Up the Great River Road


One of my favorite bicycle rides, and arguably one of the most scenic in America, begins at my hometown, Alton, Ill., and stretches up the Mississippi River about 13 miles to Grafton, where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi for their conjoined journey to the sea.

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

I was born and grew up in Alton, just upriver from St. Louis, Mo., and even closer to the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers.
I have traveled along that stretch of road between Alton and Grafton countless times, in all weather – in dense fog, in driving rain, in snow, in frigid winter when the river is sometimes clogged with car-sized chunks of ice, and in the splendor of a crisp, clear autumn day when the trees that cling to the limestone bluffs are clad in dying leaves of russet, gold and bright crimson.
Last Monday was such a day.
I was on a visit to my hometown and I had brought along my bike. I logged 42.09 miles on my bike that day, including that magnificent stretch of the Big River.
That same day, a website called All Around Alton filmed a video of that length of the highway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find myself in the video.

During my ride, along a nice bike path parallel to the road, I stopped several times to take photos, including a stop at a little park at Clifton Terrace, near where my aunt and uncle used to have a bluffside house that afforded a grand view of the river.
At a little pavilion in the park, I found on a sign these words by John Madson, an Iowa naturalist and author of a 1986 book called Up On The River: An Upper Mississippi Chronicle:

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

“I am certain of one thing: My work has taken me from one end of the Mississippi River to the other – from the crest of the watershed above the Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the mouth of Southwest Pass a hundred miles down from New Orleans. And in all those 2,500 miles of river, there is nothing else like the 13 miles between Alton and Grafton. Nothing! … Nowhere are there such palisades as ours, and nowhere is a lovelier stretch of the Mississippi so accessible and beloved by so many people. It belongs to the nation and is in our trust. We must not betray that trust.”

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

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Happy Halloween, 2013


I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a "Sons of Anarchy" Halloween display.

I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a “Sons of Anarchy” Halloween display.

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The Armstrong lie


I confess that I was one who wanted to believe in Lance Armstrong.
Here was a guy who nearly died
in 1996 of testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. But he came back to win the Tour de France, arguably the world’s toughest sporting event, seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.

Lane Armstrong

Lane Armstrong

It was a compelling story.
It captured not only the cycling world but millions of people around the world who didn’t care a whit about professional bicycling. They were just rooting for a guy who beat the Big C and rose to the pinnacle of his sport.
We all know now that it turned out to be an audacious con. Armstrong proved to be a doper and a liar.
“He had lied to me, straight to my face, all throughout 2009,” says Alex Gibney, maker of a new film called, appropriately, The Armstrong Lie.
“The gift that he has is his gift as a story teller,” Gibney says of Armstrong in a trailer for the documentary.

Added one observer quoted in the documentary: “Such a huge number of people wanted to believe that they hated anyone who didn’t believe.”
I didn’t hate those who didn’t believe. But I accepted without sufficient skepticism Armstrong’s lies. And, as an editorial board member of a large newspaper, I wrote several glowing editorials about his seemingly inexorable march to seven Tour de France victories. I now feel that I was betrayed.
Gibney’s film opens Nov. 8 in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.
I can’t wait to see it.
I’m still pissed off.

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Changing the mind-set in L.A.


This is another one of those who-woulda-thunk-it
stories.
The Los Angeles Times, the
nation’s second-largest newspaper in one of America’s most car-centric cities, has declared editorially that it is “pro-bike.”
The weekend editorial coincided with the newspaper’s launch of a specialized webpage called Roadshare, which will focus on “bicycling, bike culture, and the controversy over creating safe space on the street for all road users.”
One of the initial pieces on Roadshare asked whether L.A. could become a city for cyclists.
“Los Angeles, a city once in love with the internal combustion engine, has begun a romance with the bicycle,” the Roadshare article said. “Can it last? Should it?”
Los Angeles sealThe editorial that kicked off a “weeks-long exploration of changing transportation priorities” was unambiguous on where the newspaper’s editorial board stands on the issue.
“The Times’ editorial page is pro-bike,” said the editorial, posted on the Times website Friday evening.
“We have noted repeatedly and with approval that cycling reduces traffic, cuts fossil fuel use and pollution and improves the health of those who do it; in fact, it’s beneficial in so many ways that cities, especially those such as Los Angeles that are beset by automotive-related problems, should go to great lengths to encourage it.”
The editorial encouraged cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, taxpayers and others to take part in the conversation by logging in to Roadshare to read, comment and make their voices heard.
So Los Angeles, where automobiles, freeways, congestion and pollution have defined the city for decades, is embarking on a serious conversation about the bicycle as a means of transportation?
Who woulda thunk it?

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The eyes of Texas are upon you


Mamas, tell your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Don’t let ’em throw cans from them old pickup trucks.
Don’t let ‘em throw bottles and papers and such.
Mamas, tell all your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Keep your trash off the roads; she’s a fine yellow rose.
Treat Texas like someone you love.

