Monday, December 14, 2009

Clyde- the winter beast

Pictured above is Clyde, a Trek cruiser I bought five years ago just because I thought it looked cool, I mean how many bikes do you see these days with springer front ends? Spring, Summer and Fall Clyde is the go to bike for doing errands around town if it is raining. But the winter is where it really comes in to its own. Clyde has some features that really make this bike perfect for winter riding. A seven speed Shimano Nexus rear hub provides reliable shifting in the worst conditions and can be shifted even when you are not pedaling. It also avoids all the maintenance headaches of a rear derailleur and cassette in slushy winter conditions. It has always shifted no matter how cold it gets. It also has a rear coaster brake that always works no matter how cold, wet and nasty things are. The big fenders are a no brainer in wet weather. Overall, I was about 80% satisfied with the bike the way it came from the factory for winter conditions. This year I did two things that get me almost to 100% satisfaction. I installed big flat platform pedals from Atom Lab that have built in studs to grip the bottom of your boots. The second thing I did was to mount a set of Continental Spike Claw 120 tires. I could not believe the difference that the tires made in icy conditions. The 120 carbide studs are mounted on the outside edge of the tire tread and do not touch the road surface when you are riding straight but if you lean in to a turn or start to slide and fall the studs provide an amazing amount of grip. I went out recently in some very icy conditions and rode hard enough to where a fall was almost a given. I never fell or even came close even riding way too fast for conditions.
So if you like to ride bicycles, instead of putting it away when the leaves come off the trees keep going and try winter riding. Riding in the winter is really not that hard if you dress for it. I dress just about exactly like I would if I were going snow boarding and I am very comfortable out there.
You can go with a dedicated winter bike like I did or equip your bike so it handles the rougher conditions without problems. Either way you go it will open a new dimension of riding to you and you may find yourself thinking of bicycling as a winter sport AND hardcore hardtimes transportation like me. See you out there!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Alan Watts- A conversation

Alan Watts has a prominent place in my library with at least 27 titles on hand. He had a huge influence on me when I started reading his books right after leaving the military. Alan is also the person who introduced me to the TAO and guided my understanding. In 1971 he recorded for television " A Conversation with Myself" and it is amazing to listen to him clearly describe the problems we are encountering in society today. He saw very far and very clearly. The four parts run just shy of 1/2 hour in total. You won't be sorry if you watch the videos and take the time to read some of his books.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Alan Watts on Fear and Existence

I invite you to watch these two videos by Alan Watts. He is my all time favorite lecturer, author and explainer of Tao. He died back in the 70's but was far ahead of his time and this short lecture is very relevant to our time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hard times transportation

The picture above shows the rig I have been using this summer to get groceries and haul other oversize packages that normally would be hard to transport on a bicycle. The trailer is a B.O.B ibex model that is very well built, has suspension built in and will haul 75 pounds. It also has a large, tough, waterproof bag that is included so you can haul things in rainy weather. It is very rare for me to go on any errands around town using anything other than a bicycle and having the trailer gives me more opportunities to ride and leave the car at home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kiva- loans that change lives

I had an e-mail tonight from Kiva, the micro loan organization telling me that I had a credit from some of my loans being repaid. So in less than 10 min I had reloaned it to a woman in Peru that is running a small bookstore. This is my seventh loan and so far i have had a repayment rate of 100%! Two of the loans are totally repaid, the other three are 83%, 58% and 26% repaid. Not bad for a 100 dollar investment on my part. This is such an easy way to help people that I hope I can encourage people to give it a try

