How We Roll: When A Bike Trip Is A Stumble

Words by Frank Hyman.
This story was originally published in Bicycle Times #25, October 2013.

My summer of hiking, biking and inflatable kayaking began with an embarrassing stumble. I planned to celebrate my fortieth birthday by spending four weeks hopscotching the islands of southeast Alaska. My boxed up bike had arrived intact with me at the tiny Juneau airport. The rainbow-colored Specialized mountain bike was all put together except for the rear derailleur cable. No amount of tugging could get it back into place. I’m kneeling in the airport with my bike upside down on the carpet and scores of travelers, in their Carhartt jeans or long skirts and leather boots, are moving quickly past me while I sit stymied. I’m not a wrencher. But before my trip I had met a guy who was. I brought my bike and a couple of six-packs to his backyard shop for some tutoring. I figured bike shops might be few and far between in what the locals call Baja Alaska. My new friend Tom helped me take my bike apart and put it back together again. We added a rear rack, a handlebar rack and fenders against the likely wet weather. Thinking back, by the time we were putting cables back into place, I’d had too many beers. A month later, I figured out how to pack my bike without disconnecting that cable. Whaddaya know? There’s not much of a road network in Baja Alaska so you couldn’t bike more than five or ten miles even if you wanted to. I was counting on getting from island to island on a state ferry with a little village of tents duct-taped to the aft deck. I made great plans to use my bike as a pack mule to cover the few miles from airports and ferry docks to hostels and campgrounds. My bike would carry me swiftly and scenically to trailheads, put-ins, restaurants and museums. With my inflatable kayak in a duffle bag strapped over the back panniers and a two-part paddle sticking up like smokestacks, I was only a short distance from any put-in. I could explore coves, harbors and icebergs. The planning and packing were almost as fun as the traveling. Baja Alaska is wetter than Baja, Mexico—the locals have thirty words for “drizzle”—so I bought a full set of rain gear. And I made up a recipe for a lightweight camping meal that was filling and delicious: quick grits, a bouillon cube and Parmesan cheese. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a cathedral-sized tunnel through Mendenhall Glacier waiting for me to explore its blue, icy-smooth interior. But for now, I couldn’t even get myself out of the airport. “Want help with that?” says a fellow with a beard and business suit as he crouches down with the bike between us. “Got it all together but the cable,” I say. The stranger reaches for the bike with both hands and, like a harp player, strikes a happy note as the cable pops into place. I’m speechless, but my face shows equal parts gratitude and wonder. “Lots of late nights putting bikes together before Christmas,” he says with a smile and a wink as he walks away. Thank. You. Santa.

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How We Roll: Urban Archeologist

This story first appeared in Bicycle Times #28.  

Words by Robert Brunberger

how I roll urban archeologist

There is much to note in bicycling about Baton Rouge. Many sights thrill. Others dishearten. Bicycling highlights each in ways less often seen from cars. Litter is as an unpleasant eyesore as roadkill. Too often am I greeted by cups and containers, food wrappers, and other assorted items too numerous to cite. Bungee cords are plentiful. Coins and bills less so. I once found $8.32 in scattered bills and change and on another occasion a rumpled five dollar bill peeking from the levee bike path grass.

Clothing items often appear, and a pair of pliers and a screwdriver now reside in my toolbox. I even recovered a junked but repairable bicycle, now my backup. Some finds are returnable. I reunited a lost dog with its owner as was the case with a wallet and keychain.

I feel like an urban archaeologist noting what others eat, drink, smoke, and use before discarding (or losing). Who are these folks for whom a rolled down car window is a mobile trash bin? How did they acquire a throwaway mentality? Does conspicuous consumption and materialism breed an instant waste disposal mindset? I struggle to understand.

I am the product of Great Depression and WWII-era parents who knew scarcity. They’d jump at loose change. They stretched hand-me-down clothes and intervals between haircuts. I know thrift stores, figuratively and literally. I know leftovers. Their values are hard to shake. Even bicycling seems a carryover from the ones once ridden in childhood.

Other bicycling finds puts litter to shame. They are aesthetic, and delight by striking a chord difficult to describe. These finds offer visual feasts, enable silent music to be heard, and stir where words fail.

There is grandeur to a flock of pelicans suddenly rising in a white cloud above the university or Capitol Lakes.

There is stunning beauty to a golden sunset sinking over the Mississippi River.

There is high drama in a gliding hawk’s arrow-like dive at an unsuspecting squirrel.

There is enchantment at the first hint of seasonal changes, as when buds appear or summer temperatures cool.

Thus are my bicycling finds a mixed bag.

What is deplorable is countered by what is captivating. Eyesores and eye openers go hand in hand and are never far apart. One, in fact, enhances the other. I bicycle before both, remaining the observant spectator. 


How do you roll?

Want to share a story about your bike and what makes it special? Send some details to [email protected] with the subject line “How I Roll.” We’ll publish some of our favorites online and in the magazine.

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How I Roll: This Ride is for the Dogs

Words and photo by Frank Hyman.

We have a yellow Labrador retriever named Abbey. She’s sweet and enthusiastic. When she sees me with a leash or tennis ball she pogo jumps, straight up and down, seven or eight times.

How We Roll - Ride with your dog

I love our dog, but I don’t love walking a dog. Too boring. So when I discovered there was such a thing as a bike leash, my heart did a little pogo jump. For $80 I bought one from Petego. It has a permanent mount that attaches out of the way, just below my bike seat. A cotter pin links it to a removable, springloaded rod and a stretchable leash with a clip. The clip attaches to a dog harness (not a collar) that goes around Abbey’s chest. The bike leash holds her clear of my pedals and away from the front wheel, safe as a sidecar. Collisions just aren’t a possibility as they would be with a hand-held leash.

You might think that this rig could lead to disasters when the dog wants to chase a squirrel. But the springiness of the bike leash absorbs any change in direction and the bike’s momentum keeps everyone parallel. Best of all, once Abbey graduates from walking speed to trotting speed her brain gets into travel mode rather than sniffing mode.

This bike leash thing works. I can get a ride in, exercise my dog and not be bored out of my skull.

But my wife, Chris, was doubtful. So I persuaded her to go for a ride with us. I hooked an excited Abbey to my bike. As Chris rode off , Abbey wanted to follow her immediately. Abbey loves me, but she’s in love with Chris. As long as Chris was in the lead, Abbey would trot to keep up with her and pull me along like I had my own personal sled dog. I simply coasted all the way to the dog park.

Chris won’t always be riding with us though. So now I wonder if I can get Abbey to pull me along by hanging a tennis ball in front of her. Mush.

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