— Willie Nelson, “Don’t Mess With Texas”

I sometimes wondered as I rode across Texas in the autumn of 2009 on a cross-country bicycle trip what the non-Americans in our party might think of the ubiquitous anti-litter signs “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Would that stark commandment instill fear in the hearts of the gentler souls among us – my riding companions from the Netherlands and England?
Don't mess with TexasHow exactly, they might have thought, does one mess with Texas? What’s the penalty for messing with Texas? This state, after all, leads the nation in executions. What degree of messing with Texas would earn a one-way trip to the death chamber at Huntsville?
And does the slogan have a broader meaning, aimed at Washington bureaucrats or anybody else who might suggest that all is not sunflowers and bluebonnets in Gov. Rick Perry’s Lone Star State.
We did our best not to mess with Texas during our 1,000-mile slog across the state from El Paso to Austin to the Sabine River.
The bloke from Britain, once it was explained that the “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs were part of an anti-litter campaign that began nearly three decades ago, found the slogan jolly amusing.
Somewhere along the way, he acquired a “Don’t Mess With Texas” sticker, which he affixed to his bike frame for the rest of the ride to the Atlantic Coast.

Lately, a new sign has been popping up along the state’s highways: “The eyes of Texas are upon you.”
It features a menacing-looking man in a cowboy hat, looking like a stylized Texas Ranger wearing either a black mask or reflective aviator shades, depending on the viewer’s perception of the image.
It urges cellphone users to “please call 911 to report criminal activities or emergencies.”
The eyes of Texas are upon youI like the word please on the sign.
And the state is getting out the word that anybody who messes with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan — i.e., infringing on the federally registered trademark on the phrase, owned by the Texas Department of Transportation since 1985 – will face legal action.
“Since 2000,” said a Sept. 14 story in The New York Times, “Texas transportation officials have contacted more than 100 companies, organizations and individuals about the unauthorized use of the phrase, often in the form of strongly worded cease-and-desist letters that tell violators to stop using the slogan or obtain licensing for it for a fee.”
So the next time a swaggering drunk makes a threatening move and growls “Don’t mess with Texas,” step back slowly and say in a calm, measured voice: “Cease and desist, please. The eyes of Texas are upon you.”

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Spectral images of fallen cyclists


Ghost bikes, as most cyclists know, are white-painted bicycles, placed in memory of cyclists who have been killed in road accidents.
Some of us have participated in memorial rides for fallen cyclists or seen ghost bikes erected in their memory. Many of the ghost bikes are adorned with flowers and messages scrawled on bits of paper.

Ghost bike placed in memory of Dan Valle, killed Feb. 18, 2009, in New York City. Photo by Genea Barnes

Ghost bike placed in memory of Dan Valle, killed Feb. 18, 2009, on the bike path on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City. Photo by Genea Barnes

More than 500 such memorials are secured to fences, streetlights and signposts across the United States.
San Francisco-based photographer Genea Barnes says she discovered ghost bikes while shooting in New York in 2010, “and their symbolic power affected me powerfully.”
She set out to photograph bicycle memorials around America as part of what she calls The Ghost Bike Project.
“I started The Ghost Bike Project because we can pass a memorial hundreds of times and eventually forget that it is there to commemorate a human life,” Barnes wrote on a webpage that launched a KickStarter fund drive to finance a road trip last fall to photograph the ghost bikes.
Photo by Genea Barnes

Photo by Genea Barnes

“I combine photos of Ghost Bikes with images of live people, shot in my studio and manipulated through Photoshop to look like ghosts. The resulting images remind us to keep each other safe and represent a spirit that is no longer with us.”
A selection of 87 photos from that trip are on display through Oct. 5 at The Dog Patch Cafe and Art Gallery at 2295 Third Street at 20th Street in San Francisco.
Barnes wrote in an email that this will be her last major show before moving to Brooklyn at the end of November.
The next phase of The Ghost Bike Project is a book of the best images.

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Automated bike parking


I’ll not live long enough to see a robotic underground parking garage for bicycles in my hometown, Fort Worth.
But this idea from Japan might provide a solution for denser cities, such as New York, where the new bike-share system has drawn complaints from pedestrians who say the bike-docking stations take up too much space on sidewalks.

underground-bike-parking-e1355931779342

In Tokyo, one of the most crowded cities on the planet, bicycle commuters frequently have trouble finding a place to park their bikes during the morning rush hour.
The construction company Giken came up with underground parking garages that can each store up to 200 bicycles, fetched from the surface by robotic arms and taken below street level out of the weather and safe from thieves.
Called Eco Cycle, the system issues membership cards to users and microchips mounted on the bicycles’ forks.
Check out the video on how the system works.

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