Monthly Archives: November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!


1910 postcard by Frances Brundage

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An answer for Abby


Jeff Rudisill, the subject of my previous post, “That small voice within,” found my blog and posted a comment that is worth a separate post.
Jeff has passed the halfway point in a walk across America, an undertaking that he apparently found difficult to explain to friends and relatives, who may consider it a bit daft.
“Pawpaw, why don’t you just drive?” asked his 9-year-old granddaughter Abby.
I quoted Abby in my Nov. 15 post, in which I wrote that I, as a fellow retiree who also heeded a small voice in the head, can understand what prompted Jeff to embark on his 2,800-mile walk from Dana Point, Calif., to Emerald Isle, N.C.

Abby

Jeff thanked me for “the kind words” and responded to the query from his granddaughter, which he wrote about in his own blog on July 12:
Abby, I wish I had an answer for you. Because at times, I ask myself the same questions. But as maybe you’ve already learned in your young life, sometimes we do things and we really don’t understand why.
Maybe I just want to give you and the ‘cousins’ a memory to carry throughout your life. Or maybe I want to show you just how far I will walk to go to the beach with you next year. Or maybe I want to show you that you can do most anything, no matter how crazy or hard it seems.
There must be answers to your questions, maybe someday you and I will figure it all out. But for now, these are the best answers I have. Anyhow, Grandma and me can ride in a car when we get old.

Well said, Jeff!

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That small voice within


Jeff Rudisill. Star-Telegram photo by Ron Jenkins

A few words of homage to the eccentric dreamers among us — ordinary people who do extraordinary things because a small voice in the head tells them, as in the case of Jeff Rudisill: “I need to do this, or forget about it.”
Rudisill is walking across America, not “to honor the troops or save the whales or raise money to find a cure for plantar fascitis,” as David Casstevens of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote Saturday of the 69-year-old retiree’s six-month, 2,800-mile perambulation across deserts, mountains, rivers and swamps.
Rudisill, of Daleville, Va., left Dana Point, Calif., on the Pacific Coast, on Aug. 31 and started walking east toward Emerald Isle, N.C., on the Atlantic Coast, which he expects to reach in mid-February. He averages 20 to 25 miles per day and carries all of his needs — tent, sleeping bag, toiletries, food and drink, a pocket New Testament and a laptop computer for blogging about his journey on a three-wheeled pushcart.
Rudisill walked into Fort Worth, his halfway point, on Nov. 11 and said some nice things about my hometown in his blog, Walkingman 2011: “How can you not like a place with the nickname of ‘Cowtown,’ a major street paved with red brick, cows herded by cowboys down the street at mid-day each day, and a Will Rogers Auditorium with a Paint horse show?”

Jeff Rudisill on the road with all his needs. Star-Telegram photo by Ron Jenkins

So why are you doing this? Casstevens asked Rudisill. For the environment? The homeless? Women’s rights? World peace?
Rudisill’s answer: “I like walkin’.”
That’s good enough for me.
Rudisill, like me, is retired and has the time to indulge his passions. I, too, heard a small voice in my head, about a bicycle ride across America. It said something like: “Well, you’ve been talking about it for years. You damned well better do it before you’re too old, lazy or decrepit, or you’ll forever regret not doing it.”
So, like Rudisill, I heeded the voice. During my first full year of retirement, I rode my bicycle across the United States — 65 days and 3,130 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
Mission accomplished. The small voice stilled.
Rudisill’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Abby, according to the Star-Telegram story, asked him before his trip: “Pawpaw, why don’t you just drive?”
I’m not sure how he answered, but I believe I understand Mr. Rudisill’s reasons pretty well.
As Mark Twain, one of my heroes and literary idols, once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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Trending in the right direction


“Don’t follow trends, start trends.”
Frank Capra, American film director (1897-1991)

