Monday, January 31, 2011

Ice Tonight, Snow Tomorrow, And Wind On Wednesday

It begins with ice.
When I got to the parking lot after work this was my windshield

A co-worker working on her windshield. She and I walked to the lot together. We got sprayed by a passing car on our way. It wasn't a mere misting, I'm talking a wall of water. She got really wet. I was wearing my rain gear and waterproof boots. I don't think she liked me very much at that moment. But, I helped her clean off her car and all was forgiven.

By the time I finished helping my friend clear her windows my rear window didn't look like this anymore. The ice was pretty much melted off. I'm always surprised at why folks here don't just let the car warm up before they start scraping. Maybe I'm just lazy.
Now we wait to see how much snow covers the ice. The forecasters at the National Weather Service were referring to this storm as "potentially historic" in its severity. Now they are referring to it as merely "crippling." I guess that is a down grade.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just Another Wonderful Day Of Commuting Here In The Heartland

Today was my first commute since our last bout of snow.

Last night I'd gone for a short ride. I wanted to top off Billie's gas tank and I wanted to check out the alley. It was 34F when I went out for my ride. The alley was slushy, slippery and actually rather fun. The main roads were clear and dry. So, for the first time in over a week I went to sleep knowing I was riding in the morning.

It was 18F when I opened the garage door. The slushy alley had been transformed into a skating ring.
Even the area between the tire groves was ice.
There was an area next to the building that was pretty clear. So, staying left I managed to get to the street. Once on the street, it was a wonderful ride into work.

I could have gone around, but notice I rode through the snow.
Billie was the lone bike in the parking area. I wasn't surprised. I did see one other bike on the way to work and a scooter on the way home.

And, now for a slight digression. One of my duties at work is to take files between the two courthouses. There are two sweeps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Rain, shine, or snow it doesn't matter the run between the two courthouses must go on. Our first major snow of the New Year, the one before the most recent snow, came over a weekend. Monday morning found me pushing my cart through the partially cleared snow. As I made my way I noticed something in the street near the curb. It was a small stuffed dog toy. I moved it out of the street and went on my way. That afternoon, the little beast had moved up on the wall which protects the ramp that leads down into the basement of the Civil Courthouse. On Tuesday, it had fallen off the wall and spent the day on the sidewalk. Wednesday morning found it still on the sidewalk. I moved it to the top of the wall. Thursday morning it had again fallen down onto the ramp. It was lying in the undissolved salt and looked rather pathetic. I moved it back to the top of the wall. Friday morning it had returned to its bed of salt on the ramp. Once again I placed it on the top of the wall. I told myself if it was still there when I made the afternoon run, the last run of the week, I was going to put it on the cart and take it to my desk.
Salty the Wonder Dog protecting files on top of my desk and watching me take off my gear.

I don't know if riding really does improve my mental health, but I know for sure it improves my mood. I do so love having the ride home to look forward to as the afternoon tips toward leaving time. When I ride to work, I get excited about the ride home in a way I never do when I commute by car.

It was 37F and clear when I left the Courthouse.
A glimpse of the type of streets I commute on.

Yep, today I rode off into the sunset.
When I got home the alley was back to being slushy, slippery and fun to navigate.

Just another wonderful day of commuting here in the Heartland.

Monday, January 24, 2011


He broods over the map
highlighter in hand,
old school,
tracing out possible rides
while outside
the snow is on the ground
and ice,
in patches,
covers the roads.

He yearns and waits
yet is not idle.
And, in the doing
comes a taste of peace,
but serenity remains elusive,
calling to him and
longing for the twist of his wrist.

~Circle Blue

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snowshoeing St. Louis: Part 2

I couldn't believe my ears.  The message on the weather hotline said the Courts were closed because of the snow. I am always surprised when the Courts close, and today was no exception. I was so distrustful of my ears that I called the weather hotline again just to make sure . . . and, sure enough, I got the same recorded message. It was true. The 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of the State of Missouri was closed for the day. Amazing. 

Sadly, Heather did not have a snow day, but at least we could begin our day together. We walked over to our breakfast place, the place we first met. 
This is the scene that greeted us as we left the condo.

Sadly, not everyone had a snow day. It looks like this person had to work.

