I'm not sure why I've started a blog.  Perhaps it is to see if I can write anything non-technical worth reading.  Or maybe give an alternate view of the world, or at least a view of my world.  "blag" is British slang meaning to use well-practiced blarney to acquire something, e.g., "I blagged my way into the concert".   So while many have a blog, I have a blag.


May 18, 2018

While cleaning my apartment, I came across a brochure published in 2013 which was a collaboration between the City of Lake Forest and the then-called League of Illinois Bicyclists that was meant to promote the energy-efficient notion of cycling to Lake Forest's train depot and then riding the Metra Rail to one's destination, whether that be work or any of the goings-on in Chi-town. Titled Bike To Metra, this would be the kind of fold-out brochure displayed in a little stand-up tray on a counter or ledge in the train depot. I've scanned the brochure and posted it here. Look closely, and you will see me in a couple of the photos. (Your "Where's Danno?" hint is BOOKS.)

My recollection is that the League of Illinois Bicyclists had some money for a photo shoot and promotionary brochure. Megan O'Neill-Neuman was a LaFo city planner at the time actively working on the city's Bicycle Master Plan. She's pictured in one of the inset photos wearing a vest and green sleeves. Megan sent out a call for cyclists to be part of the photo shoot that took place on some cold Friday morning in early October (note the leaf colors). I had forgotten until searching the web when writing this post that North Shore Daily reporter Adrienne Fawcett authored a story about the photo shoot itself, Lake Forest Featured In Metra's New Biking Guide. The pictures from that story are a reminder of the one thing I can say about these photo shoots, which is (and I'm sure the super-models would agree): there is a lot of standing around.

The City of Lake Forest Bicycle Master Plan was a rather impressive initiative for a city the size of Lake Forest, with a fair amount of citizen input gathered during three or four interactive neighborhood meetings. Citizens in a place like Lake Forest (and probably everywhere) really do care about livable communities. The bigger accomplishment that came from the LaFo master plan was the city's ability to secure some federal moola to pay a good part of re-routing McClory Multi-use Trail from the east-side train depot parking lots where cyclists were often confused as where to continue and which created a clash of cyclists and motorists annoying one another. (Maybe the money came from the funds bungled by Wisconsin's governor.) The new route has a short jog coming into the parking lot that takes the trail over to the east edge of the parking lot along-side McKinley Street and makes the trail and streets meet at a four-way stop intersection. My initial thought in the planning stage was that the existing configuration was fine if only there were some painted direction signs on the pavement. However, the final result was much better than I had imagined. There's still a dodgy couple of intersections where a lot of pedestrian, bicycle and automobile traffic meets, but the design is much better than the prior setup. At the same time, the new design offered a solution for shuttle-bus parking because it created a wider parking lot space free from McClory Trail traffic. Ms. O'Neill-Neuman soon left after League of Illinois Bicyclists' brochure was published and the Bicycle Master Plan concluded, taking a job in Seattle.

In the pictures I'm riding my Trek 730 hybrid from the mid 1990s. Even at that point I don't think I rode that bicycle much anymore. It's a great bicycle; one of the last of its kind--quality steel tubing made in Waterloo, WI. Steel is a nice frame material when it is high quality and thin walled like some Reynolds brands. Unfortunately it simply isn't an all-weather material. One ride in snowy weather with salted roads and, yikes, the corrosion starts to set in immediately. Instead, I now ride my mid-90s carbon LeMond with stainless steel SRAM Red cables and stainless steel 10s1 Wipperman Connex chain exclusively. Carbon doesn't exhibit thermal expansion to the degree metals do, so a carbon frame rides steady in any weather. Slush building up on the brakes and turning to ice? Been there, done that--but I don't recommend it (smiley-face).

Sometime in 2013 or 2014 I was working in the northern Chicago neighborhood of Ravenswood, and I would often bike to the LaFo train station, put my bicycle on a Metra Rail train, bike a block to work, then in the evenings get a good workout by cycling the 25 to 30 miles back home. The two route alternatives were higher speed Western Avenue to the west of Ravenswood and more densely urban Clark Street to the east of Ravenswood. Illinois pot holes are one thing, but a Chicago, Clark Street pot hole is in a class by itself, unparalleled by any municipality in the nation. Sometimes Clark Street has a pot hole that goes down to the original brick foundation. Analogous to dating the Earth's crust based on rock strata, I think of those as Prohibition pot holes. I take it pretty easy on heavily urban streets, and it is usually more about sightseeing in neighborhoods like Lincoln Square, Andersonville, etc. Actually, as of this blogging, Clark Street is hardly rideable for cyclists at a decent pace because of the extensive patchwork of poorly re-cemented ruts where sewer work was done. (Some guy on roller-skates managed fine, though, the last time I rode Clark Street.)