It’s gratifying to be part of a trend. It’s even more gratifying to be part of a trend before the media realizes it’s a trend.
Consider this headline on a story by David Kroodsma, posted Nov. 4 on the Huffington Post website: “The Future of Travel: Bicycles.”
Kroodsma cites eight indicators of the trend toward bicycling for travel and recreation, as provided by Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, Mont. I’ve been a member of Adventure Cycling Association and a touring cyclist for the past 15 years. So I guess I can call myself a trend-setter — riding a bike before riding a bike was cool.
In the interest of full disclosure, Kroodsma wrote that he is “very biased” on this topic.
“I spent two years traveling by bicycle, and I think bike travel is the best way to see a state, country, or continent,” he wrote. “It appears that an increasing number of people agree.”
He and Adventure Cycling Association cited these indicators of a dramatic increase in the popularity of cycling:
1. Major cycling events continue to grow.
2. Commercial tours surge.
3. The economy is noticing bike tourists.
4. Accommodations are being offered specifically for cyclists.
5. Mountain bike-related travel expands.
6. New bicycle-travel websites are everywhere.
7. The possibility of a U.S. bicycle route system.
8. States highlight bicycle travel. (For details on these indicators, see Kroodsma’s story.)
Kroodsma has bicycled across the United States, as have I. But he has done it twice. And he also has biked “across the entirety of Latin America.”
“Not only are landscapes more vivid without a windshield, but it is easier to meet people if you are exposed and approachable on a bike,” he wrote for Huffington Post. “Bicycle travel is ecological, healthy, and most importantly, fun.
“The increase in bicycle tourists does not surprise me. What would surprise me is if the popularity didn’t continue to grow.”
The Adventure Cycling Association website adds:
“Bicycle touring is growing. This past season, we enjoyed more than a 1,000 visiting cyclists at our Missoula, Montana, headquarters, saw a record number of cyclists on our guided tours, and, as always, celebrated our fabulous members who continued to support our work through their membership as well as generous donations. Bike travel is truly blooming.”
By the way, the fanciful image accompanying this post, “Car free,” is by Japanese artist Tatsuro Kiuchi. His brief online bio doesn’t indicate if he’s a cyclist. But his illustration “Car Free” certainly captures the musings of many cyclists as they navigate a world dominated by cars.

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People we meet along the way


“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Fydor Dostoyevsky, Russian novelist (1821-1881)

One of the pleasures of long-distance bicycling is meeting kindred spirits along the road.
Sometimes, especially if the riders are traveling in opposite directions, the encounters will be brief: an exchange of information on terrain and weather and what to expect down the highway.
Other times, the encounters might lead to a period of transitory companionship: traveling the road together for a time, sharing meals and accommodations and farewell talk about perhaps meeting again for a another ride.
Such was the encounter at the end of August with Bill Rouzer, from the Napa Valley in California.

Bill Rouzer at the end of his cross-country journey

Bill was traveling across the United States from Portland, Ore., to Yorktown, Va. He had decided to use the Katy Trail, a 225-mile-long state park that formerly was a railroad right-of-way, to cross Missouri to St. Louis. I and a cycling friend, Dean Wisleder of Springfield, Ill., were traveling the Katy Trail from its western terminus in Clinton, Mo., to St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb that serves as the trail’s eastern end.
During our first day out of Clinton on Aug. 29, Dean and I stopped in Sedalia at a Woods Supermarket for a deli lunch. After lunch, as we were starting to roll out of the supermarket parking lot, along came Bill, a man of our vintage, his Waterford touring bike fully loaded and set up for a long journey. Obviously a kindred spirit.
As Dostoyevsky noted in Crime and Punishment: “We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Some words of introduction were spoken, and we found that Bill was headed our way. So we decided to travel together.
We finished that day’s riding — about 65 miles — in Pilot Grove, where we all stayed at a bed and breakfast run by a delightful lady, a retired schoolteacher, named Dolores Stegner, who knew we were coming and had baked a peach pie for us.
We rode together the next day to Hartsburg, where again we shared lodging and a meal, at the Big Muddy Tavern. On the third day of our road-bred friendship, we rode to Hermann, where we scrambled to find a place to stay as leaden clouds threatened to dump tons of water at any moment. On the recommendation of a local bike shop, we ended up at the Harbor Haus Inn atop a hill overlooking the Missouri River.

Bill and Dean at Cooper's Landing on the Katy Trail

The next day, after a German meal the previous evening at a hilltop winery and a hearty breakfast at the Sharp Corner Tavern as rain pelted Market Street outside, it was time for farewells. Bill stayed on in Hermann for a day or two to tend to the chores of long-distance bicycle travel: laundry, bike maintenance, e-mail. Dean and I, in a misty drizzle, set out for St. Charles.
I kept up with the progress of Bill’s cross-country trip by reading his blog, Bill’s 2nd Big Adventure, actually written by his daughter, Patti, with notes provided by Bill.
Bill’s second big adventure, so dubbed because this was his second trip by bicycle across the United States, is now finished. He got to Yorktown, Va., on Oct. 7, took a train to Martinez, Calif., and then rode another 20 miles or so on his bike to his home.

Jim and Dean riding the Katy Trail, in a photograph shot by Bill

“When I asked Dad about his most memorable moment, he said there were many,” daughter Patti wrote on his blog. “Memories can be positive or negative. On the negative side, he remembers the dog attacks, the thunderstorms, SUVs driving too close, and strong winds. On the positive side, he remembers the people he met and saw along the way like his brother, Jack, and his sister-in-law, Joy, ice cream on a hot day, and the glorious way of ending the trip by riding into D.C. in the rain.”
I was gratified to ride a part of the way with Bill, share a small piece of his “2nd Big Adventure,” and to be “one of the people he met and saw along the way.”

