Friday, May 22, 2020

May 18 2020

I started my birthday with breakfast, big business decisions, and reading the news: the 40thanniversary of Mt St Helens eruption, when 3,000 feet blew off the top of the volcano, and ashes spread worldwide. Today, the pandemic coronavirus, and what will we do? How will this end?The skies are cleaner now than they’ve been for – maybe as long as most of us can remember. We’re making use the awesome human power to travel vast distances in space-time without leaving home, with our imaginations, with computers and books.

Mid-morning, I gathered up my baby one-year-old and headed out for a hike on Pt Pinole, which is a big remote peninsula out near where the Sacramento River flows into the San Francisco Bay. They used to

manufacture dynamite here, for the gold mines and new trains. The views of water stretch out in most directions. On the Bay View trail, paved since the last time I came here, I looked over the rolling hills and the pickleweed and beyond the bright indigo of a pair of western bluebirds towards the blue horizon; further inland, on the Nitro Trail or the Angel Buggy Trail, I walked under the old eucalyptus trees planted long ago to muffle the sound of explosions. All of the trails in
the park are wide and flat, paved or gravel, and easy to push a stroller across. It was a relief to my back, which has gotten so used to carrying the baby in a backpack.
Eucalyptus was a curious choice to plant, I think, given that the aromatic oils of the Australian eucalyptus are explosive, and those long strips of bark are famous for curling around hot embers to spread
wildfire. Scattered here and there amongst the eucalyptus are the old manufacturing bunkers, nothing left now but the three-sided boxes of 18” thick concrete, each embedded in steep berms 20’ high and thick and growing with grass. The light comes in through the tree trunks in long dappled golden streaks.
 I love abandoned industrial places. They remind me of the future. What things will be like after the end of what we call the Industrial Revolution. When things go back to some new normal. Native pickleweed and rushes and oak trees mix happily with European imports like fennel and ivy and mustard. Since birds and seals don’t always want to fly or swim 100 or 500 miles to find a pristine national park when they’re ready for their next meal, places like this one are usually teeming with happy animals. I’ve been mostly a cyclist and a walker for most of my life. I travel like the wildlife, on my own power. So I find these smaller, maybe polluted, open, wild spots. Near me, wherever I’ve lived. I used to live a mile away, and would come down here once or twice a week for a soothing recovery ride on my bicycle, or maybe to cool my legs in the estuary. This is the second or third time I’ve been back in the eight years since I moved a dozen miles away, the first time in a car.

The Hayward Fault runs through Pt Pinole. Life is uncertain near the junction of tectonic plates. Volcanoes erupt and earthquakes shake, mountains reach their full grandeur and rolling hills abound. I’ve lived on the Pacific Coast of North America for twenty-nine years, so I’ve gotten used to this combination of slow change and sudden danger, instability and scenic glory. 
And here we are. The year when Covid-19 scared the world into stillness. This historic moment gives us some perspective on the big picture, like a breathtaking vista from a tall mountain. The layout of the land is visible from where we stand, and you can see the whole territory laid out like a big topo map. When we come down from here, we will be in a new place. But where? What will be different?But also the big businesses are winning more than their share of subsidies, regulations are being repealed, and the billionaires in America have gotten 10% richer in the first 6 weeks of our shelter-in-place, while small businesses and indviduals go broke.  Many of us feel isolated, without regular face-to-face contact with people outside our household. Governments are rolling back regulations about pollution and privacy.
Which side of the mountain will we be on when we come down? Or should I ask, where will be the mountain? We have the power to choose our destiny. Humans have become a geological force.We reached the end of the peninsula and turned east along the Marsh Trail, where the trees give way to rolling grass. My mind stopped wandering and my legs picked up the pace. When I’d gone out as far as my legs wanted to go, 3.7 miles on my cell phone pedometer, I put the Baby Tommy down in the first patch of tall, golden grass that was soft and not prickly. He smiled and grabbed the grass heads. He showed me six or so varieties of wild grass. He hugged me. He would’ve stayed out in the field all afternoon. Since I live in an apartment, the only place where I feel confident that the ground will not infect him with a deadly virus is someplace very remote. We drank some water from the bottle I’d brought from my bike shop. I took some photos. We made a phone call. Then it was time to go.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Publication About My Grandfather's Life in the North

Studying to split firewood with Grandpa,
November 2007
Well, the secret's out - I've been writing a memoir about my grandfather's journey from New York City to the Bering Sea by canoe, starting in 1971 when he was 50 years old.

My grandfather told the most wonderful stories to me, and to dozens of other people, about his journey and his life in the north. When so much of the rest of my life comes with trigger warnings, about personal stuff, societal problems, and environmental issues, I find that my grandfather's stories give me comfort and a sense of direction. So I decided to preserve his truth and his stories. I'm preserving them for my future self, and for others to whom they may be meaningful.

Here is one for you to read, on Tamim Ansary's excellent storytelling blog:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bicycles, Commuters, Athletes, and Intellectuals

Our bike shop, Lulu's, at 3089 Telegraph Ave
in Berkeley, California
For years, I was an elite racer,
riding the most expensive equipment, smiling for photos, and driving or flying thousands of miles a year to race Olympic and National champions. It was a beautiful and fulfilling endeavor.

