Monday, January 31, 2011

The Reference Point

Sometime during the chaos of building My Front Door, my sister Jenny slipped my wife Jenny (yes I know it is a little weird) a wad of cash and told her to spend it on something fun. This Front Door Adventure is brought to you by my loving Sister Jenny.

Adventure Bike 1.0 (AKA Url). Built like a tank yet hard to hit. Designed and built by David and Issac at Second Ascent in Ballard. Top notch work done at a fair price.

Oishii Sushi in Greenwood. Pros: Good Sushi and great service. Cons: No bike rack.

I am a Lucky Basartd to have married such a fine looking woman who will go on a bike date in the rain with me. I am thankful her parents invested in orthodontic braces.

My month of sobriety did not stop me from stocking the beer cellar. Chuck's on 85th and 8th in Greenwood has the best beer selection in Seattle. Chuck is a pretty entertaining fellow as well.

My Team: Promises of hot coffee and food just around the next bend and beer at the end of the day keep Team Snowman on the move.

In what I have coined the Beach Climb Ride, 5 Seattle and Shoreline Parks are visited over 40 miles and 1500 feet of climbing. Hamlin Park, Shoreline WA.

Rails, rain and empty playgrounds.

One of my favorite tree in Seattle. If this one could talk, a story it could surely tell.

Salmon Slide. Carkeek Park, Seattle WA.

Perfect riding conditions. 43 degrees and raining. We love our green summers here in Seattle.

The tree gives the blacktop the middle finger. As much as pavement make my life by bike easier, I still like to see the trees win the battle.

First beer in 29 days. I haven't gone that long since I was 12.

January 3oth, 2011. Rainy and 43 degrees in Seattle Washington. Today was a perfect Reference Point Day. A Reference Point Day you ask? What on earth is that? The Reference Point is closely tied to my belief that we might all benefit by embracing a little more discomfort in our lives. Yes that is what I said, embrace discomfort.
I had this conversation a couple weeks ago with Ben Krause who has been farming in the Snohomish River Valley for the past 30 years. Sitting in his hot tub drinking a beer just a few miles short riding a 1oo miles on a day that the temperature never creeped above freezing, Ben offered his opinion of my recreational pursuits, "I can see the fun in riding bikes and all Matt, but today is pretty miserable man."
I couldn't disagree, but instead posed this question. "Are you comfortable right now Ben?"
He looked a bit confused and hesitated, but sitting in a 100 degree pool of water with a cold beer, there was really only one answer, "Yeah, I am pretty comfortable."
"How do you know?", was my follow-up question. Again, a confused look; this time I didn't wait for a response.
"You know you are comfortable because you have spent quite a bit of time uncomfortable Ben." I pointed across the yard over to the old milk parlor, which was converted into a bakery/kitchen several years ago when the Krause's discovered that pumpkin patches and weddings were a better bet than cows. "I can remember when we were kids and you would be up at three in the morning on freezing cold mornings going broke milking cows. Covered in shit, cussing up a storm and every day deeper in dept. That was pretty uncomfortable eh?" Ben laughed and nodded, "Yeah, that was pretty uncomfortable alright."
"Exactly, you know you are comfortable now because you have spent quite a bit of time in your life really uncomfortable, you have a reference point for understanding comfort. " I could tell Ben was following me but still thought I was crazy.
It seems to me that we strive so much in our lives to eliminate any discomfort that we don't recognize or appreciate the simple things that bring us comfort. A hot shower, dry socks, a roof over my head, clean drinking water and a warm bed. These are a few of the simple comforts that I appreciate on daily basis.
People have a hard time understanding why I get out of bed an hour early in the morning when it is pouring down rain, get on a bike and peddle when there is a perfectly fine automobile sitting at curb side ready to deliver me to my destination. The truth is that inviting a little discomfort into my life provides the reference point for me to understand and appreciate the things that bring me comfort.
As our country becomes collectively fatter, more polluted, and increasingly mechanized I think we all might benefit a little by inviting a bit more discomfort in our lives. Maybe a short walk in the rain to bus stop, possibly getting up a little earlier to carpool with coworker, might I suggest a bike ride in the rain?
You gotta get to know the ying to understand the yang.

Livin' the Dream


Sunday, January 16, 2011


Church is in session, 50 degrees and raining on Sunday morning in Seattle. Living in the Great NW nearly my entire life, I have come to the realization that it could be like this until June. May as well embrace it and get outside.

Brown's Coffee and Cafe at it's new location, the best thing going in North City. I have been a long time fan of Neil Brown and his business practices. Kevin Rodgers bought me coffee and a snack this morning. Thanks Kevin!

I have learned many things in life from my friend Eric . Included among the lessons is the meaning of the word recreation. Recreation comes to us from the Latin re + creare literally meaning to create anew. Eric majored in Recreation at Western Washington University and introduced me to the concept that the true purpose of recreation is not to simply relax, but rather to help us re-create or renew ourselves. It has taken me a while to understand this concept, but more and more I turn to my bike to help clear my mind of the layers of chaos that build Monday through Friday. Spinning down the Burke in the rain on Sunday with no more of an agenda than to ride, solutions to problems that I have been pondering all week start to unravel almost effortlessly, and the piles of tasks that seemed overwhelming on Friday afternoon fall into a mental checklist and seem surprisingly surmountable.