Friday, August 7, 2009

View from the sticks

At various times on different sites and forums the subject of self defence comes up and normally I don't participate much. The fact is that even though I live in a state that allows licenced concealed carry of handguns, I don't carry. I truth there is only one period during the 24 hours of the day that I feel at all vulnerable and that is at home when I am sleeping. I am a very peaceful and non-violent person with one exception. That is if someone comes into my home, uninvited and armed then the claws come out. What you see in the picture above is what is in reach when I am sleeping. No matter what side of my bed I wake up on there are at least two edged weapons within reach. I have preferred edged weapons for very close quarter combat in the dark for a long time. If at all possible I don't want to fire a firearm indoors because as soon as you do you are both deaf, momentary blinded and somewhat stunned.
I also keep my cell phone close at hand to call 911 but the fact is in the rural area I live in it can take awhile for reinforcements to arrive. And with all the budget trouble city's and towns are having I don't see it getting better.
If I do get awakened by something and I have to investigate then the other weapons come in to play. The flashlight works well to temporarily blind someone and makes a handy club. In my other hand is the shotgun, chamber empty, magazine loaded with buckshot. A pump shotgun makes a vary distinctive sound when a round is racked in to the chamber that most everyone understands. I call it the universal translator.
I hope very much that I never have to use any of this but it is close at hand on standby if I do. Everyone has a different situation in their homes and what works for me may not be appropriate for other people. I live alone so I can do somewhat different things than a home that has children in it. When I had kids at home the firearms were unloaded and locked up but could be gotten to quickly in a special safe. What I recommend is at the very least think through your situation and what your response should be. It is your home,you don't ever have to be a victim and surrender without a fight.

Friday, July 31, 2009

View from the sticks

I had a very close call last night on the way home and I thought I would share it. I was driving home on a street i don't often take at a time I was tired and not paying close enough attention to my surroundings. There is a road right next to the local grain elevator and the railroad tracks cross the road here. Like many RR crossings out here in the sticks there is no automatic barrier or lights. It is up to you to look and listen closely before crossing and that is where I screwed up. I have poor hearing with constant ringing in both ears plus I had the radio playing. The railroad tracks curve around the back of the grain elevator so there is no more than about 50ft of visibility. So I am driving and just as the front tires of my car hit the railroad tracks I hear a train whistle and it is LOUD. I look to my right and no more than a car length away is a fast moving train engine. I floored the gas pedal on the car and just cleared the track as the train went by. There was maybe a second of margin but no more. So in the end nobody got hurt but it was very close. The AAA was right in there old advertisements that most accidents happen within 5 miles of home and I think it is due to the familiarity of our surroundings giving us a false sense of security. So learn from my mistake and look and listen closely when crossing railroad tracks. You DON'T want to look up like I did and see nothing but fast moving train engine filling your vision. ;-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

View from the sticks

I was working with and talking to the co-owner of the shop I work in yesterday when he happened to mention that he had just found out that he had come in to a small five figure inheritance from his grandmother. I just listened as he wondered what he could do with the unexpected windfall. Should he buy this or that or the other thing?
This went on for a while and I did not say very much, then he asked me what I would do with it. I think what I said surprised him.
What I told him was I thought he should either stash it away as an emergency fund or use it to pay down debt. Then when he wondered why I told him my thoughts on personal finance.
I told him that I am completely debt free and have been for almost a decade. That I do not buy anything unless I can pay for it up front. That when I do buy something I buy the best I can find and pay the extra cost because the item usually works better and lasts longer.
I told him that being debt free is a state of mind and a lifestyle choice that takes discipline and practice but in the end is much less expensive and much less stressful that the debt driven life we have been taught is normal.
Being debt free brings freedom and many more choices. I told him that if I was in debt I would not have been able to retire at 49 and take up a much lower paying job that I enjoy very much. When you are in debt you are on a treadmill and cannot stop moving. The bigger the debt the faster the treadmill goes. If you lose your job or get sick you are in danger of very quickly losing everything that you worked for.
It was one thing to take on debt as a normal lifestyle choice when jobs were plentiful but it is quite another to do it in an economy where jobs are still going overseas and the unemployment rate is north of 15% like it is here in Michigan. He listened to what I had to say but I am not holding my breath that I convinced him. All our lives we have been told to buy things right now on credit, with easy monthly payment plans. Why wait? Enjoy it all now! Keep up with the Joneses!
An alternate lifestyle of pay as you go and healthy reserve cash has its own rewards and is well worth pursuing. Start where you are, but at least start and I guarantee you will not regret it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