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Maybe we could learn from Europe


“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
H.G. Wells, English author (1866-1946)

Americans who have traveled in Europe most likely have noted the ubiquity of bicycles, particulary in such cities as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Also, other European cities have relatively new bicycle-sharing programs to help move people around their densely populated centers — Paris, London and Barcelona, for example.

Images shot along the bike lanes of Spain

One such American traveler, Steven Hill, described in Washington Monthly his impressions of the European transportation scene and how it compares with the ways people get around in the United States.
“One of the ironies of Europe is that, while it is leading the world in high-tech transportation innovations, such as high-speed bullet trains and fuel-efficient autos, it also specializes in low-tech options,” Hill wrote. “Whether in Amsterdam, Athens, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Stockholm, Oslo, Barcelona, Budapest or any of the thousands of small towns that dot the countryside, bicyclists and pedestrians are on the go.”
By way of contrast, Hill wrote:
“In the U.S., walking and cycling are discouraged by living environments that are geared for automobiles. A range of poor public policy choices have made walking and cycling inconvenient, unpleasant, and, above all, unsafe.

A bicycle in London's bike-sharing program

The most obvious symbol of better European policy is their massive and ever-expanding network of bike paths, which provide completely separate rights-of-way for cyclists; Amsterdam alone has more than three hundred miles of bike lanes. One Dutch city has five bicycle parking garages, one of which can hold five thousand bikes.
“Just as important,” Hill wrote, “the bike paths and lanes in the Netherlands and Germany form a truly integrated, coordinated network, covering both rural and urban areas. Unlike the fragmented cycling routes in the United States, Dutch and German bikeway systems serve practical destinations for everyday travel, not just recreational attractions for young cycling enthusiasts…
“But in the car-dominant United States, authorities have made only a few halfhearted attempts to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, with most measures falling far short of the need if they cost much money or would inconvenience automobile drivers. A lack of political will and vision have prevented Americans from enjoying the health, transportation, and quality-of-life benefits that result from more walking and cycling and less car travel.”
Tuesday’s midterm elections afforded little hope of change in terms of “political will and vision,” at least on the part of Congress, over the next few years. (See Nov. 4 blog post, “Bicycling and politics.”)
But then you see some glimmers of hope, like an article in Saturday’s edition of my hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Grapevine considers adding bike routes on city streets.”
Grapevine, on the northern edge of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, is a city of more than 51,000 in the middle of an urban agglomeration of around 6.5 million called the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Grapevine has some bike trails for recreational cyclists, but no on-street routes that could be used by bicycle commuters.
“I think it’s good for health, good for the community, and we ought to look into it,” Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate said of on-street bike lanes.
Added Clarence Muller, co-owner of the Mad Duck Cyclery in Grapevine: “At the end of the day, we need to be able to get bikes everywhere a car can go.”
Perhaps America’s love affair with the automobile is souring, if ever so slowly. And maybe — and this may sound blasphemous to Americans who consider foreign ideas somehow suspect — we could learn a few things from Europe.

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Bicycling and politics


Bicycling was hardly an issue at the top of voters’ minds as they cast ballots in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
But bicycle advocacy groups that keep track of shifts in the political winds and how they affect two-wheeled transport are finding precious little good news in the Republican tsunami that washed through Congress.
“I’m not going to lie — I’m depressed,” Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, wrote on the group’s website the morning after the elections.
Clarke was commenting specifically on the defeat of U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, a Democrat who was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar, who had represented the 8th Congressional District in Minnesota’s Iron Range for 36 years, lost by 4,532 votes to a political newcomer, Chip Cravaack.
Clarke called the outgoing lawmaker, who is an avid cyclist, “a true champion of bicyclists’ issues in Congress.”
“It’s shocking. It’s stunning really,” said Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.