John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain references a growing body of evidence that supports the contention that aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on anxiety, stress, depression, learning, aging and attention. Ratey's research states that, "physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. For the brain to learn, these connections must be made... The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.”
Stop the press, exercise really is good for your brainl!

While some may look at a Sunday ride in the rain as an exercise in misery, the truth is that it is this act which helps me to re-create spiritually, physically and now it seems neurochemically. I wonder what would happen if if everyone road a bike to work once a week? Might we notice increased worker productivity? Maybe decreased incidence of depression? Possibly less days lost to illness and decreased medical care costs? Could it lead to improved environmental health? Would stronger communities emerge? Who knows for sure, but we can now definitively say that recreating by bicycle is good for your brain. Good enough for me for me to keep riding.

Livin' the Dream


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tea Party 100

Pre-Front Door Adventure cleaning. Likely the last big ride for the Trek 520 and I. Adventure Bike 1.0 is currently being put together. Stay tuned.

There are moments when riding for hours in the pre-dawn freeze with ice block hands and feet that you start to question your resolve for a winter bike adventure. Then there are other moments, like when watching the sun burn up the morning sky through a frozen orchard when you feel like you could ride for days.

Two wheels, snow and ice, a good attitude and a small brain.

Right to left: Pilchuck, Three Fingers, and White Horse Mountains over the Snohomish River Valley. (Abominable Snowman in the foreground).

Nature's sculpture park.

Salvation. A 30 minute break and a hot Chai do wonders for a man's motivation. The Java Inn Coffee Roasters in Snohomish is good place to grab a Cup of Joe from some local folks.

Terrible views and crowded bike paths.

Where the hell is Machias, WA?

Be on the lookout for horses in Machias...

...and trains near Silvana, WA

Sadie let me know that my Carhartts and Patagonia Fleece were not really "Handsome" enough for Tea. Since that was all I had, she agreed to let me stay.

Buffy, the very special Buffalo was also invited to the tea party. Last minute accommodations were made for Snowman and Duck.

60 miles in to a 100 mile day and all you can eat crumpets & tea. Livin' the Dream!

It is hard for me to reconcile the the beauty of this child and her striking resemblance to my brother. Madeline Wren at 8 months.

The Old Snohomish Library was built in 1910 with money donated by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. One of only 2,500 Carnegie Libraries built worldwide, the Old Library is now home of the Snohomish Carnegie Educational Foundation.

This tree was growing in what we call Snohomish County 100 years before Columbus "discovered" the New World.

It is very important to be on the lookout for farmers on tractors when riding at night near Snohomish.

Mom's Bean Soup. Guaranteed to put hair on your chest.

I ride bikes quite a bit. Most of my riding just involves getting here to there and back again. I ride to work. I go on long trips with gear. I prefer short trips to the bar. I raced a couple of BMX races at the Monroe Fair Grounds when I was a kid. I have been riding bikes my whole life, but I had never ridden 100 miles in a day.

The last day of 2010 seemed like a great day to give the solo century a go. With a forecasted high temperature of 33 and snow & ice on the streets I suited up at 5 am for my best shot at a Darwin Award. Using Disaster Style Tactics and my hand drawn map, I got a little disoriented (I have never been lost in my life) in Clearview (again) and was couple hours behind by the time I reached Snohomish. I tried to talk myself into throwing in the towel as my hands and feet thawed at the Java Inn. Fred's Tavern called from across the street, but I had a very important date to keep with my Niece Sadie in Arlington. Back on the road, the Centennial Trail opened up 17 blissful miles of solace. Truly, this is a gem of Washington State and I look forward to the day it stretches to Skagit County and beyond.

Although grossly underdressed for the occasion, my lack of manners was excused with the promise of more 'handsome' attire in the future and I enjoyed the most precious time that I have had with Sadie in her young life. We talked of family and made future plans to visit links to her past over tea and butterfly sandwiches.

Too soon I had to be on the move as 40 miles and the short winter days threatened. A forced bivy between Arlington and Snohomish didn't sound as nice as a warm bed at Mom and Dad's house. The frigid wind pushed me south, cold beers and a hot tub at The Farm 4 miles short of the finish line proved the most dangerous objective hazard of the day.

Creeper gear up Fobes Hill, bean soup and corn bread, shower, sleep...deep sleep.

It wasn't all that long ago that the minute school got out for Christmas vacation I was racing off to climb frozen waterfalls in Canada or Colorado. While I am not quite ready to hang up my ice tools yet, I can't help but recognize that a bike ride, a tea party with my niece, and spending a little time with friends and family brings me a joy that can't be found on the side of a frozen mountain.

Livin' the Dream