It was also a little surprising, since I grew up in an intellectual family that looked down on athletes as "shallow." We rode bikes. My daddy used bicycles as interesting example problems in the course he taught with Peter Doyle, called "Geometry and the Imagination." We went places on bikes - to school, to my daddy's office, to the pick-your-own strawberry farm, to summer camp three states away. But we didn't "work out."

After years as an athlete who rode in weightless circles for the sake of pure motion, it's nice to be back, running a commuter shop that caters to scholars. Because getting around was the whole reason that cycling became my passion.
Riding to Preschool behind
the "World's Greatest Geometer"
(my father)
Cycling medals, National and State championships

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sunscreen by Zealios

Ever since my Daddy died of melanoma - well, ever since he was diagnosed with melanoma back in March of 2011 - I've taken sun exposure pretty seriously. I get a lot of sun on my bike. I need to wear sunscreen. But some sunscreens are toxic, some are hormone disrupters, some only pretend to protect against cancer, and some actually increase your risk of cancer. Marissa Axell pointed out this sunscreen rating website a couple years back, and I've been consulting it religiously since: . Frequently I find myself in the baby section of most drug stores before I find a sunscreen that satisfies the criteria of protectiveness and non-toxicity. So when I learned that my road team for 2014, Threshold p/b Leadout Endurance Coaching, has a sunscreen sponsor, I was skeptical. I was pretty happy to discover that Zealios uses the same active ingredients as the baby sunscreens I was spending hours finding at the drug stores, making it as non-toxic and protective as the sunscreens come. What's more, Zealios doesn't give me the ghastly glazed-white look that I get from most of the baby sunscreens. It is perfectly translucent and waterproof, and feels nice and smooth on my skin. The best sunscreen I've tried. SCORE!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Randy Shoquist

I woke up this morning with a memory on my mind.
Randy Shoquist was a great match sprinter, and he was this really humble bike mechanic.
The first time I met him, I was riding my Schwinn High Plains around Portland, and I'd tacoed one of the wheels. It was a $300 mountain bike I'd had since I was 12. I went to 3 or 4 shops and all of them said it would cost me $150 to replace the wheel. I was just a poor college kid making minimum wage on my summer break. Thne I took it into Randy at Coventry Cycles...
"And he bent it back for you?" Dennis asked.
"I did that 3 or 4 times yesterday."
"Randy stepped on my wheel a couple times and handed it back to me, charged me $10 minimum shop labor. I was pretty happy.
"The next time I encountered him was a few years later when I started racing. He had the flying 200 record at Alpenrose. He held that track record for 30 years. It was amazing.
"Then a couple years after that, Mike Murray, who was in charge of the velodrome in Portland, said that Norrene, my racer friend who promoted and took a couple people to the London Olympics, did "more with less than anyone else he knew. And Randy Shoquist did less with more."
And I looked at him and I said, "Randy went really fast."
That was what mattered to me. The physicality of it. Not whether you were sponsored or traveled to a bunch of fancy races. Physical speed.

"Opening up a bike store, now, makes me feel kind of like Randy."
"And it's a humble kind of bike store."

Photo by James Mason,

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


What I do, I like to do well. I’ve had some success racing bicycles on the road, the track, and in cyclocross. I’ve won elite national medals on road and track, and a masters national medal in cyclocross.
Last year, I got back onto the velodrome after a decade of absence, and I combined that with road racing and cyclocross. I had some success. But I learned – the hard way, as I seem to learn so many things – that, though I can do any of those disciplines well, I can’t do all three disciplines at a high level in one season.
“Discipline” has as much to do with punishment and domination as it has to do with devotion, understanding, and a life of faithful practice. Depending on its inflection, “discipline” can give a life structure and purpose, or, like in an abusive relationship, it can leave a person broken, fragmented, shut down, wandering, and lost.
So which discipline is it going to be this year? Well, cyclocross. That choice has more to do with timing than anything else. After a three-discipline season in 2012, I was hammered, overtrained, molested by a long string of injuries and illness, burnt out, and sick of cycling. I tried to quit racing for good in April. By June I had discovered (the hard way) that I love and enjoy and want and need to race my bike. It’s the end of July and I’m just toeing my way back towards the discipline of riding. Cyclocross happens late enough in the year that I can still hope to get all the way up to speed before the season ends.
The pure intense physical endeavor of racing is fun and games and punishing pain and grim hard work and serious indolence and satisfaction. I’m, tentatively, stoked.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Free Range Human

What does it mean to be a free range human?

Being a free range human means that my life, my work, my income, my self-expression come naturally and develop organically in healthy relationships to other people and the world around me. It means that my routines are comfortable and have enough space to let me be myself, and enough structure to allow me to coordinate with other people and develop stronger disciplines over time. For years I tried to fit myself into other people's molds and ideas of excellence, for instance the full time job. The most fulfilled people I know might roam around and move stuff for a living; they might sit and think for a living; they might ride bikes and talk to people for a living. It's a different combination for every free range human I've met, as unique and recognizable as a fingerprint. It's a way of dancing with life.