Jim Oberstar

“In general, it’s a tremendous loss for America to not have Jim Oberstar working on transportation. He was a champion not just for us but for a truly integrated transportation system. To not to have Oberstar’s leadership on the U.S. Bike Route System is a setback; but the project now has 27 states working on projects, which is far beyond anything we expected.”
Advocates for cycling and other alternative forms of transportation were also chagrined by the prospect of Rep. John Boehner of Ohio becoming speaker of a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Represenative.
“Boehner has chimed in about bicycling several times in the past few years,” Jonathan Maus wrote on the BikePortland website, which he edits. “In January 2009 he referenced how widening highways would help American families and likened ‘bike paths’ to ‘beautification projects.’
“Back in 2007, when the Bike Commuter Tax Benefit was on the floor, Boehner ridiculed the bill,” Maus wrote.
“After suggesting that the bill’s champion, Earl Blumenauer, recuse himself from voting on it simply because he rides to work, Boehner went into an explanation of how the bill ‘is not going to solve America’s energy problem.'”
Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland, Ore., easily won an eighth term in Congress on Tuesday, beating GOP novice candidate Delia Lopez.
Another bicycling champion from Oregon who held onto his seat was U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat who represents Eugene. But with Republican control of the House, DeFazio will lose his chairmanship of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, which is under the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Bridge on Hank Aaron State Trail in Milwaukee, funded by federal dollars

The shift in power is also likely to put at risk the Obama administration’s Transportation Enhancements program, under which federal funds are provided to enhance surface transportation projects, including pedestrian and bicycle paths, safety programs and highway beautification.
The Transportation Enhancements program is part of funding for transportation in general, and it has received a hostile reception from Republicans in previous debates.
On March 17, during a hearing by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Republicans heaped ridicule on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood after LaHood suggested that bicycling and walking are just as good ways to get around as cars.
“To laughter, Republican House members suggested LaHood was taking drugs, dismissed the very idea of bike lanes and derided any change to a car-dependent society,” wrote Nick Wilson on courthousenews.com, a news service for lawyers.
Wilson quoted Ohio Republican Steven LaTourette as asking: “What job is going to be created by having a bike lane?” LaTourette, who was elected to a ninth term on Tuesday, suggested at the hearing that environmental sustainability projects have “stolen” $300 million from other programs and attacked LaHood’s encouragement of bicycling, on a personal level. “Is there still mandatory drug-testing at the department?” asked LaTourette, to chuckles from the back of the room, Wilson wrote.
On July 30, 2009, Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, both re-elected on Tuesday, released a report called “Out of Gas,” which criticized all non-highway transportation spending. The report singled out bicycle and pedestrian projects as an unnecessary luxury and called on lawmakers to use the report along with their red pens.
“Crossing out extraneous transportation spending should be our first priority,” the report said.
Perhaps stating the obvious, Clarke of the League of American Cyclists said of the shift of power in Congress: “I think we move from offense to defense. We’ll have to be vigilant and absolutely on top of our game to make the case that investing in bike/ped projects is good national policy.”
I would venture a guess that many avid cyclists — particularly in red-state Texas, where I live — are also stalwart Republicans. But all too often, it seems, the debate over alternative means of transportation is framed in simplistic terms rooted in rigid ideology.
European nations have fine public transportation — high-speed trains, commuter rail, streetcars and buses. And many Europeans use bicycles to get to work, shop for groceries, take the kids to daycare.
European nations also have comprehensive social welfare programs — universal healthcare, long vacations, paid maternity leave.
That’s considered socialism by many Americans. Ergo, bicycles and other alternative means of transport are lumped together with “socialism” in this simplistic mind-set.
After all, didn’t a Chilean socialist politician, José Antonio Viera-Gallo, once say: “Socialism can only arrive by bicycle”?

Dan Maes

One of the silliest arguments during a campaign season filled with silly arguments and claims that strained credulity was advanced by Dan Maes, a Republican Tea Party candidate who ran for governor of Colorado. Maes’s opponent was Democrat John Hickenlooper, who as mayor of Denver put in place a bicycle-sharing program to help move people around the Mile High City. (See Aug. 5 blog post, “Cyclists as U.N. sleeper agents?”)
Those bicycle-friendly policies piqued the paranoia of Maes, who suggested that the bike-sharing program was part of a U.N. plot to erode American freedoms.
“These aren’t just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor,” Maes said. “These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to.”

Shared bikes in Denver

Speaking at a rally July 26 in Centennial, Colo., Maes was referring to Denver’s membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an association that promotes sustainable development. More than 1,200 communities around the world — 600 of them in the United States — have joined the group. Denver became a member in 1992, more than a decade before Hickenlooper became mayor.
Maes told The Denver Post that he once thought the mayor’s efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. But now he realizes “that’s exactly the attitude they want you to have.”
“This is bigger than it looks like on the surface,” Maes told the Post, “and it could threaten our personal freedoms.” He told the Centennial rally that the bike-sharing program was promoted by a group that puts the environment above citizens’ rights.
In Tuesday’s election, Maes got only 11 percent of the Colorado vote in a three-way race with Hickenlooper (51 percent) and Tom Tancredo of the American Constitution Party (31 percent).
Is Colorado on a slippery slope to socialism?

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