One particular ride stands out for how cold it was. On some mid-winter ride, the bike computer thermometer read 19 °F (17 °F is the lowest the computer reads before it displays an ominous "--"). That's not an exceedingly cold temperature, but what I hadn't accounted for was riding 25 miles into a near gale-force, continuous northerly wind. My booted feet were so cold by the time I reached Highland Park I had to stop at the train depot to warm up before heading out on the last five miles home. Winter cycling is all about the rate of heat loss, or the equivalent of wind chill, and it doesn't work out that colder is always less comfortable. For example, 29 °F (just below freezing) is often more comfortable than, say, 35 °F (just above freezing), the reason being that temperatures below freezing will take the moisture out of the air. Some of the worst cycling conditions are when the temperature is just above freezing and the air is moist. Suffice it to say, wind is always bad in winter. One wants to keep the pace up to generate heat and keep from losing perfusion in the fingers, but go too fast and not only does wind chill increase but sweating can make things worse by increasing the rate of heat loss, especially inside boots. Winter riding is a constant balancing act.

As a last note, the League of Illinois Bicyclists now apparently goes by the name Ride Illinois. Why? I don't know. But whatever the name, it's nice to have a state-wide organization like Ride Illinois advocating for favorable cycling legislation. Otherwise, without bike-friendly legislation that allows riding on roads unless marked with signage as bicycle restricted (which is very rare), cyclists would have to dangerously "bike on the sidewalk" as proclaimed by many overly-vocal motorists.


November 1, 2009

This is a true story.  (I have to say that because otherwise I'd be accused of being a nutty animal activist, making stuff up.)

I went bicycling today.  It's a precious thing this time of year because the weather in Northern Illinois isn't always so good, and for it to be mid 50s and sunny on a weekend in November is good fortune.  In Fall, the sun lies low in the sky, and sundowns are brief.  So, afternoon rides are short.

Now, riding in Northern Illinois isn't the same as in some nearby states.  Getting to the country takes a while, and if one's ride is short there is little option but to ride on some heavy trafficked roads.  It's something I'm used to.  Yet, there are some nice roads with a little more natural setting about five miles to the west of where I live.  A series of forest preserves stretches south/north just west of I-94.  Along the edge of one preserve is Riverwoods Road, which is freshly paved and has a three foot edge--something rare.

As I peddled south along Riverwoods Road at a fairly good pace, I came to an area with groves of leafless trees thirty yards from the road.  Nearer to the road was thick prairie.  I saw a bird lying on its side in the road's edge and, as usual, altered my path to miss the animal in the road.  The bird was fairly big so as I passed I watched near my foot to see if I could identify the type of bird.  The bird's breast was nearest my view and was brown/cream colored with black speckle running the length of its belly--most likely a wood thrush with solid, light brown cover.  What struck me is that the bird appeared to raise its head as I passed.  Usually when a small bird is hit by a car, the demise is swift, so this caught my attention.

After letting cars pass from behind, I turned the bicycle around and headed back to see if what I saw was true or whether the wind had caused the illusion of the bird's motion.  The wood thrush was, in fact, still alive... barely.  Internal injuries were clear as there was some blood near the bird's long beak.  Time was running short for this creature.

The wood thrush seemed to realize my presence, blinking its one eye that wasn't to the pavement and occasionally struggling to move.  Appearing paralyzed, it could only manage to raise its head slightly.  I wondered what the bird's thoughts or imagery might be at this stage, done in by a world it can't understand--as opposed to, say, a hawk circling nearby or some other suspect wildlife competing for survival--and me standing nearby.  In a short while, the thrush's belabored breathing would falter, its carcass lying on its side near the road's edge.

Five minutes had passed, and the bird's breathing became more intense but at longer intervals, now more of a strong, audible huff.  At this point, bubbles of blood ran outward along the bird's beak.  No more than ten huffs.  That was it.

The surprising ending to this story is that my original assessment of paralysis was wrong.  With its dying breath, the thrush fluttered its wings in a brief flurry, enough to upright its body with its beak tucked neatly beneath its chest, no longer lying as though flattened helpless.  One last attempt at flight--what it was born to do.