View from the sticks

I had an interesting experience last night that brought back a lot of memories, this is what happened.
The annual 12 hour endurance mountain bike race is going on this weekend at our local trail and the Rep for the Night Rider Technical lighting company rolled in to town to support the race. He showed up at the bike shop yesterday and he and my boss decided to put together an impromptu night ride last night. After some phone calls, dusk comes and 18 riders showed up. The Night Rider Rep hands out loaner lights to anyone who did not have their own and off we went in to the woods. I have ridden this trail many times over the years in the daytime but never at night so I did not really know what to expect. What I found out was that it is with the right equipment it is like riding in the daytime but twice as fun. I am going to be doing this more often.
The memories it brought back was how in the Rangers we were creatures of the night. The vast majority of the time our schedule was inverted and we would sleep during the day and do operations all night. The darkness was our friend and we were very comfortable in it. It even got to the point where the climbing team I was on would climb and do fairly technical operations at night.
My challenge to the readers of this post is this. Go outside this summer and discover the night. It does not matter if it is looking at stars in the backyard, walking around the neighborhood, hiking, or biking in the woods. Go out and experience it. A few tips, give your eyes a half hour to adapt to the darkness. The center of your vision is a blind spot at night, look off to the side of something you want to see clearly at night. Once your eyes have adapted to the darkness protect it as much as possible. Use a red filter on your flashlight or close one eye if you must use white light to see something. It you don't it will take a while for your night vision to come back.
The night time world out there is fun to explore and get comfortable in. Give it a try!

Friday, July 3, 2009

View from the sticks

I got a card in the Mail today informing me that there is a Red Cross Blood drive coming to town next week. Not that I really need the reminder because I have it marked on my calender from the last time that I gave.
I started donating in 1980 in the Rangers. They would line everybody up in formation and march all of us to the post theater and we would all give blood together. I don't remember anyone complaining because we knew that from the nature of our job that we might be the person who needed the blood.
These days I continue to give blood as often as I can just because I feel it is the right thing to do and it is a really easy way to save someones life. I have lost track of how many gallons that I have given but as long as they will take it I will give it.
So do something selfless just because it is the right thing to do. Call the Red Cross at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or search on line and find when the next blood drive is coming to a location near you and give.
And in a strange twist of fate you or your family member ends up in a ER needing blood it may be your very donation that saves the day. Go ahead, just do it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

View from the sticks

I try fairly hard to buy things that are made in the U.S. as much as I can just on general principle and if I need something I will look long and hard find it. It has sort of become a game that is getting harder to play every year. Sometimes I wonder to my self if this country makes anything at all anymore.
This subject really hit home to me yesterday at the bicycle shop when we got in a discussion about the Cannondale bike brand. Cannondales are near and dear to me and I have been a loyal customer for decades. I think that I own seven of them. They are extremely high quality bikes at a fair price that are made in the USA. At least until the end of this year that is. The company recently announced that in 2010 frame manufacture will be moved to Taiwan and 200 of the current 300 employees will loose their jobs, a move that the parent company Dorel says will save the company $4 million dollars a year. They may save several million dollars but they are going to loose at least one very loyal customer.
So if you want a really good bike that will last for the rest of your life and is made in the USA, grab a Cannondale while you can. It is a dying breed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

View from the sticks

I rounded up most of my bikes the other day for a group photo. There were still two missing. What you are looking at is the future of transportation in this country. We will still be driving cars for a long time but they will be used less and less to get around for trips under five miles.
The reaction that I get for having all these bikes strikes me a funny most of the time. I buy good quality bikes, Cannondale for the most part, and I still have less invested in all of them than I would have to pay for a decent used car. Most people don't understand what riding a good quality bike with good components is like and how much easier it is to go longer distances with one and also what a pleasure they are to ride.
So do yourself a favor. Go to a reputable local dealer, look around and take a test ride of a few upscale models and spend as much as you can afford to. Then start leaving the car at home for the local errands around town. You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

