’s: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
One of my sons lives in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, and sometimes commutes by bike to the school where he teaches. He also sometimes rides the bike trail along the Danshui River, but tends to avoid it during the weekends because, like Ruggeri’s, it’s too crowded.

Like swarms of killer bees

I’ve visited Taipei twice and experienced, on foot, the city’s chaotic traffic. Swarms of motor scooters — a favored means of motorized transport — bear down on intersections like angry killer bees. Sometimes, the scooter pilots use the sidewalks if the street is too congested. Pedestrians, beware!
That lack of discipline in vehicle handling also infects the bike trails.
So I asked my son to write some notes on cycling in Taiwan. Here is his report, with some of his photos of bikes in Taipei:

Bikes stacked in a streetside rack

The biking craze started a couple of years ago. Before that only kids, students and poor people rode bikes. Now having a fancy bike and all the clothing to go with it is seen as a sign of being well-off.
Lots of small bike shops have popped up to meet the demand. The main brands I see are Giant, Fuji, Dahon folding bikes and Merida. In virtually all bike shops, you aren’t allowed to test-ride the bike that you’re looking to buy. If the shop is more professional, you might be allowed to ride the bike in the store by mounting it on some sort of bike mount so you can pedal and shift the gears.
The bike trails are quite nicely laid out and most run along the rivers in riverside parks. In some sections, they’re illuminated at night. They’re well-paved and are quite pleasant to ride on. However, on the weekends they are to be avoided as everyone is out riding bikes. Also, in the evenings after work it can get quite crowded.
I’d guess that about 90 percent of bike riders here don’t wear helmets. However, about 90 percent of people do use bike lights when riding at night.

Bikes parked beside street

Trail etiquette is virtually nonexistent, especially when the hordes are out. People stop in the middle of the trail to chat, fix something on the bike, look at something by the trail, etc. Lots of people fail to stay on the correct side and weave around without paying attention to what’s coming up behind them.
During the Chinese New Year holiday last month there were lots of people along the trails and in the parks setting off fireworks as cyclists rode by. It seemed quite dangerous and dumb.
Also, when two trails merge, most people don’t look or pay attention to the merging traffic. Yielding is almost never done. This mirrors the way that most people drive cars and scooters on the roads.
Cyclists are permitted to take their bikes on the MRT (subway), which is great. The first and last cars of the trains have fewer seats and are designated for bikes.
You see all sorts of people riding on the trails: professional-looking riders on fast road bikes, toddlers on little bikes with training wheels, kids on mountain bikes that are too big for them, grown men on children’s bikes.
I once saw a man riding a little girl’s pink Hello Kitty bike.
In fact, lots of adults ride children’s bikes here — perhaps because they’re smaller and can be stored more easily, maybe because they’re not likely to be stolen, or because they’re cheap.

The China Post editorial took note of the chaos on Taiwan’s streets and trails and called for “a revolution in attitude, a newly found respect for cyclists by other road users, and, of course, similarly by cyclists for pedestrians.”
“The most common reason people give for not cycling is lack of safety, by which they do not mean colliding with other bicycles or falling off, but being hit by careless or aggressive motorists,” the Post said. “This change in mindset is something that no government can legislate, but must come about from the people’s own volition.”

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Filed under Journeys, Travels, Urban cycling