Monday, October 4, 2010

Spinning Our Wheels

I called a friend at home and asked, "What's new?"   "I'm totally into biking these days!" she replied.

Us, too.

We carry two bicycles on our boat. The Cap'n has a full-sized trail bike which gets strapped to the stern rail when we're underway, and the crew has a small but spiffy bright red folding bicycle; it lives in the shower stall (when we are not showering).

The state parks on Kentucky Lake average a couple miles of hiking trails
each.  Meanwhile an area of lakeshore is reserved for four-wheelers.
This family rode out onto a sandspit, sending waterbirds flying
The folding bike has small tires, like a 10-year-old boy's BMX racer. But the telescoping frame unfolds to full size, and the bike has seven speeds, so (with a little grunting) you can pedal up most hills. It doesn't go very fast because of the small tires, but it gets you there eventually.

This week, we were anchored out in one of the many little protected bays along Kentucky Lake. We were going stir-crazy and needed a leg stretch.  The map showed a nature center about 5 miles away. No boat docks in sight.

So the Cap'n ran the bow of the boat onto shore and dangled the bikes onto the sand. Then backed the boat out and anchored. Then we dinghied in and saddled up.

It was a lot of work but we had a grand day, cycling up and down the rolling terrain, past the fall wildflowers and the occasional road-killed lizard.  There were moments (going uphill) when I wasn't sure I'd make it.  But not a single sore muscle the next day.

In case you are wondering, to get the bikes BACK on the boat, we put them in the dinghy. (See photo on previous page). Weighing anchor and then re-anchoring is even more work than that!

Are YOU prepared to meet and accept nature on its own terms?
(The crew says, "Yes, all but the chiggers."  Those, we nuke with DEET)
The more cycling I do, the more I like it.   When we arrive at a marina folks often offer to give us a ride to the grocery story and (unless we need something heavy, like laundry detergent, or three cases of Diet Coke) we are increasingly likely to say, "Thanks, but we have our bikes. We enjoy the exercise."

Our Wonderful Son is an inveterate cyclist and passionate environmentalist who hates to burn fossil fuels.  (Probably the only teenager in recent American history with no interest in getting his driver's license).

I'm starting to feel embarrassed in retrospect about all the times he proposed to bike to a destination and I said to him, "Why don't I just drive you?"

Bikes are especially handy in cities.  In St. Louis, we had a rental car, and in the downtown traffic,  as we stopped at every traffic light, we watched with bemusement as a dignified older man on an English bike with upright handlebars kept pace with us, block for block . . . and then pulled far ahead.

On the freeway we noticed one of those flashing, illuminated signs, the kind that usually say, "Slow down, construction zone."  This one was flashing the air quality report for the St. Louis region: yellow alert. That means "very sensitive individuals and those with a history of respiratory disease should limit outdoor exertion."

Bike fuel, locally produced.
The city has a history of air quality issues.  In the 1930s the problem was coal smoke from power plants. In the 1960s and 70s, rapidly increasing numbers of automobiles belched clouds of smog. The state has put more stringent auto emissions standards and inspection programs in place and required vapor recovery nozzles on gas pumps.  The day we visited, there WAS construction on the highway--adding another lane.

We've been to plenty of places on this trip where elaborate bikeways (doubtless installed at great expense) appear mostly unused.  Admittedly bikes are not for everyone and in some kinds of weather they're not the ideal form of transportation.

But what would it take to make biking more convenient--and more appealing--for the average American? Telling people they should do something because it's good for them, or good for the environment . . .  well, history shows that approach is doomed to failure.

 So what would make biking trendy? Worth a try? Convenient?  A way to commute?  Your thoughts?

In St. Louis we had dinner at a little sidewalk place in the historic Maryland district, and the only thing detracting from the experience was the heavy traffic a few feet away.  At one point a family went by on bicycles—slim and pretty blond mom in her late 30s pedaling point, bespectacled Dad behind her, towing one of those little trailers, two kids inside--and as they pedaled past, we noticed a big yellow sign on the back of the bike: “What are YOU doing to reduce your use of gasoline”


  1. Every time I think about your "bike in the shower", I smile.

    FWIW, back in my radical anti development days, we came across several studies that suggested that the adding of another lane essentially means that you're adding more traffic.

  2. Interested in cycling infrastructure in the U.S.ofA? Followers will definitely want to follow the evolution of the U.S. Bicycle Route System.
    One of Montreal's success stories, the BIXI self-serve bike rental system is making it's way across the continent:
    Cycling is good for the environment and one's health.
    Ron in Montreal

  3. Also, I follow your adventure with great interest. One of my dreams is to Bike & Boat the great loop one of these days.