View from the sticks

I have been thinking since I posted the brief piece last week about David Carradine how it was that I came to follow the Tao. The beginning was seeing Kung Fu as a kid. I did not care about the martial arts so much as the scenes in the monastery where "Grasshopper" would learn from Master Po and the other monks. That I found fascinating. Then came a book called "Dispatches" by Michael Herr which is probably the best book on the Vietnam War I have ever read. In it he wrote about a war correspondent named Tim Page who was in to Taoism.
The next link in the chain was in the Rangers. I was hanging out with a few other Rangers who were interested in the Martial Arts, especially the power of the mind. I was also reading a little bit of Carlos Castaneda at the time. The Rangers pushes people way beyond what most people would consider their own limits. I had many experiences that could not be explained in a logical, rational manner and followed them where they led. I learned some lessons that could not be learned any other way and trying to describe them I find nearly impossible. I also had a very small Bible that the Military gives out. I carried it in my Rucksack and would read it during the waiting portion of the "Hurry up and Wait" that the military is famous for. I read it cover to cover at least a dozen times over the four years I was in.
After leaving the Rangers came a few years of trying to find a balance between the life and experiences I had left and the new one as a civilian. It was very difficult and I was reading and studying very hard trying to find balance.
A major influence and the writer I give the most credit to as far as discovering the Tao goes, is Alan Watts. I have around thirty of his books and one I read over and over is "Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, A mountain Journal. Alan is the one who really helped me, post military.
Other books with a major influence were:
TAO, The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
NAM by Tim Page
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
The Nature of personal reality by Jane Roberts
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams
Illusions by Richard Bach
This is but the very tip of a very long reading list. There are hundreds more upstairs right now that had some influence on me to some extent. I do love my books!
Anyway, there is an old saying that the Tao can not be described but only experienced and as I go along though life I believe that is very true. The books above pointed in the general direction that I should go but the Tao teaches in its own way and in its own time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

View from the sticks

For a while now I have been feeding the birds and have enjoyed watching them. After I got a guidebook I was very surprised and how many different bird species I had visiting my feeders during the course of the year. I took the next step this year and started on a long term project. After seeing an Eastern Bluebird in the garden for the first time ever I got plans and started building nesting boxes for the Bluebirds. I am also working on building boxes for the little brown bats that fly around my back yard at dusk.
An added bonus to watching the birds during the day is the great job they do in keeping the insect numbers in check. I had so little insect damage in the garden last year and did not know why. I did not realize how aggressive a predator they were until watching them go after a frayed piece of string blowing in the breeze in the garden last year. They must have thought it was a moth and went after it for hours.
So if you can, give the birds a little help and they will repay it many times over.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

View from the sticks

It is with a touch of sadness that I read that David Carradine died today in Bangkok. His role as Kwai Chang Caine, aka "grasshopper" gave me my first exposure to Asian Spirituality and is one reason that I follow the Tao today. As the master once said to grasshopper, "Time for you to leave". RIP and thank you Mr Carradine.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

View from the sticks

Spring is slowly easing its way in to central Michigan and I can't wait for it to stay. We get a few nice days where I can work outside in the garden or the shop and then that cold wind out of the north starts back up. I have increased the miles on the bike to over 10 every day and the legs are protesting less. I had hopes of seeing more people on bikes this spring but since the gas prices came down from last summer people are back in the cars even for their short trips around town.
If you decide to ride your bicycle more this year, now is a good time to look it over closely and see if anything needs maintenance or repair. Pay close attention to the tires for cuts, weathering or low pressure. Look at the brakes to be sure the pads are not worn or dried out. Operate the brakes and the shifters to make sure everything is operating properly. Give the frame a once over looking for cracks or major dents and damage. Pick up the bike and give the wheels a spin by hand and see if there is any wobble. Last, give the chain a cleaning and some lube to start the season out right.
If you have any questionable areas then take it to the local shop and get them fixed or get a manual and some tools and give it a try on your own. Its a good skill to have when times get hard. The worst that can happen is you will have to take it to the shop and have them do it after you give it a try and can't get it fixed.
Think Spring and enjoy!