Friday, July 23, 2010

Christmas in July

I need to find an online photo workshop for "Taking Photographs with Your Limited Point-And-Shoot Camera While Trying To Keep Up With A Massive Peloton During A Group Mountain Bike Ride." It can be frustrating to watch compelling image after compelling image rip by you, only to whip out your camera and grab a blurry shot of half of somebody's butt. Faster members of Missoula's Thursday Night Riders simply blaze ahead and then wait at a strategic perch, capturing dynamic shots of a 21-rider paceline grinding up a smooth ribbon of singletrack.

The rest of us get rear shots. And a face-full of this grass that I am fairly certain I am highly allergic to. During my Friday Death Ride, I attributed my early bonk to overtraining, but now I'm wondering if part of it was allergies. John and I went whipping through a few miles of this stuff on Friday night, and shortly after that I began to feel like my entire head was slowly filling with warm ooze. Then again, on Thursday, a ride through the grass was followed by lots of sneezing, coughing and more of that disorienting "lead head" feeling. For five years in Alaska, I had nearly no problems with allergies, but now I am back in the land where summer can be mildly toxic. Time to go purchase some Claratin.

Right now, I am looking to purchase a new point-and-shoot camera. I like the Olympus Stylus, but now that I am living in a spot where rain and grit is much less prevalent, and destruction of the camera isn't imminent, I'd like to buy something with a better lens and stronger zoom. Someday I will upgrade to an SLR with the goal of shooting a few magazine images, but I still suspect I'll carry the point-and-shoot on most of my rides, so that priority comes first. Anyway, I've already received a few good recommendations, but I'd love to hear more if you have any.

Being able to shoot close-up images would also be nice. I spotted these fireweed blooms as I was walking down the loose scree of the "Huckleberry Headwall." As I moved off the trail to take a photo, Bill asked me about the famous fireweed gauge. "Doesn't the flower height mean there will be a lot of snow this winter?" he asked. "No," I replied, "When the blooms reach the top of the plant, that means summer's over. So, see, this one shows summer is half over, which makes sense, cause it's late July." Just as we were discussing this, another guy came skidding out of control around the corner and toppled over himself, landing face first in the dirt. And I totally missed it, because I was taking a dumb photo of a flower.

Spending time at higher elevation helped clear my head, but then it was time to get back into the grass on the descent.

These Thursday night groups have been great fun, but my giddiness about a month straight of near-perfect weather and excitement for my upcoming weekend hiking trip to Glacier National Park could only be eclipsed by the arrival of my first new bike in two and a half years:

It's a fixed-gear commuter! Built by Mr. Fixie himself, Dave Nice of Over The Edge Sports in Hurricane, Utah. When I first moved to Missoula, I was badly in need of a new commuting bike. My old Ibex touring bike has served that purpose well, but it recently lost a bit of its brake lever and rear brake arm (Who knows when or how. I can't even say I was 'just riding along' when this happened.) "Roadie" has served me well, but I've had it now for more than six years and who knows how many thousands of miles, and it's starting to become difficult just to keep it on the road. When I considered my needs - a simple bike for commuting in a flat city, where the weather can be icy and wet during the winter, and a bike that doesn't have pieces regularly falling off of it - the fixie made perfect sense. Enter Dave, who had a vision, and an extra Fuji Obey frame lying around. He built it up and shipped it via UPS - i.e. "Brown Santa" - and it just arrived today.

The funny thing about purchasing a fixie is that I've never ridden one; not even once. I knew it would take some getting used to, so I took it out for a spin around the neighborhood, sticking to side streets and cautiously approaching intersections like a teenager in driver's ed. I learned that the fixie is a strict interpreter of Sir Issac Newton's First Law of Motion - a fixie in motion wants to stay in motion, and a fixie at rest is difficult to coax forward again. The pedals fight a lot when you're trying to achieve a quasi-stop. I can finally understand why some fixie riders don't bother with brakes, because your legs pretty much serve as your stopping force. The front brake just makes you feel a bit better. Anyway, it was a fun experiment. I can't wait to start commuting with it next week!

Dave asked me color of chain I wanted, and I said "pink." I thought he was kidding, but I guess chains really do come in colors. I love the look of this bike - it's so sleek and stylish. I am thinking about naming her "Contessa." Contessa is the word for an Italian countess, which seems fitting for a skinny (only 21-22 pounds!) rigid, fixed-in-her-ways bicycle with the model name Obey. But really, I came up with the name from a song that popped into my head earlier today, "Streets of Fire" by the New Pornographers:

Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, fire in the street,
Let's sully every stage.
Lick my lips, twist my hips,
But Contessa ... I already did.