She had her customary frozen mocha and I had my sesame bagel. After, too short of a time, Heather re-bundled herself up to head outside to the bus stop.
The temperature was in the 20F's, but there was no wind. It is supposed to get colder tonight, not Alaskan cold, but maybe as cold as Atlanta. 

The bus was only a couple of minutes late.

I waited around until Heather called to let me know she made it to work. Even though the bus was a little late, she was still able to make her connection with the train. She had a good commute. Tonight I think I'll go over to the Metro station and pick her up from the train so she doesn't have to catch the bus, or worse . . . walk. I figure this is the least I can do considering, through no fault of my own, I had a snow day . . . A SNOW DAY!

Snow Day = Snowshoeing

Bigfoot is back

There was more snow on the ground than Christmas Eve Day. It made for much better snowshoeing.

While I will admit that I am not much of a dog guy and am happy to have them on a leash, I do think there should be an exception to this ordinance  for the first twelve hours after a snowfall of more than 4". Is there anything more delightful than watching a dog play in new snow?

In the center of Francis Park is a lily pond. On my Christmas Eve Day walk I had passed this area up. Today walking to this area was the closest to a goal I was willing to set.
Cold heart?

What's this?

It's a mermaid. I wonder what she is reading. That blanket she's wearing doesn't look very warm.

Is this little fella' wearing a snow blindfold?

Of course, I had to go over to where the neighborhood kids go sledding.
Give a kid a decent snowfall and they will find a hill . . . even if it isn't much of one.

Ah yes, the dreaded climb back to the top.

This was the only scooter I saw out today.

I spent a little over two hours in the park just wandering here and there.
I spent more than a few moments under these pine trees. It was so quiet. It was a gentle place, a soul place.

When I got home Billie again was willing to hold my snowshoes until they dried.
If you look close you can see that not only did Billie get new tires, but last Monday I added another set  of hand guards to her existing hand guards. Hopefully this will give me more wind protection.

I spent the rest of the day keeping the cat company, playing on the computer, and trying unsuccessfully to feel guilty for having a snow day when Heather didn't.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What A Difference A Couple Of Days Can Make

Today it was 33F and I saw Sun. I had to ride. When I rolled Billie, my 2010 Symba, out of the garage the alley looked like this:

Thursday night, just a couple of days ago, the alley looked much different:

I normally wouldn't choose to leave my garage when the alley looks like it did Thursday evening, but Billie's new tires were in. And, if I didn't get them put on Thursday night, I would have to wait until sometime in February. I had close to seven thousand miles on the original tires and really wanted them changed out. So, I decided to ride. The main roads were clear and at 25F the chemicals to melt the ice would be working just fine. No worry there. Of course, the alley and the side street might present a problem, but that was only the distance of a couple of hundred yards.

I eased out into the alley and stayed in the snow that hadn't been driven on. It provided decent traction. So far so good. When I got to the street it got more complicated, but I kept reminding myself to keep a steady throttle, to make no sudden movements, not to panic when my countersteering didn't produce immediate results, to trust the bike, to keep my hand off that front brake, and to keep my feet on the pegs. It all worked out, but I was glad to get to the main road, and even happier when I got to Maplewood Scooter Company.

Mike and Jake were waiting for me. They were even staying late, just so we could get these tires changed. Mike is closing his shop out in Kansas City and moving all his operations here. Since he has to be out of his Kansas City shop by the beginning of February, he was leaving the next day to finish up the job. Thus my sense of urgency.

Here are the new tires. The original tires were both the same size. We decided to go with a larger and wider tire for the rear. Mike thought it would give me more stability. Sounded good to me.

This is the old front tire. I'm not sure how one can tell if this tire is worn out, but I've not liked the tread pattern since the day I rode Billie home for the first time and I've been eager to change it out. But, being frugal, 6700 miles seemed as if I had been patient enough.

This is the old rear tire. Looking at the picture I'm wondering if the camera adds tread to a tire, like it adds pounds to a person's figure. The tread didn't look as good as it does in this picture believe me.
And, here she is modeling her new Michelin Gazelles. We also replaced the headlamp. It looks brighter, but I've not been on streets without lighting to see how much of an improvement this makes.

Everything went smoothly with the installation. I like boring and drama free experiences at the shop. After an hour or so, it was time to head home. And, it was a wonderful ride home. I was feeling fine and really enjoying the ride . . . and then I turned into my side street. Here is the scene:
I know it couldn't have changed it the couple of hours I'd been gone. I know it was still only two hundred yards or so to my alley, but in the darkness it looked much longer. Ah, but as is often the case, there was only one way through it, and that was through it.

The ride back in was definitely more interesting -- lots more slippin' and a slidin' going on. I suspect Chris at would tell me I was finally having some fun, but I'm not sure that was what I was having. I will admit; however, that it was certainly satisfying to make it safely back to the garage without a spill.
Billie with gazelles full of snow

On the right old tire print and on the left the new.

Late this afternoon when I returned from my ride I stopped at the same place where I took the picture of my street last Thursday night:
What a difference a couple of days can make.

~Circle Blue & Billie

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Am Forever the Optimist

Heather has been wanting to photograph a portion of the Riverlands Migratory  Bird Sanctuary. She wanted to get picture of it frozen. Since it was going to get up to 24F on Saturday it seemed a perfect day to head to the beach.

But, what she was really interested in was an area that has been flooded and only the stumps of trees are left.

This area is very near the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. As we were leaving we saw two American Bald Eagles standing on the ice in the river. I'm afraid they turned out to be no more than black specks since neither Heather nor I have the equipment to capture such photos.
There were photographers with tripods and lens as long as my arm working at getting the perfect image. In the background is the Clark Bridge. I'm told it was the subject of a Nova episode on PBS called The Super Bridge.

Here's a better picture of the twin towers of the Bridge. The Bridge connects Highway 367 to Alton, Illinois.
Having gone to the beach on Saturday what could be better than on nice ride on Sunday.

It was 16F when I left the house. I had a twelve mile ride to get to Kirkwood and my customary Sunday morning bagels. Eventually, I made my way down to the buildings I've been watching be rehabbed. I didn't take any pictures of the bagels (or the oatmeal raisin cookie that we won't mention), but I did get some photos of the buildings.

Even from this distance it is obvious the work on the roof of the first building is nearly complete.

When last I took photos the white soffit area was bare wood and not all the tiles were in place.

And the dumpster has returned. I'm suspecting there is a lot of work going on inside, but is hidden.
All told I rode a little over 50 miles today. Eventually, I had to remove a layer as the temperatures flirted with 30F. I wasn't expecting it to warm up so much. I ended up riding in just my Arctiva snowmobile pants, my winter riding coat, and a Columbia Titanium microfleece pullover. The layer I removed was a Champion Puff outer layer jacket.

The forecast for tomorrow is snow. We may get up to four inches of the white stuff between Monday and Tuesday. So, I wanted to get out today. I, also, lubricated the chain, which I'm happy to report is still holding tension.

Finally, a closing treat. Heather and I found this peacock ornament on our walk New Year's Day. I'd hope it was a omen of good things to come in 2011 . . .

and, it may still be. Although it does seem we here in the USA are off to a rocky start with the shooting in Arizona, but I am forever the optimist.

~Circle Blue, Heather and Billie.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Symba Naming Saga

Tiny, Nancy, and Sampson were the tractors my Grandfather owned when I was growing up. Ping was the name he gave the farm truck. I suspect he named these beasts of burden just as he had named the horses they replaced. I don't remember him ever naming his cars, just the work vehicles. 

I named the first car I owned and several after that, but eventually I, too, stopped naming my cars. They became the Neon, the Lynx, the Jetta, etc. There were occasional exceptions to this pattern. One that comes to mind is a blue Suzuki Samurai hardtop. I drove that vehicle way over 100,000 miles. I still have a framed picture of it on my bookcase. I loved that little beast. It's name was Sam-I-am.

When I bought a little blue 49cc scooter I didn't plan to name it -- it just happened. I don't think I was out of the dealer's parking lot before I was thinking of it as Lil' Blue. I sold Lil' Blue in order to buy a Symba.

I knew I was going to name the Symba. I started thinking about a name before I even put down a deposit on the bike. I'll admit I even had one picked out before I picked the Symba up from the dealer. Heather had counseled me to wait and see if the Symba would reveal its name to me just as Lil' Blue had given me his. And, of course, Heather was right. When I took delivery of the Symba and rode it home it was obvious to me that the name I had chosen was all wrong.
The day I picked up the Symba. Before any farkles.

I took possession of the Symba on a Saturday. Shifting with an automatic clutch took more getting used to than I had expected. It was the end of February and it was cold. The Symba revealed a habit for stalling as I came to a stop or when I started out. I found if I maintained a little throttle as I stopped it wouldn't stall, but this made shifting rather clunky and harsh.

Day Two of my relationship with the Symba was not much fun. It was colder than Day One. It was stalling more frequently. The rotary shifting pattern wasn't coming together for me and I was having trouble figuring out what gear I was in. But, being the optimist I am, during the twelve mile ride over to Kirkwood I convinced myself things were beginning to come together. On the ride home I was thinking it was getting even better, and then it happened. I discovered that the Symba is quite capable of doing a wheelie.

I had taken to beginning in second gear. The four-speed transmission seemed to be like the transmissions in the farm trucks I learned to drive in when I was a kid: Three speeds and a granny low. So, I was sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to go green. I was confident I was in second and ready to go. I was keeping the idle up to make sure I wouldn't stall. The light changed, I released the brakes, and gave it a little more throttle. I don't know if I was headed up grade, or more likely, I was riding the shifter which later I found out slips the clutch, whatever the cause, it seemed to me I must be in third gear rather than second. So, I down shifted, but I wasn't in third gear. I was in second gear, which means I dropped into that very low first gear without letting up much on the throttle. Suddenly, the front wheel started lifting off the pavement. All I could think of was the image of Silver rising up with the Lone Ranger astride and the announcer saying, "Hi Ho, Silver away!" But away we did not go. First we went up, and then, after what seemed a small eternity, we went down.

Thankfully there was no damage. 

The only mark on the Symba was a telltale frayed rear fender.

But, as I was picking myself and the Symba up off the ground it occurred to me that the Symba had given me its name: Bronco Billy. And, that could have been the end of this story, but it wasn't.

In the days following my unplanned stunt riding, I found when I spoke about the Symba I would refer to it as a "he" and think "Billy". On the other hand, when I wrote about the Symba I found myself inadvertantly spelling the name "Billie" as in Billie Holiday. So, which was it? Was it Billy, or was it Billie? Was this bike a little stallion, or was it a filly? I began to look for clues to the Symba's gender.

One day I noticed there was a Harley that had began parking next to the Symba in the motorcycle parking area at work. It seemed to me that each day the Harley got a little closer to Billie. It was almost as if the Harley was putting the moves on my Symba. It occurred to me that if I found out the Harley's name it might give me a clue to my bike's gender. One evening when I came out to head home the deputy who rides the Harley was putting on his brain bucket. So, I asked him if his bike had a name. He looked at me as if I was from another planet and barked out, "Softail." It certainly seemed to me he was giving me the choice to end the conversation right there or continue and find out what other one and two syllable words he knew. I chose to end the conversation.

I was beginning to fear my Symba was going to end up like Pat, that once upon a time character from Saturday Night Live, a forever "it."

One night chatting with my friend Katy. I shared with her my Symba naming saga. And, she solved the mystery. She said to me, "It (the Symba) has to be a "she" because she kicked you to the curb the first weekend. A man would never hurt you the first weekend, he would wait until the next weekend." 

And, that is how Billie got her name.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Few Statistics From The Year 2010

A few statistics from the year 2010.

I keep a log of the days I ride to work. I rode 85% of the possible work days in 2010. Since March, I've rode 94% of the possible days. This date is important because I purchased the Symba in February and took possession of her on 27 February 2010. There were six months that I had perfect 100% scores.

There were nineteen days that I couldn't ride last year because of weather or road conditions. The other days I missed were because of mechanical issues. There was a period of three weeks that the dealer had Billie. They gave me a loaner that I rode or the numbers would have been rather bleak. Ironically, I'm not sure they did very much to Billie while they had her. I'm very glad that I now have service support that I can trust.

When I picked up Billie she had 2.7mi. on the odometer. Here's the photo of the odometer on 31 December 2010:
6618 miles.
Mileage on the Symba for 2010 = 6615.3 miles.

A slightly belated Happy New Year! And, may 2011 be a safe and drama free year for us all.

~CB and Billie.